Watchmakers have been multiplying their automotive and motorsports collaborations in recent years. In this four-part series, we review a few of the most prominent timekeeping/racing alliances.
By Y-Jean Mun-DelSalle
For many connoisseurs, the love for watches and cars often go hand in hand. The similarities are endless: Performance, precision, complex engines, material innovation, new technologies, stunning design and the pursuit of excellence. Horological brands are rarely without a carmaker or racing team by their side.
This is not a new phenomenon. The watch and automobile industries have a long history of collaboration.
Starting out of necessity, watchmakers began working with car manufacturers to supply dashboard clocks. Horological brands then started partnering with motor racing teams as official timekeepers, from recording lap times to race times, and automotive timepieces have become an accepted part of watch companies’ marketing strategies.
Today, watchmakers are creating timepieces to pay tribute to a specific car model, race, racing driver or event. In this special three-part series, we’ll take a closer look at the automotive alliances forged by Bell & Ross, B.R.M Chronographes, Casio, Ernst Benz, Girard-Perregaux, Richard Mille and TAG Heuer.
This week, we highlight Bell & Ross and B.R.M Chronographes.
Bell & Ross
Since 2016, Bell & Ross has partnered with the Renault F1 Team – rebranded the Alpine F1 Team after the famous racing cars. This year Bell & Ross has become its official timekeeper, releasing ultra-sporty watches every racing season.
Launching the Alpine F1 Team collection this year, Bell & Ross welcomes a sixth generation of Renault timepieces. The three A521 chronographs – referencing the current Alpine A521 single-seater – echo Alpine’s visual identity, especially the constructor’s blue, black and white color codes and the advanced materials tested on F1 cars.
Common features may be found on the vintage round BR V3-94 and the square BR 03-94 timekeepers, both in steel: two stopwatch counters reflect the racing car’s wheel rims, the counterweight of the central second hand adopts Alpine’s stylized “A” and a tiny red, white and blue flag at six o’clock recalls Alpine’s French origins.
In a limited edition of fifty pieces, the more sophisticated BR-X1 in titanium, ceramic and rubber showcases ergonomic toggle push-buttons reminiscent of the paddles on a F1 racing car steering wheel, while a rubber shell protects the case from impacts. The open-worked dial offers a glimpse inside the skeleton mechanism that features a symbolic X-shaped central bridge. Alpine F1 Team members will wear these watches throughout 2021.
Last November, Bell & Ross initiated a collaboration with Bollinger Motors, an American electric vehicle maker founded in 2014 by Robert Bollinger. Bell & Ross paired the BR 03-92 Black Matte timepiece with the off-road Bollinger B1 SUV, both taking the square shape, functionality and minimalism to the extreme.
“If the BR 03 were a car, it would be this one,” says Bruno Belamich, Bell & Ross creative director and co-founder. “The Bollinger B1 is to the automobile what the BR 03 is to watchmaking: a 100% utility object designed by engineers for extreme thrill-seekers.”
As a French watch brand with multiple motorsports collaborations, B.R.M keeps strengthening its competitive pedigree and producing timepieces fully embracing the racing spirit so dear to its founder and CEO Bernard Richards. He notes that even during the past year B.R.M hadn’t ceased developing new collaborations and exclusive models.
This year, B.R.M. is still signing partnerships while gradually finding its way back to racetracks and a full calendar of events worldwide. This is an encouraging signal for the future of the independent, family-run manufacture.
Perhaps the most significant news this year for B.R.M. is official timing partnership with DS Techeetah, the most successful Formula E team. For the deal, B.R.M has created a three-hand watch and a chronograph in the colors of the Chinese racing team, each limited to twenty-one pieces.
In North America, B.R.M’s involvement in racing started in 2009 as official timekeeper of the Atlantic Championship. Since then it has participated in pretty much every series in the United States. B.R.M is present at IndyCar with Colton Herta and Steinbrenner Racing, and in Nascar with Santino Ferrucci.
IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe signed on with B.R.M. this year, as did Nascar driver Corey LaJoie. Both drivers co-designed and now wear a special B.R.M watch.
B.R.M also joined forces with Derek DeBoer of the TRG team in SRO GT racing and just released a new watch collection with the Skip Barber Racing School, America’s premier racing school. DeBoer is a brand ambassador for the school.
B.R.M has also collaborated with Corvette and Corvette Racing since 2015, launching multiple timepieces. For the Historic Sportscar Racing series, with which it has partnered since 2014, B.R.M sponsors the Endurance Challenge.
And finally, since 2017, B.R.M has produced numerous models with Martini Racing, whose dials are adorned with the Italian brand’s famous blue and red stripes, matched with B.R.M’s trademark drilled holes on the hands, crown, pushers and strap.
Next Week: Casio and Ernst Benz
Y-Jean Mun-DelSalle is a freelance journalist and editorial consultant who has lived on three different continents. She meets with inspirational individuals in pursuit of excellence: emerging and established artists, designers and craftsmen, engaging entrepreneurs and philanthropists, and the movers and shakers of the world today. She contributes regularly to regional and international titles such as Artsy, Asia Tatler, Design Anthology, Forbes, Portfolio, Robb Report, Shawati’ and Vogue, shining a spotlight in particular on art, architecture, design, horology and jewelry.