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Porsche Design and the Chronograph 1 – Back to the Future

Porsche Design and the Chronograph 1 – Back to the Future

18. January 2022

To understand the legend that is Porsche, it is worth looking at the world through a child’s eyes. For example, the three-year-old son of a couple who are friends of mine, who cheers “Porsche!” every single time he sees a 911 in traffic. This reminds me of my own behaviour many, many years ago. But it’s not the point here; what’s more important is that the design language of the Zuffenhausen-based brand has shaped generations of sports car drivers. “Porsche!” is the epitome of sports cars, of progressiveness, of constantly striving forward. And once you’ve fallen for the legend that is Porsche, you most likely also can’t get past Porsche Design and its timepieces, with their appealing, functional Porsche aesthetics.

Just as the 911 of 1963 can be considered the forefather of all 911s, the Chronograph I from 1972 must be regarded as the first and thus ultimate Porsche Design watch ever. And today, 50 years after the original watch design by F.A. Porsche, it is precisely this watch that is being presented in a new edition: As Chronograph 1 – 1972 Limited Edition.

“This watch was missing – and now it’s back.”

Roland Heiler, Managing Director of Design Studio F. A. Porsche

The anniversary model: Old look, new watch

After all, an anniversary of five decades does need to be celebrated. At the same time, however, such a birthday also provides an opportunity to pause and reflect. Simultaneously looking back and looking forward provides a good opportunity for every jubilarian to reflect on their special strengths. Porsche Design is no different than any other 50-year-old. The Chronograph 1 – 1972 Limited Edition therefore combines the feeling of the 1970s with the forward drive of the 2020s in general, and that of Porsche Design in particular.

Or as Roland Heiler, the managing director of Design Studio F.A. Porsche, explains it in conversation, “This watch was missing – and now it’s back.” After all, there are few watch brands that would neglect to include their first and highly successful model in its portfolio – it would simply make no sense. According to Heiler, “That’s why we don’t view the new timepiece as a watch with a retro or vintage look, but rather, we finally have a model on board once more that was truly missed for many years.” And while it may look exactly like the original watch from 1972, it has most definitely been brought into the modern era.

The details

The contemporary qualities of the model, which is limited to 500 pieces, are hidden from view and can only really be felt. For example, while the tachymeter scale, day and date display keep the exact typography from 1972, the case, bracelet and clasp are now made of titanium, while the original Chronograph I was made of stainless steel. Likewise, the new model is powered by the WERK 01.140 calibre, while a Lemania 5100 was at play in the very first Porsche Design chronographs.

Now, friends of the brand know that Porsche Design has often paid homage to the original model and adopted design codes of the Chronograph 1 in the past, for example, in the 500 pieces of the “Timepiece No. 1” from 2014, or when Porsche Design presented the P`6510 Heritage Black Chronograph 1972 Limited Edition in a limited edition of 911 pieces, which, with a diameter of 44 mm, sat much more majestically on the wrist than the original with its 38 mm diameter.

Timepiece No. 1 Chronograph Titanium Limited Edition (Left)
P’6510 Heritage Black Chronograph 1972 Limited Edition (Right)

The 21st Century Chronograph 1 features a much smaller and more coherent diameter of 40.8 mm, with a height of 14.5 mm. Probably no watch in recent Porsche Design history has ever been produced so closely to a historical model – which was fittingly presented together with a lovingly restored 911 S 2.4 Targa from 1972 – making the model something very special.

A great legacy: the Chronograph I

Chronograph I is the essence of Porsche Design. In 1972, the studio was founded by Ferdinand Alexander Porsche in Stuttgart. The very first order was the Chronograph I, which was originally intended as a gift for the deserving employees of Porsche AG. The fact that, in keeping with Porsche aesthetics, this was not to be the “golden watch” common in other companies, demonstrates both the self-confidence and ambition of those at Porsche.


Professor Ferdinand Alexander Porsche, founder of Porsche Design

The Chronograph I was a timepiece the likes of which no one had ever designed before. For starters, the design by F.A. Porsche is considered the world’s first completely black watch. With this watch, the designer of the 911 transferred his ideas from the world of sports car design to a watch: inspired by the view of the dashboard of a 911, he created a watch with maximum functionality and an extremely modern look. It integrated a tachymeter scale, 30-minute counter at twelve o’clock, 12-hour counter at six o’clock and seconds display at nine o’clock. The white numerals on the matte black dial guaranteed maximum legibility, while reflections were eliminated by the black-on-black look.

Porsche Design Chronograph I from 1972

Its unique aesthetic made the Chronograph I nothing less than a horological sensation, paving the way for a trend that would become mainstream over the years. From the Heuer Monaco “Dark Lord” and customizers like the Bamford Watch Department or MAD Paris to today’s numerous black ceramic models from OMEGA and Hublot: while ubiquitous today, it was daringly different in 1972.

Nato, Military & Co.

Unlike other models that are considered iconic today, the Chronograph I, with its black powder coating, was quite the sales success right from the start. It was different without being polarizing. As with the 911, F.A. Porsche created an extremely unusual, but also attractive and successful product. Tens of thousands of units were produced – and that in the midst of the quartz crisis. Initially, the Chronograph I was equipped with a Lemania movement (the Reference 7176s), and later with the Valjoux / ETA 7750. It was manufactured by the Swiss company Orfina. Racing legend Mario Andretti wore Porsche Design, and later, so did Tom Cruise in Top Gun.

Porsche Design Orfina Ref. 7176s Chronograph (Lemania 5100)

Roland Heiler describes the significance of the model as follows: “The coolness factor of the Chronograph I was pretty decisive in shaping the brand. And interestingly enough, this was nothing artificially imposed; after all, Mr. Porsche was still designing the cars at Porsche just a few months earlier and was therefore right in the middle of the whole automotive scene, from the 917 racing car to the new 911’s development. He simply looked at watches in a completely different way than others focusing on the design aspect might have done.”

The watch worn by Tom Cruise in the film Top Gun (1986) is an Orfina Porsche Design.

Collector’s status

The historic Chronograph I thus played a major role in the formation of Porsche Design’s horological DNA. The company’s later cooperation with IWC and the resulting timepieces would be inconceivable without this model, as would the establishment of an in-house watch division in Solothurn, Switzerland, where the new models are now conceived and manufactured. Furthermore, although the watch was produced in not exactly small numbers at the time, it has a steadily growing value for collectors and Porsche enthusiasts. After all, well-preserved chronographs from back then are rare, because unlike today, the powder coating was not as resistant back then/ Therefore, new-old-stock models are fetching ever higher prices in the vintage market.

In addition to the classic versions with the two aforementioned movements, for example, the military variations are popular, recognizable by the “Military” lettering and a red “3H” symbol, which indicates the use of the low-level radioactive luminescent material tritium. Even rarer is the matte-green coated edition “Military MK II”, or the grey “Nato Chrono”. There are the military editions with Nato straps, but also with the classic steel bracelets. Some dials are adorned with the Orfina name and Orfina flame on the crown, others are exclusively decorated with “Porsche Design” lettering and logos. In short, it’s an exciting microcosm for collectors.

A Limited Edition – then what?

Sooner rather than later, the Limited Edition will be sold out, and all models will have changed hands for 6,972 euros each, both to the long-time friends of the Porsche Design of yesteryear and to fans of the brand today. Then what? Roland Heiler describes Porsche Design Timepieces AG and its watches as “brand shapers” – aka, they form Porsche Design’s very character. Since the first product in 1972, he says, timepieces have become the supreme discipline for the company: “Watches are a very, very important product for the brand. In terms of its complexity and technical complexity, it’s probably the most sophisticated product we offer.” Tenths of a millimetre – and sometimes even less – could make decisive differences in appearance, and just like automotive engineering, function and design could be very closely linked, requiring the utmost sensitivity. The establishment of the company’s own manufacture in Solothurn demonstrates the great commitment and the outstanding role of the Timepieces Division at Porsche Design; after all, the company expects to be able to produce the entire collection exactly according to its own standards in terms of quality, originality, and appearance.

So it would be a shame to present the Chronograph 1 only as a one-off anniversary edition, right? Heiler won’t say much, except for the meaningful admission that, “The watch will remain with us. So, it’s safe to assume that this chronograph will be a fourth – and rather weighty – piece in our watch portfolio, alongside the Monobloc Actuator, 1919 and Chronotimer Flyback. The original watch is back; and it’s back to remind us of the history of Porsche Design, and to successfully tell it on.