Until his teammate put his car into a wall on the final lap of the Singapore Grand Prix on Sunday, Lewis Hamilton wouldn’t have been expecting to cross the finish line third, scoring him the 196th podium of his career, an extension to his own record.
By contrast, news of his third collaboration with IWC has been a long time coming: the IWC Portugieser Tourbillon Rétrograde Lewis Hamilton first hit the drawing board two years ago and arrives four years after the Swiss watchmaker and the British racing driver last worked on a watch together.
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Not for want of ambition, though. At least, not on Hamilton’s part. “It wasn’t an invite,” the seven-time World Champion tells Robb Report, smiling wryly. “I usually ask. They know I want to do collabs.”
Not unreasonably, he compares the experience of co-designing a watch to that of working on a car with his team, “When I’m working with the designers on the car, I can ask all these questions, and if something comes out of that that becomes part of the design of the car, you feel even more connected to it.
“So rather than just wearing an IWC watch and promoting the brand,” he continues, “I wanted to work with the design team and come with something more custom that has a bit of my DNA and their DNA in it.”
In the candid style that’s become one of his calling cards, Hamilton admits he finds the collaboration process a bit daunting and that he’s always surprised by how well the watches are received. “At the beginning, everyone’s cautious,” he says, remembering those drawing board moments. “They don’t know how well it’s going to do, especially when you’re using big colors. But then things fly.”
You can feel how his confidence to push for a style that’s more ‘Lewis’ – he’s become known for his outlandish race weekend outfits and fondness for designers such as Miu Miu, Tommy Hilfiger, Rick Owens, and Prada – has grown. Like a whisky glass at the end of a long evening, his fingerprints are all over the third IWC carrying his name.
The teal dial and fabric strap are plucked straight from the palette of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team he’s driven for since 2013 (as per the detailing in the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41 released earlier this year to mark 10 years of the IWC x Mercedes F1 tie-up), while only 44 will be made, which, as Hamilton acolytes will know, has been his racing number since childhood.
Peel back those silken surface layers, and there are further signs of Hamilton’s tone of voice. The panther-eyes logo at 3 o’clock is obviously his, as are the 12 diamond hour markers, a stone the 38-year-old is famously partial to (especially if they’re Tiffany). And the whole thing, all 43.5 mm x 15.9 mm of it, is shelled in dense, glossy platinum, a material alien to pretty much every F1 engineer in history.
It’s tempting to wonder whether including those diamonds isn’t a not-so-subtle gesture towards the sport’s governing body, with whom Hamilton was not long ago engaged in a rather silly battle over the jewelry he is—or rather isn’t—allowed to wear on the track. The FIA rule banning jewelry on track had actually been in place since 2005, but until last year, it had never been enforced, and Hamilton had raced wearing earrings, a nose stud, and who knows what else besides.
Inside the watch, IWC takes the wheel with its IWC-manufactured 89900 calibre, a power unit that lines up a tourbillon, a chronograph, and a retrograde date indicator, each of which could be attributed to the experience of an F1 driver if you try hard enough (a tourbillon for high-tech precision, anyone? Or a date to keep track of the 23-race calendar?).
Its base specs are pretty compelling, too—there are a pallet lever and an escape wheel made of diamond-coated silicon, produced using a method known as Diamond Shell technology. That does silicon’s usual thing of reducing friction and wear-and-tear and means that despite the demands placed on it, the movement will keep going for 68 hours without a rewind.
IWC-niks may recognize something else at play here, too. Flip the watch over and through its sapphire case back you’ll spot the movement’s gold-plated bridges, an uncommonly flamboyant touch for the reliably sensible IWC. Indeed, it’s been 30 years since the legendary “Il Destriero Scafusia” was introduced since it last applied such a finish to a movement.
In doing so, it appears IWC has answered Hamilton’s brief. “I wanted to take it to the top and do something exclusive,” he acknowledges. So will he take number 1 or 44? “Probably both,” he says, that smile stretching into a grin.
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