Many high end watch brands have jumped on the Automotive Association bandwagon on recent years. The link is understandable as both high end wrist watches and automobiles carry the same prestige and have mechanical engines. These ties mainly consist of a watch brand looking through Top Marques magazine and trying to identify an automotive brand, race or driver that reflects that particular brand’s own philosophies, aspirations and catalogue. These links are usually quite tenuous.
However, there are other watch manufacturers where the link with a particular automobile manufacturer, race or personality was already established and the amalgamation was glaringly obvious.
One such collaboration is Chopard’s support and affiliation with the Mille Miglia classic rally that is held annually. Current Chopard CEO Karl Freidrich Scheufele, along with his father Karl, are long time collectors of vintage cars.
Father and Son own “about 30” lovingly restored but regularly driven vintage cars. When interviewed Karl Feidrich Scheufele will never actually quote how many vehicles they do have. This isn’t for security reasons. It is simply so his wife and mother never find out how many they do actually own, which will allow them to add to the collection in the future. So, as I’m sure you can comprehend, the person responsible for Chopard’s watch collection and his Father, formerly CEO of Chopard, are total vintage petrol heads. Their enviable collection of classic vehicles does not simply sit in a garage either. The cars they buy are chosen foremost for them to use. This could conceivably be for Karl Friedrich’s 30 mile commute or for the 1000 mile Mille Miglia rally.
Their involvement in the re-invention of the gruelling 1000 mile Mille Miglia, originally held between 1927 and 1957, started when this peerless event was re-established in 1984 on exactly the same roads as before, where possible, but with safety as the principal element. Since 1988 Chopard has been the main sponsor and has provided official timing for this prestigious event.
Please follow the link below to read more about the original Mille Miglia rally.
Many regard the Mille Miglia as the most beautiful race in the world. The only debate I can think of against this statement is “Is it really a race?”.
There may be a few readers who are unfamiliar with Chopard as a watch brand. This is because of their incredible success as a jewellery brand. However, you should not let this become a perturbation. Chopard have the ability to create horological masterpieces that can rival the very best in the business, including movements with the Geneva Seal attestation, at their manufacture. For more information on their horological history please follow the link:
Another association that should not be underestimated is that Karl, and his usual co-driver Jacky Ickx (yes that Jacky Ickx) wear off-the-shelf Chopard watches during the rally. Jacky has his own range of Limited Edition models.
So, as you can see, Chopard and the Mille Miglia rally is one of the few Watch/Car relationships that makes any real sense and is no meaningless publicity stunt. For Chopard this is an investment of the heart and soul.
Chopard also sponsor and support the following classic car race events each year:
– Grand Prix Historique, Monaco (which has its own line of commemorative watches from Chopard)
– Chopard Classic Rally, Moscow
– British Classic Car Meeting, St Moritz.
Limited Editions that celebrate the annual Mille Miglia classic car fest are created each year.
One of the most popular Chopard Mille Miglia timepieces is the XL GT Chronograph. This makes sense as Chopard are official timers of the classic drivers event and the ability for anyone to control time is always something that goes some way to fulfilling the megalomaniacal tendencies in all of us.
There are multiple options in the Mille Miglia XL GT Chronograph range, including the examples below which we currently have in stock at Andrew Micheals Jewellers.
Tribute to classic Alfa Romeos in a Limited number of only 500.
Standard black dialled model on bracelet
Two absolutely gorgeous solid gold models. Each Limited to only 250 worldwide.
The clever Rattrapante in a DLC case. Limited to only 1000 worldwide.
Apart from the gorgeous but incredibly expensive gold models my current favourite from the line-up is the Limited Edition 2011 models, especially the purposefully red “Rosso Corsa”. Which translates as “Racing Red”.
This is homage to all the red Italian classical cars that have ever taken part in the original and re-invented Mille Miglia race. This all Titanium model is Limited to only 1000 worldwide. I’m not normally a fan of red dialled watches but this one gets my vote because the red is a stunning shade and it evokes daydreams of the most beautiful cars in the world: Vintage Italian steeds from the likes of Ferrari, Maserati, Alfa Romeo, etc. And there is only one colour that these cars should be: Bright Red.
However, we shall be concentrating on the Stainless Steel black dialled version for this review. This model is a Limited Edition of only 2011 examples worldwide.
All of the above models have a few things in common. They are all individually engraved with their Limited Edition number, they all have sapphire glass exhibition casebacks, they are all 44mm in diameter and they all powered by the tried and trusted ETA 7750 movement. This movement has been considerably re-worked by Chopard’s experienced watchmakers to allow them to pass the stringent testing of the COSC.
One thing that slightly disappoints about the sapphire caseback above is the inclusion of the Mille Miglia motif on the underside of the glass. I really like the idea of incorporating this logo but I wish they had made it a little smaller. One of the main things that automobiles and timepieces have in common is their mechanical engines. The Mille Miglia models have been created to commemorate not only the race itself but the fantastic 60+ year old vintage machines that raced and survived this torturous event. To cover up most of window to the mechanical element of this watch seems a little strange to me.
Another unique aspect of this watch is that the rotor is one the most active I have ever witnessed. Move your arm then stop it suddenly and the rotor will happily freewheel for about 15 seconds. It’s also quite noisy as it does this, which I like.
When I was first introduced to the Mille Miglia range I have to confess I thought they were a little over-priced. I couldn’t understand how Chopard were able to request the same asking price for one of these ETA powered sports watches as they were for their impeccably built in-house dress watches. However, I am so delighted to have been so wrong. There are myriad design elements on these glorious chronographs, most of which are inspired by classical and modern automobiles. Every single one of these design elements stands up to the most stringent of scrutiny. Some of the close-up images below only go part-way to conveying the sheer high end finishing and attention to detail that has been bestowed upon this collection of watches. Simply put: If the bold and, let’s face it, busy facades of these utilitarian timepieces appeal aesthetically then you should have no concerns about searching one of these models out because the quality will always appease even the most fastidious.
For a start the case is perfectly polished or brushed. These two finishes are played off each other throughout.
The crown is stamped with the famous 1000 Miglia logo and the rectangular pushers have been given a stunning look, with their cross-hatched pattern, to reflect the hand finishing that was afforded the vintage cars that would have competed in the Mille Miglia over 60 years ago. These are some of my favourite pushers I’ve seen and used.
The crown protectors envelop the crown and have been contoured and hand-finished.
The hands are all highly polished and can reflect the surrounding colours, which means that they can turn from black to white, and anything inbetween, with the subtle turn of the wrist. The chronograph seconds hand has a red tip which allows it to stand out nicely against the black and white background. One element of the hour and minute hands that I absolutely love is the white Superluminova that has been liberally applied to both. This works so well against the silvered elements on the dial and the black dial itself. I believe this to be one of the few contemporary touches because, even though the Art-Deco scene was in full swing during the original Mille Miglia races it was not embraced by the European car manufacturers.
The white Superluminova becomes a virulent green when it has been charged by UV. There is a wonderful aesthetic nuance after the wearer has been outside in the daylight and then wanders around indoors. As the internal lighting conditions undulate between illumination peaks and troughs the hands change from white to green to white, etc. It is quite arresting.
The chronograph subdials are also homage to the hand crafted dials of the vintage cars.
They are one of the elements that have been given considerable thought so that the GT XL Chronograph has significant depth to its appearance. Other clever design features that aid this optical delight are the large 12 and 6 that have been applied to the underside of the sapphire glass, as seen in the image above, the circular pattern on the dial (another vintage dial inspiration), the applied hourmarkers, the indented seconds subdial and the chamfered chapter ring with the 1980’s styled numerals, to reflect the period when the Mille Miglia rally returned.
The subtle, and very difficult to photograph, dial finish can just be witnessed in the following image:
A second strange design decision, in my humble opinion, is the solid red sub-seconds hand. This jumps right out of the dial for impressive legibility and the red matches the Mille Miglia logo perfectly but I don’t understand its significance. Perhaps I am naive and this design was utilised by vintage cars. If so, I’d love to hear clarification from someone more knowledgeable than me. Because it is in constant motion and bright red it draws the eye right in. Maybe this was intended. However, I do find it a little distracting from the rest of the individual elements dial that work so well as a whole.
The magnifier for the date is inherent to the sapphire glass and works very well, allowing the date to be incredibly legible and have its own identity amongst the many components of the dial. When viewed straight on the end of the printed CHOPARD and CHRONOMETER become distorted by the convex magnifying window, which I quite like.
Despite its a la mode over-proportioned 44mm girth and it’s 14.56mm depth the Mille Miglia XL GT Chronograph does sit nice and comfortably on the wrist. I only have 6.5” wrists and I didn’t find it overbearing or fatiguing in the slightest. The rubber strap is decorated by the exact tread pattern of a 1960’s Dunlop tyre. This all comes together with the use of a double deployment clasp. The rubber strap fits flush to the case, which is yet another indication that every element of this superb timepiece has been afforded considerable thought and has been well conceived. The strap also bevels slightly to make it appear just as the vintage Dunlops do when they adorn the collectable and covetable vintage vehicles that this collectable and covetable timepiece pays tribute to. The XL GT Chronograph looks perfectly at ease alongside casual or formal attire, although it is probably truly at home at the end of a sooty and oily race suit.
I’m sure most high end watch designers put their heart and soul into each new design that they are responsible for. Furtive minds are simply not enough. However, you do need to have the right stuff within your heart and soul. This allows you to create a true design that becomes at once a unique, memorable classic and which is as sympathetic to its inspiration as it is its end users requirements. In this instance Karl Friedrich Scheufele had the knowledge and passion to create a contemporary timepiece that would reflect the soul and heritage of its stimulant. It is a clever marriage of modern craftsmanship and bygone design customs.
When I look upon the Mille Miglia XL GT Chronograph I am instilled with the confidence that should be a given in a modern watch through the generous proportions, up-to-date materials, high end finishing and COSC certification, etc. And yet I am also left with a feeling of gentle nostalgia through the utilisation of cleverly implemented historical elements that reflect the other covetable and collectable mechanical objet d’arts.
In fact, the things this glorious timepiece does not have in common with its, equally glorious, vintage vehicle inspirations is its comfort, practicality and unerring accuracy and reliability. However, this does not detract from that all-important factor (excuse?) often used by the brave souls who take on not only the challenge of vintage car ownership but the Mille Miglia itself despite these obvious failings; its character.
All words and pictures by Rick Atkins, unless otherwise stated. This article may not be reproduced in part or in whole without the permission of the author.