Luxury watch companies and their brand ambassadors are a carefully considered reflection of their shared core values. Our watch editor looks at four enduring collaborations between tennis champions and their sponsors.
An elite tennis player and a finely crafted timepiece share many qualities. Both are elegantly presented externally, whilst internally sits a source of incredible power. An exceptional watch contains controlled dynamism in its movement and appears flawless on the outside, while a tennis player pushes their physical abilities to the limit, whilst striving to keep it together and remain calm and composed. Timing and precision are paramount for these perfect partnerships.
Serena Williams & Audemars Piguet
The tennis phenomenon that is Serena Williams retired just a few days before Roger Federer in September 2022. Considered by many the GOAT of the women’s game, Serena and her elder sister Venus dominated the sport during their remarkable careers. Serena became a professional in 1995, winning her first major singles title at the 1999 US Open at the age of just 17.
Over the next two decades Serena amassed 23 Grand Slam women’s singles titles, the most in the Open Era. She is the only player to accomplish a career Golden Slam in both singles and doubles and she was ranked world No.1 in singles by the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) for 319 weeks and finished as the yearend No.1 five times. From 2014, when she joined forces with Audemars Piguet, Serena was usually seen trailblazing on and off the court with an AP watch on her wrist.
Serena has worn a range of models, including The Code 11.59, the flashy Millenary, and various Royal Oak models, but the watch she seemed to favour, both on court and when lifting trophies, was the Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph. She wore a custom model with the winding crown moved to the left of the case so as not to dig into her hand during serves and strokes.
The Royal Oak Offshore was initially created as a men’s chronograph for extreme sports and has a bold presence and powerful build, traits shared by Serena herself. Her 37mm Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph for women is the same design of the original men’s chronograph but in a slimmer case.
Serena wore the watch in stainless steel and rose gold versions, and today it is available with a range of combinations, including five colours and a stainless steel bracelet or rubber strap. At its heart is the automatic manufacture calibre 2385, with functions of chronograph, hours, minutes, small seconds and date.
The bezel is set with 32 brilliant-cut diamonds for that element of femininity, which is complimented by the silver-toned dial with “Lady Tapisserie” pattern, blue counters, blue external zone, white gold applied hour-markers and Royal Oak hands with luminescent coating. While Serena may not be raising sporting silverware these days, her connection with the brand endures.
In the words of Audemars Piguet, “Serena Williams has had a lasting positive influence in sports, fashion and the cultural world at large. More than a Tennis Champion, she is an entrepreneur, a designer, a changemaker, a mother and an enduring brand ambassador. Her unrelenting drive, passion and rule-breaking spirit, which strongly resonate with Audemars Piguet’s values, have enabled her to reach exceptional milestones in her career, while inspiring people worldwide.
Naomi Osaka & TAG Heuer
I have it on good authority that Frédéric Arnault, the 28-year-old CEO of TAG Heuer, is a big tennis fan, and this may have something to do with the popular Swiss brand making waves in the world of the white sport.
In 2021, TAG Heuer signed an endorsement deal with one of the world’s best female players, Naomi Osaka. At just 25 years old, Osaka is of the same generation as Arnault and it’s a safe presumption that he was impressed by her industrious nature, explosive and brave style of play, and sheer talent – an ideal ambassador for inspiring new generations of tennis and TAG lovers.
As someone who is passionate about design and fashion as well as tennis, Osaka was delighted to sign with TAG Heuer and have the opportunity to get creative in devising a timepiece to put her name to. “I’m excited to continue my work with TAG Heuer not only because their timepieces are so renowned and classic but also because it’s an honour to be able to create a timepiece with such an iconic brand,” she says.
Osaka, who is already a four-time Grand Slam champion and two-time winner of the US Open (2018 and 2020). and two-time winner of the Australian Open (2019 and 2021) is one of the few players to wear a watch while playing, and to actively participate in the design and production of a timepiece.
The result of the collaboration between the Japanese star and the Swiss icon is the Aquaracer Professional 300 Naomi Osaka Limited Edition. Launched in 2022, exclusively in the USA, Japan, Australia and online at tagheuer.com, the impactful watch is limited to 250 pieces and likely to be a collector’s piece that will rise in value.
The watch is instantly striking with its dual green tones; one colour forms a wave pattern on the dial, whilst the green hue on the five minute markers are more indictive of tennis balls. This colour is offset by the twinkle of diamonds on the octagonal hour markers.
The two straps the watch are also in green – a rubber strap and a bonus made from recycled and recyclable fishing nets. TAG Heuer provide a proprietary tool for simple strap changes. As well as being notably robust and durable, Aquaracer models have great legibility thanks to the hour markers and hands that are distinctly wide.
The Aquaracer’s ceramic bezel is also extra-wide, which adds a dash of dynamism alongside enhanced readability. Housed in a pressure-proof, fine-brushed and polished stainless steel 36mm case, this dazzling green beauty is water-resistant to 300 metres. If you can get your hands on one at retail cost, expect to pay around $3,800.
Rafael Nadal & Richard Mille
Accompanying and assisting his ascent to the cloud-piercing heights of high horology, has been Richard Mille’s sharp sense for exceptional talent and his canny intuition for who will be a perfect match for his eponymous brand. In all the sports in which Richard Mille has become a sponsor, the brand founder has formed lasting bonds with those at the top. One of his longest and most fruitful relationships is with the incomparable Rafael Nadal.
The two men met back in 2008, at a time when Nadal rarely wore a watch, and certainly not when battling it out on the court. Through mutual admiration, Mille convinced Nadal to become an offi cial Richard Mille brand ambassador in 2010. A particularly auspicious time to formalise the friendship, as “Rafa” won 3 out of 4 majors that year. Working together, they developed the lightest tourbillon in the world at that time.
Nadal recalls, “Richard came to my house and showed me a model saying: ‘this is the watch that we made for you’. The watch was in platinum so very heavy, I was confused and didn’t realise that he was joking. As soon as I tried the real watch on, I loved it. We were on the same wavelength.”
Over the last 13 years, the partnership has created an array of different pieces, and the latest model is the RM 27-04 Tourbillon. A limited edition of 50 pieces, it is a manual winding tourbillon with hours and minutes.
The calibre is based on a microblasted string mesh that has never been utilised in watchmaking before. A single woven steel cable measuring just 0.27 mm in diameter is held in place by two turnbuckles featuring a 5N gold PVD treatment. This 855 mm2 string mesh supports the entire calibre. Designed to stay in suspension within its case, the calibre RM27-04 can withstand accelerations of over 12,000Gs – a new resistance record at Richard Mille.
“He is a really positive person and wants to drive the watchmaking industry forward,” the tennis legend says about Mille, adding, “He seeks excellence, which I respect; in my tennis I always try to be better and I work hard for that.”
Nadal will miss this year’s Wimbledon through injury, but the ‘King of Clay’ will be back, and he’ll be wearing his million dollar RM27-04.
Commenting on his friendship with the champion, Mille concludes, “Rafa and I have a life-long commitment. We are there come rain or shine. It is more than just watchmaking – it’s life!”
Roger Federer & Rolex
The oldest and most prestigious tennis tournament, paired with the world’s best known luxury watch brand. Wimbledon and Rolex make quite the doubles team. This formidable partnership has endured for 45 years, since the watch industry entered the world of professional tennis and Rolex became the offi cial timekeeper for Wimbledon in 1978.
Add one of, if not the GOAT (greatest of all time) of the men’s category – the recently retired legend Roger Federer – and you have quite the threesome. Rolex and Roger have been partners for 22 years, and you could make a long list of qualities the two Swiss giants share. A mere handful of characteristics in common include elegance, resilience, accuracy and panache.
An extraordinary player, Federer retired from tennis after a peerless career in September 2022. During his 20 years dominating the sport he notched up 8 Wimbledon titles – a staggering record – and was the fi rst man to win 20 Grand Slam singles titles, six ATP Finals crowns, more than 1,200 career victories, two Olympic medals, a Davis Cup triumph with Switzerland and 310 weeks ranked World No. 1.
Whilst he no longer graces the court, the match up with Rolex remains and Federer was recently seen wearing the elegant new Rolex 1908 dress watch at the Met Gala in New York, an event for which he was co-chair.
Launched in spring at the Watches & Wonders trade fair in Geneva, this striking watch is the fi rst completely new model from Rolex since the Sky Dweller back in 2012. The design references an Oyster Perpetual from 1931, and the name ‘1908’ is a nod to the year that the founder Hans Waldorf trademarked ‘Rolex’ in Switzerland.
At the heart of the 1908 is the calibre 7140, a completely new self winding movement, with two centre hands and a small seconds at 6 o’clock. Five patent applications have been fi led for this slim and entirely in-house movement. The case diameter is 39mm and the thickness is just 9.5mm.
Federer selected the white gold case and black dial version to go with his tuxedo, but there is also a yellow gold model. As with the original Oyster Perpetual, the bezel is domed and fl uted. The launch of this watch caused quite the stir in the watch world, and with such a seductive silhouette it’s not hard to see why. The Rolex 1908 in white gold is priced around 23,050/$32,550.