Driving Meets Design

5 Questions with a Master of Automotive Watches, Bradley Price


August 24, 2016 Watches By Photo by Andrew Connor
Autodromo-Gear-Patrol-Lead-Full

Bradley Price’s first love, surprisingly enough, wasn’t watches. Sure, in just a few short years his company has transformed from a small, internet-based brand to a darling in the watch community, but cars have always been his biggest life’s passion — the guy owns an obscure, classic Ferrari, after all. But Price emphasizes that that’s been essential to Autodromo. “I was literally into this stuff since such a young age that it’s my whole life’s passion,” said Price. “I think whenever you have a brand that’s run by someone who really lives it their whole life, people instinctively understand that.”

Autodromo has since become one of the quintessential faces of online boutique watches, and Price — a designer by trade — has created several successful timepieces and expanded his operations to other accessories like driving gloves and sunglasses. We recently had a chance to sit down with Price at his Brooklyn studio to ask him about the struggles of manufacturing for a small company, his design inspiration and the passion for cars that helped create Autodromo.

Autodromo-Gear-Patrol-Ambiance-Group-B
Price’s latest limited-edition timepiece, the Group B Evoluzione, features a case made from CNC-milled aluminum and titanium.

Q: Why did you end up creating Autodromo?
A: Throughout my 20s I was trying to do furniture design, and it wasn’t quite working out for me. I was living in NYC, I didn’t have a car, and I felt disconnected from driving a bit. I started a car blog, Automobiliac, that’s still up, but I don’t update it anymore. Running that site rekindled my passion quite a great deal. So I started to think I should design something that feels geared towards cars. And I just had this idea one day while I was driving that I should make watches that look like gauges. I started doing research about it, and though it had been done before, it hadn’t been done well, and it wasn’t being done at the time I started my company. So I thought this could be a really cool angle to make something with a beautiful design that really speaks to the act of driving.

Q: Was there anything particularly frustrating about manufacturing when you started?
A: There really was no infrastructure for making watches in the United States. And there still isn’t, really. I was just a guy with an idea and a little capital to start with, and I just looked at my position and realized there was no way I could single-handedly start making things here with what I had to work with.

So I had to work within the existing system, which meant sourcing things from Hong Kong. I think a lot of people don’t always understand the nuances — not all Chinese- or Hong Kong-based production is low quality. In fact much of it is high quality. Hong Kong has become a hotspot for factories that specialize in very specific things — like, just hands, or just dials, or just certain gaskets or whatever. And they’ve been making these things for like 40 years. These people invested a lot of money and developed incredible competencies that need to be respected. There’s a paradox to production in Hong Kong: everyone is doing it but no one wants to talk about it.

Q: How did you develop such a strong love of cars?
A: I’ve lived it my entire life. I’ve been a car enthusiast since I was in the crib. I was obsessed with Matchbox cars when I was an infant. I don’t know where it comes from or why, but I have this list of racing drivers I wrote when I was in second grade. The names, like Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss, are all misspelled. I was literally into this stuff since such a young age that it’s my whole life’s passion.

Autodromo-Gear-Patrol-Ambiance-Stradale
The Stradale’s layered dial is inspired by the dashboard gauges of Italian sports cars from the late ’50s and early ’60s.

Q: Have there been any watches that inspired the look of your timepieces?
A: I always loved vintage Heuers — obviously the Prototipo is sort of an homage to racing watches of the ’70s, not just Heuer but of other brands, too — so I wanted to recapture the spirit of those watches. But I don’t like to copy anything, ever, so even if I’m making a historical reference, I try to make it my own. I’m also a nostalgic person in general, so I like triggering memories in people, but then presenting them with something they haven’t seen before. So I find that to be the kind of knife edge I’m going for with designs: immediately familiar, but foreign.

Like with the Group B, there was a lot of referencing Gérald Genta’s work during the late ‘70s, but I brought a lot of my own ‘80s childhood memory into it as well — like what it felt like when I saw a DeLorean for the first time. And people get that. I’ve had people say “this reminds me of a DeLorean” and it makes me so happy to hear that. When you can unlock those sorts of memories from within people through design, its immensely satisfying.

Q: Did you have much interest in watches growing up?
A: Its funny, I grew up in a big car family, and my dad was a car enthusiast. He and I used to build model cars together — that was my whole childhood. I wasn’t necessarily interested in watches, but I was really into miniatures and details, and zooming into the details and how they come alive. I think that kind of fascination with miniatures is where the watch thing comes from because I just really wasn’t exposed to watches growing up. My dad had a Breitling Navitimer he had since the ‘60s, but that was really the only interesting watch in the house. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I really started getting interested with watches. But the main passion for this brand comes from the car side, so I had to learn about watches and understand them. And I’m still learning every day.