There are some watches that will be forever linked with cars and famous characters on the small and big screens. The examples that come to mind are under-the-radar and not famous links, but are well known to the army of watch geeks towards whom this tome is generally aimed! If I say a Ferrari 308 GTS and Tom Selleck as Thomas Magnum P.I. you immediately think of what? Correct — the “Pepsi” Rolex GMT-Master reference 16750. How about a Porsche 908 and Steve McQueen in Le Mans? Well done you — a blue-dial Heuer Monaco! OK, now time for a difficult one. A white Ferrari Testarossa and Don Johnson as James “Sonny” Crockett in Miami Vice? Anyone…anyone? Good answer — an Ebel 1911 Sport Classic Chronograph!
The 1980s series Miami Vice was so much more than simply a television series. It was the springboard for a number of trends and styles that in many ways have stood the test of time over the past three decades since the show’s demise. Designer stubble, still here. Unstructured jackets over a T-shirt, still a strong look. And scenes of sartorially on-point dudes tearing up and down the highways and byways of Miami in a classic Ferrari will never get old; at least in this writer’s mind. And about that Ferrari. In the early episodes, Miami Vice’s leading character Crockett drove a “Ferrari” Daytona that was actually a customised Corvette. Ferrari was deeply unhappy with this and threatened to sue if the producers continued to use the fugazi car in the series. The resolution of this issue was as cool as the entire Miami Vice concept — Ferrari agreed to provide two new Testarossas for filming if the producers agreed for the “Faketona” to be written-off in an on-screen car smash. The car was indeed totaled and the replacement Ferrari-supplied Testarossas became as important a component of the Miami Vice aesthetic as the South Beach Art Deco buildings, through which Crockett and Tubbs chased the drug smugglers in said Armani jackets.
The Best in the Trade
In line with the total ’80s vibe of Miami Vice, it seems fitting that the protagonist was kitted out with a steel and gold watch. Nothing shouts 1980s wrist candy better than a two-tone sports watch, a trend that is interestingly very much back currently as a cool choice for both vintage and modern wristwatch buyers. In fact, Don Johnson’s character wore both steel and gold, and full yellow gold. At the beginning of filming, it was too early for Crockett to wear a Daytona as the deeply uncool (at the time!) 6263 and 6265 were the available models, with sought-after Zenith El Primero-driven Rolex 16500 series watches not released until 1988. Sonny did, however, (following a dalliance with a fake yellow-gold Rolex Day-Date) get an El Primero-driven watch in the form of an Ebel 1911. A watch with five screws around the bezel, steel mushroom pushers and housing one of the most important chronograph movements of the 20th century.
The 1911 has been updated with different in-house movements in the 2000s and given the BTR label, but the original version is the coolest and most sought after by collectors, being part of the original Ebel Sport Classic range. The key characteristics of these watches were the five screws that held the bezel in place and the so-called wave bracelet. And don’t think these watches were just for timing your sunbed tanning session; earlier quartz versions of these pieces were endorsed by Formula 1 stars Alain Prost and Niki Lauda! Ebel’s then CEO Pierre-Alain Blum was a marketing genius and was responsible for Ebel watches being on the wrists of not just motor-racing legends, but also actors including Harrison Ford and pop stars such as Madonna. He had positioned Ebel as a leading quartz movement manufacturer, with Ebel providing movements for the Cartier Must de Cartier watches amongst others. Having had great success with the Sport Classic Chronograph as a quartz watch, the Ebel boss sought out a partner to provide a mechanical movement to elevate the watch to a more prestigious level. Ebel opted to use the Zenith calibre 400 chronograph which it named the Ebel calibre 134. Ebel kept the movement pretty much as it was, unlike Rolex which made hundreds of modifications in the process of adapting the Zenith into the calibre 4030.
The aesthetics of the watch are cool and I personally love the way the Roman numerals have been adapted to fit the dial. Steering away from cutting out the hour markers, Ebel chose to simply reduce the III, VI and IX so as to allow them to fit between the edge of the subdial and the tachymeter scale. The tachy scale is also a nice touch as it gives the watch a more elegant silhouette when it’s placed on the outer edge of the dial, as opposed to being on an outer bezel ring. The watch screams ’80s styling and the genius of this watch is that Blum opted to keep the design of the quartz watch and modify it to include the El Primero movement. This is stealth wristwear and an important watch in the history of Zenith’s chronograph movement. And all this for less than GBP 2,000 (USD 2,400) in steel and gold — what’s not to love, people?
Self-winding Ebel calibre 134 / Zenith El Primero 400; hours and minutes; small seconds; date; chronograph; 48-hour power reserve
38mm; steel and gold; water-resistant
Two-tone wave bracelet
≤ USD 2,400 (as per the author’s research)