What do the Porsche 911 sports car, black-out watches and Tom Cruise have in common? A chronograph from 50 years ago.
Before the Porsche Design Chronograph 1, there were no watches with black cases. Hard to imagine today with the predominance of cases produced in black PVD- or DLC-coated steel, or in materials such as ceramic or carbon. Black watches look elegant and serious and have become a staple of streetwear, military-chic and high-end watchmaking. They also entered the silver screen; The Chronograph 1 was famously worn by Tom Cruise’s character in the 1986 film Top gun.
The idea of a chronograph 1 Ferdinand Alexander “Butzi” Porsche, best known for creating the Porsche 911. In 1972, when he decided to leave the auto company founded by his grandfather, he started his own design firm, Porsche Design, launching this unprecedented watch. It was meant to match Porsche cars and apply automotive design principles to a wristwatch.
The 1970s were a time of transformation, experimentation and wild design, but even if you wanted to make a black watch, there was no good way to achieve it until now. Enter physical vapor deposition, or PVD, which is used in the automotive and aerospace industries to atomically bond a thin layer of material to metal rather than applying it like paint; By the 70s, it was finally available in a form that could be applied to watches.
There is a good reason why Porsche Design chose black for the Chronograph 1
Black is great for anything, but the idea behind using color is practical: clarity. As in the gauges and instruments of cars and airplanes, black trim works to avoid distracting one’s gaze. High contrast with white hands and indexes provide easy reference without distraction, this watch is intended for drivers. Looking badass is a bonus.
The automaker connection and world-first tech allow this watch to claim its place in the horological history books, but it wouldn’t have become an icon if the design wasn’t also on point. Butzi’s Bauhaus training manifests itself in the Astaire minimalism of the Chronograph 1, the functional form and the shock of the red color of the stopwatch’s second hand. It’s reminiscent of auto racing – or, more specifically, a Porsche dashboard.
For the first few decades of its existence, Porsche Design partnered with watchmakers for the actual production of its watches. Early iterations of the Chronograph 1 featured Porsche’s own name on the dial alongside watchmaker Orfina; The brand would later partner with IWC and Eterna on more innovative timepieces. However, since 2014, the brand has taken many aspects of watch production itself, so those co-branded dials are a thing of the past.
In 2022, Porsche Design will mark its 50th anniversary by reinventing the watch. Side-by-side with the original model, it’s a bit chunkier, but almost as reliable in every way. It is also produced in titanium, marking another Porsche design landmark: when it produced one of the first watches in the material with IWC in 1980. Even at 50 years old, the Porsche Design Chronograph 1 looks as fresh today as it did in 1972.
Porsche Design Goes Hollywood
Appearances of the Chronograph 1 on popular wrists were not limited to 80s military films. Dustin Hoffman wore one in the 1979 film Kramer vs. Kramer, and race car driver Mario Andretti often wore one behind the wheel. And, of course, it will appear on Tom Cruise’s wrist again in 2022 Top Gun: Maverick, A sequel to the iconic film.
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