The intersection of cars and watches sits on some expensive real estate
My name is Robert Farago and I’m a watch collector. It’s been two weeks since I bought my last watch: a NOMOS Glashütte Club Datum Atlantik. And I’m very far from being alone in this addicts’ roundtable. If you have a weakness for horology that sucks money from your wallet like… well, you know. Let’s just say it’s the car guy thing on your wrist and leave it at that.
“There’s a major intersection between watch collectors and automotive enthusiasts,” agrees Jeff Bernard, spilling the proverbial tea while leaning against his “last of the V8 Interceptors” Cayenne GTS. Bernard knows a thing or two about the watch/car nexus—and not just because he wears a $17K Breguet Marine on his wrist. The 55-year-old Texan’s Bernard Watch Company caters to gearheads with an ever-changing range of pre-owned timepieces.
Car guys aren’t his only customers, of course. But Bernard’s seen an awful lot of high end automobiles roll up to his Austin showroom: G-Wagens, Ferraris, Porsches, Aston Martins and Lamborghinis. Bernard reckons a love for mechanical objects occupies the shared space in the watch/car Venn diagram.
That and a not-so-socialist-now-eh-Mr.-Bond? desire to show-off. The watch-car status parallels are easy to draw. Patek Philippe? Ferrari. Audemars Piguet? Rolls Royce. Jaeger-LeCoutre? AMG.
Apple Watch? Tesla. Yes, there is that.
Not at Bernard Watch Co. The proprietor buys and sells pre-owned wristwatches with moving parts, either automatic (self-winding) or mechanical (wind it yo’ self). Stunting and flossing aside, his customers hanker after watches with meticulous design, detail and construction.
While Bernard’s backroom boys check his wares for condition and authenticity, the company’s owner and his buyers don’t mess with their timepiece’s internals—in the same way that some vintage car owners never pick up a wrench. The same can’t be said for Steve Lee. The CEO of Austin’s DuFrane watch brand grew up taking things apart and putting them back together. Specifically, cars. At 14, Lee bought a 1979 Triumph TR7. According to the Illinois native, the cheese wedge-shaped Brit “tested my mechanical skills on every level.”
Lee’s career as a corporate pilot often stood between him and spending some quality time with Lucas The Prince of Darkness (patent holder for the short circuit) and a subsequent string of souped-up Motown metal. Abandoning his King Air Twin Turbo for the lucrative world of software sales, Lee went small and went home.
Which let him indulge a passion for watches—a fascination that began with the Pulsar Puck (a hideous digital watch that not even the internet remembers). “I spent countless hours taking cheap vintage watches to pieces and reassembling them,” Lee says. “It was a painstaking process of trial and error.”
A process not unknown to Porsche. A car not unknown to Lee. His “fun car” is an operating room-clean 2006 Porsche 911 4S. No surprise there. Porsche Design watches aren’t the watch guy’s watch—not since the brand’s partnership with IWC disappeared in the rear view mirror. But Porsches are the watch guy’s car. “The Rolex of automobiles,” claims Bernard, whose track-prepped Cayman is no stranger to El Paso’s Harris Hill Raceway. “They’re bulletproof.”
While not all watch buyers own upmarket cars, every watchmaker known to man advertises watches with whips. At no small expense, TAG Heuer brands FI drivers with its logo. The co-branding helps the Swiss watch company flog 17 models of its Formula 1 watch and 60 variants of the Carrera, named after the Carrera Panamericana road race.
Not to be outdone, Rolex is F1’s Official Timepiece. The “born to race” Daytona is one of the company’s most coveted models; highly collectible and mostly unavailable. Not for nothing, actor/racer/spaghetti sauce maker Paul Newman’s 1968 Cosmograph Daytona auctioned for $17.8 million.
Speaking of scratch, Hublot’s skeletonized Ferrari-branded watches are works of art—at prices that make even the best hyperrealistic paintings seem cheap. Hublot’s Techframe Ferrari Tourbillion Chronograph King Gold costs as much as a used 458 Italia: $158K.
BREITLING teamed-up with Bentley from the beginning of the VW era, starting with the Continental GT’s dashboard clock. Needless to say, Bentley’s watches aren’t bling enough for the automaker’s rapper demographic; the artists prefer bejeweled watches whose price is only eclipsed by their gaudiness.
The watch-car connection is so powerful that even watchmakers without an automotive BFF rely on four-wheeled glamor to move the merchandise. Patek Philippe’s award-winning “Generations” ad campaign tempts buyers with elegant images of father and son bonding in perfectly restored hand-built automobiles. Ditto Vacheron Constantin, a company that made watches before there were cars.
Germany’s A. Lange & Söhne sponsors the Concorso d’Eleganza at Ville d’Este. The 50-car cavalcade showcases rare and wonderful vehicles like the Ferrari 250 GTO, Aston Martin DB3S and Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale. It’s the perfect place to flex with one of Söhne’s $100K+ watches.
Car collecting Söhne CEO Helmud Schmid reckons the attraction is more than skin deep. “There’s an appetite for non-consumables in today’s world,” he told Hodinkee. “Everything is changing so quickly and losing value so quickly, [people want to have] things that will not follow that path.”
Well he would say that “keep its value” bit, wouldn’t he? It’s not always the case. A green-bezeled Anniversary Submariner is probably a safe place to put your cash, but the various small-batch bespoke creations out there often change hands in the secondary market for a mere fraction of their retail price. Regardless of resale, the horological path in question is fraught with danger—to your wallet. Watch collecting is an expensive addiction that even two divorces can’t cure. Don’t ask me how I know.
This much I do know: long after cars become batteries-on-wheels, watchmakers will be selling wrist-borne machines produced by people who’ve mastered the art of assembling intricate parts that move in perfect synchronicity. They will build them and people will come.
“As soon as you get one watch, you’re ready for the next,” DuFrane’s Lee cautions. Who, me?