Just as the dive and pilot watches were created to fill a gap in the market at the advent of underwater and air exploration respectively, so were the racing watches created for a very specific purpose: to measure time for horse, car, motorbike, and other races where accurate timekeeping was instrumental. Therefore, naturally, the most important distinguishing feature of a racing watch is the presence of a stopwatch function. For this reason, most chronographs on the market today can be categorized as racing watches, with the tachymeter on the bezel as an additional identifying element, which is a useful tool in the calculation of time and distance.
Racing Watch Characteristics:
So you decided to look into adding a racing watch to your collection, because let’s face it, they are a pretty cool accessory that every speed enthusiast needs in their life. As a next step, let’s make sure you know exactly what to look for when identifying a good racing watch that will surely suit your needs. Here are some of the most common design and functionality elements to be on the lookout for:
- Dials with high contrast – these dials are easy to read at a glance at high speeds (be sure to keep your eyes on the road–say it with me–yes, mother.)
- Chronograph – stopwatch functionality is usually enabled by pressing the start and stop pushers which operate the seconds hand.
- Tachymeter – the bezel around the dial has a Tachymeter scale to help with calculating speed and distance, and they usually make for a really cool visual element as well, adding to the sporty look of racing watches.
- Rally-Style Straps –this is not a set rule for all racing watches, but historically, racing watches were paired with breathable leather or rubber straps, so you might notice little holes dotting the leather strap all around.
Milestone Racing Watches:
Now that you know what to look for in a racing watch, let’s take a look at the most significant racing timepieces created throughout history, to gain a better understanding of their functionality, which of course directly impacted the design aspect. To this end, let us travel back in time to the Sunshine state, Florida, in the early 1930’s when land races began at the beaches – yes, they used to race in cars right on the beach, in the sand (do not attempt, fun times are over). One of the most successful racers at the time, Sir Malcolm Campbell broke the land speed record four times, racing in his Blue Bird with a Rolex Oyster wrapped around his wrist. While the Oyster is considered to be a diving watch, decades later when Rolex came out with their first iconic racing watch, the name was inspired by Campbell’s triumphant racing career at Daytona beach, and thus the Rolex Daytona was born.
Another brand that shaped the landscape of racing watches is Heuer (now TAG Heuer). The Monaco was one of the first automatic chronographs ever created, and it became an absolute favorite after the “King of Cool”, Steve McQueen wore the Heuer Monaco on his wrist in 1971 in Le Mans.
Next on the list of GOATs is the iconic Omega Speedmaster, originally designed as a racing watch in the ‘50s, it was later adopted by pilots due to its larger size and excellent legibility. Known by most as the “Moon Watch”, it was the only watch approved by NASA for astronauts. During the Apollo 11 mission, Buzz Aldrin wore his Omega Speedmaster while walking on the surface of the moon.
Moving on we have the Chopard Mille Miglia (Thousand Miles). Named after the historic car race in Italy, which nowadays is held for classic and vintage cars, Chopard is the official timekeeper and sponsor of the Mille Miglia races since 1989.
Next on our list is the Tag Heuer Carrera, this iconic timepiece was born in 1963, when Jack Heuer first heard of the legendary Carrera Panamericana Mexico Road Race. His imagination soared, and the chronograph design for the professional racing watch was conceived.
Last but certainly not least, is the Breitling for Bentley. The relationship between the two luxury giants began in the 1920’s, when the “Bentley Boys” won the 24 Hours of Le Mans race five times. Breitling, their main sponsor, then created a limited edition chronograph to celebrate the feat.
Racing Watch Buyer's Guide
Most Common Reasons to Buy a Racing Watch
Even though it is a very cool function, realistically, most people who decide to buy a racing watch are not about to use it in an actual high speed race, calculating the lap time using the Tachymeter on their wrist. The reason racing watches remain one of the most popular and sought after timepieces is their classic, sporty design, combined with the high level of craftsmanship needed to create a timepiece with such accurate time measuring functions. It is a great addition to the collection of any car enthusiast, a constant companion on the road for many adventures – the dynamic, masculin design of most racing watches is sure to put you into gear and action.
To make shopping for the perfect racing watch much easier for you, take a look at our carefully and thoughtfully compiled lists, categorized by different price ranges. All in one place!
Take a look at our customized pilot watch categories sorted by price, each watch thoughtfully selected keeping in mind superior quality and lasting design.