Looking for an Elegant Way to Display Your Watch? Try a Rolls-Royce.

In the automaker’s latest line of custom cars, high-end timepieces are the stars

The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Split-Seconds Chronograph GMT Large Date in a Rolls-Royce La Rose Noire Droptail
Oh, you have a watch box? That's cute.
Rolls-Royce Motor Cars

The dashboards of modern automobiles are dominated by screens. Some digital displays run the entire length of the dashboard, others protrude from the center like oversized computer monitors. Rolls-Royce, never one to follow the pedestrian path, has not only eschewed touchscreens in its latest line of custom cars, it’s opted for what on its surface seems like a deliberately antiquated piece of tech: mechanical wristwatches. 

Over the last week, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars unveiled two new cars in a limited coachbuilt line called the Droptail. The first, presented at a private event in Pebble Beach, California, during Monterey Car Week, is called La Rose Noire Droptail; the second, which was unveiled for the client in Gstaad, Switzerland, has been christened the Amethyst Droptail. While both are notable for being products of the marque’s exclusive Coachbuild programreportedly costing in excess of $30 million each — they’re even more curious for being glorified watch boxes.

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Embedded in the dashboard (or, in Rolls-Royce speak, the fascia) of both vehicles are custom timepieces from two of the world’s most prestigious watchmakers. In La Rose Noire, a one-off Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Split-Seconds Chronograph GMT Large Date is mounted on the passenger side just above the hazard light button. In the same space on the Amethyst model, a unique Vacheron Constantin pocket watch called the Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon is fastened in a way that allows it to spin along its horizontal axis (a necessity, as it’s a hand-wound timepiece with the winding mechanism at the top). 

The Audemars Piguet watch in the Rolls-Royce La Rose Noire (left) and Vacheron Constantin in the Amethyst Droptail (right)
The Audemars Piguet in La Rose Noire Droptail (left) and Vacheron Constantin in the Amethyst.
Rolls-Royce Motor Cars

According to Rolls-Royce, both of these timepieces were specifically commissioned by the car buyers themselves, rather than offered as deal-sweeteners, as is sometimes the case with high-end vehicles and complementary co-branded watches. In fact, designing the car in service of the clocks, instead of the other way around, did seem to be part of the process here. 

“Integrating the timepiece presented a significant challenge: the clients requested that it should both be mounted in the motor car and also be removable, so that it can be attached to a strap and worn,” the company said of the Audemars Piguet in a press release. “This was realised with a powered clasp mechanism that gently presents the timepiece at the touch of a button.”

Having a hard time visualizing this? Here’s a video of how it works (skip ahead to 7:11):

You may be wondering: what exactly is the point here? Neither timepiece is exactly legible in its respective dashboard, not to mention that they’re mounted on the passenger side, so legibility while cruising along doesn’t seem to be the goal for the driver. Instead, the AP and Vacheron pieces become akin to the 1,603 pieces of hand-placed Black Sycamore wood triangles in La Rose Noire’s interior, and the gems inlaid on the climate control dials in the Amethyst. It’s form, not function, that matters in the highest (priced) echelons of design, whether we’re talking carbuilding or watchmaking. 

There are still two more Droptail models that will be released in this line from the Rolls-Royce Coachbuild department. So the question becomes: which watch is next? Rolex, Patek Philippe, possibly Jaeger-LeCoultre? Personally, I’m looking forward to the time this trickles down to Timex and they tack a retro Q model into Volkswagen’s new electric bus

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