Ferrari Watches: The Modern EraBy Ken Kessler
With myriad Ferrari-related watches dating back a half-century-plus, the latest incarnation from Hublot has at last established the Prancing Horse sub-genre as a viable family of watches with a rosy future. The only real parallel is the successful Breitling-Bentley collaboration, which was the first car/watch mash-up to transcend the default audience of owners of the actual cars. Ferrari’s latest union has already delivered more models than all of its predecessors combined – Hublot is the Tourette’s of watchmaking – so the marriage’s longevity seems assured.
Before we get to the “Big Two,” mention should be made of a remarkable model produced by Cabestan in 2010. The “Scuderia Ferrari One” was a project in which Crealuxe worked closely with the in-house Ferrari design team, led by Flavio Manzoni, to create – and this is a mantra repeated by Hublot – “an exciting new Ferrari chassis for the high performance Cabestan motor inside.”
This was a radical movement of the TAG Heuer V4/Parmigiani Bugatti/Hublot LaFerrari school of exposed innards and unconventional layouts. The case was made of a titanium alloy as found in the components of Ferrari Formula One cars, fitted with a massive crystal that revealed rotary drums, gears, chains and a carbon-fibre bridge. Other details included the use of a special magnesium alloy to create an impression of wheels and lug nuts, while the leather strap recalled the seats in a Ferrari.
With its vertical gear train, vertical tourbillon coupled with a miniature chain-and-fusée and an “automatic transmission” to compensate for the torque curve of the mainspring, this was also a constant force movement – ironically championed by Girard-Perregaux and now a feature turning up in various and sundry designs. Hours, minutes and seconds were displayed on three engraved aluminium rotary drums marked with Super Luminova using Ferrari fonts. The watch delivered a 72-hour power reserve, also shown on an engraved aluminium rotary drum marked with Super Luminova using Ferrari fonts. Initially priced at CHF300,000, and offered only to Ferrari owners “by invitation,” one can presume it is a supremely rare beast.
From Maranello To Florence
Cabestan’s lone Ferrari watch, in terms of the timing of its appearance (the dates, not its actual horological behaviour), acted as a bridge between the Ferrari watches made by Panerai and the present commission holder. Ferrari’s Panerai connection existed from 2005/6 to 2010, a brief span but one that yielded, with hindsight, some of the finest watches ever made to represent the cars from Maranello. Conceptually, it was a pairing one could only dream about because both were and are Italian icons.
While nothing as extreme as the Cabestan Scuderia Ferrari One (let alone one of the more outré Hublots which would follow) came out this venture, a number of models have since emerged as highly collectible, especially the 50-examples-only Reference FER00024 of 2008, the Ferrari Chronograph Classic, which housed a genuine vintage Minerva 13-20 movement. With this cheeky manoeuvre, Panerai/Ferrari out-Minerva’d fellow Richemont brand Montblanc, which still hasn’t quite grasped the value of the Minerva name.
Although we are blessed with 20/20 hindsight, it’s easy to forget that the Panerai-Ferrari venture had issues from the outset. Hidebound Paneristi didn’t want the watches because their purism demanded dials bearing only the Panerai name, while Ferrari owners simply weren’t drawn to the pieces because they were either too inexpensive or too dear, depending on whom you ask. The tragedy is that they were handsome, cleverly designed and should have been a runaway success.
Granturismo v Scuderia
Much thought had gone into the concept, clearly to preserve the reputations, design sensibilities and prestige of both houses. The overall collection was branded “Ferrari Engineered by Panerai” and consisted of two separate product lines, to be marketed as “Granturismo” and “Scuderia.” Although manufactured and retailed by Panerai, the watches carried only the Ferrari name on the dial. Granturismo models featured the Prancing Horse at 12 o’clock, while Scuderias were detailed with the famous yellow shield that Ferrari racing cars have always worn.
There was much overlap between the two ranges, as both featured complications, but the Granturismos were the more traditional and the Scuderias more adventurous. The majority were chronographs, but time-only models and GMTs were also in the catalogue. In total, the company produced 27 references, though not all of the numbers were used: FER00001 to FER00028 skipped 00021, 00023, 00026 and 00027; to this run of 24 models were added Ferrari California Flyback FER00030, Ferrari Scuderia Rattrapante FER00033 and Ferrari Chronograph FER00038.
While the numerical omissions might appear to cause confusion among collectors, as well as certain models labelled neither Scuderia nor Granturismo, production was well-documented. Most came in 45mm cases that were derived from the Luminor, but without the Panerai lock-down feature and with sides recalling certain Radiomirs; FER00018 and FER00019 used 40mm cases. Movements other than the new in-house calibres included those with Valjoux 7750 and ETA 7753 and 2894-2 bases and three from La Joux-Perret.
Stand-out models, alongside the aforementioned, Minerva-powered FER00024, included the Granturismo Rattrapante FER00005, the Granturismo GMT 8 Days FER00012 and all of the models with in-house movements, four with the manually-wound Cal. P.2002/2, the Granturismo 8 Days Chrono Monopulsante FER00020 with Cal. P.2004/6 and Scuderia 10 Days GMT FER00022 with Cal. P.2003/5. Values remain stuck at £3000-£12,000, which is far below corresponding Panerai pieces, e.g. time-only automatics from both ranges or flyback chronographs offered by the two (though none are directly comparable). This, however, means that they are well-kept secrets and therefore bargains by any measure.
A Natural End
As a postscript to the Panerai/Ferrari adventure, I was fortunate enough to spend time with Alessandro Ficarelli, a long-term employee of Panerai, now the Product Development Director, at the recent event in Harrods. He recounted for me the end of the affair, his version in direct contrast to the much-disputed outcome as voiced among horology’s chattering classes. Immediately, upon my asking him about the saga, he dispelled the misconceptions that Ferrari terminated the arrangement, that the watches weren’t selling and other myths.
It turns out that the entire adventure was a perfect storm, born of optimism but waiting only to run out its five-year contract. As far as coincidences go – both favourable and self-terminating – the Panerai-Ferrari link-up happened to occur at the same time Panerai was accelerating its drive to become a fully-fledged manufacture. This changed the company’s priorities, and the decision was wise, for it is now, a decade later, a fully-fledged manufacture.
In some ways, according to Ficarelli, the watches were actually too successful, given that Panerai’s energies were being drawn away by the ambitious programmes of the day which concerned their own branded pieces, the move to full manufacture status over-riding just about everything. Ficarelli assured me that it was Panerai’s decision to end the relationship, and so production came to a halt. The loss was ours, for the pieces are among the most fascinating of Panerais – and for some, the best watches ever to wear the Ferrari logo.
Then Came the Big Bang
It was at Baselworld 2012 that the whispers grew louder. Ferrari didn’t hang about after the relationship with Panerai ended. By this time, the GT supercar company was so imbued with marketing itself as a brand (just pop into one of the boutiques if you want to see what product types can be endowed with a Ferrari logo) that the thought of no high-end watch connected to it must have seemed anathema. The relationship began in 2011, announced in November of that year, and Hublot – which responds to trends and fashions with greater speed that Ferrari completes laps – delivered its debut model a year later.
To inaugurate the partnership, Hublot needed more than a badge-engineered Big Bang, just as Panerai resisted slapping a Prancing Horse on a Luminor. It would create something special, just right for heralding a partnership which both companies stressed was more than the usual co-branding, licensing or sponsorship set-up.
In addition to cross-pollination, with Ferrari being truly hands-on when it comes to the designs, the relationship would include joint support of “all key activities pertaining to brand image and sales activities.” This included the production of a “Ferrari Official Watch” and a “Scuderia Ferrari Official Watch,” along with Hublot assuming the title of “Ferrari Official Timekeeper”, “Scuderia Ferrari Official Timekeeper” and “Ferrari Challenge Official Timekeeper.”
It was a joint announcement by Jean-Claude Biver, then-Chairman of Hublot, and Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, President of Ferrari S.p.A. at the Mugello circuit. Five months later, the first fruits appeared, seven years after the debut of the Big Bang. The first models, to distinguish them from the “normal” Big Bangs just as the Panerai Ferrari watches differed from Luminors and Radiomirs, featured larger cases at 45.5mm, with a cylindrical bezel.
Every Hublot Ferrari watch since has sported details with direct reference to some feature connected to the cars, be it likenesses to gauges on the dashboards, the cars’ pedals and even seatbelt mechanisms. Bold colours, exotic materials, interchangeable straps that educe reference to the cars’ upholstery and stitching – every minute element had to relate to Ferrari as much as it would to Hublot.
But the latter needed to be an equal partner, so, to ensure that the “watchness” of the line-up was as relevant as the “Ferrariness,” the range has featured every function and complication that can be even remotely deemed suitable in a sports watch. Moreover, given its adventurousness, Hublot hasn’t shied away from using every material in can lay its hands on it devising new cases, bridges and other elements.
Hublot also used the first of the Ferrari line to exploit the company’s in-house UNICO movement, which it compared to “the best possible engine to power a racing car, and that it was selected, then designed and developed by Hublot to power the Big Bang Ferrari.” It boasted 330 components, an oscillating frequency of 28,800 vibrations per hour, a column wheel and dual horizontal coupling on the dial side, “appear(ing) in a new constellation reminiscent of Ferrari alloy wheel rims.”
This chronograph could claim a 72-hour power reserve, and water resistance to 100m. It did everything a regular Big Bang could do, while emanating an Italian attitude that remained true to Enzo’s empire. Further to emphasise its historical importance for both companies, the Big Bang Ferrari case incorporated Hublot’s proprietary material, Magic Gold, a type of scratch-resistant 18k gold.
Ultimately, Hublot’s role as Ferrari’s watchmaker will be remembered for more than the undeniable prolificacy. We could fill half of this magazine just listing the Hublot Ferrari models: it has been noted that the company had created 50 models by 2019, which equates to a heady average of seven new Ferrari watches every year during its first seven years. Sheer quantity, though, isn’t enough to differentiate this effort from previous Ferrari watch dynasties. While I, for one, await the big, fat coffee table book which surely must be written to deal solely with the Hublot Big Bang Ferrari watches to mark the collaboration’s first decade in 2022, there is one outrageous stand-out which should grace that tome’s cover.
As so many car/watch pairings have been related directly to individual models – numerous Bentley Breitlings, the Parmigiani Bugatti Atlantic, the 8C Alfa-Romeo honoured by Mazzuoli – there are few to create such a sense of awe as Hublot’s outrageous MP-05 “LaFerrari” of 2013. It is everything that a car-related “halo” timepiece should be.
It was designed and developed by the Hublot engineers and watchmakers in tribute to “LaFerrari,” itself one of the most extreme of Ferrari’s limited edition road cars. A corresponding timepiece had to be just as adventurous. For openers, it could deliver a then-record-breaking 50-day power reserve. It was the watch with the most components created to date by Hublot, with an impressive 637 parts. And visually? It was as arresting as the vehicle that inspired it.
Its shape was not unlike that of Ferrari’s famous shield, a triangular affair with visible innards that – like Parmigiani’s Bugatti watches and the Cabestan – evoked motor construction, with transmission layouts, camshafts and other car parts brought to mind. Its complex, shaped sapphire crystal recalled LaFerrari’s outline, as did the open case-back. Its shell was made of black PVD titanium, with a titanium and carbon insert at its centre, revealing the winding crown; the time-setting crown was located beneath the case. In 2016, the watch was joined by MP-05 “LaFerrari” Sapphire.
LaFerrari was not the only extreme timepiece in the catalogue: in 2017, to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the Prancing Horse, Hublot launched the Techframe Ferrari Tourbillon Chronograph, another tour de force with a skeletal frame inspired by racing chassis, and tourbillon brazenly displayed in timepieces offered in a range of exotic materials. While not as wild as LaFerrari, it’s still one to impress even the most jaded at a Red Bar gathering.
Last year, the dazzling but more accessible Classic Fusion Ferrari GT appeared, again referencing Ferrari design cues both new and old. Imagined and designed in partnership with Flavio Manzoni, Head of Design at Ferrari, it is a beautifully-balanced and even mildly-restrained means of exploiting the “stylistic codes of ‘Gran Turismo’ racing” with a watch case and form.
Moreover, it is being offered in Carbon 3D fibre, a three-dimensional woven composite enjoying its first usage in watchmaking, or alternative cases including King Gold or Titanium. Inside is the UNICO HUB 1280 movement with column-wheel flyback chronograph with 72-hour power reserve. While something of a surprise to those used to the angular mien of Big Bang-related cases, it was clear that, again, Hublot and Ferrari had, together, created a technical and aesthetic declaration that respected both brands’ unique personalities, in harmony rather than contrast.
If the Classic Fusion Ferrari GT will serve as the line’s new mainstream, it cannot be accused of being prosaic. It clearly communicates Ferrari virtues to savvy tifosi. Equally, there was nothing remotely conventional about MP-05 LaFerrari, and the indulgence in producing it – as with the car – precluded any apologetic pretence of trickle-down technology. Like the car, it was purely a proclamation of the team’s combined prowess, and a memorable one. The resultant timepiece, more than anything, attested to Hublot’s commitment to its Italian partners. Somehow, “Bravo!” seems an understatement.