The sport of motor racing and the watch industry have a deep and longstanding history together. Motorsports are dependent on highly accurate timekeeping to track each driver’s performance behind the wheel. The relationship between racing and watches all began at a time when drivers depended on their timepieces, specifically chronographs, to record everything from lap times to pit stops. Before wristwatches were widely used, there were problems and discrepancies with timekeeping at the first motor racing events.
The 1930’s mark a pivotal moment in the history of watches and racing. The popularity of motorsports spiked after legendary motorist Sir Malcolm Campbell became the first person to drive an automobile over 300 mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats. When he set the land speed record, he was wearing a Rolex Oyster. Rolex decided to capitalize on the moment, and other watch brands, like Heuer, soon followed.
Heuer quickly became the top watch brand in the sport. Before there were Heuer racing-inspired timepieces, there were Heuer dashboard timers. For example, the now popular Autavia began as a dashboard timer and was reinvented as a wristwatch in 1962. The 1960’s were a major moment for Heuer and motorsports. In addition to the Autavia, the brand developed its two other staple racing chronographs — the Carrera and Monaco. And in 1969, Heuer created the first automatic chronograph, the Caliber 11. Heuer’s popularity in the racing world continued to rise into the 1970’s when the famed actor and racing enthusiast Steve McQueen wore a Monaco in the film Le Mans.
In addition to Heuer and Rolex, many other watch brands have joined the racing game. The iconic Omega Speedmaster was designed as a sports and racing chronograph. And both Longines and Hublot have served as official timekeepers for Formula One racing events. Although today’s drivers don’t depend on their own wristwatches to track time, the steadfast relationship between the sport of racing and the watch industry remains stronger than ever.
We asked our buddies at Crown & Caliber, experts in buying and selling luxury watches, to help us compile some of the best racing-inspired timepieces under $5,000 that you can buy right now.
The Speedmaster is Omega’s staple sports and racing chronograph and the first model in their family of watches to feature the now iconic-triple register dial. The Speedmaster Racing models offer a twist on the traditional Speedmaster with a new movement.
The Monaco was the first square, waterproof automatic chronograph on the market. The Le Mans Limited Edition pays homage to the world’s oldest active sports car race, the Le Mans that was popularized by the 1971 film.
The Mille Miglia takes its name from what is known as the world’s most beautiful race—one that’s reserved for classic and vintage cars that have been part of historical races. Thus, the model has a suitably vintage racing-inspired design.
The Cartier Roadster is a relatively simple racing-inspired watch that has a lot of personality. It combines the masculine feel of a classic sports watch with the timeless aesthetic that’s iconic to Cartier.
The Carrera is a pivotal model in the history of the TAG Heuer brand. After the model was retired for over a decade, it was relaunched shortly after Techniques d’Avant Garde acquired the Heuer brand. Since then, it’s become one of the most iconic models in the brand’s line.
The Cartier Drive is a vintage automotive-inspired watch with a refined and masculine design. The wide but thin cushion shape gives it a sporty but elegant feel that’s perfect for the open road or everyday wear.
The Carrera was inspired by the famous border-to-border race on the open roads of Mexico, the Carrera Panamericana. The Day-Date variation of the iconic model adds some elevated complications to this timeless watch.
The Breitling Bentley 24H Limited Edition celebrates the historic anniversary of Bentley’s second-place finish at the famous Le Mans race. This special model was produced in a run of only 288 pieces in conjunction with the six Le Mans Limited Edition vehicles, each of which were made in a limited quantity of only 48.