High-End Horology and The Beautiful Game

Professional football is highly dependent on the wristwatch: referees need them to work out extra time stoppages, managers need them to furiously gesticulate upon when those extra time stoppages have outstayed their welcome, and, perhaps most importantly of all, players need high-end jewellery as the apotheosis of their luxury lifestyles.

While relationships between watch brands and professional athletes in sports like golf and tennis tend to be governed by sponsorship agreements, footballers usually have much more free reign over their choice of wrist wear. Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, for example, often wears Richard Mille, Barcelona star Cesc Fabregas has been spotted with his TAG Heuer on numerous occasions and Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard is one of many Premier League stars who own a Zenith piece.

Here are some of the finest luxury watch brands and the world-class footballers that wear them, whether through an ambassadorial role or their own discerning choice…

 

HUBLOT

Famous for being the first watchmaker to utilise a natural rubber strap, Hublot’s creations have been extremely popular among those inclined to sporting endeavors. Since footballers are often partial to eye-catching jewellery, the Nyon-based brand’s flagship Big Bang model — with its visually arresting style and unmissable 41mm oversized case — is a common fixture on Premier League wrists.

Former Manchester Utd manager Sir Alex Ferguson unveiling a new Hublot King Power with Hublot chairman Jean-Claude Biver in 2011

In addition to partnering with numerous sailing and motorsport events, Hublot are the official timekeeper for the current champions of Germany, Italy and the Netherlands: Bayern Munich, Juventus and Ajax. Since 2008, they have also enjoyed a relationship with Premier League title holders Manchester Utd, for whom they have produced several iterations of the special-edition ‘Red Devil Bang’. Most recently, they issued a model celebrating their Japanese defender Shinji Kagawa.

Kagawa, however, isn’t the only man in the game with his own Hublot special edition. Diego Maradona had his own Big Bang produced in a run of 250 pieces, for which the luxury brand received nearly 3,000 orders (perhaps in part because each one came with a shirt signed by the man himself). The legendary Argentinean liked it so much, he wore one on each wrist during the 2010 World Cup — one set to Buenos Aires time, and the other set to local time.

According to the FT’s luxury magazine How To Spend It, Hublot chairman Jean-Claude Biver is also working on a model with a specially modulated chronograph to record injury time and extra time, based on a personal request from former Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini.

 

ROLEX

Founded in England and based in Switzerland, Rolex is the most popular name among luxury watches, and thus it is ubiquitous in the style-conscious world of professional football.

David Beckham and his wife Victoria have both been spotted wearing Rolexes, with the retired England star often seen with a diver’s favourite: the Oyster Perpetual Deepsea. Interestingly, this wrist wear choice comes in spite of the fact that the former Manchester Utd star is a Breitling ambassador and advocate of the Transocean collection.

According to The Guardian, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich owns a vast collection of Rolex pieces, but one of the richest men in the world frequently teams his bespoke wardrobe with a basic digital watch, such as the Polar heart rate monitor he wore to court last year.

While fine timepieces may not be at the top of the Russian oligarch’s list of priorities, last season his Champions League-winning team were rewarded with customised versions of the highly collectable Rolex Daytona. The chronograph dials on the Blues’ unique designs featured the team crest, the Champions League logo and a rendering of the trophy they collected on a famous night in Munich last May

The Daytona also made headlines in the sports pages in 2011 when Arsenal’s double-league-title-winning defender Lauren was reunited with a piece that had been stolen from him during a burglary six years previously.

 

AUDEMARS PIGUET

As the world player of the year for the past four consecutive seasons, Lionel Messi is the undisputed best footballer in the game right now, and one of the greatest ever to take to the field.

A man held in such high regard deserves a fine timepiece, why is why the folks at Audemars Piguet dedicated a special-edition model of their iconic Royal Oak to the Argentinean in 2010.

Named after the tree that kept Charles II safe from the Roundheads, the Royal Oak was the first high-end stainless steel Swiss watch when it first appeared in 1972, and much like Messi, it sets a high benchmark for the competition. The Barcelona star’s special-edition is limited to just 100 pieces, and its rarity is reflected in the demand for one of them at a recent Sotheby’s charity auction.

Messi aside, AP watches can be found on the wrists of world-class football stars all across the continent. Galatasaray’s Didier Drogba, for example, is known to own a diamond-encrusted Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph while his former Chelsea teammate Frank Lampard has a Rose Gold Royal Oak Offshore.

 

IWC

Renowned for ground-breaking technical innovation, functional design and fine craftsmanship, IWC have been putting together highly desirable timepieces since 1868. The manufacturer that invented the digital watch in 1885 have a long-standing relationship with Formula 1, but they also have a strong affiliation with the beautiful game.

In 2010, they produced a special-edition of their lauded Ingenieur collection in honour of one of the greatest players of all time, Zinedine Zidane. The Big Ingenieur Edition Zinedine Zidane features IWC’s in-house 51113-calibre movement and just one numeral on the dial: a ‘10’ in recognition of Zizou’s squad number. This edition is scarcer than a Zidane mistake on the field, as it was limited to only 500 pieces.

The IWC Big Ingenieur Edition Zinedine Zidane

The Frenchman’s former Real Madrid teammate Luis Figo also has his own special-edition IWC piece, a new take on the renowned Portuguese collection — an appropriate choice for the Portuguese former World Player of the Year.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, meanwhile, is also an IWC ambassador, while his former centre-back William Gallas is known to be the proud owner of a Portuguese Perpetual calendar.

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