Porsche Design’s Custom-Built Chronograph brings the luxury car optioning experience to the world of watches

Porsche Design’s Custom-Built Chronograph brings the luxury car optioning experience to the world of watches

Jamie Weiss

Generally speaking, watch enthusiasts also tend to be car enthusiasts: I’ve quipped before that “there’s such an overlap between the two hobbies that it’s not so much a Venn diagram sort of deal and more like one big circle.” One car brand that is particularly adored among those in the middle of that Venn diagram is Porsche. Not only has the German marque been responsible for some of the most iconic sports cars of all time, chief among them the 911, but Porsche Design – the design firm founded by Prof. Ferdinand Alexander “Butzi” Porsche, the mastermind behind the 911 – is also known for its compelling watch designs.

Porsche Design Custom Built Chronograph opening door

Those who came of age in the 1980s might remember the Porsche Design Chronograph PD01, famously worn by Tom Cruise in Top Gun and produced by Orfina. Over the years, Porsche Design watches have also been made under license by Eterna and IWC. These days, however, Porsche Design watches are made in-house, with Porsche Design working with their automotive counterparts on watches that push the boundaries of customer customisation. This brings us to this article’s subject: the Porsche Design Custom-Built Chronograph, which can be personalised to almost the same extent as a Porsche car. Here’s why that’s so impressive.

The car

Porsche Exclusive Manufaktur

Normally, we start off our hands-on watch reviews by talking about a watch’s case or dial. However, for this review, I’ve got to talk about the car that matches this watch. Many exotic and high-end automakers offer extensive customisation programs for their clients. Porsche’s program, which is called “Exclusive Manufaktur”, is known as one of the most complete in the business. Through Porsche Exclusive Manufaktur, customers can spec almost every part of a car’s interior and exterior: from custom decals and paint colours to the stitching on trims and seats, there are literally millions of ways you can spec a Porsche car.

Porsche Design Custom Built Chronograph Ruby watch focus

Simply put, the Porsche Design Custom-Built Chronograph – and Porsche Design’s watch customisation program more broadly – brings the Exclusive Manufaktur experience to watchmaking. While you don’t need to own a Porsche car to own a Porsche Design watch (except for a few watch models that are exclusively available to owners of specific Porsche vehicles, such as the 911 S/T), the idea is that you can spec your watch to match your car.

Porsche Design Custom Built Chronograph Ruby side

The specific Porsche Design Custom-Built Chronograph I had for review was specced to match a Porsche Australia show car, fondly known as “Ruby”, a Porsche 911 Targa 4S that’s been customised through the Exclusive Manufaktur program with a Ruby Star Neo paint job combined with a Black and Crayon interior with Lizard Green stitching. Ruby even features rims that match the colour of her body, as well as coloured seatbelts.

Porsche Design Custom Built Chronograph Ruby front

While Ruby’s spec might not be to everyone’s taste, Ruby was commissioned by Porsche Australia to demonstrate just how many elements of a Porsche vehicle a customer can customise. Similarly, the Porsche Design Custom-Built Chronograph I wore was specced to match Ruby, to demonstrate the elements of these watches that are customisable. More on that in a moment. All I’ll say is that Ruby was a hoot to drive: pink’s not my colour but nothing beats a Targa.

The process

Porsche Design Custom Built Chronograph option box

How does one go about personalising a Porsche Design Custom-Built Chronograph? Well, Porsche Design has developed an in-depth online configurator that resembles the same online configurator one uses to option a Porsche vehicle. As a Porsche fanboy, I’ve spent many an hour playing around configuring Porsches I’ll never be able to afford (I’m sure I’m not alone here). Now, you can do the same for a watch. You’ll be able to while away plenty of time doing so, too: there are theoretically more than 300 million unique variations of the Custom-Built Chronograph that you can configure.

Porsche Design Custom Built Chronograph configurator
Playing around in the Porsche Design watch configurator.

To facilitate all these options, Porsche Design has had to treat the creation of a watch just like they do a Porsche car. Just as the automobile side of the business needs to keep an enormous number of paints, leathers and materials in stock to facilitate customer personalisation, so too does the watchmaking side of the business. “To be able to offer, in series production, a watch with almost endless options, we had to make significant changes to the current ordering and manufacturing processes,” says Rolf Bergmann, Managing Director of Porsche Design Timepieces AG.

Porsche Design Custom Built Chronograph with dash clock

Once configured, one’s watch is handcrafted according to your specifications at the Porsche Design watch manufacture in Solothurn, Switzerland. Porsche Design quotes a delivery time of between 12 to 16 weeks depending on the options you select – which in the world of custom watches, is fairly reasonable. It’s a shorter timeframe than one might expect for a Porsche car.

The case

Porsche Design Custom Built Chronograph changing time

Now, to start diving into the nitty-gritty of the Porsche Design Custom-Built Chronograph. As the name implies, many of this timepiece’s features can be customised – starting with the case, which can be had in either a glass-bead-blasted natural titanium or in a black PVD titanium. The bezel is also customisable, with the choice of either tachymeter readings or 5-minute markings.

Porsche Design Custom Built Chronograph using chrono

In terms of dimensions, the case measures up at 42mm in diameter and just under 15mm tall. Like an exotically-specced 911, it’s got a fair amount of presence, with a distinctly automotive vibe – titanium, of course, being a material that’s used extensively in the creation of sports cars. The large, finely-knurled crown and stubby chronograph pushers are extremely easy to use.

The dial

Porsche Design Custom Built Chronograph driving

The Porsche Design Custom-Built Chronograph features a matte black dial, with chronograph sub-counters at 12 and 6 o’clock; a running seconds indicator at 9 o’clock and a date window at 4 o’clock. The running seconds indicator features a unique, somewhat suppressed design (it reminds me of a Braun thermometer my grandfather used to own, actually) that makes the watch appear like it’s actually a two-register design.

Porsche Design Custom Built Chronograph dial

While you can’t change the dial colour of this watch, you can personalise the rehaut, which is available in 148 different Porsche 911 exterior and interior colours. The watch hands can be customised, too, with the choice of either classic ‘Essence’ hands in black or sporty ‘Performance’ hands in matte-white, both with red tips. The watch I wore for review features a Ruby Star Neo rehaut to match Ruby the car’s paint job. (Something worth noting here: Porsche has different tiers of paint options, with 21 standard options and a further 127 ‘Paint to Sample’ options, the latter of which are significantly more expensive. Ruby Star Neo is a ‘Paint to Sample’ colour.)

The strap

Porsche Design Custom Built Chronograph wing mirror

The Porsche Design Custom-Built Chronograph’s strap epitomises the attention to detail lavished upon this watch. While you can opt for a case finish-matched titanium bracelet (which closely resembles the design of the Porsche Design Chronograph PD01’s bracelet, albeit with solid links), I suspect most customers will be opting for a leather strap for the Custom-Built Chronograph. The leather is actually the same Nappa leather that Porsche uses for car upholstery: it’s butter-soft, and even smells like a car interior (is it weird that I was sniffing a watch strap?)

Porsche Design Custom Built Chronograph caseback

On top of that, you can customise the colour of the leather as well as the colour of the stitching, which is also the same thread that’s used in Porsche interiors. I actually alternated between two different leather straps for my review: one that featured the same Ruby Star Neo hot pink as Ruby’s exterior, and a Black one with Lizard Green stitching, like Ruby’s interior. The straps feature a decent quick-change system that makes it easy to swap one out for another.

The movement

Porsche Design Custom Built Chronograph movement

Under the hood of the Porsche Design Custom-Built Chronograph (a particularly apt turn of phrase in this instance) is the Porsche Design WERK 01.100 movement, which is based on an ETA 7750 and is COSC-certified. It’s a totally acceptable movement, although I anticipate some customers might question why, at this price point, the movement isn’t a bit more bespoke.

Porsche Design Custom Built Chronograph rotor

However, what’s really cool about this movement is how its rotor can be customised. There are 8 different rotor types to choose from: a standard black PVD skeletonised number, or 7 designs that are exact 1:22 scaled-down versions of wheel options for the Porsche 911, right down to the Porsche crest in the hub – now that’s bespoke (there’s a spoke pun in there somewhere too). Similarly, the colour of the wheel can be customised from the standard Porsche colour palette. Alongside the strap, I think this is the coolest element of the watch, and it’s very Porsche. My watch features a rotor that matches Ruby’s rims: a 911 Carrera Classic design with Ruby Star Neo highlights.

The verdict

Porsche Design Custom Built Chronograph on bonnet

If I’m being extremely cynical, the Porsche Design Custom-Built Chronograph is a genius value-add. For a revhead that’s also a watch aficionado, what’s better than a watch that perfectly matches your car? On top of that, if you can afford a Porsche – most Porsche cars retail for six figures – a five-figure watch isn’t too hard to swallow. It’s a similar situation to high-end camera maker Leica’s recent foray into watches: $10,000 is a lot of money for the average punter to drop on a watch, but compared to a $50,000 camera, that almost seems like a steal.

However, I think the real genius of the Porsche Design Custom-Built Chronograph is that it will also appeal to watch/car fans who might not be able to afford (or indeed want to drive) a Porsche: in the context of a $100,000 car versus a $10,000 watch, the watch is a more affordable luxury. I’m a great example: I’m a lifelong Porsche fan who’s unlikely to ever have a Porsche car in my garage, but I could potentially wear a Porsche Design watch.

Porsche Design Custom Built Chronograph closing door

I think it’s also extremely impressive just how customisable the Custom-Built Chronograph is. Again, it’s not a cheap watch, but for a watch with this level of customisation, it’s really not that bad. But focusing on the price here is a bit gauche. Fundamentally, the Porsche Design Custom-Built Chronograph is a compelling timepiece that typifies Porsche Design’s creative brilliance but also reflects one of the most compelling aspects of Porsche’s automotive business.

Porsche Design Custom-Built Chronograph pricing & availability

As the name implies, the Porsche Design Custom-Built Chronograph is made on an order-to-order basis but is available for order and configuration now. Price: starting at US$6,250, as tested US$10,400.

Brand Porsche Design
Model Custom-Built Chronograph
Case Dimensions 42mm (D) x 14.68mm (T)
Case Material Titanium
Water Resistance 50 metres
Crystal(s) Sapphire front and back
Dial Matte black, customisable rehaut
Strap Nappa leather or case finish-matched titanium bracelet
Movement Porsche Design WERK 01.100, ETA 7750 base, automatic
Power Reserve 48 hours
Functions Hours, minutes, running seconds, date, chronograph
Availability Available now, custom-commissioned
Price Dependent on customisation, base price US$6,250, as tested US$10,400