There have been timepieces that occupy the intersection between automotive design and classical watch design for nearly as many years as there have been timepieces made for the wrist. But when your company is the Porsche Design Studio and your founder is Ferdinand A. Porsche, the man who created the Porsche 911, one would expect that the automobile influence on your watches would be somewhat more pronounced than most. Porsche Design watches have succeeded and failed at this mandate to varying degrees over the years (and over many partnerships, with established watchmakers such as IWC and Eterna), but with this year’s introduction of the Porsche Monobloc Actuator GMT, an extension of its flagship Chronotimer collection, the company hits a technological and horological home run.
Since Porsche Design established itself as an independent watch brand — with its own Swiss manufacturing facility working in concert with its existing Austrian design studio — in 2015, its watches have striven for a streamlined, Bauhaus style of design (appropriate for an iconic German brand name), and the Monobloc Actuator delivers in this area, but another term from the world of art can also be applied to this watch: trompe l’oeil, a style of photo-realistic painting that “fools the eye.” At first glance, this watch’s curvilinear, barrel-shaped case, with naught but a small, knurled crown breaking from the smoothly flowing edge, fools the eye into into thinking that it is relatively simple in its functions. The black dial, however, belies that assumption, with two stacked chronograph subdials, an outer tachymeter scale, a date window, a rotating “function indicator,” and a white-triangle-tipped GMT hand.
One’s first reaction might be confusion, followed by an attempt to puzzle out the various functions. You would probably assume that the date and the GMT hand are set through the crown (and they are: unscrew it and pull it to its second position to move the date with an upward turn, and to shift the GMT hand counterclockwise in one-hour increments on the flange’s 24-hour scale with a downward turn.) But how exactly, you might ask, do I activate a chronograph with no pushers? Then you might take a closer look at the right side of the case and notice the barely perceptible seams in the upper and lower right, right about where those pushers would usually be placed. Apply a little pressure to that upper section between the seam and the crown and voila — a multiply mounted rocker switch activates the single pusher that is integrated into the silhouette of the titanium case, and the red-tipped central chronograph seconds hand begins racing around the dial. Another press to the upper portion of the pusher stops the hand, and another push to the lower section beneath the crown snaps the hand back to the 12 o’clock position and zeroes the hands on the chronograph subdials at 12 and 6 o’clock.
The design of this ingenious chronograph pusher system is the result of a tri-national joint effort by watchmakers at Porsche Design Timepieces AG in Solothurn, Switzerland; product designers at Studio F.A. Porsche in Zell am See, Austria; and car engineers in Porsche Development Center in Weissach, Germany, and inspired by the slide valves on the Porsche 911 RSR’s racing engine. Amazingly, the pusher/case system is also designed with gaskets that prevent moisture from entering the case even while the chronograph is being operated. The watch is the first, as far as I am aware, to have direct design input from Porsche automobile designers, and the fact that the results of that input are functional rather than just aesthetic is an important plus.
The Monobloc Actuator is definitively a big watch: the case measures 45.5 mm in diameter and 15.5 mm thick, meaning it will press against a tightly buttoned shirt cuff. Like a sleek automobile, its matte titanium case case is all smooth curves and sharp angles; its high-tech-look finished surface is the result of being blasted with glass beads. The recessed, inwardly sloping bezel is inscribed with a 24-hour GMT scale, with alternating Arabic numerals at each even-numbered 2-hour mark and dot indices for the odd-numbered hours. The crown, its knurled surface a tactile delight for the fingertips, screws down to secure the watch’s water-resistance of 100 meters.
Taking a closer look at the dial, we find it encircled by a tachymeter scale — a reference to motorsports timing found on many racing-inspired chronographs and, certainly, wholly appropriate for this watch — and a a 1/5-second-subdivided scale in white. The red tip of the central chronograph hand lines up nearly perfectly with the edges of these tiny hash marks. The subdial at 12 o’clock tallies 30 chronograph minutes, and the one at 6 o’clock tallies 12 elapsed hours. At 9 o’clock is the aforementioned function indicator, in place of a traditional small-seconds subdial, with a spinning white-spoked disk that clues in the wearer that the watch is running. (Frankly, a small-seconds subdial would have been easier to read at a glance, but this was most likely a decision made to enhance the cleanliness of the dial. Directly across from this indicator is the stylized “PD” logo, not really applied but more like embedded into the dial’s surface, and below that, at 4:30, the small date window with white numerals on black background. (Again, slightly larger, bolder numerals would have been more easily legible, but again, most likely a choice made in service of design simplicity — and, possibly, putting more emphasis on the main dial readout, i.e., the current time and the elapsed chronograph times.)
Behind the smoked, transparent, screwed-down caseback, which might remind automobile enthusiasts of a tinted windshield, we get a glimpse of the movement, an ETA Valjoux 7754 chronograph caliber that has been customized by Porsche Design with its own skeletonized, blackened “Icon” rotor. (Drilling down a bit more for the tech heads, the ETA 7754 is the ubiquitous ETA 7750 integrated-chronograph caliber with an added GMT function; it’s used as the base for other GMT chronographs, including, notably, the Breitling Navitimer World, Longines Grand Vitesse Chronograph 24H, and Montblanc Timewalker Voyager UTC.) Blued screws and several of the 25 jewels are in evidence, as well as perlage-decorated bridges and the pulsating balance wheel oscillating at 28,800 vph. Fully wound, the movement carries a power reserve of 48 hours.
The case integrates tightly and almost seamlessly into the “laserflex” black rubber strap, with a recessed racing stripe on the top edge and an embossed pattern on the inner edge that the company has not outright claimed is inspired by tire treads but certainly brings them to mind. The highly adjustable buckle has a double-folding clasp (made of titanium, with the same matte finish as the case) with the wide tongue of the buckle slipping snugly and securely into the square perforations. The watch has an imposing presence on the wrist but is never too heavy thanks to the choice of titanium for the case.
In an era during which the influence of automobile and motor-racing design on wristwatches seems to be more widespread than ever, Porsche Design has, with the Monobloc Actuator, managed to produce a true standout, both aesthetically and technologically. It will most assuredly not be for everyone — there are those who will miss some of the more conventional chronograph elements, like noticeable pushers and dial-contrasting subdials, found on many other popular chronographs, as well as some who will always opt for a slimmer and more classical profile — but it is a “watch geek’s watch” whose unique functionality its owners will look forward to demonstrating to interested peers. It also makes those of us who applaud its innovative spirit anxious to see what the Porsche Design Studio might have in store for us at next year’s Baselworld.
The Porsche Design Monobloc Actuator GMT Chronotimer — as reviewed here, in titanium case with black rubber strap and black sunburst dial — retails for $6,530. Two versions with a titanium bracelet, one with a black dial, the other with a blue dial, are priced at $6,850, while a model in all-black-carbide-coated titanium sells for $7,450.