Traditionally, British policemen used to always like to say to speeding motorists: “who do you think you are, Stirling Moss?”
Over in America, it was exactly the same thing with the nation’s numerous state troopers, only substituting the name “Mario Andretti” for Moss. Andretti is simply synonymous with cars and driving in America.
He’s also a collector with a lot of very nice watches. But perhaps the most personal of them is the Yema Rallye Andretti, which he wore when he won the Indy 500 in 1969.
To be precise, it was actually a Wesley’s Rallye back then: at the time, Yema made watches for other companies to put their name to, but the unique design was of course Yema’s own. Mario actually bought and paid for this watch with his own money – unlike the many others, which were gifted or won subsequently.
Mario Andretti - Image credit Motorsportmagazine.
In Mario’s own words: “I love wristwatches almost as much as I love racing. I bought the Rallye in the 1960s because I thought it was really cool. At the time, it was state-of-the-art and right on the cutting edge of modern. I got many compliments on it so I wore it often. I actually wore it daily for the entire month of May 1969 in preparation for the Indianapolis 500 – for practice, qualifying and during the race itself. It certainly became sentimental after I won that race, just like the helmet I wore that day and the fire suit. And the race car that carried me across the finish line ended up in the Smithsonian Museum. All of these things became part of a day that changed my life.”
That’s quite some tribute, so it’s no surprise that Yema decided to reissue the watch in 2019, in a limited edition of 1969 examples. There was the Yema rather than Wesley’s name on the dial, but apart from that, it was very similar to the original, although the newer watch has a date window and a few extra design details to celebrate its illustrious heritage.
Alongside that, a quartz version was released, powered by a Seiko VK64 mechaquartz movement. Which all goes to show just how emblematic this watch came to be in motorsport history. But to understand the watches, first, you have to understand the man.
Mario Andretti was born in 1940 in Montona, Istria, in what was then Italy (it’s now Motovun in Croatia). By 1955 the Andretti family had emigrated to the United States, where Mario found fame and fortune by racing and winning in nearly all the categories of American racing out there, including the epic Indy 500.
But as well as the United States – which had given so much to the Andretti family over the years – Mario was looking at Europe, where he had already raced in 1966 with a Ford GT40 at Le Mans. Specifically, his Italian roots drew him to Ferrari. By the late 1960s he was a regular in Formula 1, and it was Enzo Ferrari himself – impressed by Mario’s performances – who decided to put him in one of the red cars for 1971.
Although he truly loved Ferrari, Mario could never be a full-time Ferrari driver. Drive for Ferrari, as Niki Lauda once pointed out, and you have to sell your soul as well as your services. Mario just had too much on, too many ties with America, and too many other interests to deliver that sort of exclusive commitment to one manufacturer. Nonetheless, he won the Formula 1 world title with Lotus in 1978 and then went on to race in America right into the 2000s. He always had a watch on his wrist, even when he was driving, and his collection now is epic.
But the Wesley’s (or Yema, depending on how you want to look at it) was the watch that started off the whole story. It's fair to say that there’s no other watch out there quite like it, which is of course what first attracted Mario to this model all those years ago.
With the two unusually-shaped (yet symmetrical) sub-dials plus the pair of distinctive red racing stripes on the left of the face, the Rallye is not a conventionally beautiful watch – which perhaps isn't surprising as it’s meant to reflect a car’s dashboard; rarely an object of art.
Yet it’s the form that draws you in and it’s a watch that holds an almost visceral link to its racing heritage. Put on this watch and you understand where it has come from and what it stands for. And of course, once you feel that connection, it instantly becomes beautiful.
Part of the aesthetic beauty comes from the tachymeter dial, which in theory allows you to calculate speed and distance. And while it’s extremely unlikely that anybody actually still does this, the design screams automotive heritage. It’s evident that there’s been so much attention to detail lavished on this watch within a relatively contained budget, which has become a Yema speciality. It’s undoubtedly a watch that has inspired us, with some of the FORZO mechaquartz models using the same movement.