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This is WATCH THE WATCH, a new series uncovering the most iconic watches seen on screen. From cult classics to new releases, we uncover the cinematic presence behind the cameras. In this week’s edition, we uncover the vintage models in James Mangold’s fictional adaptation of Le Mans ‘66 starring Matt Damon and Christian Bale.

Amongst the age of cancelled planes, courtesy of Generation Flake – the curse of millennial unreliability – and the coronavirus,  it comes therefore as no surprise that this week, Formula 1 announced the 2021 Japanese Grand Prix has been postponed due to the influx of coronavirus cases. But fear not, with the Belgium Grand Prix still set to take place on 29th August, the thrill isn’t too far away. In the meantime, the notorious endurance-testing Le Mans will satiate any appetite for intrepid watching. Returning to screens as the competition takes place this weekend, Le Mans 2021 presents a staggering test of resilience and bewilderment as drivers balance the demands of speed and the durability of driving for a straight 24 hours around the clock.

Credit: Screenshot courtesy of 20th Century Studios

In anticipation of the 89th 24 Hours of Le Mans at Circuit de la Sarthe, take to the tracks and watch the battle between Ford and Ferrari at the world-renowned showdown in 1966 in the film, Le Mans ‘66 (2019). Otherwise known as Ford vs. Ferrari outside of Europe due to trademark infringement, the American drama – directed by James Mangold, renowned for Girl, Interrupted (1999) to Logan (2017) – follows the story of American automotive designer, Carroll Shelby and British race car driver, Ken Miles.

Striving to create the first Ford race car together, the pair plan to compete with the new model, at the infamous 24 hours of Le Mans, a notorious test of endurance in France. Battling against Ferrari, Shelby played by Matt Damon, and Miles, played by Christian Bale are faced with less than ninety days to rewrite the history books to produce the Ford GT40 MK I which later led to the victory of every 24 Hours of Le Mans race from 1960 to 1965. But success for the duo wasn’t any easy feat, pitched against the corporate powers of the Ford conglomerate and their own personal demons to create a race car as revolutionary as Ferrari.

Credit: Screenshot courtesy of 20th Century Studios

The characters of the Bale and Damon pairing are perhaps non-conformist at first, Shelby a former racing drive who scored victory at Le Mans in 1959 but was forced to retire due to a heart condition is matched with a hot-tempered British racer and struggling mechanic who differ in opinion in most conversations throughout the film. Despite their differences, at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans, Miles begins to set lap records, catching up with Ferrari despite an earlier fault with the car.  With three Ford teams in the top positions, a Ford official orders Shelby to have Miles slow down for the other two Fords to catch up with him and provide the press with a three-car photo finish

In their quest to change the history books, the stellar on-screen performance by the two leading male actors is complemented by the solicited choice of timepieces to suit two race drivers. The relationship between motorsports and Heuer Carrera was a fruitful one with racers often wearing Heuer chronographs, while crew members used stopwatches and similar Heuer timing equipment. Shelby, Matt Damon’s counterpart can be seen wearing a rare Heuer Carrera 7753 SN with a panda dial from 1969. While internet fans dispute the three year delay in the watches release to the date of the Le Mans race, the intricate model offers a clean-cut utilitarian function met with aesthetic value.

Inspired by the stories of racing culture, and looking to create a watch that would meet the adrenaline-fuelled demands of motorsports, Jack Heuer launched the Heuer Carrera ref. 2447 just a year after he took the helm of the organisation, which later manifested into the 7753 iteration. The Heuer Carrera soon found its place in the motorsports world as a watch of function and attraction. Boasting a two-register dial and the infamous Carrera case with down-turned lugs, and impressive patina with a white dial and black registers. Not only this,  the movement was also changed from the previous Valjoux 92 version to the Valjoux 7730, meaning the chronograph has 30-minute capacity, rather than the previous 45-minute capacity.

Befitting of  the divergent characters, for Ken Miles, Bale’s character can be seen wearing a Heuer Carrera Autavia, distinguished for its use in airplane and motorcar cockpits. Pinned by TAG Heuer today as a ‘collection for authentic free spirits who live life as an adventure,’ the model is neatly paired with the character of Ken Miles and his thrill-seeking spirit. Introduced in 1962, the Autavia model’s features of note were black dials with contrasting white registers –  known as the reverse panda – with a rotating bezel and a stainless stell case. Sported by bale, this particular version of the Autavia was the first Heuer chronograph to befit a tachymeter bezel, advantageous for the racer by allowing the conversion of any elapsed time over a given distance in the speed accumulated by the racer. 

It doesn’t matter if you call it Le Mans ‘66 or Ford vs. Ferrari, Mangold’s nostalgic prodigy reflects on a bygone era of ingenuity, across both motorsports and watchmaking alike. While this fictional production offers a narrative that might deviate from the veracity of the original, with Ken Miles actually wearing a Breitling Co-Pilot and Shelby, a Rolex, this cinematic display of Hollywood’s greats and highlights in history offers the opportunity for whose not too well versed in the language of watchmaking to discover the inextricable union between the car and the watch.

Credit: Screenshot courtesy of 20th Century Studios
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Scarlett is a writer, editor, and creative consultant specializing in art, fashion, culture and digital strategy. Drawing on her work from previous titles including Dazed, LOVE Magazine, The Perfect Magazine, AnOther and 1 Granary, as the Editor-in-Chief of The Next Hour, Scarlett is leading the editorial vision toward new territories providing an alternative lens of social commentary to recontextualize the world of watchmaking for the next generation.