Watches: a closer look at the timepieces on this one-of-three £20m Rolls-Royce | Top Gear
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Watches: a closer look at the timepieces on this one-of-three £20m Rolls-Royce

This exquisite Boat Tail needed a clock befitting the car’s status...

Published: 19 Dec 2022

Money no object, what options do you spec in your car? A question the mystery buyer of the first of three exclusive Rolls-Royce Boat Tail models has already answered. The most expensive new car on sale at an estimated £20m has been tailored to their tastes, and Rolls boss Torsten Müller-Ötvös describes the firm’s coachbuilding efforts as the haute couture of the car industry – we’re looking forward to sitting on the front row at the next Goodwood Fashion Week.

Boat Tail No 1 has a particularly intriguing detail that gives some insight into the buyer’s tastes. All three cars have a ‘hosting suite’ at the rear, where you sit under a parasol while caviar, chilled champagne and cut-glass flutes appear from beneath two panels that open like butterfly wings. But only No 1 comes with his ’n’ hers watches from super high end Swiss firm Bovet 1922. They can be worn on the wrist, used as desk clocks or pocket watches, or fixed to the dash as a mega posh car clock. The watches and patented Amadeo case took 3,000 hours to develop and manufacture.

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There’s nothing new about fixing a watch to the dashboard – in the motor car’s very early days, even before they had speedometers, drivers often used dash-mounted leather holders for pocket watches so they could check the time while trying to get from London to Brighton slightly quicker than a horse. The idea of special clocks for vehicles was around even before cars – in the 19th century horse-drawn highway coaches had sturdy clocks to keep to schedule, so it was inevitable as cars turned from curiosity to proper transport they’d have clocks built specially.

The earliest proper car clocks were similar in design to marine clocks, spring driven mechanical clocks that needed winding manually, with a key or via the crown. One pioneer was Swiss company Heuer (later TAG Heuer) which patented the Time of Trip dashboard clock in 1911. As well as showing the time, it was also the first dash-mounted chronometer, with sub-dials showing elapsed hours, minutes and seconds. More Heuer dashboard timers followed on, leading to a long affinity with motoring that has seen a whole range of motorsport-related timepieces from the company.

American company Waltham was another early success story, reportedly producing nearly half of all US car clocks from 1910–1940. Its 8-Day Car Clock was a staple, thanks to the eight days between wind-ups. In the UK, maker of the first British speedometer, Smiths, also got into the car clock business. While its early examples also needed winding up, Smiths was one of the first companies to experiment with electric models, and by the Fifties the technology had improved to the point where electric was the practical choice for a car clock.


But when you’re speccing your one-of-a-kind Roller, you want to look beyond everyday practicality – there’s no electricity in the Boat Tail’s fancy watch-clocks. Each is powered by a hand-wound movement with a tourbillon. French for whirlwind since you ask – a little rotating cage you find in certain top-end watches, developed over 200 years ago as a solution to the problem of gravity affecting the movement’s accuracy depending what way up the watch faces. Tourbillons make no measurable difference to accuracy in modern mechanical watches, but they do look pretty and are generally on display, like here, where they tick around once a minute, providing visual entertainment that doubles as the second hand.

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That entertainment is a big thing for Bovet, the historic firm has made a speciality out of complicated, ornate pieces. It’s seen a few incarnations in its 200 years, and was bought in 2001 by French businessman Pascal Raffy, a keen collector who vowed to make the finest watches without cutting corners: “I decided that my product would be very expensive and be worthy of its costs.” To prove it, he bought a castle in Neuchâtel that once belonged to the Bovet family, converting it into the outfit’s HQ and workshop. It now makes watches with highly technical movements, built painstakingly in-house with striking designs that range from historical takes on old clocks through to a Pininfarina-designed tourbillon with sapphire case.

The Boat Tail watches have a custom 18ct white gold case that’s a sizeable 44mm across and 14mm tall. Not slender, but there’s a lot going on and these aren’t meant to hide away unnoticed. They are double-sided, with a Rolls-style grille and Spirit of Ecstasy on one side, and a hand-painted Boat Tail in the same one-off blue as the car on the other. The clients requested a midnight blue strap for the man’s watch, with an aventurine dial and sky chart on the car side. The lady’s watch has a deep red strap and dial decorated with a floral bouquet. The five-day power reserve is indicated by a fuel gauge-style indicator. The bridge over the tourbillon will soon be engraved with each owner’s name.

The second Boat Tail was unveiled earlier this year, with a chameleon-like bronze paintjob that shifts colour in the sun. The instrument panel is inlaid with mother of pearl as a tribute to the buyer’s father, who was in the pearl business. At the time of writing we don’t know anything about the third car, but it will doubtless have a few glittering surprises. But it’ll be tough to outdo these watches. We don’t know how much they cost, but with off-the-peg Bovets costing up to six figures, it will have been a decent chunk of the £20m. Still, when you’re splashing out on a car like this, you may as well go crazy with the options. 

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