The Porsche Design Chronograph 1 is an icon for a reason
What do the Porsche 911 sports car, blacked out watches and Tom Cruise have in common? A chronograph released 50 years ago.
Before the Porsche Design Chronograph 1, there were no watches with black cases. It’s hard to imagine today, with the preponderance of cases clad in PVD-coated steel or black DLC, or even made in materials like ceramic or carbon. Black watches are sleek and serious, and they’ve become staples in streetwear, military-chic, and high-end watchmaking. They even sneaked onto the big screen; the Chronograph 1 was worn by Tom Cruise’s character in the 1986 film Superior gun.
The Chronograph 1 is the brainchild of Ferdinand Alexander “Butzi” Porsche, best known for designing the Porsche 911. In 1972, when he decided to leave the automobile business founded by his grandfather, he launched his own design, Porsche Design, by launching this unique watch. It was meant to match Porsche’s cars and also apply automotive design principles to a wristwatch.
The 1970s were a time of transition, experimentation and wild design, but even if you wanted to make a black watch, there was still no good way to do it. Enter physical vapor deposition, or PVD, which had been used in the automotive and aerospace industries to atomically bond a thin layer of material to the metal underneath rather than just coating it like paint; in the 1970s it was finally becoming available in a form that could be applied to watches.
There’s a good reason why Porsche Design chose black for the Chronograph 1
Black looks cool on just about anything, but the idea behind using color was practical: readability. Just like in car and airplane gauges and instruments, the black trim works to avoid looking away. The high contrast with white hands and indexes provides easy reference without distraction, which is what the watch is meant to do for drivers. Looking badass is a bonus.
The automaker’s connection and world-first technology helped this watch claim a place in the watchmaking history books, but it wouldn’t have become an icon if the design wasn’t also on point. Butzi’s Bauhaus background is evident in the austere minimalism, functional form, and shocking red of the stopwatch seconds hand. It is reminiscent of motor racing – or, more precisely, the dashboard of a Porsche.
During the first decades of its existence, Porsche Design partnered with watchmakers for the actual production of its watches. Early iterations of the Chronograph 1 feature Porsche’s own name on the dial alongside watchmaker Orfina; the brand would later partner with IWC and Eterna on more innovative timepieces. Since 2014, however, the brand has taken over many aspects of watch production itself, so these co-branded dials are a thing of the past.
For 2022, Porsche Design celebrates its 50th anniversary by recreating the watch that started it all. Side-by-side with the original model, it’s slightly bulkier, but remarkably faithful in almost every way. It is also produced in titanium, referring to another Porsche Design landmark: when it made one of the first watches in this material with IWC in 1980. Even at 50 years old, the Porsche Design Chronograph 1 has the looks as fresh today as it did in 1972.
Porsche design goes Hollywood
The Chronograph 1’s appearances on famous wrists aren’t limited to ’80s military movies. Dustin Hoffman wore one in the 1979 film. Kramer versus Kramer, and racing driver Mario Andretti often wore one behind the wheel. And, of course, it will appear again on Tom Cruise’s wrist in 2022. Top Gun: Maverick the sequel to the iconic film.
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