In this blog, we will explore chronograph's in auto-racing, some of the greatest racers to ever grace the track, and how chronograph technology has inspired many watch designs in the modern-day.
In the 1950’s, the time of legendary racers: Stirling Moss, Alberto Ascari and Jose Froilan Gonzalez, British motorsports were coming to the forefront of sports entertainment.
It was a time where lap records were broken every other year thanks to rapidly advancing motor technology and faster, sleeker car design. Beating a time be 1/100th of a second was incredibly impressive. In order to measure such precise lap times, the timing equipment had to be accurate.
Enter chronographs. These timepieces were used by drivers and their teams alike to accurately measure lap times and lap record attempts.
Chronographs have a stopwatch function displayed on dials on the watch’s face. The sub-dials represent seconds (Sub-dial 1), minutes (Sub-dial 2) and hours (Sub-dial 3) so lengths of time can be measured precisely.
The first publicly marketed chronograph was said to be made by Nicolas Mathieu Rieussec, watchmaker of the French King Louis XVII.
Sir Stirling Moss
Sir Stirling Moss accepting his first World Championship Cup - 1955
Credit: Lauren Kent, Wayne Sterling and Paul Gittings, CNN
Sir Stirling Moss was a dedicated and successful British Formula One driver, and a true racing Legend.
Moss's first World Championship victory was in the 1955 British Grand Prix at Aintree, a race he was also the first British driver to win.
Sir Stirling Moss received many accolades and achievements throughout his lifetime. In August 1957 Moss broke 5 international Class C records at Bonneville Salt Flats, including the flying kilometre where a speed of 245.64 mph was reached.
Back in the day of Sir Stirling Moss’s racing career, chronographs were used by racing drivers and teams to measure lap times. Now it is all done by advanced technology but in the 1950’s, chronograph watches were essential.
"Stirling Moss" script and a British flag on a 1958 Maserati 420M/58 he raced in the Race of Two Worlds on Monza – Credit: Roberto Ferrari
Well known for his career as an American Actor, appearing in films like “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, “The Hustler”, and winning the Academy Award for Best Actor in “The Color of Money”, Paul Newman is a legendary name.
Throughout his life he considered himself an auto-race enthusiast, he had a career in 24 Hour Le Mans races, Petit Le Mans and Sports Car Club of America events. His love of the sport came while training at the Watkins Glen Racing School for the 1969 film “Winning”.
Newman’s first professional event as a racer was in 1972 at the Thompson International Speedway. He secretly entered as "P. L. Newman", and continued to be known as this in the racing community. In 1979 he raced in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in Dick Barbour's Porsche 935 finishing in second place.
He is a renowned American actor and a racing legend.
The Rolex Daytona is a chronograph watch. In 1962, Rolex was named the official timekeeper of the Daytona International Speedway. In 1963, the first Cosmograph reference 6239 was released in honour if the partnership.
Paul Newman’s Wife, and “Winning” co-star Joanne Woodward, gifted him an exotic-dial 1968 Rolex reference 6239 with “Drive Carefully Me” engraved on the back, in support of his passion for auto-racing. It is reported that he wore that watch in every race following which exploded the popularity of the watch over the course of the 1980’s and gave it the name - The Paul Newman Daytona.
Now, Rolex Daytona watches are self-winding and come in a range of materials including, 18-karat gold, rose-gold and platinum. Find out more information here.
A Newman Freeman Racing Spyder NF Can-Am race car from 1979. – Credit: Jason Goulding from Newcastle, Australia - LolaUploaded by Royalbroil, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17813515
Steve McQueen was also an American Actor and race enthusiast. He received an Academy Award nomination for his performance as Jake Holman in “The Sand Pebbles”.
He did most of his own stunts, including the motorcycle chase scene in “The Great Escape", more than many actors at that time. He had considerable screen time on his very own 650 cc Triumph TR6 Trophy motorcycle and it was hard to find racers as skilled as him to play his stuntmen.
McQueen considered a career as a professional race car driver. In 1961, he participated in the British Touring Car Championship driving BMC Mini at Brands Hatch He finished third.
In the 1970 12 Hours of Sebring race, Peter Revson and McQueen won driving a Porsche 908/02 in the three-litre class, despite having to drive with a cast on his left foot from a motorcycle accident he had two weeks earlier, and missed winning overall by 23 seconds.
TAG Heuer Monaco
The TAG Heuer watch was created in 1969, in a tribute to one of the most famous Grand Prix tracks in the world. It was unique thanks to its Square watch case – it was the first ever waterproof, square watch case. Jack Heuer, the company’s CEO at the time, had the idea for the square design. He thought it would make the watch stand out as an iconic timepiece.
In the 1971 film “Le Mans”, Steve McQueen is seen wearing stunt-double and Mentor Jo Siffert’s racing overalls and TAG Heuer Calibre 12 Monaco. In total, the watch gets 15 minutes of screen time in the film. This elevated its popularity exponentially even in places like China, where the watch had initially seen lacking results.
McQueen with two forms of transportation – his horse, Doc, and his Jaguar XKSS (1960)
The legacy of the chronograph, much like that of Sir Stirling Moss, Paul Newman and Steve McQueen, lives on today in modern chronograph designs.
At Blenheim London, we have our own line of chronograph watches - The Chronomaster Pilot watch line. These beautiful, sleek watches are our best-sellers!
Use code: SPACEX to get 50% off our range of Pilot watches! This offer ends when our stock is gone so get yours while you can!
We are also working hard on our Kickstarter campaign - The Chronopro. A chronograph watch perfect for wearing around the house or in a professional setting.