Which watch matches your car?

When it comes to accessorising, a watch can say as much about you as your car.

The latter is so fixed as a status symbol you wouldn't expect any disagreement over a shortlist of the more desirable machinery. Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Porsche, Audi, Lexus, Ferrari, Lamborghini, probably Jaguar and a few obscure exotics like Bugatti and Koenigsegg would come to mind faster than a speeding – well, automobile.

Rolex’s five-pointed crown is to the wrist what Mercedes’s three-pointed star is to the road; you can’t miss it.

But things are changing somewhat: the car isn't quite what it was. Impossible to park, prohibitive to let rip, expensive to run, hard to show off – it's making the bespoke bicycle and handsome timepiece the new must-haves.

But what's the equivalent of a desirable automobile in the world of lilliputian wheels - namely, watchland? Of the hundreds of watch brands out there, is there a matching baker's dozen we aspire to?

The answer – no surprise – is both yes and no. There are many more watch brands competing for your attention than there are automobile brands, and matching watch to car isn't always clear cut. But that doesn't mean there aren't some obvious similarities.

Stars of their trades

If Mercedes-Benz has an equivalent it's probably Rolex. Terrific build quality, lots of models, all of them practical yet also prestigious. Rolex's five-pointed crown is to the wrist what Mercedes's three-pointed star is to the road; you can't miss it.

BMW, on the other hand, shares a three-initial nomenclature and more with IWC, even though officially the latter is tied to the Mercedes Formula One team (put that down to commercial convenience – not to mention that BMW no longer competes in F1).

BMW and IWC both bring a Teutonic rigour to their craft, both compete at the higher end, both revel in a masculine image, both offer a stratified range to choose from and both suggest you like to deviate from the mainstream, if only a little.

Hints of yesteryear

You can see hints of fellow German master Porsche in Panerai, a brand that's taken an iconic shape from yesteryear and made it highly desirable today, with radically revised internals driving things.

Audi, a byword for finish and finesse, could almost be twinned with Blancpain, whose similar penchant for stylish restraint is translating into growing popularity.

A more obvious fit is extroverts Ferrari and Hublot – yes, they even have an official liaison, collaborating on all sorts of marketing mayhem – whose respective machines enjoy unmistakable recognition on road or wrist.

Unmistakeable presence

That other titan of the tarmac, Rolls-Royce, brings to mind the unflagging status of Patek Philippe. Here you have watches with an unmistakable presence and provenance; the only obstacle to ownership being cost. Patek wins hands down as an investment, although the brand will be looking in the ­­­rear-vision mirror at the growing reputation of A. Lange & Söhne, the Glashütte make that's steaming along the horological highway.

The same might be said of Cartier, whose fine top-end efforts and sleek new Calibre de Cartier dive watch bring to mind the resurgence of Bentley, which has come back into the spotlight thanks to mighty mechanicals and impressive lines. Mind you, Bentley's official brother-in-arms is no slouch either – the Breitling for Bentley range leaves no doubt about its purpose: catering to anyone looking to add firepower to the forearm.

The flamboyant gene

Obvious matches among the exotics include Lamborghini and Franck Muller, which share the flamboyant gene; Bugatti and De Bethune, both of which enjoy sensational lines and performance; and Koenigsegg and Greubel Forsey, which take things to equally fabulous extremes.

Then there's that almost perfect fit, Lexus and Grand Seiko, producers of items of almost anonymous but always outstanding quality.

As for what's fashionable, this is where cars and watches diverge. Smaller cars – Minis, Fiats and the like – are winning their way into our affections, but not so smaller watches. Despite predictions to the contrary, we still like a bit of horsepower up our sleeves – and don't mind if it shows.

Bani McSpedden is watch editor of The Australian Financial Review. This article first appeared in the Australian Financial Review magazine.