When the designer of the legendary Porsche 911 left his family's company to start a design firm of his own, the first product he made was a watch unlike anything seen before. That was around 50 years ago, but his company Porsche Design still offers a convincing combination of automaker and watchmaker cred like none other — all of which isperfectly illustrated in the Sport Chrono. It's as sleek, elegant and sporty as a sports car for your wrist, and a new version in a reduced size makes the brand suddenly accessible to a whole new audience.
Model: Porsche Design Sport Chrono Subsecond 39
Case Diameter: 39mm
Case Depth: 12.25mm
Water Resistance: 100m
Movement: Sellita SW261-1 automatic chronometer
Porsche Design is a company that should probably be on watch enthusiasts' radar more, and the Sport Chrono is a great reason to give them another look. Though not the brand's most famous watch, it's an excellent showcase of what Porsche Design does well: sharp, original design, excellent build and unique personality with an automotive twist. The new version offers the brand's smallest watch yet at 39mm, opening up their aesthetic to a wider audience. With a titanium case, integrated strap and Swiss automatic movement, its dial design also matches a dashboard clock offered as an option in certain Porsche vehicles.
Who It's For
This isn't just a watch for motorheads or Porsche owners (although those groups might find even more to appreciate in it). This is also for watch enthusiasts or anyone who appreciates quality build and design — and if you've seen enough neo-vintage watches to last a lifetime and thought to yourself "what ever happened to modern watches," Porsche Design's Sport Chrono might be a refreshing change. Those who have previously been attracted to Porsche Design watches but found that long lugs make its typically 42mm+ watches unwieldy will find a reason to rediscover the brand.
Porsche Design's 1919 collection watches (including the Sport Chrono) have a hollow, architectural-looking lug design that makes them fun and different — and more or less unique in the watch world. If you're into the general automotive connection, however, you've got plenty of choices, including brands that specialize in racing and car-inspired watches. Autodromo is one of the best, and its Group B ($975) and Intereuropa ($1,250) collections are well worth checking out as more affordable options.
For an even more direct connection to iconic vehicles, Danish brand REC uses salvaged metal from actual cars recycled in its design-forward watches (some of them Porsches). Porsche Design timepieces take inspiration from dashboard gauges, but the French brand Reservoir goes a step further with the concept by combining a single retrograde minute hand and digital jumping hour display to more closely mimic the look of gauges.
Don't be confused by the Porsche Design Sport Chrono's name: this is not automaker merch or some co-branding exercise, nor is it a chronograph. Yes, "chrono" is a common abbreviation of "chronograph," but this watch doesn't include a stopwatch function; and, yes, Porsche Design partially shares a name with one of the most iconic sports car companies in the world. While the relationship with Porsche (as in the car company) can cause some confusion, therein also lies much of Porsche Design watches' charm.
Porsche Design was founded by Ferdinand Alexander Porsche (designer of the 911 and other notable Porsche vehicles) after he left the carmaker his grandfather founded. So, it began as a separate company from the more famous carmaker. The first product Porsche Design made (produced for them by the watchmaker Orfina) also had an impact on the watch industry as the world's first all-black watch. Released in 1972, the Chronograph 1, as it was called, is a notable watch even among classic watches from the same era.
The company today exists under the carmaker's umbrella with a wide offering of luxury products, from sunglasses and apparel to luggage, pens and more. After years of producing watches in collaboration with other brands (most notably, IWC and Eterna), Porsche Design finally doubled down on its watchmaking with its own Timepieces AG devision to produce watches in Switzerland itself, with the first model (based on the Chronograph 1) debuting in 2014.
The 1919 collection, which includes the Sport Chrono, is distinctly modern but its name references the founding of the Bauhaus design movement that inspires the brand's approach. Since the collection's debut, there have been a number of iterations with different dial designs (and some complications), but it's easily the distinctive lug design that defines it. Though the shape and concept appears simple, it's not at all expected — nor is it likely easy to implement. (Note, for example, that the strap is integrated into the design such that you can't even see how it's attached.)
Until 2021, the watches in this collection have essentially all measured 42mm wide — and you can still get a version of the Sport Chrono Subsecond in that size, if you want. Maintaining the watches proportions at 42mm wide, however, led to a lug-to-lug distance that made the watch wear rather large on slimmer wrists (mine, for example). In 39mm, the proportions are right on, and the lengthwise measurement of the watch is a much more wearable 43mm or so at the corners where the lugs touch the wrist (around 47mm for the corners on the topside of the case).
Like nearly all modern Porsche Design watches, the case is entirely in titanium — seeming to reference a watch made with IWC in 1980, which was one of the first watches to be made in titanium. (This was actually the first.) It's a fantastic watchmaking material for its lightness and resultant comfort, but also because it has a technical appeal and a different visual quality from the standard steel. The look of titanium can vary significantly according to its finish — a bead-blasted matte finish is a common choice. That can look dull sometimes, but the contrast between matte and high polish lends the Sport Chrono an elevated, high-end bearing.
The shiny elements here are so reflective that I asked Porsche Design if they used a chrome plating. (Apparently, no — this is just polished titanium.) The mix of finishes does indeed feel very much of the automotive world, and it's touches like these that make the Sport Chrono feel premium and in harmony with the carmaker's image. Oh yeah, the clasp is also in a bead-blasted titanium and is actually of the folding "butterfly" variety rather than the traditional "tang" as it's made to appear.
Aside from the details and finishing, what stands out when you hold the Sport Chrono in person is how solidly built it feels. This is always best evaluated by operating the crown to wind or set the watch: in some watches there might be play in the crown, a stiff feel, a grinding feeling or a "loose" sensation when winding, etc. — here, it feels like you're operating the helm of a ship. That's how solid and smooth it is, and this certainly helps the Sport Chrono feel more appropriate for its mid-range-luxury pricing.
Impressive build, refined design, excellent finishing, technical and exotic material...these should all be considered in assessing the value proposition of a watch, and Porsche Design delivers them (along with a prestigious name). At just shy of $5,000, however, it's competing with brands that offer the likes of in-house movements and other attractive features. The watch is powered by a chronometer-certified Sellita SW261-1 (in the Sellita SW200 family of common automatic movements) with some customized decoration — which you won't see anyway, as it's hidden behind a solid case back.
The movement offers only the time and date, with the seconds displayed in an inset subdial at 6 o'clock. This is simple and refined design that serves the brand's stated mission of maintaining functionality and legibility at all times. The indices and hands (including the seconds hand) are well lumed, and the dial has a subtle circular brushing that gives it a sunburst effect without too much distracting reflection. There's visual interest in the three-dimensional elements such as the sloping ring around the dial where the indices are printed, and the details hold up under the scrutiny of a loupe.
Would it be weird to wear a Porsche Design watch if you don't have a car to match it? Certainly not. Is it even better if you do have a matching Porsche? Obviously. But this is a modern style and automotive connection you can't really get anywhere else in a refined, premium package. Some will feel that the MSRP is comparatively steep for a watch with a sourced movement in today's market, but this is a good example of why maybe "movement provenance" isn't always the be-all-end-all when evaluating a watch's value. If you appreciate the design and engineering of Porsche cars, this is an excellent way to experience a piece of it on your wrist.