In this in-depth review, Nitin Nair, editor of our sister publication WatchTime Middle East, goes under the hood of the Baume & Mercier Clifton Club Shelby Cobra Limited Edition — a Valjoux 7750-powered chronograph that is also the Swiss brand’s stylish ode to an American motoring icon.
A motoring-inspired chronograph is a bit of cliché in the world of watches these days. Brands have milked the connection between chronographs as timing instruments and motor racing for decades now. So in a way, watch companies are up against it when their product management teams say they have yet another automotive-inspired timepiece in the works.
The truth is that it’s hard to come up with something that’s not been done before. The Parmigiani-Bugatti collaboration, and Hublot’s La Ferrari MP-05 Tourbillion — with a display that resembles the engine of the Ferrari supercar — are noteworthy examples of this marriage, but they speak only to a certain audience thanks to their hefty price tag.
More recent examples include avant-garde watchmaker Richard Mille’s first partnership with F1 constructor McLaren, a $100,000 split-seconds chronograph. Singer Reimagined unveiled a unique $40,000 motoring-inspired chronograph with a unique movement and display. At the other end of the spectrum, you have micro-brands like REC Watches that use actual parts from the wreckage of vintage or classic cars to create quirky, affordable timepieces that really become talking points.
Which brings us to the Baume & Mercier’s Clifton Club Shelby Cobra Limited Edition — a Valjoux 7750-powered chronograph that pays homage to an American motoring icon from the 1960s, the Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe. Refreshingly, there’s no great technical ingenuity or cutting-edge material used in the development of this watch: just a great backstory and some clever design cues.
This isn’t the Swiss brand’s first tie-in with the American muscle-car icon. In 2015, Baume & Mercier introduced two limited-edition (in steel and rose gold) Capeland Shelby Cobra chronographs inspired by a vintage 1948 monopusher chronograph in the brand’s museum. The Shelby Cobra watches introduced this year are in the new Clifton Club model line, a new range of sports watches that debuted at SIHH earlier this year.
The Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe was first built in 1964 to challenge Ferrari’s dominance of the World Sportscar Championship. The upstart company took on the might of Ferrari in a David vs. Goliath tale that captured the imagination of motorsports enthusiasts of that decade. The car was designed by Peter Brock and is considered an icon of American automotive engineering today.
As far as looks go, the Clifton Club Shelby Cobra Limited Edition doesn’t deviate much from the classic chronographs made for motor racing in the 1960s and ’70s It has a 44-mm stainless steel case with a mix of brushed and polished surfaces. Although a smaller-sized watch (somewhere in the 38- to 40-mm range) would have been ideal given the vintage style codes, the more contemporary 44-mm steel case is what we get. The most striking feature of the case is the chronograph pushers, which are shaped like the foot pedals of the Shelby Daytona Coupe. The case has a signed crown and is fitted with a nonreflective sapphire crystal.
The dial was designed by Brock himself. In fact, Brock worked with the design director Alexander Peraldi on the overall design of the watch. The silver dial has two distinct white racing stripes, running vertically from 12 to 6, and a tachymeter scale printed on a raised ring along the periphery. The dial uses Arabic numerals with Super-LumiNova dots to mark the hours.
The rhodium-plated hands have SuperLumiNova inserts that recall steering-wheel spokes. The chronograph has a two-register layout with blue, snailed subdials that are inspired by the dashboard counters of the car. The minutes counter sits at 12 o’clock and the hours at 6 o’clock. A running seconds subdial is placed at 9 o’clock and the day and date are indicated via a window at 3 o’clock. The red central chronograph seconds hand has the original Shelby Cobra logo on the counterweight.
The sapphire exhibition caseback reveals another interesting hat tip to the Shelby Cobra: the oscillating weight is shaped like the off-white alloy wheel of the car. It’s an interesting detail that classic car enthusiasts will appreciate.
The watch is powered by the legendary Valjoux 7750 movement. It has a power reserve of 48 hours, a pusher at 2 o’ clock to activate the chronograph, and a pusher at 4 o’clock to stop and reset the chronograph.
The watch is fitted with a calf leather strap with an embossed carbon fiber pattern and a rubberized calf-leather lining in red to match the accents on the dial. Fastened with a triple-folding clasp with security push-pieces, the strap is comfortable on the wrist. The watch is a limited edition of 1,964 pieces (the number marks the birth year of the car) and is also available with a blue dial.
The Baume & Mercier Clifton Shelby Cobra Limited Edition could have easily been just another motorsport-inspired watch on the market. But having worn it for a week, I can say its vintage-inspired styling and references to a classic American car make it an interesting proposition. It’s a fairly uncomplicated wristwatch, with some pleasing aesthetics and a reliable movement. At about $4,000, it may not be the most affordable watch around, but considering the pedigree of the two brands involved – a 187-year-old Swiss watch brand and an American automotive legend – still a pretty square deal.