Legendary racecar champion Mario Andretti sat down with iW special contributor Charles Moyer earlier this year to talk about racing and his watch. Most specifically, he discussed the Yema chronograph that launched his watch collecting enthusiasm.
How did you develop your passion for fine watches?
Mario Andretti: Ever since I was a little boy I have always loved cars and watches. Both cars and watches are incredibly fascinating machines. I find that almost all true car aficionados are also passionate about watches because they are also intricate mechanical devices on a much smaller scale.
As my racing career developed and I began winning races, I bought some really nice timepieces. Also, I was awarded many beautiful watches because many races gave the winning driver an elegant dress watch or a sporty chronograph in addition to the first place trophy. Some races awarded a watch to the driver who won the pole position by having the fastest time in the qualifying laps prior to the race.
My collection grew to over one hundred watches and I had to get several large safe deposit boxes at the bank to hold them all. So I love all my watches and I can tell you a story about each one.
Tell us the story about your Yema watch.
In April 1969, I was walking down Fifth Avenue in New York City and passed by a jewelry shop. I glanced in the show window and an interesting chronograph watch, this Yema, caught my eye, so I went into the shop to look at it and try it on my wrist. I immediately loved it, bought it on the spot, and started wearing it.
Back then, almost the entire month of May was taken up with the Indy 500 testing, practice and qualifying events. I wore my new Yema chronograph every day in Indianapolis.
Did you wear that Yema while you were racing in and winning the actual 1969 Indy 500 race?
Yes I did. Many race drivers never wear a watch during a race but I always did. I have always been very much a detail-oriented person and a very punctual person, so during the hours before a race, when I am already in my driver's suit, a great many things must be done on a tight schedule and I would constantly refer to my wrist watch to keep right on that schedule.
I am also a perfectionist, so I always keep the watch I'm wearing within one or two seconds of Observatory time. I always kept my watch on my wrist during every race although, obviously, you would never look at your watch while you're driving a racecar at more than 200 miles per hour!
How did this new Yema Mario Andretti Indy 500 commemorative watch come about?
A few years ago the officers and managers of Yema in France saw a photograph of me from 1969 where I am talking with Colin Chapman at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and they recognized that I was wearing their Yema chronograph. They realized that the 50th anniversary of my Indy 500 win was approaching, so they contacted me and proposed making a limited edition Mario Andretti 50th anniversary chronograph to commemorate my 1969 Indy 500 win.
I agreed and gave my permission. I was closely involved with every detail of the new watch. The Yema team has created an extremely faithful commemorative reproduction of my original 1969 watch that I wore while winning the Indy 500, and I think watch collectors will like it and will enjoy owning it and wearing it. I couldn't be more pleased with the way it turned out.
The Yema Rallye Andretti Limited Edition
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Mario Andretti’s historic win at Indianapolis in 1969, Yema pays tribute to his Andretti’s racing career with the reissue of the Yema Rallye chronograph that Andretti wore during the race.
Designed and assembled in France, the Yema Rallye Andretti Limited Edition echoes the original with a black dial, dashboard-like chrome applied chronograph registers, offset racing stripes and checkered flags in the center and distinct tachymeter markers.
The case, which has been re-designed using modern technology, measures 39mm across with a domed sapphire crystal, signed crown, fixed outer tachymeter bezel. Inside is an ETA Valjoux 7753 automatic chronograph.
On the caseback of the limited edition Yema has placed its own coat of arms surrounded by an engraving commemorating Andretti's win at Indianapolis 1969. The base of the caseback is adorned with Mario’s signature. Each watch is also marked with a unique number.
Given the celebratory nature of this re-issue, Yema has packaged the watch in a brown leather watch box with a commemorative bronze medal honoring Mario Andretti’s many career achievements, two autographed portraits of Andretti at Indianapolis in 1969 wearing the vintage Yema Rallye and three 19mm leather rally-style straps (black, dark and light brown) for a resolutely racing and vintage look.
This collector’s edition limited to 1,969 watches is now available on Yema’s official store and at selected watch boutiques. Price: $ 2,699.