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Monday
Jun252012

Jim Clark and his Breitling Top Time

Much has been made lately in the vintage Heuer collecting community lately about the "Jo Siffert Autavia" and the "Derek Bell Autavia" or the "McQueen Monaco."  These particular models are climbing precipitously in value of late,  but I think it's funny how no one in the vintage Breitling community seems that obsessed with the fact that legendary Jim Clark not only wore a Breitling Top Time, but actually appeared in ads for it, sporting a handsome white leather racing strap, no less!

The Top Time is part of the same generation as the Omega Speedmaster, the Heuer Carrera, and the Rolex Daytona, but unlike the other three watches it is far less known, was produced for a much shorter time period, and as a result today's values are considerably lower.  Top Times are relatively affordable for a vintage racing chronograph. They change hands between 900 to 2,000 USD depending on the condition and style.Clark wore a black 3-subregister watch like the one above, but the 2 subdial watch with silver dial may be even more handsome.  I would put the relative obscurity of these watches down to the fact that the modern Breitling company has focused completely on Aviation, with its Navitimer watch as the core of its brand, basically throwing out all association with motorsport.  Meanwhile TAG Heuer assaults us with images on a regular basis of Steve McQueen and his Monaco watch, and Rolex and Omega still make the Daytona and Speedmaster, respectively.  Frankly, I like it this way. With vintage Heuer prices basically having crossed into "stupid territory" of late, I like the idea of a Top Time more and more. And frankly, I never understood why people go so crazy over a watch worn by Jo Siffert, or even the young Derek Bell.  Neither of these men -with due respect to Bell's later Le Mans accomplishments- can hold a candle to Clark's towering abilities. Wearing the watch he wore would for me have far more emotional resonance!

I think the point I would like to make the most here is how this example emphasizes what sheep so many watch collectors are, and how the marketing efforts of the present-day watch company can have such a big impact on the perceived value of vintage watches.  If Breitling were to re-issue the top time, and make a big campaign about Clark wearing it (after all, he is the greatest driver of his era hands down) it's a foregone conclusion that collectors would suddenly go ape for a vintage "Jim Clark Top Time."  But thankfully that will never happen, especially since Breitling still thinks John Travolta is cool, and continues to slide into an abyss of bad taste and oversized, blingy schlock.  Bad news for Breitling, but good news for the independent-minded collector!

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    Musings about cars, design, history and culture - Automobiliac - Jim Clark and his Breitling Top Time
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    Musings about cars, design, history and culture - Automobiliac - Jim Clark and his Breitling Top Time

Reader Comments (11)

With all due respect to legendary drivers Siffert, Bell, McQueen, and Clark - what I'D really like to see is a watch with some Vic Elford provenance!
June 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJames
I'll trade you my Vic Elford for a Rene Arnoux. BTW: I agree that Jim Clark was the greatest, but I'm not so sure about that hands down business. Didn't his era include Moss and Fangio?
June 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLance Pierre
I think when Fangio retired, that is when Clark's era began. Moss overlaps both eras, but i would really consider him more part of the Fangio era. His career ended just as clarks was about to take off. I would say the other great talents of the time were Stewart, Hill, Surtees, and Rindt. But Clark was clearly more gifted than any of them. Bell and Siffert were great in sportscars, but they didn't really have such stellar F1 careers.
June 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBradley Price
Agreed. From the videos I've watched, and all that I've read, Clark was the smoothest, most graceful and least dramatic. He obviously had an extraordinary gift. On the other hand, Moss holds perhaps the most amazing record, his 98.53 mph Mille Miglia in 1955 - and he's still alive.
June 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLance Pierre
Moss is for sure one of the all-time greats. He actually wore a particularly interesting and unique watch himself. But I am not sure what brand it was. Had a thin metal strap though.
June 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBradley Price
That white strap on the Top Time on Clark's wrist is a white rubber Tropic strap. I've seen plenty of them.
November 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPaul L
Really?? Can you post a link to an identical strap?
November 5, 2012 | Registered CommenterBradley Price
I have this very watch. Breitling Top Time 3-subregister with black face like the one worn by the great Jim Clark. Original case, face, and crystal. Fully functional and keeps great time. It has been in my family since the mid/late 70s. Will consider selling.
December 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChris Weaver
The white Topic straps are readily available on Ebay.
December 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPaul L
Paul,
You are totally right! I totally thought it was a leather strap, but after looking at the white tropic straps on ebay that date to this period, the way it follows the curve of the case is a dead giveaway. Well spotted!
December 26, 2012 | Registered CommenterBradley Price
It's an Enicar sherpa graph.Jim was the official testimonial!
September 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGianvittorio

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