Chopard's Mille Miglia Competitor’s Chronograph
Many watches have motor racing antecedents, but perhaps one of the greatest is Chopard’s Mille Miglia Competitor’s Chronograph. Every year for the past three decades, Chopard has sponsored the ‘most beautiful race in the world’ and on each occasion it has presented participating drivers with a superb chronograph. As if the experience of a 1000 miles race over four days in some of the most beautiful countryside in Italy, surrounded by some of the finest cars in the world, isn’t enough, competitors also receive a Chopard watch.
Considered a badge of honour by Mille Miglia veterans, the Competitor’s Chronograph is limited edition and issued only to those drivers taking part. To sport one denotes membership of a very exclusive club. Although entry numbers have risen over the years, the Mille still has fewer than 500 competitors for each edition, and as such the Competitor’s watch is a rare thing, and much prized by collectors as a result.
What makes the Competitor’s Chronograph particularly desirable, apart from its associations with the one race on every car enthusiast’s bucket list, is its rarity. It is impossible to buy one. You have to have been ‘in it to win it’. Buying a pre-owned example is virtually impossible unless a former competitor decides to sell, but owners very rarely part with their watches, and for good reason. The Chopard Mille Miglia Competitor’s Chronograph is the coolest souvenir in historic racing, and this is why:
Chopard has been the office timekeeper of the Mille Miglia since 1988, and the association with historic motorsport is arguably more authentic than most. Chopard’s Co-President Karl Friedrich is an enthusiastic Mille Miglia competitor and often partners with his friend and six times Le Mans winner Jacky Ickx. Other times he has competed with his father Karl or wife Christine, and according to the company ‘all members of the family have taken part or attended the Mille Miglia under the Maison Chopard flag.’
Each year the company has produced a new variation of their Mille Miglia Competitor’s edition, with each one numbered to match the race number of the competitor’s car. Officially these watches serve as a ‘bench test’ so that Chopard can fine tune the best features, and immediately after each Mille Miglia a further limited edition of 1000 collector’s ‘Race’ versions of the original go on sale to the public. Virtually identical to the Competitor’s Watch, they have proved hugely popular with collectors, but as good as it is the ‘Race Edition’ lacks one vital ingredient: provenance.
The Competitor’s Chronograph has the distinction of having been presented to a competitor, and often worn throughout the four hard days of flat out racing, its owner spurred on by the high speed motorcade of pace cars and Italian Police motorcycle outriders and the enthusiastic home crowd, who line the roads day and night. Only the Driver’s watch can claim ‘it was there’ when the cars roared off the starting line in Brescia in driving rain; entered Rome at midnight and handled the hairpins of the Futta Pass. It alone marked time as competitors tackled tricky regularities, transversed the tree-lined roads of Tuscany, took the corners at Monza and returned triumphant to the finish in Brescia. By the end of the Mille Miglia the Driver’s watch has already had ‘a life’. ..whether it was worn on the wrist or remained in its box throughout the entire event. That’s provenance.
So what are they like?
Principally the Competitor’s watch is a 43-47mm stainless steel automatic calendar chronograph with three subsidiary dials at positions 3, 6 and 9 for seconds, minutes and hour recording. Some have silvered engine turned dials; others have black, red or while faces. Some have exhibition backs, so you can literally see what makes them tick, while others have a solid back with an inscribed MM route map for that year. A small number have ‘Competitor’ inscribed on the dial (my personal favourite) but most proclaim ‘Chronometer’. Many share the distinctive black Chopard rubber ‘tyre tread’ strap, inspired by the ’60’s Dunlop racing tyre, while others sport crocodile leather, saddle leather, or contrast stitched leather. No two are the same, but all have the distinctve 1000 Miglia flag on the dial.
From 1988 to date Chopard has produced 29 versions of the MM Competitor’s Watch, and there is sufficient variety in design and specification to justify building a collection. However this could prove to be a slow and expensive business. Few genuine MM Drivers watches ever come onto the open market, so it is difficult to establish values. More often than not they are passed down through families or given to friends. And that tradition is very close to the heart of Chopard, which is one of the last family-run watchmaking and jewellery companies.
So it is particularly unusual that a small collection of 10 Chopard competitor watches was sold quite recently, and we are lucky to be able to offer one of these for sale, £POA.
For a boxed example, in excellent condition, with papers and certificate of origin, expect to pay between £5-10,000. Values may be driven by design or by a significant year in the Mille Miglia’s history, like the 90th Anniversary, or possibly even the provenance of the car it was assigned to. But be careful, a less expensive example may prove to be a Race Edition watch which, as good as it is, is not the Competitor’s version. The clue is on the back: it will either be described ‘Competitor Edition’ or ‘Limited Edition’.
And If you relish the thought that the watch may have been worn at the wheel of a Alfa 8C, D-Type or Ferrari 250 GT then look for the Competitor Number, which might survive as a sticker on the Chopard presentation box or in some cases be engraved onto the watch back (as this was often an option).
Each watch offers an exclusive opportunity to own a piece of contemporary horological history that pays homage to one of the finest road races in history. That is a pretty irresistible narrative for any watch collector.
Model: Chopard Mille Miglia Competitor’s Watch
Case: Stainless steel case; diameter 42mm; sapphire crystal; case-back/exhibition back; water resistant to 5 ATM (50 metres).
Functions: Hours; minutes; small seconds; date; chronograph
Movement: ETA 2894-2; Self-winding automatic movement; frequency 28,800 VpH (4Hz); 37 jewels; power reserve 42 hours.
Strap: Black Rubber/Calfskin Leather strap with a signed steel buckle
Limited Edition: 375- 450 pieces