This time we are taking a closer look at motorsport watches, or rather, watches and brands that you associate with motor racing. Timing is obviously essential in racing, so what defines a motorsport watch is the ability to time a sector, a lap or an entire race. To do so, a certain class of watch known as a chronograph - a term which originates from the greek word khronográphos or ‘time recording’ - was created.
A chronograph has an in-built stopwatch which is operated by two pushers on the side of the watch. The upper pusher located at two o’clock starts and stops the stopwatch whilst the lower pusher at four o’clock resets the stop watch.
Clocks with a time recording capability have existed since the early 1800s, but it wasn’t until 1915 that Gaston Breitling produced the first chronograph with a central second hand and a 30-minute counter. In 1923, he introduced the first chronograph with a separate pusher at 2 o'clock. In 1934, Gaston’s son - Willy Breitling - further developed the chronograph with the addition of the second pusher at 4 o'clock. So it is fair to say that Breitling as a company led the way for chronograph watches as we know them today.
As is the case with aviation watches, motorsport, and motoring in general, the development of the chronograph has sparked countless collaborations between watchmakers and racing teams. Williams, McLaren, Aston Martin, Jaguar, Bentley, Porsche - they have all engaged in various associations with watchmakers over the years.
Most of these associations have been seasonal and relatively short-lived, and they are not the focus of this article. Instead, what we are looking at here are the enduring, long term partnerships that have created some of the most desirable watch classics around. Collaborations that have since taken on a life of their own.
One such collaboration is the long standing partnership between Heuer and the Steve McQueen estate. It began in 1971 when Steve McQueen made the film ‘Le Mans’. His character in the film, Michael Delaney, wore a Heuer Monaco watch. It wasn’t until 1985 that Heuer was acquired by Techniques d'Avant Garde and became Tag Heuer… so at the time the company was simply known as Heuer.
For the film, McQueen had the choice of watch from; Rolex, Omega, Tissot, Heuer and Bulova. Each brand had submitted a number of watches for consideration in exchange for some good close up shots in the film. Apparently, his preference lay with the timepieces submitted by Omega. Prior to selecting the watch, McQueen had already picked the white Nomex driver’s suit which he is seen wearing in the movie. This costume had a big HEUER Chronograph sticker near the right collar, completely swaying his decision towards Heuer. To everyone’s surprise, he went with the unorthodox Heuer Monaco rather than the more obvious Autavia or Carrera models. The rest is history and to this day what is now Tag Heuer is making heavy use of the Le Mans film in it’s advertising. The Heuer Monaco has undergone subtle changes over the years but remains true to the original format.
To this day , ‘Le Mans’ remains one of the best motor racing movies ever made. Perhaps this was due to Steve McQueen being the biggest star at that time or because he was a first class racing driver who finished 2nd in the 12-hour Sebring endurance race in 1970 - as a 40 year old!
Today, Steve McQueen is still a poster boy for Tag Heuer - pretty impressive considering that he has been dead for 40 years this year.
Heuer was a dominating force in Formula 1 timekeeping and they held a longstanding sponsorship agreement with Ferrari. We are talking about the 1970s here - a decade of death, sex, drugs and rock’n’roll in Formula 1. Just watch ‘RUSH’ and you will know what we mean.
Ever-present in motorsport timekeeping is also Rolex, whose failed moon watch became revered among both racers and their fans. Indeed so revered that a watch belonging to actor and gentleman racer Paul Newman fetched a record 17.8 million USD at auction back in 2017. The watch, a 6263 Daytona, was a present from his wife back in 1968. She bought it from Tiffany & Co. in New York and had it engraved with the message “Drive carefully, me”, in a bid to encourage him to take care while indulging in his favourite hobby.
Over the years, Paul Newman owned a number of Rolex Daytona models but the 6263 Panda is the most famous of them all.
Rolex has a number of racing legends as ambassadors or ‘Testimonees’ as they call them. Sir Jackie Stewart, Nico Rosberg, Mark Webber and fellow Dane Tom Kristensen are all part of the Rolex team.
The brand has pretty much cleaned up when it comes to sponsoring premiere motorsports events, being the Official Timepiece of Formula 1 since 2013. The brand is also Official Timepiece of the FIA World Endurance Championships, Le Mans 24 and Daytona 24.
Our journey to a driver’s chronograph
As part of our 5-watch philosophy, we offer a motorsport inspired watch called DRIVE. When designing the DRIVE models, we went back to the roots of driver’s chronographs and spent nearly two years in the design and development phase.
Before we began the process, we set ourselves some challenges and requirements that the watch had to meet:
First and foremost we wanted an uncluttered watch dial. Both for legibility, but also because we believe that the vast majority of chronographs available today are too noisy and over-designed.
We wanted a modern, yet old-school look and feel, and also a clear lineage to other Enoksen models, especially the Deep Dive.
We also wanted to avoid making another Rolex 6263 homage watch, of which there are plenty out there. At the same time we needed the watch to be true to our tool watch ethos, i.e. that it was suitable for an active lifestyle including water sports and diving.
The result of our efforts is the DRIVE E04/A and E04/B.
With special embedded pushers, a screw-down crown, and a sapphire crystal, the watch has a 10ATM water resistance level that makes it suitable for all types of water sports. The stopwatch was made to perform like an old school stopwatch, complete with the ticking and the fly-back reset feature.