A motoring-inspired chronograph is a bit of cliché in the world of watches. Brands have milked the connection between chronographs as timing instruments and motor-racing for decades now. So in a way, watch companies are up against it when the product management team says they have yet another automotive-inspired timepiece in the works.
The truth is that it’s hard to come up with something that’s not been done before. The Parmgiani-Bugatti collaboration and Hublot’s La Ferrari MP-05 Tourbillion, with a display that resembles the engine of the Ferrari supercar, are noteworthy examples of this marriage but they speak to a certain audience thanks to their hefty price tag.
More recent examples include avant-garde watchmaker Richard Mille’s first partnership with F1 constructor McLaren, a $100,000 split-seconds chronograph. Singer Reimagined unveiled a unique $40,000 motoring-inspired chronograph with a unique movement and display. At the other end of the spectrum you have micro-brands like REC Watches that use actual parts from the wreckage of vintage or classic cars to create quirky, affordable timepieces that really become talking points.
Which brings us to the Baume et Mercier’s Clifton Club Shelby Cobra Limited Edition – a Valjoux 7750-powered chronograph that pays homage to an American motoring icon from the Sixties, the Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe. Refreshingly, there’s no great technical ingenuity or cutting edge material used in the development of this watch. Just a great back story and some clever design cues.
This isn’t the Swiss brand’s first tie-up with the American muscle car icon. In 2015, Baume & Mercier introduced two limited edition (in steel and rose gold) Capeland Shelby Cobra chronographs inspired by a vintage 1948 mono-push-piece chronograph in the brand museum. The Shelby Cobra watches introduced this year are in the new Clifton Club model line, a new range of sports watches that debuted at SIHH earlier this year.
The Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe was first made in 1964 to challenge Ferrari’s dominance of the World Sportscar Championship. The upstart company took on the might of Ferrari in a David vs Goliath tale that captured the imagination of motorsports enthusiasts in the Sixties. The car was designed by Peter Brock and is considered an icon of American motoring today.
As far as looks go, the Clifton Club Shelby Cobra Limited Edition doesn’t deviate from the classic chronographs made for motorsports in the Sixties and Seventies. It uses a 44 mm stainless steel case with a mix of brushed and polished surfaces. Although a smaller size watch (somewhere in the 38-40 mm range) would have been ideal given the vintage style codes), the 44 mm steel case is what we get. The most striking feature of the case is the chronograph pushers which are shaped like the foot pedals of the Shelby Daytona Coupe. The case has a signed crown and is fitted with an anti-reflective sapphire crystal.
The dial was designed by Brock himself. In fact, Brock worked with the design director Alexander Peraldi on the overlook look of the watch. The silver dial has two distinct white racing stripes that run vertically from 12 to 6 and a tachymeter scale is printed on a raised ring along the periphery. The dial uses Arabic numerals with Super-Luminova dots to mark the hour.
The rhodium-plated hands have SuperLuminova inserts that recall steering wheel spokes. The chronograph has a two register layout with blue snailed sub-dials that are inspired by the dashboard counters of the car. The minutes counter sits at 12 and the hours at 6. A running seconds sub-dial is placed at 9 and the day and date are indicated via a window at 3. The red central chronograph seconds hand has the original Shelby Cobra logo on the counterweight.
The exhibition sapphire crystal caseback reveals another interesting hat tip to the Shelby Cobra - the oscillating weight is shaped like the off-white alloy wheel of the car. It’s an interesting detail that classic car enthusiasts will appreciate.
The watch is powered by the legendary Valjoux 7750 movement. It has a power reserve of 48 hours and the chronograph is activated by the pusher at 2 o’ clock. The pusher at 4 is used to stop and reset the chronograph.
It is fitted with a calf-leather strap with an embossed carbon fiber pattern with a rubberized calf-leather lining in red to match the accents on the dial. Fastened with a triple-folding clasp with security push pieces, the strap is comfortable on the wrist. The watch is a limited edition of 1,964 pieces (to mark the birth year of the car) and is also available with a blue dial.
The Clifton Shelby Cobra Limited Edition could have easily been just another motorsport-inspired watch in the market. But having worn it for a week, I can say its vintage-inspired styling and references to a classic American car make it an interesting proposition. It’s a fairly uncomplicated wristwatch with some pleasing aesthetics and a reliable movement. At about AED15,000 ($4,082), it may not be the most affordable watch around but considering the pedigree of the two brands involved – a 187-year-old Swiss watch brand and an American legend – at least you know it’s not daylight robbery.