The relationship between elite sport and world-class horology is a strong and extremely visible bond.
The vast majority of the top names in the watch industry have a partnership with at least one sporting discipline, adorning the wrists of the respective superstars and taking over the prime real estate on the advertising boards.
The upper echelons of the watchmaking industry take pride in the rarity of their expertise and the minute attention to detail required to achieve it – so too do the best sportspeople on the planet.
One way in which the watch industry differs from other luxury sectors is its willingness to partner with lesser-known sports.
Countless brands will try to get in front of the billions of football fans across the planet, and rightly so, but luxury watches are much more open to being seen on the wrist of more obscure fanbases.
This is partly born of a desire to champion the abilities of the individual to achieve excellence; it will not be a coincidence that the followers of the niche sports in question tend to be of a demographic more willing and able to spend five-figure sums on a timepiece.
However these partnerships start, the support given by horology to sport is significant and has brought us some of the most enduring, and intriguing, partnerships in advertising history.
Let’s have a look at a few of the best.
Rolex x Golf, Sailing, Tennis, and Motorsport
Rolex is by far the top selling watch brand in the world (around 8 billion CHF/7.1 billion GBP for 2021) so it seems appropriate it has some of the biggest partnerships in sports, across many different competitions and styles.
In tennis, the Crown sponsors all four Grand Slams; in golf, it is the lead partner of the Augusta Masters; and its watches are famously worn by Roger Federer and Tiger Woods, arguably the two greatest practitioners of their respective disciplines.
Rolex is also active across the world of motorsport, supporting Le Mans and Daytona’s endurance races as well as classic car celebrations at the Goodwood Revival and Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
And when it comes to sailing, you'll have to go back to 1925, when the first ever 605 nautical mile Rolex Fastnet Race took place.
This diversity of support is the most impressive aspect of Rolex’s approach – it’s visible practically everywhere excellence is to be found – and that’s been the case for many years.
Hero Watch: Rolex Daytona
Rolex has many iconic pieces in its catalogue, with none more so than the Daytona.
Specifically designed to assist the racing fraternity, worn famously by actor and race car driver Paul Newman, and now notoriously difficult to get hold of, this could be the most celebrated watch of all time, never mind the most celebrated Rolex.
Breitling x Surfing
Surfing may not be the most watched sport in the world, but it is certainly one of the most daring.
Breitling’s focus on the water goes back to their dive watches of the 1960s, when SCUBA became popular and timepieces crafted to support the sport became essential for participants.
Today, the increased visibility and rugged appearance of these watches are popular with all types of marine sports professionals, and Breitling’s star-studded Squad contains three world-class surfers.
Leading them is Kelly Slater, the most successful surfer in history and the founder of Outerknown, a sustainable apparel brand with whom Breitling also partner.
Hero Watch: Superocean Kelly Slater
The Superocean is a derivative of the original Slow Motion, made for those 60s diving pioneers. The bright orange dial means it immediately stands out and resistance to shock, saltwater and sand help it withstand the inevitable spills which will come with wearing it on a board.
Even if watching the waves from the bar is more your thing, this watch will help you maintain that surfer vibe.
Audemars Piguet x Golf
Although it makes arguably the most famous sports watch of all time, the Royal Oak, Audemars Piguet doesn’t lean too heavily into sporting partnerships. Its primary focus in this arena is golf, having spent the last few years developing relationships with some of the best and most visible golfers in the world.
The membership list of its Dream Team has expanded significantly in that time: it comprises not only golfers who have been considered among the best in the world over the past 20-plus years, but also the gents behind Me x My Golf.
This online golf content and tutorial channel has scaled globally, and the association shows AP is truly keen on growing the game, not just piggybacking the glamour of its superstars.
Hero Watch: Royal Oak Offshore Self-winding Chronograph “Dream Team”
The larger, sportier version of the now-legendary Royal Oak has been seen in a fair few guises, but few rarer than the Dream Team Edition. Only 12 pieces were made of its first 2020 iteration in white ceramic – with only one for sale.
These were followed up with two more colourful Chronograph versions with blue ceramic bezels in November 2021.
Tudor x All Blacks
Like its big brother Rolex, Tudor doesn’t restrict itself to one sport. Naturally, given its expertise in dive watches, Tudor has watersports covered – namely partnerships with the World Surf League’s Big Wave events and big wave surfer Nic Von Rupp as well as the Alinghi Red Bull Sailing team.
It’s also big on the road, too – having sponsored its own Tudor Pro Cycling Team last year.
But perhaps most well known is the brand’s partnership with the All Blacks rugby team. Tudor’s tagline ‘Born to Dare’ fits in aptly with both the sport and the team, which it has supported since 2017.
Hero watch: Tudor Black Bay Ceramic
Back in 2019, Tudor released a limited edition Black Bay Chrono Dark Limited Edition to cement its partnership with the All Blacks. Naturally that model has sold out since. But there’s a spiritual successor: the Tudor Black Bay Ceramic.
A matte black ceramic watch that’s hard as nails and pretty much unbreakable? Seems like a good match for the All Black rugby team. The watch has serious horological credentials, too – the first at Tudor to receive Metas certification – basically the highest quality a calibre can reach.
Bremont x Mountaineering
In just 20 years, Bremont has returned prestige to the British watchmaking industry, and done so with the help of a diverse range of partnerships.
The automotive and aviation industries have been sources of inspiration and partnership, as have a range of sports from rowing to rugby, and their ambassador list is shot through with some incredible names from the world of endurance sports.
Most notable of late is that of Kristin Harila, a phenomenally successful Norwegian mountaineer. Bremont supported Kristin on her recent attempt to break the speed record for summiting the 14 peaks on Earth which rise to over 8,000 metres, an endeavour which fell agonisingly short of success owing to the Chinese government refusing access to the last two mountains on the list.
Despite the disappointment, Harila has confirmed she will return in 2023 to complete the challenge regardless of the time record being unachievable – this level of dedication and resilience is what makes her a perfect partner for the brand.
Hero Watch: Supermarine S300
Not only was this the watch worn by Kristin on her challenge, it also sat on the wrist of Nirmal Purja, the man whose record she was on course to break.
A crisp white dial ensures excellent legibility and the hardened steel case provides extra durability, making it an ideal watch for endurance pursuits. A timepiece for some of the most testing terrain on the planet.
Longines x Equestrian
There are few, if any, sport and horology pairings as long-running or as wide-reaching as Longines’ love affair with the world of equestrian pursuits. As far back as 1869 the brand began producing pocket watches for riders, and it has been timing the racetracks of the USA for almost as long.
Today’s partnership sees Longines sponsoring and timing flat races, show jumping, dressage and eventing all around the world, as well as presenting the respective World Rankings for each discipline.
Hero Watch: Record Heritage
The new Heritage edition of the Longines Record carries on the recent trend to retro styling based on similar pieces from the 1930s.
When paired with a matt brown strap, the sepia indices on the matte black dial seem particularly elegant, wonderfully evoking the style of the era. A beautiful watch to celebrate a beautiful friendship.
Hublot x Football
Football is the most popular sport in the world, and Hublot has worked hard to be seen across all its major tournaments.
Both men’s and women’s FIFA World Cups, all UEFA tournaments – including the men’s and women's editions of the Euros, Nations League and Champions League – have Hublot as their official timekeepers; while globally significant clubs like Chelsea, Juventus and Boca Juniors have partnerships with the brand.
The list of football-related “friends of the brand” is a long one, with Kylian Mbappé its lead ambassador.
Hublot has associations with other sports and sporting icons, and a diverse range of brands from Berluti to Arturo Fuente, but it is the brand’s connection to the beautiful game which has had the most impact.
Hero Watch: Hublot Big Bang E FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022
The latest step in Hublot’s journey into wearable tech is the official World Cup Qatar 2022 smart watch.
A dedicated football app and the availability of straps and dial images in the colours of all 32 participating nations keep up the football connection, while the use of Google’s Wear OS and a range of cutting-edge sensors make it the ideal choice for the luxury tech lover.
The black titanium and ceramic case is reminiscent of the mechanical Big Bang, making it probably the most stylish smart watch on the market right now.
TAG Heuer x Motorsport
TAG Heuer is another watchmaker with friendships in many different places, but its most enduring legacy is their partnership with motorsport. It was in 1969 when it first became associated with Formula One, but their collaboration with Steve McQueen in the same year became its most well-known automotive alliance.
The square-shaped dial of the Monaco model McQueen chose to wear while filming Le Mans became the watch of the moment, and the link between TAG and speed has strengthened ever since.
Today, it is the official timekeeper for the ultra-modern FIA Formula E World Championship, a key sponsor of the Indy 500, and a partner of a number of teams across different race formats.
Few relationships in the world of horology are as enduring or significant as that between TAG Heuer and motor racing.
Hero Watch: TAG Heuer Monaco Gulf Special Edition
It could only be the Monaco. Ever since the sharp angles of the unusual shape were first seen on McQueen’s wrist it has been an object of desire for motorsport, and watch, fans all over the planet.
Very little has changed in the design since then, but why would something so beautiful need to be altered? A true icon.
Richard Mille x Tennis
The list of Richard Mille partners is an eclectic one, ranging from artists and musicians to actors and institutions, as well as a swathe of the sporting elite. Arguably its most famous relationship is that with Rafael Nadal, who since 2010 has sported (pardon the pun) one of its super-light tourbillons through all his Grand Slam matches.
Richard Mille watches are instantly recognisable thanks to their skeletonised faces and futuristic aesthetic – these attributes are born of a complete devotion to innovation in both materials and construction methods, and are vital to the extraordinary near-weightlessness of each piece.
Nadal himself always eschewed wearing a watch in life, never mind on-court, so that lightness was key to his agreeing to team up with the house. The result is a watch which becomes more beautiful and more innovative with each new model.
Hero Watch: Richard Mille RM 27-04 Manual Winding Tourbillon Rafael Nadal
The RM 27-04 is the latest edition in this collaboration, and marked 10 years of the partnership when it was released. A weight of just 30g, strap included, certainly fit Rafa’s brief for lightness, and the million-dollar release price for the 50 that were made certainly didn’t put off the buyers.
These watches have become almost as recognisable as the man whose name they bear, and the next in the series is sure to be just as popular when it arrives.
Ulysse Nardin x Sailing
When Ulysse Nardin founded his company in 1846 it was to make maritime chronometers, so it is fitting that sailing is the sport with which his brand is most often connected.
Most of the ambassadors affiliated with the brand have some kind of oceanic connection – marine photographer Mike Coots used his leg being bitten off by a tiger shark as inspiration to become a conservationist – and the brand is officially the timekeeper of The Ocean Race, as well as lead sponsor of one of the competing teams.
Hero Watch: Diver The Ocean Race
Released to coincide with the beginning of the timing partnership, this eco-friendly version of the Diver is intended to highlight efforts to maintain the health of our oceans. The carbon fibre for the bezel comes from the off-cuts of the aviation industry; much of the plastics used are recycled fishing nets from a start-up in Brittany. 95% of the material for the movement is sourced within 30km of the factory, including recycled steel and brass from local suppliers. Sustainability does not come at the expense of style, either: brilliant flecks of green juxtapose the more industrial-looking greys and will look great on your wrist.
Omega x The Olympic Games
The incredibly complex task of timekeeping the Olympic Games has been set to Omega for almost 100 years, and now incorporates the Paralympic and Youth Olympic Games as well.
The logistics of this may have expanded slightly since one lonely Omega representative turned up in Los Angeles with a trunk full of chronographs in 1932, but the company still prides itself on serving the biggest sporting event on the planet with style as well as accuracy.
This partnership is due to last at least until Los Angeles hosts again in 2028 and will likely endure long beyond.
Hero Watch: Seamaster Olympic Official Timekeeper Limited Edition Set
100 sets of these Limited Edition Seamaster watches were released to honour Omega’s service of the Olympics. Each contains five watches decorated in the colours of the Olympic Rings, alongside a miniature ‘last-lap’ bell crafted in the same factory that makes the full-size versions. The name of each host city since Omega began its work in 1932 is inscribed on the back, and the retro styling of the dial offers a throwback to the style of that time. A true collector’s piece.