Ralph’s passion for watches is fuelled by another of his hobbies, collecting cars, and the latest models in the Automotive collection were inspired by one of his favourite cars, the rare vintage 1938 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic Coupe. This has a wooden steering wheel, and in three of the Automotive collection watches, this becomes a wood bezel, with protruding round screw heads that are functional, fixing the bezel to the case. The wood is not elm burl but amboyna, which is stronger and accommodates the screws without splitting. It creates an unusual appearance, enhanced by the large size, which coordinates perfectly with the same movement used for the 2011 version of the Automotive, the F.A. Jones movement by IWC. Ralph Lauren himself says, “Cars are like art, moving art, an accomplishment in mechanics and precision. I want my watches to capture that spirit…,” and he achieves this by using quality movements for the most prestigious watches in his range.
The most interesting piece is the Ralph Lauren Automotive Skeleton, whose case has a DLC coating to create a velvety matt black finish. The movement skeletonization is performed by a specialist company, with some of the wheels in polished brass contrasting with the black structures, visible on both the dial side and through the smoked sapphire caseback. The mainspring can be seen to the right of the new RL logo at the top, and it also functions as an intuitive power reserve indicator: you can judge the state of winding from the position of the spring. It’s a nice piece, the first skeletonized watch by Ralph Lauren and a fine result for a company that has been making watches for just 6 years.
Another version has a black gunmetal case, manufactured by a gun maker and a material exclusive to Ralph Lauren. This is not a surface treatment like DLC, but a different procedure that creates a rich black tone sinking deep into the surface. It also wears extremely well, improving with age.
The two non-skeletonized movements have extensive decoration, with vertical Côtes de Genève and perlage. The Ralph Lauren Automotive Skeleton costs $35,000 (about €30,900), the Ralph Lauren Automotive with leather strap $14,000 (about €12,360), and the same with stainless steel bracelet costs $15,000 (about €13,240).
The other three new watches are more similar to the 2011 models, with a ring of elm burl wood on the dial. The Automotive Chronograph has a Jaeger-LeCoultre movement providing 65 hours power reserve, with vintage style chronograph pushers. The wood on the dial reduces the space available for the subdials and makes the central part of the watch very busy, in contrast with the wide, flat steel bezel. This piece costs $7,800 (about €6,900). The other two models are more accessible in price: they have COSC-certified Sellita movements, and cost $4,800 (about €4,240) for the 39 mm version, and $4,900 (about €4,300) for the 45 mm version.
Ralph Lauren Automotive Chronograph
All the models reveal Ralph Lauren’s meticulous, hands-on approach. Stories abound of his maniacal desire for perfection above all as regards colour, such as the beige tone used for the SuperLuminova, or the colour of the straps. When he was working on the Safari collection a couple of years ago, his team presented a prototype of a watch with a military green canvas strap just before the summer holidays. Ralph was delighted and said that it was perfect and would undoubtedly be a success, but that he would take it on holiday so that he could reflect on it at length. When he returned to the office two months later, he presented the team the same watch, whose strap had discoloured slightly, unevenly, acquiring the classic patina of age and wear. “This is how it should be,” he said. And to make sure, he didn’t give the designers the whole watch, but kept one half-strap himself, so that he had something to compare the new version with and ensure that his team had done a good job.