If there’s one thing that unites car people, it’s watches. The intricate mechanisms driving the movements of a tourbillon or chronograph look like tiny, cleaner versions of the engines that power the world’s most legendary cars like the Porsche 911 or Bugatti Bolide. It’s mini mechanical fascination at its finest.
The relationship between car brands and watch brands goes back to the very dawn of the auto itself. Jaguar, Bugatti, and Bentley used set clocks in the dashboards of their cars to monitor progress on the track; Oldsmobile was adding its own branded clock to cars back in 1915. TAG Heuer and Porsche, Hublot and Ferrari, Bentley and Breitling: These more contemporary partnerships are renowned and documented—and highly profitable.
Not all watches inspired by the love of cars are as great as the cars they accompany. Most, it must be said, are not. They often look outré or just plain infantile. Serious watch collectors tend to dismiss such pairings as hardly more exciting than a Happy Meal prize.
“I wouldn’t ask Rolex to design a car, and I don’t want a watch designed or styled by a car company,” is how Dave Corey, a horological and automotive enthusiast based in Philadelphia, puts it.
Still, a few watches inspired by the automotive life are truly iconic. Steve McQueen’s Heuer Monaco watches come to mind, as does the Rolex Daytona made famous by Paul Newman. This year saw dozens of new entries to the category. Here are the good, bad, and ugly of 2021’s new wristwatches inspired by the love of cars.
IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition AMG
IWC and Mercedes-AMG have worked together since 2004, but this is the first time the Pilot’s Chronograph has been offered in titanium. That’s important because along with the carbon-fiber dial, the watch contains two of the most prominent, feather-light materials found in the F1 cars that inspired it, especially the life-saving halo safety cage. Call it an aesthetically safe offering for a straightlaced collector with a secret flair for carbon-fiber. Price: $9,100
Breitling Premier B21 Chronograph Tourbillon 42 Bentley Limited Edition
Bentley and Breitling parted ways in August, so this watch, announced in April 2021, is one of the final products of their nearly 20-year partnership. It features a 42mm case in 18k red gold and a striking British green dial. A tourbillon sits in the 12-o’clock position. The strap is golden-brown alligator; the sapphire caseback reveals a 22-karat gold oscillating weight. It is limited to 25 pieces. Price: $52,000
Bremont Jaguar E-Type 60th
The watch celebrates 60 years of the car Enzo Ferrari famously declared the most beautiful car ever made. It comes with a bezel and a strap of gray or green; the black dials on its face mimic the gauges set in the car’s dashboard; the functional and diverting winding crown has a tire tread that matches the Dunlop tires the E-Types of the 1960s raced in. Price: $14,495
Girard Perregaux Tourbillion with Three Flying Bridges Aston Martin Edition
This is the first watch created in partnership between the two brands. It is made of titanium with black carbon, an open-work barrel body, and a movement that sits between the sapphire crystal front and back of the watch—it looks like it floats between them. The strap design, in black calf leather and an innovative rubber insert injected with white gold, is meant to evoke the Aston Martin racing cars of the past. Only 18 will be made. Price: $146,000
Richard Mille RM 40-01 Speedtail Automatic
Richard Mille has long been obsessed with fast cars; the brand has supported multiple Formula 1 teams (Haas, Ferrari, and McLaren) and at least four star drivers including Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris. This heavy-handed automatic tourbillion honours McLaren’s fastest hypercar, the Speedtail. It is made from titanium, platinum, red gold, and carbon, with a contoured case and bezel. Just 106 will be made. Price: $992,500
Roger Dubuis Excalibur Spider Countach DT/X
The twin-tourbillon watch commemorates the new modern version of Lamborghini’s classic Countach, though it fails to capture the timeless classic elegance and passion of the original car itself. It has super-lightweight titanium tourbillon cages and replicates on the dial the engine bay vents of the car itself. Red and black details carried throughout the watch further reference the interior of the car. Just eight will be made. Price: $815,000
Ulysse Nardin Marine Torpilleur Annual Chronograph
This elegant specimen comes in a pocket-watch style that appears through the entire Torpilleur series from UN, but the annual chronograph design specifically echoes the clocks lodged in the dashboards of race cars from the 1930s and '40s. The timepiece comes in stately blue or crisp white on the dial. Price: $12,100
Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921
These charming Historiques have been around a long time, but this year, Vacheron is celebrating the 100 years with a novel threesome of precious-metal models: two new in white-gold and one limited edition in platinum. It’s a droll tribute to the vintage art deco cars Gatsby would have driven. The Arabic-style numbers are oriented oblong on the white dial—perfectly set to maximize ease of reading with just the slightest turn of the wrist, hands kept on the steering wheel. Price: $30,400-$51,000
Alsta Motoscaphe 120
This handsome, straightforward watch from the obscure Swiss maker comes in collaboration with motorcycle enthusiast Allen Farmelo, who founded the watch-blog Beyond the Dial. It comes with what is known as the “destro” crown orientation, a time-honored term that means the watch is styled for the left-handed user. For the motorcycle rider, this means that the crown of the watch won’t dig into your wrist when you’re winding on the clutch at, yes, 120 mph. Price: $895
TAG Heuer Carrera Porsche Chronograph Special Edition
Partners since 1963, Porsche and Tag Heuer debuted this watch to honor the 911 Carrera race cars that Porsche has made since 1964. The 44mm-watch comes with a black leather or steel band, a gray dial, and a black ceramic bezel with subtle colorations that match Porsche Motorsport’s signature racing colors. Price: $5,850 (leather), $6,050 (steel)
Bovet 1822 Rolls Royce Boat Tail
The 200-year-old Swiss watchmaker partnered with Rolls-Royce this year to make two timepieces to accompany the $28 million Rolls-Royce Boat Tail. The his-and-hers watches come in white gold cases with matching dials and a wood veneer that looks like the top of a vintage wooden boat. Each comes engraved with the name of the owner; some have an image of the car or the image of the Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament in the dial of the watch. It's a bit on the nose, no? The timepiece can be set into the dashboard of the car (thanks to a titanium holder on the dash) or used as a wristwatch, desk clock, or pocket watch. Price: Included with the car
Chopard Mille Miglia Bamford Edition
The Mille Miglia is a decades-old car race that runs through the open public streets of Italy, traveling from Brescia to Rome and back and breakneck rate. Having been run since 1927, it is considered the most prestigious car rally in the world. The watch, made by England’s George Bamford, commemorates the race with a stainless steel case and diamond-carbon finish. The dial is dark gray with vibrant orange accents. The strap is rubber with sporty contrasting orange stitching and an orange calfskin lining. Just 33 will be made. Price: $7,970
Jacob & Co. Bugatti Chiron Tourbillon
The watch is one of a few in a series resulting from the multiyear partnership Jacob & Co. and Bugatti started in 2019. The latest of the lineup contains a miniature reproduction of the W-16 cylinder engine used in the Chiron, but the real insanity comes from the 190 baguette-cut white diamonds, 109 black sapphires, and 42 baguette-cut orange sapphires set into the white-gold case. Gaudy enough? This may take the cake for the worst car watch of the year. Price: $560,000
Porsche Design Chronograph 911 GT3
Porsche unveiled the new GT3 this year, so it’s only fitting the design house founded in 1972 by Ferdinand Porsche makes a watch to accompany it. The chronograph comes encased in titanium and “shark blue” or black versions. The strap comes with blue or silver stitching, and the winding rotor visible in the rear—it looks like the wheels of the 911 GT3—comes in six colors. Price: $8,050
Also read: Does the do-it-all watch exist?