Ralph Lauren was mad. I mean livid. I held the phone away from my ear as the fashion magnate let me have it, both barrels. “Who the Hell do you think you are!” he yelled. I’d had the temerity to suggest that the 1948 Ford “Woody” station wagon in his Boston Museum of Fine Arts automotive exhibition revealed his profound, underlying, defining desire to assimilate. The man born Ralph Rueben Lifshitz was having none of it . . .
This despite the official catalogue’s description of a young Ralph Lauren Automotive watch riding in his Dad’s clunker in stifling summer heat, seeing a family of WASPs heading to the coast in their impossibly glamorous “Woody.” A quintessentially American “someday I’ll have one of those” moments for the last born son of Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants.
Our little “discussion” about our shared Jewish roots sprung to mind when the mainstream media revealed the new-sized versions of what hypebeast.com calls Ralph Lauren’s “iconic” chronograph.
I don’t think that word means what hypebeast or Mr. Lauren wants it to mean. Putting an example of his horological Automotive Collection next to, say, a panda-faced stainless steel Rolex Daytona would be like parking a Nissan Altima next to Mr. Lauren’s 1958 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa.
Saying that, the Ralph Lauren Automotive Chronograph’s haphazard case screw alignment squares with Enzo Ferrari’s less-than-obsessive attention to build quality. (“I don’t sell cars; I sell engines. The cars I throw in for free since something has to hold the engines.”) And you can hardly fault the Bronx-born billionaire for turning to Jaeger-leCoultre to modify their 2004 caliber 751 (below) for his chronograph.
The re-christened the RL751A/1 automatic powering Mr. Lauren’s new-for 2020 42mm chronos – sized to slot between 39mm and 45mm versions – may not be as covetable as any other JLC caliber you can or cannot name, but the Swiss engine is no Chinese-made Marlin, and it delivers a 65-hour power reserve.
Also to his credit, Mr. Lauren’s designated designers deleted the caliber’s running seconds and dreaded (for me but not Oscar) date wheel. So there is that.
“The Ralph Lauren Automotive Chronograph Woodbezel Watch takes its inspiration from the flowing lines and rich materials of Lauren’s own 1938 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic Coupe,” The Robb Report reports, regurgitating PR patter. “A beautifully patterned Amboyna burl bezel . . . the same kind of wood carved for use in the Type 57SC’s steering wheel.”
According to wood-database.com (SFW), “Amboyna is commonly used for fine furniture, turned objects, electric guitar tops, knife/gun grips, and other small specialty wood items.” As there are plenty of watches with wood bezels, the real connection between the Ralph Lauren Automotive Chronograph and Ralph Lauren’s insanely rare Bugatti is . . . Ralph Lauren.
That and the automotive-themed rehaut for timing fuel consumed per hour. The Bug’s fuel gauge doesn’t do that. So, setting side the idea that any chronograph has an automotive vibe, the horological decoration circumnavigating the dial is the main tie between the watch and four-wheeled transportation.
Although the Type 57C is generally considered to be the world’s first supercar – and a V16 supercharged engine’s bound to be pretty thirsty – I doubt its owner wore a watch calculating fuel consumption. If he did, the markings on the watch would indicate litres, rather than “units.” Just saying.
The more interesting question: what watch would the Bug’s owner have worn? A Patek Philippe stainless steel chronograph peut être? If it were me [in an alternative universe], I’d wear a Jaeger-leCoultre, saving some $843k at current values.
I don’t think the Bugatti’s original owner would have had any financial concerns – at least not until World War II broke out. Still, I reckon buying a $9k RL watch to honor the $40m Atlantique is kinda like buying a $99 Ferrari watch to pay homage to a Ferrari F50.
But that’s how Ralph Lauren rolls. Just like his MFA automotive ego wall, just like his clothes, the Ralph Lauren Automotive Chronograph is the Jewish designer’s attempt to sell WASP culture back to WASPs, and wanna-be WASPs. Unlike Mr. Lauren’s beautifully tailored, high-end fashion line, the chrono is, in a word, tacky. Especially the wood-on-steel-bracelet version.
Mr. Lauren has superb taste in all things. Well, all the things he owns. If the native New Yorker wanted to design a magnificent watch worthy of his automotive collection, he has both the eye and the wherewithal to make it happen. The Ralph Lauren Automotive Chronograph ain’t it. It’s closest in concept to his immaculately restored “Woody,” the least significant or beautiful automobile in his astounding collection. But the most revealing..
While much of Ralph Lauren’s recent watch news has had an undeniable ursine tone, those looking for something a bit more traditional need not bear it any longer. Announced today as an expansion of its automotive collection, this is the new Ralph Lauren Automotive Chronograph. Available in either bare stainless steel or with a black finish, this 42mm chronograph is powered by an automatic Jaeger-LeCoultre movement and continues the line’s formation around the spirit and aesthetic of many of the designer’s favorite cars.
I’m something of an automotive enthusiast myself (although in no way comparable to Ralph), and while the job of designing an automotive-themed watch has always seemed like a grizzly task to me, I have always rather liked the look of the Ralph Lauren Automotive Collection. Yes, they are expensive, and I’ve only ever seen one in the wild (at The Quail, naturally), but the design team deserves credit for making something that (1) doesn’t look like everyone else’s automotive-themed watches and (2) doesn’t look like a Rolex Daytona.
RL has trimmed the fat without sacrificing function. The new chronographs split the difference between the two existing sizes (45 and 39mm) while also offering a no-date chronograph with a twin-register layout, no running seconds, and a max 12-hour measure.
That functional layout is supported by an exclusive automatic chronograph movement supplied by Jaeger-LeCoultre. Dubbed the RL751A/1, it’s a 4 Hz movement with a 65-hour power reserve. Based on JLC’s caliber 751, this movement is commonly seen with a date and running seconds, neither of which would have added to this automotive-inspired design.