Car-guy watches

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Steve-McQueen-tag-heuer-ambassador-1I am always asked about car-guy watches: what belongs on your wrist as you wheel around with wild abandon.

This is mainly because of my involvement in both C! Magazine and Calibre Magazine, two Philippine publications we began around 10 and 15 years ago, respectively.

In truth though, these two somewhat parallel passions began much, much earlier, perhaps when my father taught me how to drive and encouraged me to go a bit faster to see how things reacted, and also when I pulled the crown out of his wristwatch and took apart the clock he gave me.

There are of course lots of watches with a connection one way or another to the car world and racing.

Many are corporate collaborations or branding exercises, but some are well and truly stuck in racing history before such programs were commonplace.

My favorite example of this is the watch company Tag Heuer. Back when it was just Heuer, it was a name I saw on the race cars I loved and the scale models I made.

Later, as I was driving myself and then trying to tune myself, I would see Heuer watches in the magnetic speed shop that was FCC Performance on Ortigas Avenue in Greenhills.

In their performance shop, they had watches! How much more serious can you get than that.

Heuer became Tag Heuer, and their motor racing connection continued.

They are an example of remembering your heritage and moving forward with it right.

To me, their watch that best exemplifies the racing connection is the square-shaped Monaco chronograph.

It was a daring thing to do almost 50 years ago, to produce a square wristwatch. It wasn’t all that successful then, and indeed most people preferred the traditional models such as the Carrera.

Yet, it was that square watch that ended up on Steve McQueen’s wrist in the movie “Le Mans.” And it was there because that was the watch that the race car drivers were wearing.

My opinion on this case is far from universal, but as someone with feet in both worlds, I like how the square shape was a daring design choice decades ago.

The watches of Heuer that were more connected to car racing were models like the Carrera and the Autavia. All three of these watches were of key importance in the horological world because they were launch vehicles for the new technology of automatic chronographs.

If you look at the vintage pieces, you will note that their winding crown was on the left of the watch, while the stopwatch-function pushers were on the right.

The history of the brand Heuer, and later Tag Heuer, and its connection to motor racing is an example of the much-needed coming together of many things in order to ensure success.

Heuer became the official timekeeper of Formula One in 1974 when it used the system of transponders to accurately time the cars coming over the finish line.

Prior to that, the systems were manual. A motor racing and timekeeping legend named Jean Campiche was given the nickname “the pianist” because his hands and fingers would have to fly around to all the buttons on all the stopwatches that were being used for timing prior to this.

In many ways, he himself determined the winners of many of the contested races, and he held an unusual position that was respected, contentious, and feared all at once.

Ferrari took him and Heuer on in order to properly benchmark their own improvements, and determine how they could develop new technologies and techniques, and therefore faster times.

The deal was one of mutual support, with the Heuer logo to appear on driver’s suits in return for both pay and technical support.

The drivers would also receive a gold watch, but they would need to pick it up in person at the factory, and therefore be able to be photographed—a clear example of how things come together for very good reasons and go on to become myths and legends.

Tag Heuer still has a full timing division subsidiary for making its own equipment for precision timing needs.

At the same time, it has begun responding more to enthusiast desires by re-issuing key historic wristwatches that bring gearheads back in time.

This is now a world where what we want from our wristwatches is more than just merely being technically precise.

Seeing these old racetrack mainstays come back to life in a reliable form that is more true to the past than ever is a very welcome thing.



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