Significant watches through time #4 The Porsche Design Chronograph 1


After designing the greatest road going car of all time* the Porsche 911 (or 901 as it was back then), in 1972 Ferdinand Alexander (‘F.A.’ or ‘Butzi’) Porsche, grandson of the company’s founder, decided he should let someone else have a go and left car design for good to set up the Porsche Design Studio.

Focusing on the Bauhausian principle of form following function, the studio was an immediate success and became famous for designing and making everything from trainers to electric shavers, and of course wristwatches.

The first product from the studio was the 7836 Chronograph 1 in 1973 which was the world’s first black wristwatch, inspiring many followers and copies.

Employing Orfina’s technology of applying a matt black DLC coating to steel, Porsche Design brilliantly saw the aesthetic and wear resistant potential of the system previously used in military applications, reducing friction and protecting things like helicopter rotor blades.  Applied to a wristwatch for the first time in 1973, it simply looked super cool.

The black colouring and layout of the watch dial was designed to reflect the look of the cockpit dials of Porsche racing cars of the period such as the classic 917 and 911 RSR.  Steve McQueen would have been very much at home with the Chronograph 1 on his wrist and while I don’t know that he had one, as a massive fan of both Porsches and watches, I would be amazed to learn that he didn’t.

F.A. was quoted as saying: “I wanted to create a watch that matched a car. Black like the speedometer and the rev-counter – because that would be the most legible.”

Also at the time, quartz watches with digital displays were considered to be the future of the watchmaking world but F.A. was having none of this : “Wristwatches represent a set of values not equalled by quartz crystals”, hence the decision to swim against the tide and use a Valjoux 7750 movement.

Porsche Design later moved on to work with other watchmakers such as Lemania and IWC but it is the very first Chronograph 1 that is probably the most interesting and collectible model.  I’m delighted to say that the immaculate 1973 example in the photographs comes from my personal collection and I hope will one day be worn by my son.

A true icon creating another.

*in my opinion and that of millions of other car fans.

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