The smell of testosterone wafts through Palexpo Geneva. An armada of growling engines and polished bodywork rises on the horizon like pieces on the chessboard of masculine power and prosperity. Beautiful girls in high heels – not part of the options – smile and pose in front of the latest coupe. This isn’t real life, where people drive bottom-of-the-range or negotiate a part-exchange at the local second-hand dealership. This is dreamland, just six winning numbers away. This is the Geneva Motor Show (March 9th-19th). If you’re into pistons, gaskets and Ryan Gosling in Drive, it’s the place to be. If you have a soft spot for a beautiful watch, it is too.
Watches and cars are like an old couple minus the routine. Both are determined to bring out the best, not the worst, in their relationship.
We won’t rehash the watch and automotive industries’ shared history (which would take us back to the early 1900s), or how each benefits from the other’s fame, or even the fact they speak the same language (springs, pinions, cams, lubricant…). Both have recourse to emotive terms – reliability, power, resistance – that send a certain audience – men who grew up rolling Matchbox cars across their bedroom floor, and learned to tell the time on a Flik Flak – into raptures. Watches and cars are like an old couple minus the routine. Both are determined to bring out the best, not the worst, in their relationship and to prove that even after years under the same roof, there is still room for performance, and counters that measure speed or time exploits to one-thousandth of a second!
In practical terms, the watch-car relationship can take several forms. Sponsorship is one, as popular today as when the first partnerships were signed on the starting line back in the 1980s-90s. Think Chopard and the Mille Miglia, Rolex’s global deal as Official Timekeeper and Official Timepiece of Formula 1®, or TAG Heuer and its ties to Formula E. Another means to harness this potential is to imagine watches that borrow automotive design codes. Which, as it happens, are legion in the 2017 collections. The first one to spring to mind is signed Bugatti-Parmigiani Fleurier. In 1935, unbeknownst to his father Ettore, Jean Bugatti built the Bugatti Aerolithe using a magnesium alloy which, because of its highly flammable nature, could not be soldered. The car that fell from the sky – hence its name, a kind of meteorite – sparked the idea for Parmigiani Fleurier to create the Bugatti Aerolithe Performance watch whose case is entirely in titanium, a metal also found in the hot rods that shoot into space.
Speeding alongside, Richard Mille pushes the limits of watchmaking technology with the RM 50-03 Tourbillon Split-Seconds Chronograph Ultra-Light McLaren F1, in honour of the famed British F1 team that has Richard Mille as its official watch partner and timekeeper.
The mechanics of desire
While it’s the engine that first catches the eye of any serious petrolhead/watch addict, this doesn’t mean they can’t be tempted with an original design, bold colour or a slice of history. It’s a safe bet that the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer-01, entirely in black ceramic, will have the same armhair-raising effect as the race that inspired it: the legendary Carrera Panamericana, widely considered as the most dangerous (and sexiest) racing event in the world.
The new Omega Speedmaster Racing Master Chronometer, successor to the 1968 Speedmaster, should have what it takes to satisfy the thrill-seeker that slumbers inside every driver. Last but not least, Baume & Mercier’s limited-edition chronograph, inspired by one of the most famous cars in racing history, the Shelby Daytona Coupe, could be the ideal time-travel machine back to the days of the legendary racing series. A psychological process is in action, triggered by the sensation of any of these watches on the wrist: identification.
Back to the Geneva Motor Show: we would have loved to awaken our inner racing driver and test-drive the Porsche 911R, the Renault Red Bull Racing, the Formula E electric racing car or the Audi R8 LMS 2015 N°28 lining up on TAG Heuer’s stand, but it wasn’t to be. Shame: those aisles would have made great hairpin bends…