You’ve probably noticed the ubiquity of partnerships between automotive and watchmaking companies. Aside from the obvious benefits associated with the sponsorship of any commonplace product, why is this trend so popular? What ties watchmaking to car manufacturing to such an extent that collaboration between the two industries is no longer newsworthy in itself, but rather par for the course?
Image supplied, courtesy of Breitling for Bentley
A wristwatch, as with a car to a lesser extent, is stylistically limited by its function. It must be small enough to sit on a wrist, just about light enough not to break your arm whenever you shake someone’s hand, and it must have a register by which the time can be displayed and read. Creating aesthetic differentiation between products that fundamentally perform the same function is imperative. Watch design is often a referential business. Notions, ideologies, moments, places, and personalities are frequently used to imbue the physical elements of a watch with a wordless message. The watch becomes a statement. It informs others of its wearer’s likes. By adhering to pre-existing design principles, watch designers are able to create links between a product and another world.
In the case of the automotive world, this could barely be easier. Cars – and more specifically sports cars – have given us loaded symbols like racing stripes, race numbers, chequered flags, tyre tread, hand-stitched leather seats, bright, brash colours, and dashboard instruments that are just crying out to be ripped-off by watch creators. By harvesting these pre-agreed images of speed, a wristwatch becomes exciting, daring, sporty.
Standing out and Leading the Pack
Second to design is the mutual ability of both watches and cars to enhance the perceived status of an individual. We all know a fifteen-year old jalopy can get us from A to B, while a ten dollar Casio will tell you exactly how long the journey took, right down to the hundredths. To get a watch capable of that kind of precision, you’d be shelling-out tens of thousands of bucks. But people still do it; people still buy the newest, shiniest car the minute it rolls off the production line and approximately ten seconds before its value plummets as you set-off home behind the wheel of your new money pit.
Image supplied, courtesy of TAG Heuer
In fact, it’s arguable that the rapid depreciation of most modern cars has a lot to with their positive effect on their driver’s status. In order to make such an economically unsound decision, you must have money to burn. It’s basically a braggadocious middle finger to everyone rolling around in a pre-owned Ford, fumbling with a banjaxed tape deck, while you verbally command your supercar to skip through Spotify.
Watches and automobiles share mechanical foundations. It follows that someone interested in one might well be interested in the other, so why not attempt a bit of cross pollination? But for any partnership to be worthwhile, both parties have to gain something. In this case, is the enhancement shared, or does one industry come out on top?
It’s interesting because the immediate benefits are pretty similar, but the long-term effect of these partnerships very different. Car manufacturers like watchmaking associations because it increases their luxury appeal; watchmakers love car manufacturers because they give their product a wider reach. But while the car is a more necessary item than a watch, it is also much more temporary.
In terms of increasing collectability, it is highly unlikely that a car will appreciate because it was associated with a watch; conversely it seems quite plausible that a watch will creep up in value because of its association. This is partly because the watch will no doubt display much more of the car’s DNA than the car will of the watch’s. But it’s also partly because modern watches are built to last longer than modern cars.
Image supplied, courtesy of Audemars Piguet
So is it worth it? In the short term, it can be a mutually beneficial relationship; in the long term it is a roll of the dice. Very few car-inspired watches have become stonewall classics, but those that have – the (TAG) Heuer Monaco, the AP Michael Schumacher – will likely become even more desirable as time moves on.
There are some new options on the market, with the Bremont Jaguar, and Parmigiani Bugatti watches aligning themselves with particular models, while other nascent companies like the affordable Autodromo and Belgium-based Raidillon, simply mine the design principles for inspiration. A cool car-themed watch is no bad thing, but it’s probably one of the gimmicks you should back on the grounds of taste rather than profit.