The love story between Chopard and the Mille Miglia
A rich and varied history shared by household names in their respective field
TAG Heuer is my favourite watch brand, chiefly because they make the Monaco, and I was once minutes away from purchasing a vintage Heuer stopwatch from the 1970s. When I say 'minutes away', what I mean is '1 dollar away', because I was outbid on eBay by exactly one dollar. Damn. I'm a bit of a watch geek but I'm also a car guy and I'm always looking for new opportunities to unite these two things. The good news is I'm spoilt for choice because the list of car + watch connections is endless.
In the olden days - especially in the 50s, 60s and 70s - watch brands would traditionally award racing drivers and their teams special edition watches and this is still common practice: Ricky Tailor, winner of the 2017 24 Hours of Daytona, was given a two-tone Rolex Daytona ref. 116503. There's an infinitely entertaining interview with former F1 driver Mario Andretti - you can watch it on Hodinkee YouTube channel - in which he explains how he got each of the timepieces he has in his collection and the crazy thing is he won each and every single one of his piece with a race. Amazing.
The TAG Heuer Carrera was named after the 'Carrera Panamericana', an iconic Mexican race in the 1950s. The Rolex Daytona was named after Daytona International Speedway in Florida. And then you've got Bentley + Breitling, Lamborghini + Roger Dubuis, Bugatti + Jacob & Co. The list is a saga and it includes Chopard which, as some of you may know, has linked its name with the 'most beautiful race in the world', the Mille Miglia.
The Mille Miglia started out as an open-road endurance race in 1927. In the mid 20s, a group of Italian Counts came up with an idea for a race across the country. They all came from Brescia, in Northern Italy, so it made sense to make it the starting point and the route would consist of 1,500 km to Rome, the capital city, and back. As it turns out, the race ended up being a little longer than that because during the first edition won by Ferdinando Minoia and Giuseppe Morandi at the wheel of an OM665S, ended up covering 1,618 km, equivalent to around 1,005 miles. The Mille Miglia gave the world Alberto Ascari, Stirling Moss and Tazio Nuvolari but it also took 56 lives across 24 editions and it eventually discontinued in 1957 for safety reasons. Twenty years later, the 'most beautiful race in the world', as Enzo Ferrari once called it, was revived for the Mille Miglia Storica, the race we're all familiar with, which is essentially a regularity race for classic cars.
What started out as a relatively simple revival plan gradually but relentlessly turned into a unique event with a cult-like following. Each year, 450 teams are literally handpicked to take part in the race and the requirements are extremely strict.
In 1988, Chopard became partner and official timekeeper of the race, chiefly because the then director and current chairman of Chopard Karl-Friedrich Scheufele was essentially a car nut. He was, and still is, absolutely obsessed with cars and his plan worked brilliantly. Over the course of the years, the brand has introduced a variety of watches to celebrate the Mille Miglia, most of them are chronographs, and this partnership, which actually looks a lot like a love story, is unlikely to end any time soon.
Chopard watches aren't exactly cheap but they're still sort of affordable in the sense that they can be bought by regular human beings without having to mortgage a kidney. A lot of watch brands out there claim to have motorsport credibility and heritage but only a few are actually able to cash the checks they write. And Chopard is definitely one of them.