Brescia. Rome. Brescia. A route of (approximately) one thousand miles across Italy and self-titled "The most beautiful race in the world", the Mille Miglia is a historic motor race that continues to this day, and one that Chopard just happens to sponsor. The most popular model in Chopard's lineup of fine watches is undoubtedly the Mille Miglia. It's been around since the 1980s in one form or another and has spawned countless different variants over the years. The version we have for sale at the time of writing is a part of the 'GTS' subdivision within the Mille Miglia range, but more on that later. Let's start by delving into the history of the race the watch is named after.
While the motor car as we know it today was born in Germany as Karl Benz's Patent-Motorwagen, places like France and Italy were the nursery of the car, where it first became more than just a newfangled way of getting around without having to look at a horse's bottom. The early days of the car industry, particularly in Italy, must've been something to behold as names such as Fiat, Lancia, Maserati and Alfa Romeo got to grips with putting people on four wheels and moving them around. As one would naturally expect, the people of the day were as competitive as those of today, so it's no wonder they took their new contraptions racing.
The Mille Miglia wasn't Italy's first motor race, nor Italy's most famous race, with the Italian Formula 1 Grand Prix happening yearly. However, the Mille Miglia was highly regarded as an endurance race, a test of man and machine over a thousand miles. The route starts in Brescia, which is between Milan and Venice in the North of Italy; more specifically, it's between Bergamo and Verona. This is quite important in some ways. The North of Italy is where most of the country's major car brands (that are still around today) found their roots. Turin, which is in the North West, is where most of them are based today, but Milan, Bologna and Modena are also important to the history of the Italian car industry.
Of course, it wouldn't be Italy if the route didn't go near Rome. Rome is the halfway marker for the race, which then turns around and goes all the way back to Brescia, a distance of roughly a thousand miles. It's a circular route rather than a straight up and back, with the first half going along the East coast through places like Rimini and Ravenna. The second half focuses on the West but doesn't go near the sea, I'll bet it's breathtaking, though.
The original race ran annually from 1927 to 1957, only stopping in 1939 and when Italy's political situation became, er, complicated between 1941 and 1946. As expected, most of the winning drivers at the time were Italians who had local knowledge, and their cars were Italian too. However, other drivers and carmakers won. If they did, they were usually German or driving a German car from BMW or Mercedes-Benz. In 1955, Stirling Moss, with navigator Denis Jenkinson, took the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR, number 722, to victory in 1955 with an average speed of 98mph, a record that was never beaten during the initial run of the race.
Mercedes-Benz paid tribute to Moss' victory in car number 722 with their iconic SLR Mclaren 722 Edition, a lighter and more focused version of the already unhinged SLR McLaren 722. Top Gear's Richard Hammond famously raced against one in a Lamborghini Murciélago LP670-4 SV in Abu Dhabi in the Lamborghini's road test video and lost, so, the legend lives on.
Eventually the Mille Miglia was, like so many other races from those days, cancelled. Over the 24 years that there were races, more than 50 people were killed. In 1957 Alfonso de Portago lost control of his 4-litre Ferrari 335 S in Guidizzolo killing himself, his navigator Edmund Nelson, and 9 spectators of which 5 were children. This, followed by another fatal crash in Brescia by Dutch driver Joseph Göttgens in his Triumph TR3 was the final straw. The Mille Miglia would run for a couple more years at road speeds, with some sections allowing drivers to race at full chat, but it was never the same and by 1961, the Mille Miglia disappeared entirely.
That was until 1977, when it was revived as the Mille Miglia Storica, the Historic Mille Miglia. It showcases classic, vintage and positively antique motor cars doing what they've always done, although with more corporate safety and less rogue-ish charm. I'd still like to have a go, though. Chopard's Co-President, Karl-Friedrich Sheufele, takes part every year in one of his many classic cars.
Chopard has been a partner of the Mille Miglia since 1988. It's not the longest corporate sponsorship in the world by any means, even Rolex's sponsorship of Wimbledon has gone on longer than that, and that's nowhere close to being the longest sponsorship of an event or team. For football fans, though, it is an older sponsorship than Carlsberg's sponsorship of Liverpool FC, which is cool. Anyway, the watches that resulted from Chopard's sponsorship are, of course, the Mille Miglia watches, which is probably Chopard's most popular range (it's either that or the iconic Happy Sport, anyway). While the brand is focused firmly on the haute horlogerie market with their L.U.C. timepieces these days, it was the Mille Miglia's groundwork that allowed the brand to stretch out into other markets. Chopard is still committed to the Mille Miglia, though, and even refreshed it earlier this year.
It would be fair to say, though, that the range on offer has gotten smaller recently. There are fewer colours on offer in the Mille Miglia Classic Chronograph range, and the Superfast watches have disappeared entirely. And yet, the Mille Miglia GTS remains consistent in its appearance and the models it offers.
While the Mille Miglia Classic watches might be more iconic, the GTS version comes with a modern masculine style. Other versions are available, but the GTS Chronograph is the most exciting variant. Subtle details such as the piston-shaped chronograph pushers and the rubber strap with tyre treads remind us that this watch is ready for motor racing. Flashes of red on the dial offer legibility but also remind us that this particular motor race is across Italy, one of the world's most beautiful countries.
The 44mm x 13.79mm stainless steel case is chunky, but not unwieldy. There's a real sense of elegance to be found with the Mille Miglia, it's not "just another typical sports watch"; there's more to it. It’s elegant on the wrist, and there are subtle details, such as the texture on those chronograph pushers, which elevate the watch and hark back to the pedals of classic racing cars.
Those pedals control a self-winding ETA 7750 movement, which is hidden between the dial and a closed caseback with the Mille Miglia arrow on it. As Chopard is a high-end watchmaker, it figures that they only use high-end movements (they do make their own, and some GTS models have their in-house movements within them). The ETA 7750 in this watch is the highest-grade version; it has a 42-hour power reserve and 4HZ beat rate along with a COSC Chronometer certification guaranteeing its accuracy. It provides race-ready accuracy on the wrist.
Race-ready pretty much sums the Mille Miglia GTS up, actually. It has a comfy and flexible rubber strap with tyre tread patterns cut into it, the dial is clear, and there's a tachymeter fitted as well. It may not be the world's most iconic chronograph watch, but it is the definitive racing timepiece.
If you're interested in purchasing a pre-owned luxury watch like the fantastic Chopard Mille Miglia, please do get in touch, and we'll endeavour to source one for you, assuming we don't have one in stock already. Our website is continually updated as we buy and sell all kinds of watches. Don't worry if we don't have the watch you want in stock. We buy and sell a lot of watches, so another one is bound to come around, but you can always contact us, and we can help you source the perfect timepiece for your collection.
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