There has been no shortage of collaborations between car and watch manufacturers with hugely varying degrees of commercial success. Taking a look back at all of the past examples, the clearest takeaway is that the pieces which are most well received by collectors are the ones with a truly original design. It is so easy for a product planner to decide that sticking a name on the dial of an existing model, and maybe changing the colourway slightly, is sufficient to sell watches to the owners of the cars in question, although it is often seen by the prospective buyers for what it is: rather lazy. But when a new complication or calibre is utilised, or a whole new case design is created specifically for the relationship, then not only the collectors can see that a considerable amount of thought and effort has gone into producing the watch, but also the automotive partner on the other side of the equation.
With all of this in mind, it must be considered a huge commitment for any brand to take on a relationship with Ferrari. Being regarded by many as the mightiest of car brands, with impassioned followers who have high expectations for anything the company and its chosen partners do, means that the watch manufacturers who have produced models with a cavallino rampante on it have historically struggled. With Girard-Perregaux, Panerai and, for an extremely brief period, Cabestan, we saw what were ostensibly high-quality products, but lacking that magic required for the legendary brand birthed by Enzo over 70 years ago, resulting in mixed results at retail, and a fairly flat interest in the secondary market.
Having announced the collaboration in November 2011 before releasing the first products at Baselworld 2012, Hublot made the smart decision of introducing a range of watches modelled on their already commercially successful Big Bang, but in revised colour combinations and without heavy Ferrari branding to the dial. In 2013 the MP-05 was unveiled which was technically interesting not only for its unusual movement architecture and case design, but also its 50-day power reserve which actually required a small drill-like tool to wind it.
Introduced in 2017 for the 70th anniversary of Ferrari as a producer of cars under its own name, the Techframe Ferrari Tourbillon Chronograph, to give it its full name, represents an extension of this idea to use specially created designs for Ferrari pieces (in addition to the range based on the Big Bang), but takes it a step further. While the movement was provided by Hublot, the “chassis” of the watch is the work of the team overseen by Mr Flavio Manzoni, the Head of Design at Ferrari. The key to work like this is balance: to clearly have an element of inspiration from the automotive world, yet to not be a pile of clichés, and Manzoni has managed to strike an elegant middle path.
From the choice of materials, to lines that show relationships to instant icons like the LaFerrari, there is clearly a strong link with the Ferrari DNA in its styling, but it is not overtly displayed. The metal or carbon framework of the case, which shows elements of Manzoni’s background in architecture, creates a beautiful depth to the design that proves captivating, if a bit of a challenge to keep dust free (luckily it is water resistant to 30 metres, so will handle being run under a tap). While the calibre has been repurposed from a number of previous Hublot models, containing both a tourbillon and single-button chronograph, for this application it has been rotated in the case so that the crown resides at the 4 o’clock position and the chronograph is actuated by a lever at 3 o’clock.
The attention to mechanical detail on the tactical parts is most impressive. The aforementioned lever for the chronograph may seem contrived, but it does actually provide improved functionality when it comes to starting, stopping and resetting, especially when the watch is worn on the right wrist and the left thumb is used to press it. The crown, with a ceramic top displaying a miniature cavallino rampante, is a bayonet fitting rather than screw down to ensure that the insignia of Ferrari is always correctly orientated. And the quick release mechanism for the strap is extremely satisfying to use, requiring a firm push to the buttons on either side of the lugs which then cause the end-piece to self eject, while re-inserting is equally positive but does require a bit of practice to get it located correctly on the first try.
A note on finishing: clearly the movement is done in a fairly industrial fashion, but it is well-suited to the application and the architecture of the calibre, as well as being comparable, if not a slightly better than similarly designed watches at this price point. The matte finish to the titanium case of this particular variation is very nice, and really suits the theme of the watch. In addition, the smaller details such as the red anodising to certain components, the signature H-slot screws that secure various parts, the inking of the text on the case back, and even the small engraved Hublot logo to the reverse of one of the lugs, are all really well executed.
It is hard to escape the fact that the case is rather large, with the intricate fixed lug and their angle accentuating the issue on smaller wrist sizes, but I doubt this will be a major concern for the target demographic. Hublot quotes the size as 45 mm but this is measured across the case, and it would be useful for the brand to publish the length as well to give a clearer picture of how the watch actually wears on the wrist. At 14.80 mm thick, it feels in proportion to the overall design and not especially tall when worn.
There is one particular criticism of the dial configuration that should be raised; the chronograph proves difficult to read due to its small size, and the situation is made worse by the fact that, between 10 and 20 minutes past the hour, a large proportion of the scale is blocked by the minute hand. This is due the the design of the calibre, and in other applications for Hublot it may be less of an issue, but for a watch that is intended to be used in an automotive environment, when timing is important, it’s difficult to excuse. On a more minor note, the watch would have been as strong a statement if the Ferrari name had been left off of the dial and put somewhere less prominent, as well as maybe going with a font other than the one used by Scuderia Ferrari for the numerals.
The question weighing on my mind while I spent some time with the Techframe was, given how appealing the watch is and the balance in its stylistic nods to Ferrari are, what more could be done with the design? The casing is beautiful in its intricacy, and it would a huge shame if it was not used on some other iterations. There is clear potential for it to be applied to different size formats and complications, not only opening the watch up to an ever wider audience when it comes to wearability (especially in Asia), but also from a cost perspective if the tourbillon was removed and the watch was transformed in to a highly legible single-button chronograph with automatic winding, perhaps with a movement lifted from the 41mm Big Bang. Maybe some food for thought for the teams in Maranello and Nyon.
The Hublot Techframe Ferrari Tourbillon Chronograph is produced in titanium (as shown here), King Gold (Hublot’s own magic mix of pink gold), white gold and sapphire (the frame is metal while the movement casing is in sapphire), and PEEK carbon (with either red or yellow accents) in limited editions of 70 for each variation. Pricing depends on material but in titanium is come in at 953,300 HKD.