The relationship between automobiles in particular and motorsports in general is a long one and it’s an interesting coincidence that both the automobile and the wristwatch began to take on their modern form during roughly the same period of time â the late-18th and early-19th centuries. The relationship really started to take off in the period following World War II, and since then, both direct and indirect partnerships and relationships between car makers and watchmakers have flourished. To the best of my knowledge, though, no one has ever attempted to systematically chronicle the evolution of the motorsports themed watch for English language readers, which is where Drive Time: Watches Inspired By Automobiles, Motorcycles, and Racing, by Aaron Sigmond, and with a foreword by Jay Leno, comes in.
Drive Time looks at the subject of motorsports-related timepieces from a number of different perspectives, which means it offers a lot more than just a chronology of car watches. Author Aaron Sigmond is both a watch enthusiast and a long-time car enthusiast (as is, obviously, Jay Leno) and is equipped to look at both the watch and the car side of things from an informed perspective. A general historical overview is offered in which Sigmond takes a pretty deep dive into the origins of automotive instrumentation, and the origin of the driver’s watch as a specific type at Gruen, and the explosion of that type with watches by Movado, Cartier, Vacheron, and Jaeger-LeCoultre, among others. Â
Sigmond devotes a great deal of time to some of the more obviously spectacularly relevant examples of watches with car and motorsports tie-ins, including those from Rolex and Heuer. There is a discussion of some of the most iconic and unusual models â which cover a range from the Daytona and Heuer Monaco to real inside-baseball examples like Parmigiani’s Bugatti Type 370 and the MB&F Horological Machine No. 5. There’s an A-Z breakdown of auto-themed watchmakers by brand, which includes both widely known makers as well as some whose most notable feature is their obscurity; as well, there’s a section on motorbike-themed watches, as well as those inspired by specific races and motorsports events; here, for instance, you’ll find mention of watches made by Lange & SÃ¶hne specifically for the Concorso D’Eleganza Villa d’Este, and Richard Mille.
Although this isn’t a scholarly work per se, it is very thoroughly researched. The history of Ferrari watches, for instance, notes that “Ferrari Watch” can mean either watches personally commissioned by Enzo Ferrari as gifts; “accessible luxury” private label pieces; and watches produced through one of four of Ferrari’s relationships with luxury Swiss watch brands (Girard-Perregaux, Panerai, Cabestan, and Hublot). The book is also a bit of an interesting snapshot of watchmaking culture; over the several years it took to produce, there have been major changes in the watchmaking industry, with several of the brands profiled having gone out of business in the interim.
Unsurprisingly, the companies that have continued to flourish whose watches are profiled in Drive Time are often those whose designs stand on their own most effectively, and it’s interesting to reflect that the most popular watches with a relationship to motorsports are frequently those that are the most effective as watches, with or without the tie-in to the automotive world. To look through Drive Time is to see a huge number of different ways in which watchmakers have risen (or tried to rise) to the challenge of making watches with more or less overt design cues connecting them to the automotive world in general, or specific makers, drivers, or events in particular. The coverage in Drive Time obviously strives for completeness rather than selectiveness, but the approach works, and if you want a well researched, entertaining, and surprisingly complete look at the subject, Drive Time is a great addition to your horological library.
Aaron Sigmond has been a contributing editor for Autoweek and Playboy, and is the author of Playboy: The Book Of Cigars, and has written extensively about watches as well, both in print and online. Drive Time is published by Rizzoli and available from Amazon.