Simon de Burton
The celebrated journalist WF Deedes once described the equally celebrated Henry Cotton as having ‘taken golf from the tradesman’s entrance right around to the front door’.
Golf and motorcycles don’t have much in common but anyone who has been to The Bike Shed in Shoreditch, heard about the annual Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride that happens in hundreds of locations around the world, or discovered the festival for two-wheelers organised in the grounds of Kefington Hall by luxury luggage maker Malle, might agree that motorbikes, too, have arrived at the front door.
The old image of greasy haired, oily fingered rockers recklessly roaring around on BSAs has all but been lost to one of well-groomed, well-heeled and dapperly dressed hipsters aboard artisan-built machines brimming with retro cool that offer a fun and statement-making means of getting from A to B.
It’s a trend that’s attracting the attention of luxury watchmakers, the latest being Breitling (breitling.com). The brand recently announced a deal with British marque Norton (nortonmotorcycles.com) that promises to result in a range of wristwear ‘inspired by the brands’ compelling and intriguingly similar historic timelines’, which will incorporate materials found on the bikes.
The new partnership replaces a decade-long collaboration between Norton and British aviation and adventure watch specialist Bremont (bremont.com), which last year created 200 limited-edition chronographs to complement the £44,000 Norton V4SS and a further run of watches to go with the £28,000 V4RR model. Bremont’s original Norton watch, introduced in 2008, is now a valuable collector’s piece.
The old image of bikers has been lost to one of hipsters aboard artisan-built bikes brimming with retro-cool
And 11 years ago, Jaeger-LeCoultre (jaegerlecoultre.com) recruited MotoGP star Valentino Rossi as a brand ambassador, introducing special versions of its ‘Extreme World Alarm’ and ‘Master Compressor’ chronographs featuring styling cues inspired by the nine-time world champion, while 2008 also saw a collaboration between JeanRichard and Italian superbike brand MV Agusta, resulting in a few watches that celebrated the marque’s many historic victories.
But while luxury watch brands have succeeded in selling marque-specific products designed for the owners of Aston Martin, AMG, Bentley, Maserati and Bugatti cars, it has not always proved easy to achieve similar results with bikers – the obvious reason being that, while the owner of a £2m Bugatti Chiron might not object to spending £200,000 on a matching watch, the owner of a £20,000 superbike is unlikely to spend even half as much on a timepiece.
With that in mind, last year Ducati (ducati.com) partnered with fellow Italian firm Locman (locman.it), choosing this January’s Pitti Uomo mens’ fashion event in Florence to launch two limited-edition watches. The 3,000 numbered pieces each incorporated the same titanium, carbon fibre and high-grade steel used in sportsbike production. Featuring tonneau-shaped cases, the models comprise a three-hand automatic and a quartz chronograph that are more affordable at £650 and £600 respectively.
Japanese-owned (but American-rooted) Bulova (bulova.com), meanwhile, offers an extensive range of inexpensive watches for Harley-Davidson fans, and a few hundred pounds will also buy you one of a range of Tissot (tissotwatches.com) models inspired by the brand’s long-standing sponsorships of both the World Superbike Championship and MotoGP.
One of the latest is a £575 T-Race chronograph dedicated to four-time MotoGP champion Marc Marquez. The watch carries the youthful star’s logo on the back, is delivered in a helmet-shaped box and will be ‘limited’ to a mere, er, 4,999 examples.
Even more sensibly priced is the new Dispatch Rider’s watch from outdoor clothing brand Belstaff (belstaff.co.uk). Created by the British designer Nick Munro, it offers a rugged, wartime vibe and features a hand-waxed, black or brown leather strap inspired by a dispatch rider’s coat together with highly luminous hands and a scratch-resistant, domed crystal.
Each one is supplied in an oilcloth roll based on a motorcycle tool pouch and fitted with an edition plaque corresponding to the number etched on the back of each case – and all for £295.
Riders with more luxurious tastes might be interested in high-end maker Zenith (zenithwatches.com), which, two years ago, became a headline sponsor of the aforementioned Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride, which sees stylishly attired bikers ride out in more than 400 cities around the world to raise cash for charity.
Zenith’s ongoing support of the global event led it to create a special motorcyclist’s version of the 45mm Heritage Pilot model equipped with the maker’s famous ‘El Primero’ chronograph movement.
Called the ‘Ton Up,’ the £5,900 watch is made from ‘aged’ steel and fitted with a vintage-look leather strap and a case back engraved with the image of a speeding bike.
Perhaps the most interesting new motorcycling watch to emerge of late, however, is the one created by Baume & Mercier (baume-etmercier.co.uk) as part of a deal struck with Indian Motorcycle (indianmotorcycle.co.uk), which, dating from 1901, is America’s oldest motorcycle maker.
Indian’s pre-war, V-twin engined machines were famed for their success in board track racing, as the favoured mount of daredevil riders on the ‘wall of death’ and the official bikes of many a US police department.
More recently the firm returned to recognition with the release of 2005’s The World’s Fastest Indian, starring Sir Anthony Hopkins, the remarkable tale of New Zealander Burt Munro, who spent his life home-tuning a 1920 Indian Scout in order to travel around the world to America’s Bonneville Salt Flats – where, in 1967, he set a motorcycle land-speed record of 183.58 mph at the advanced age of 68.
The present-day Indian is pitching its latest motorcycles slightly above those of rival Harley-Davidson in the hope of appealing to the same moneyed types who might buy luxury watches – hence the deal with Baume & Mercier, the first fruit of which was unveiled at November’s Milan motorcycle show in the form of the £3,100 Burt Munro tribute watch.
Based on the Clifton Club chronograph model, it features a dial customised with a yellow ‘35’ roundel (Munro’s lucky number), a sandblasted finish to echo the surface of the Salt Flats and a seconds hand with a counterbalance in the shape of a stylised Indian ‘I’.
The calfskin strap is dyed the same shade of red typically found on vintage Indian machines, while the case back carries the edition number from the 1,967 to be made – a quantity chosen to commemorate Munro’s record-breaking year.