The Briggs Cunningham Watch

More than once, “06880” has honored Briggs Cunningham.

The polymathic Westporter skippered Columbia to the America’s Cup title in 1958. He invented “the Cunningham,” a device to increase the speed of racing sailboats. He competed in the 24 hour auto race at LeMans, developed and built the Chrysler C-4R racing car, owned the 1st Ferrari in America, and made the cover of Time magazine.

Briggs Cunningham II, on the cover of Time.

Briggs Cunningham, on the cover of Time.

He also married Lucy Bedford, daughter of Standard Oil heir F.T. Bedford — not a bad career move. (Cunningham’s father, Briggs Sr., was an early investor in the company that became Procter and Gamble. So the son did not exactly pull  himself out of poverty.)

But “06880” has never mentioned Cunningham’s watches.

According to a long story in Hodinkee — a website devoted to all you’d ever want to know about luxury watches — the Westporter was an American hero.

“His name means little to those outside the highest echelons of motorsport and aquatic racing,” Benjamin Clymer writes.

“But to those in the know, Briggs Cunningham and his collection of bespoke wristwatches are downright legendary.”

Cunningham’s place in horology (the art of making clocks and watches — yeah, I looked it up) is secured by his ownership of 3 Patek Philippe watches.

Briggs Cunningham's least expensive watch.

Briggs Cunningham’s least expensive watch.

All are stainless steel. (He chose that design over gold because he was a “highly active, top-tier athlete.”)

Two are unique commissions designed especially for him.

The other — created in 1949 — is still in mint condition. It sold last year for about $100,000.

The 1463 chronograph.

The 1463 chronograph.

That’s chump change compared to Cunningham’s 1463 chronograph. Made unique by its black dial with luminous markers and hands, it has achieved “mythical status since first appearing on the market,” Clymer writes.

Cunningham wore it in a photo with driver Phil Hill. They’re examining the Westporter’s Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing — the 1st one ever delivered commercially.

That combination of watch and automobile “has long made him an icon to me,” says Clymer.

That watch is on the market now. It can be yours for $1.5 million.

Briggs Cunningham, his watch, race car driver Phil Hill, and the 1st Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing ever.

Briggs Cunningham, his watch, race car driver Phil Hill, and the 1st Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing ever.

But even that is a drugstore Timex compared to Cunningham’s 1526 perpetual calendar watch.

“It is just one of just two perpetual calendars to be made in steel, and the Arabic markers are covered in black lacquer. How incredible is that?” Clymer asks.

The 1526 perpetual calendar watch.

The 1526 perpetual calendar watch.

Apparently, quite incredible. One of the most beautiful watches ever made by Patek Philippe, it sold for $3,956,159 in 2008.

The buyer: Patek Philippe itself.

I can’t imagine I’ll ever write another “06880” post about watches.

But something tells me I’ll keep discovering interesting tidbits about Briggs Cunningham, for years to come.

(Hat tip: Peter Tulupman)


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6 responses to “The Briggs Cunningham Watch

  1. Roger Kaufman

    Great piece Dan.just woke up and happened to see this In 1961 I toured his antique car garage on Beachside Ave with 3 buddies and discovered the treasure trove inside.it was a surprise visit …one evening and no one knew we were in there by the way!! I’m not sure if you’re free –or even awake at this point however… Brother Jim is visiting and we’re having breakfast at the commuter coffee shop at 8 AM. If you feel like it please stop by and have coffee with us will be there from 8 to 9. Best regards, Roger

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. Susan Hopkins

    Interesting post, Dan, given my “watch fetish”! Trying not to look at my timepiece, a lovely Rolex, without muttering, “Pfffft”!

  3. I found his car collection by accident walking my dog along the RR tracks in 1961… wandering into the buildings (they were aircraft hangars…” Mr C”…. as he was known was also a pilot and wanted to put in a landing strip during WW 2 but the town refused)… he had over a hundred cars…. many were rare competition cars including the eponymous Cunningham race cars he built in Palm Beach and raced at Le Mans… (youre mistaken in calling the C-4 a Chrysler… altho it had a chrysler engine)…. the collection was moved to Newport Beach CA about 1962 when he divorced his first wife and later sold to Floridas Collier brothers Im guessing about 1985 ish.
    I knew his daughter Lucy who married Congressman Stew McKinney and his grandson Bob… as well as Walter Billings his estate manager etc for decades (he had mamy good stories about him including “no one would drive in a car with Mr C …” Too fast?….. NO! He never went faster than 25 on public roads!”

  4. Bill Scheffler

    Briggs’ auto racing prowess was celebrated by a watchmaker named Ikepod, which produced a run of 800 chronograph watches in blue and white — America’s racing colors — called the Ikepod Hemipode Cunningham Chronograph GMT Limited Edition. If you can find one, they sell for around $3,500, making them an “affordable” alternative to Briggs’ own watches. I’m still looking for one!

  5. Sharon Paulsen

    This was so interesting!

    I forwarded this to my Dad, who lives in Florida now, but would appreciate these tidbits.

    He was into sailing/racing and also vintage/rare cars, and the like. So many things really, so I figured he’s get a kick out of these types of posts. He and my mother moved to Westport in the 1960’s (after some time residing in other parts of Fairfield County). I came into being not long after. The rest is history, lol.

    (Cunningham’s innovative ideas harken to Howard Hughes’ creative genius, IMO).

  6. Byron Miller

    My Dad was a fan of the sports car racing, especially the great races in Europe. He told me about Briggs Cunningham, his white cars and that he was one of the first Americans who actually took his cars to Europe and raced at
    Le Mans. He also told me that Cunningham traditionally actually drove one of his race cars from the Channel (probably Le Harve) to Le Mans. In 1955 my family was driving north outside of Paris when we actual saw what turned out to be Cunningham in his beautiful white race car coming towards us on a short straight away (or what passed for a straight away in rural France). My Dad and I shouted together, startling my sisters and Mother who watched him pass swiftly by but were clearly, not as into it as Dad and I were. Other than that, I don’t remember much else about the vacation except that it was that trip on which my younger sister got (earned?) the nickname from my older sister and I of “Little Itch”.