Cars and watches are no stranger to one another. There are whole complications and displays developed for the wrist and devoted to racing, driving and cars in general. But those watches are just a halfway house. The truly automotive timekeepers are those that never leave the dashboard. Of course, in the long history of cars there have been a fair few dashboard timers, clocks and watches over the many decades, but not all are built equal. So, let’s take a look at the best of the best.
Breguet 1932 Bugatti Royale
Historically, most dash clocks were simple time-only models, but for sheer glamour it is hard to beat the Breguet clock created in 1932 for the Bugatti Royale. At 21ft long and weighing just over three tonnes, the Bugatti Royale was designed to be the peak of ostentation.
A total of 25 were planned, but only seven were built and a mere three sold, as the world slipped into the Great Depression. For a car designed for royalty, a clock from Breguet was the ultimate refinement. Created to fit into the centre of the steering wheel, rather than the dashboard, this clock had an eight-day power reserve and a chronograph with a digital minute counter.
Surrounding the dial was a tachometer scale that measured up to 250kph, a necessity as the 12.7 litre, eight cylinder behemoth could reach 198kph. This is in striking contrast to the Breguet clock installed in the dashboard of the 1990s Lamborghini Diablo. A silver guilloché decorated cockpit chronograph, it appears as a grating anomaly among a sea of black plastic push buttons.
Audemars Piguet Rolls-Royce La Rose Noir Droptail
Then we have the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Split-Seconds Chronograph GMT Large Date for La Rose Noire Droptail. Debuting at a reported $30 million, this car steals the “most expensive new car in the world” title for itself. The watch is a 43mm diameter piece mounted in a removable holder that means it can be removed from the dashboard and worn on a strap like a conventional wristwatch.
Aesthetically, it has the signature octagonal bezel which looks fabulous mounted in the car. It reminds me a little of Iron Man’s chest mounted Arc Reactor. Although perhaps that’s just because the red and dark grey colourway designed to match the colours of La Rose Noire Droptail.
Jaeger Model FA and FAZ Clock
Say ‘dash clock’ to a vintage car enthusiast and one name springs to mind – Jaeger. There is a lot of confusion as to whether this means the owner has a Jaeger as in Jaeger-LeCoultre or not. The answer like so many things in horology is yes… and no. Edmund Jaeger was a Paris-based watchmaker at the turn of the 20th century. Like many watch companies of the time, he outsourced production to Switzerland, the majority to the firm LeCoultre.
In 1921, Jaeger and LeCoultre (but not yet Jaeger-LeCoultre) started a company in Britain making car clocks and other instruments. The most popular British Jaeger dashboard clocks were the Model FA and FAZ with Roman Numerals and optional lights, it was the lights that determined if it was an FA or FAZ. It’s difficult to track down cars that feature Jaeger instruments because they were sold to factories and dealers as optional upgrades for customers. So no specific vehicle is guaranteed to have one.
IWC 2014 Mercedes S63 AMG 4MATIC
More recently the inclusion of a prestige watchmaker’s clock in a car dash has been more about brand collaboration than technical necessity. IWC have supplied clocks to both Mercedes’ AMG collection, to match the co-branded watch, and also the S-Class Maybach. Pictured here is the 2014 Mercedes S63 AMG 4MATIC with a luxurious dark IWC in black with a central guilloche disc and a large peripheral ring featuring minute track and oversize hour markers.
IWC clocks have also featured in subsequent editions of the 63. Jumping forward to 2023, you can also find similar designs rendered in digital form thanks to Mercedes’ new electronic displays. Think of it in the same way as a smart watch can display an analogue watch face.
Bremont Jaguar XJ75 Platinum Concept Car
Bremont produced a removable dash clock/stopwatch for the Jaguar XJ75 Platinum Concept Car and the C-X75 Concept Supercar and in 2011 produced car clocks for the Queen’s fleet of Jaguars. It’s a true collaboration of famous British brands, showing the best of British. It’s almost enough to fill you with enough patriotism to wave a small flag on the next public holiday. In all seriousness, the removable stop watch for the XJ75 is gorgeous with its reverse panda colourway and bicompax chrono design.
Tag Heuer Autavia Dashboard Timer
Heuer’s dash clocks are as synonymous with motorsport as their wristwatches. Whether mounted on a clipboard or the dashboard itself, the single, double, or triple sets of clocks and chronographs have timed many a frenetic rally stage. This duo of Tag Heuer dash timers are the Hervue and Autavia. The Autavia name was originally used for dashboard timers before being discontinued and reborn as a new wristwatch range. That’s the Autavia collection as we know it today. Similar to the Jaegers above, Tag Heuer dashboard timers are upgrades you can apply to virtually any car.
Bovet Rolls-Royce Boat Tail
If Heuer are all about utility, then the best tribute to Bugatti’s original horological opulence has to be the Bovet/Rolls Royce collaboration. Reputedly produced for Jay-Z and Beyonce, this car cost a staggering $28.4 million. In a special drawer in the dash are housed two Bovet tourbillon watches, one for him and one for her.
Each double-sided timepiece can be worn as either a wrist or pocket watch, as well as being fitted into a holder in the dash to function as the car clock depending on who is choosing to drive or be driven that day. It may not be the best use of the analogue advantage over a digital display, as the eye may be tempted to linger just a little too long on such exquisite craftsmanship.
Breitling Mulliner Tourbillon Bentley Bentayga
Breitling and Bentley have enjoyed a 20 year partnership with dash clocks going into the Flying Spur, Continental GT and the Bentayga, while the typical Bentley knurling or wood detailing have found their way into the Breitling for Bentley watch collection. When it was introduced around 2015, the Breitling Mulliner Tourbillon in the Bentley Bentayga was the most expensive dashboard clock in the world.
The Mulliner features a tourbillon, diamond indexes and automatic winding. Automatic winding in a dashboard clock might seem like an odd choice unless you plan to roll your mega expensive car into a ditch regularly, but fortunately an inbuilt watch winder means you don’t need to resort to such extremes.
Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon Rolls-Royce Amethyst Droptail
Vacheron Constantin hasn’t created a custom watch for a car in close to a hundred years, the last time being in 1928. As such, the Rolls Royce Amethyst Droptail project was immediately given to the Les Cabinotiers workshop, the masterminds behind watches like the 2015 Ref. 57260, which was the most complicated timepiece in the world at the time.
In fact, it was actually the Ref. 57260 that inspired the watchmakers to create the Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon using the Calibre 1990. A bi-retrograde movement with a complex tourbillon that resembles an armillary – a spherical device used to represent the celestial movements of the Earth, sun, moon and planets.