More than 80 cars turned out for the first edition, but the event stalled when the Second World War broke out and – aside from a failed attempt to revive it in 1947 – remained forgotten until 1995 when former Villa d’Este CEO Jean-Marc Droulers set about its re-creation.
Now in its 21st edition (Covid put paid to 2020’s), the modern-day Concorso d’Eleganza attracts only the best vehicles from the best collections – and merely being invited to show there garners considerable kudos for both cars and owners, who can expect to be parked up alongside top collectors such as Ralph Lauren, who walked off with a unique Lange Time Zone “Como Edition” after winning in 2013 with his 1938 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic (worth upwards of $40 million).
You know this is a concours that’s a cut above simply by holding the catalogue. No glossy softback this, but a sumptuous, cloth-bound production in which the entries are not depicted through any medium so base as photography, but through the picture-perfect paintings of automobile artist Brian James, whose deft touch with brush and gouache evokes an era far better than Kodachrome ever could.
There are usually around 50 historic cars and a handful of concept vehicles lined up in the manicured grounds of Como’s most celebrated hotel, their owners hoping for the glory that comes with having your wheels judged “Best In Show” and the chance to collect the watch that goes with it.
This is the first time an 1815 Chronograph has been chosen as the prize and what a prize it is. Featuring a white-gold case and truly exquisite pink-gold dial, its hinged “cuvette”, or case back, is engraved with the title of the event, its coat of arms and both the current year and the year of its founding.
Open that cuvette and, through the sapphire crystal back, you’ll see the superb hand-wound column wheel movement that offers a flyback function, a jumping minute counter and 60 hours of power reserve. The 306 individual parts and 34 jewels are contained by plates and bridges made from untreated German silver and every bit of decoration is carried out purely by hand.
And what makes this watch even more special is the event it commemorates, because this year’s Concorso d’Eleganza is being held from 1 to 3 October (it’s usually in May) and, due to Covid restrictions, will be a far smaller affair than usual, without the regular public parade along the Concorso Di Motociclette and no side events in the grounds of the nearby Villa Erba.
So, essentially, it’s going to be a lot more like it was during the first edition in 1929.
But I’m saying nothing about “going back in time”. Right now, that’s the last thing we want to do.