Ever since Mercedes Gleitze became the first British woman to swim across the English Channel, the esteemed watchmaking name of Rolex has been associated with the peak of sporting achievement, from tennis to golf and from equestrianism to sailing. As the Geneva- based brand has long been synonymous with technical innovation and perfection, it was also inevitable that its name would also become closely linked with what’s arguably the most technologically advanced sport of all: motor racing.
The story dates back to the 1930s, when the British racing driver and motoring journalist Sir Malcolm Campbell set nine world land-speed records between 1924 and 1935 in a succession of specially designed cars bearing the name Blue Bird. In September 1935 at Bonneville Salt Flats in the United States, driving the last in the line of his streamlined Campbell-Napier-Railton machines, this intrepid automobile adventurer went down in history by being the first man to exceed 300mph (483km/h) on land. He did so while wearing a Rolex Oyster watch strapped to his wrist.
Campbell’s feat marked the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship between Rolex and motorsport, which is exemplified by the introduction in the 1963 of the Cosmograph Daytona. Designed specifically with racing drivers in mind, the Daytona chronograph boasts the split-second accuracy that’s essential in an activity where timing and precision are all-important. Named after the Florida beachfront community that’s home to the famous international speedway, where the annual Rolex 24 at Daytona endurance race takes place, the watch remains one of the most prized timepieces in the brand’s product line-up.
As well as endurance sportscar racing, Rolex has built strong and enduring links with the series that forms the very pinnacle of motorsport – Formula 1. The great Scottish-born driver Sir Jackie Stewart, who was crowned World Champion in 1969, 1971 and 1973, and vocally advocated safety at a time when racing was fraught with danger, was named a Rolex Testimonee in the early 1970s.
Still an outspoken voice for the sport today, Stewart describes the evident synergies between racing and the brand thus: “The levels of precision, engineering and innovation upheld by the top levels of sport, and particularly Formula 1, are very similar to those set by Rolex. They are leaders in their respective fields and have made a habit of turning unconventional thinking into the norm, resulting in many pioneering moments in their histories.”
Other Rolex Testimonees from the sport include the Australian Mark Webber, the winner of nine grands prix who also made his mark in endurance racing, and the great Danish driver Tom Kristensen, whose astonishing nine victories in the gruelling 24-hours Le Mans race makes him the uncrowned king of this classic event. Both drivers point to the trickling-down of technology from racing to road cars that’s made the latter more efficient, safer and more durable. “The DNA of our cars has come from motor sport,” says Weber. “It continues to develop technology that filters into mass-market products … Every day, people are much safer driving their cars because of motor sport.”
Kristensen adds: “Naturally, Le Mans has greatly influenced the automotive industry throughout the race’s history … Success at the 24 Hours of Le Mans is the best stamp of approval that one can receive in the road-car industry.”
Rolex’s appointment in 2013 as Global Partner and the Official Timekeeper of Formula 1 cemented the ties that have long linked the world’s most technologically driven sport with the watch brand whose name has been a byword for innovation, continuous development and a relentless quest for excellence for more than a century. Whether pushing the parameters of performance and reliability to be first past the chequered flag or creating the most precise, accurate and durable timepieces possible, both are united in their pursuit of the ultimate.
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This story first appeared on Prestige Hong Kong.