In 1935, Malcolm Campbell piloted the 28-foot-long, 2,300-horsepower Blue Bird 5 over the sand of Daytona Beach, Fla., to establish a world record by reaching a speed of 276.816 miles per hour. And he did it wearing a Rolex Oyster watch.
As long as competitive drivers have been compelled to go faster and faster, they have needed precise timekeepers—specifically chronographs—to effectively track speeds, lap times, and pit times. No other sport is as historically and intrinsically intertwined with watches as motor racing.
Partnerships between car marques, races, and watch brands have long been commonplace. But few brands, such as Rolex and TAG Heuer, can boast an authentic heritage in motor sports. Recently, some younger brands are taking automotive partnerships to the next level, collaborating with car companies to develop innovative products, instead of a typical licensing agreement that would involve slapping a brand’s logo onto the dial of a watch designed to evoke a car.
Whether or not you are a racing fan, these watches range from everyday rugged classics that look sharp with jeans or a suit to seriously avant-garde technical statements at nosebleed prices.
For 25 years, Rolex has sponsored the Rolex 24 at Daytona endurance race, awarding winners with a Rolex Cosmograph Daytona inscribed with the word “winner” on the back. Rolex’s most coveted model, the Daytona ($12,400 to $75,000) was introduced in 1963 with a tachymetric scale that allowed drivers to calculate average speeds of up to 400 kilometers or miles per hour. The actor and race-car driver Paul Newman made the Daytona famous, and his watch sold at a Phillips auction in New York last fall for a record-smashing price of $17.752 million, including fees.