June 2, 2012
by James Stacey
If you fancy yourself as much a Gearhead as a Watchnerd, you may already be aware of Autodromo. They are a recently formed watch brand which seeks to combine modern and affordable watch making practices with an aesthetic taken directly from classic motoring and ready to be paired with your Italian driving slippers and finest driving gloves for that perfect top-down experience. This isn’t a unique concept, but it is worth mentioning again in this brand’s case. Autodromo makes a number of quartz-powered watches that have been designed to be reminiscent of the gauges seen in vintage race and sports cars of the 1960’s and 70’s. Autodromo says they make “Instruments for Motoring” and it seems that they have the product styling to back up that claim and to catch the interest of any ardent car fan or motorsport maven. They certainly aren’t the only ones to do so, but they might be one of the best options for those on a budget.
This is not exactly a new formula as many famous watches have been styled to align with the conventions of motorsports. A sizable portion of Heuer’s line-up in the 60’s and 70’s was based on close ties with automotive design. Think of classics like the Autavia, Monaco, and Silverstone which were worn on the outside of flame resistant track suits, the perfect track-day companion. This is an entire genre of watches that sought to highlight the style, drama and tone of auto racing and today we see modern interpretations coming from Tissot, Tag Heuer and even smaller brands like BRM. Autodromo is in good company but their watches would be hard to classify as “modern interpretations” of anything. Instead, vintage styling is the name of their game and Autodromo’s watches feature lugless cases, tropic-style leather straps, and dial designs which closely mimic the designs of vintage gauges. Autodromo’s website even features a gallery of photography illustrating their watches being used in conjunction with a number of examples of vintage automobilia. Lovely stuff, and their watches definitely look the part among the backdrop of a vintage Alfa Romeo.
Taking a closer look at the Vallelunga range we see options for both a chronograph and a three-hander, either of which can be had in stainless steel with a white dial or a black dial with a matching black PVD case. Measuring 42mm wide x 10mm thick, the case design is very much reminiscent of Xetum but the dial design looks like a small gauge or the combination of a racing stopwatch and a traditional watch. The Vallelunga chronograph features a 30 minute register, a seconds register and shares a grande date feature with the three hand version. The dial makes excellent use of negative space and the subdials are also very similar to automotive gauges. The dial is protected by a crystal made of K1 mineral glass with a sapphire coating and the entire watch is water resistant to 30 meters, so be sure to take it off before driving your car into any ponds, lakes, or rivers, Keith Moon style.
I really enjoy the case shape (see above photos) which is clean and minimalistic but not in a way which detracts from the shape of the case itself. While I like the styling seen in the Vallelunga range, I cannot help but find the design of the handset to be flawed. My criticism is that the hour hand is the same color as the dial and, judging from the images on Autodromo’s website, the hour hand literally disappears in some photos except for the small contrasting marker at its tip. Originally, I thought I was looking at a stopwatch or regulator-style watch which featured only a single long hour hand. It’s unfortunate as I really like the other dial details like the big date display, the exposed screw heads which flank the center of the dial and the almost Mondaine-like simplicity of their designs.
Of all of the Autodromo models, I prefer Veloce as it has bright white hands and, apart from some subtle shading, the minute track runs along the entire edge of the dial, which is not the case with their other models. The Veloce, despite its lack of a second hand, seems like the most viable option as a daily wearer as the design offers an easy to read display, date, and even a splash of color on the dial which mimics the red line of a tachometer. The lugless case design is carried over from Autodromo’s other models, as is the 20mm tropic-style leather strap which looks really nice when combined with the automotive motif. The Veloce is also quartz powered and its 42 x 10mm case can be had in a stainless or a black PVD finish for $425 USD.
Autodromo’s entire range comes in under $600 USD and for that money you get interesting and distinctive timepieces that are quite successful in porting classic automotive instrument design into nicely sized and attractive watches. My only reservation is the poor legibility of the hour hands which are the same color as the dial. Ultimately, this will not be a deal breaker for many buyers and the Autodromo offers about as much style and charm as one can find at this price point. It’s not hard to see the appeal of these watches. To those that love cars and automotive design, Autodromo offers a chance to keep a piece of that styling with you throughout the day, while your car must wait out on the street or in the garage. A fun watch, but perhaps not for daily wear.
Written by James Stacey