Marquee motor events put watch brands on fast track to buyers
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
It has become a truism that automobiles and watches go together like a horse and carriage. Brands can make the most of the relationship by partnering with vehicle manufacturers, sponsoring race teams and drivers, or simply by incorporating a few motoring tropes into a design and calling it a “car watch”.
But one of the most enduring and successful methods of capitalising on the links between the two fields is to sponsor motoring events, with spring being the time when the “season” gets into full swing.
This month alone, watch brands will be flying their corporate colours at events ranging from the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este (A Lange & Söhne) to the Monaco Grand Prix (Tag Heuer) and the all-electric Extreme E Hydro X Prix in Scotland (Zenith).
The Concorso d’Eleganza, which takes place beside Lake Como on May 19-21, marks German brand A Lange & Söhne’s 11th year as a partner of the historic event which, since it was first held in 1929, has been regarded as one of the most genteel and sophisticated on the motoring calendar.
That it attracts some of the world’s most valuable motors and their well-heeled owners is not lost on Lange’s classic car-loving chief executive Wilhelm Schmid, who brokered the partnership with the Concorso shortly after taking up his role in 2011.
The son of a garage proprietor and the former head of sales and marketing for BMW South Africa, Schmid counts among his stable of classic cars a 1954 Frazer Nash, two AC Aces, a Porsche 356 and a 911S, and an MGB roadster that he has owned for more than 40 years.
Lange creates a unique watch each year for presentation to the owner of the car judged “best in show” at the Concorso. Last year, it also made a one-off chronograph dedicated to the annual Concours of Elegance, which takes place at Hampton Court Palace, south-west London.
But, instead of being awarded to the winner, the watch was sold by auction house Phillips, raising more than €1mn for the Prince’s Trust charity. “That was a one-off, donated as part of a ‘give back’ strategy,” says Schmid. “Our usual action at Hampton Court is to sponsor the ‘30Under30’ category of cars under 30 years of age owned by people under 30 years of age — it’s a way of keeping classics relevant to younger people when they are not seen on the roads so often.”
Schmid says he chose to associate Lange with concours events both because of the unifying thread between cars and watches and because he believes such shows help the brand reach the type of people who can afford to spend from £22,500 up to six figures on a watch.
“It is far easier for someone who already loves mechanical objects to appreciate what we do than, say, for someone who is purely a collector of conventional art,” he reasons, adding that the brand will this year add September’s Audrain Concours in Newport, Rhode Island, to its list of sponsorships.
It is a similar, if longer-running, story with Chopard, which will mark its 36th consecutive year as the sponsor and official timekeeper of Italy’s Mille Miglia rally (June 13-17).
The modern Mille Miglia was established in 1977 to celebrate the original 1,000-mile contest between Brescia and Rome that was held 24 times between 1927 and 1957 before being banned as a true road race after a series of fatalities. Now run as a regular rally, for which only cars of a type that competed in the original event are eligible, entry to the Mille Miglia starts at €15,250 and rises to €73,200. In all cases, the fee includes a unique Chopard Mille Miglia watch engraved with the relevant crew’s entry number. For fans of the event who do not compete, Chopard designs a new, limited edition Mille Miglia watch each year for general sale.
The partnership was instigated by Chopard co-president and classic car aficionado Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, who has competed in the rally every year since 1989.
The longest of all associations between a watch brand and a motoring event, however, is that between Rolex and the 24 Hours of Daytona race — officially called the Rolex 24 at Daytona since Rolex became the title sponsor in 1992. The link actually dates back to 1962, when Rolex became the official timekeeper of Florida’s Daytona International Speedway.
After introducing the Cosmograph chronograph in 1963, Rolex marked its affiliation with the track by adding the Daytona nameplate in 1965 to create what many regard as the most collectable of all watches, special examples of which are awarded to the winner of the 24-hour race.
Rolex has also sponsored several other blue-chip motorsport events — the jewel in the crown being the Formula One world championship since 2013, after taking over from Hublot.
It is also behind the Monterey Historic Automobile Races, the Historic Sportscar Racing series, and the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and Tour d’Elegance in the US. In Europe, it supports the UK’s Goodwood Revival festival and the Le Mans 24 Hours in France, which celebrates its centenary this year. That occasion will be marked both at the main race on June 10-11 and the Le Mans Classic, a biennial festival happening this year between June 29 and July 2.
The Classic, in which historic cars compete in a series of shorter endurance races, was inaugurated by French motorsport impresario Patrick Peter in 2002 and has been partnered by high-tech watch brand Richard Mille from the start.
“In 2001, Patrick asked Richard to introduce him to a few watch companies that might be interested in backing a new event he was planning, Le Mans Classic,” explains Tim Malachard, marketing director at Richard Mille.
“Our company was only months old at the time and had made just a tiny number of watches, but Richard said, ‘What about my brand? Why don’t you have that as the official timing partner and main sponsor?’ [Le Mans Classic] and the Richard Mille brand have steadily developed and grown in parallel. There has never been one without the other.”
Speed dials: top events in 2023 and their sponsors
13-14 Extreme E Hydro X Prix, Scotland (Zenith)
19-21 Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este, Italy (A Lange & Söhne)
28 Monaco Grand Prix (Tag Heuer)
28 Indianapolis 500 (Tag Heuer)
3-4 Formula E, Jakarta (Tag Heuer)
6-8 London Concours (Breguet)
10-11 Le Mans, France (Rolex)
13-17 Mille Miglia, Italy (Chopard)
24 Formula E, Portland, Oregon (Tag Heuer)
29-2 Le Mans Classic, France (Richard Mille)
8-9 Extreme E Island X Prix, Sardinia (Zenith)
13-16 Goodwood Festival of Speed, UK (Roger Dubuis)
15-16 Formula E, Rome (Tag Heuer)
29-30 Formula E, London (Tag Heuer)
17-19 Monterey Motorsports Reunion, California (Rolex)
17 Pebble Beach Tour d’Elegance, California (Rolex)
20 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, California (Rolex)
1-3 Concours of Elegance, Hampton Court (A Lange & Söhne)
8-10 Goodwood Revival, UK (Rolex)
16-17 Extreme E X Prix, US (Zenith)
28-1 Audrain Concours, Newport, Rhode Island (A Lange & Söhne)
13-19 La Carrera Panamericana, Mexico (Tag Heuer)