“Every time I look at it, I see the faces of the people who crafted it,” says Patrick Dempsey, unbuckling and handing over his Carrera Heuer 01, TAG Heuer’s newly debuted limited-edition chronograph. At just 100 pieces, the skeleton watch in black titanium commemorates the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, this year set for May 29.
Though Dempsey famously loves racing, he seems equally appreciative of the passion and detail required to be a watchmaker; his respect was honed during a 2015 visit to TAG Heuer’s Swiss headquarters, where he witnessed the handcraft of the Carrera Heuer 01 now back on his wrist. “The meditative state you have to be in, to be focusing that intensely for so many hours, day in and day out, it’s a very special person to be able to do that,” he says.
Thursday night’s VIP preview of TimeCrafters, the luxury watch show at New York’s Park Avenue Armory, also drew Michael Strahan (who co-hosted his last episode of Live With Kelly and Michael on Friday) and New York Giants running back Rashad Jennings (the show runs through Sunday). Dempsey, a TAG Heuer ambassador since 2014, turned up to support the brand, which also sponsors his eponymous racing team.
“TAG Heuer and racing are just synonymous, so it’s a perfect fit for us,” he says. “If you look at the evolution of the company, it’s always been about sports and capturing time. And the imagery is so iconic. Look at Steve McQueen and what he did [with 1971’s Le Mans]; the [TAG Heuer] Monaco watch was really the first product placement in a movie, and it came out of the real need to be precise about capturing time.” When it’s mentioned that a commemorative edition of the McQueen Monaco, the Calibre 11, was released last year, Dempsey nods enthusiastically. “People love that watch - I don’t care what kind of watch you have or what you love, everybody wants a Monaco,” he says.
Recently Dempsey announced he’s taking a step back from driving to pursue film and TV projects as an actor and producer, but you wouldn’t know it Thursday night, when his fervor as co-owner of the Dempsey Racing team was still running at full speed. “Our next race is Le Mans in just a few weeks,” he says (the 84th 24 Hours of Le Mans will take place June 15-19). “We’re two races [into the season]; we’ve been struggling a little bit with our BOP, which is balance of performance. Hopefully we’ll have a little more improvement on that going into Le Mans.”
Indeed, since his high-profile exit from Grey’s Anatomy last April, Dempsey’s schedule has made driving difficult: For SundanceTV he’s producing The Limit, based on Michael Cannell’s 2011 book about the early days of Formula One racing, while he also joins Renee Zellweger and Colin Firth in Bridget Jones’s Baby, expected for release Sept. 16. In this third installment of the Bridget Jones franchise, Dempsey plays Jack Qwant, a billionaire who happens to love auto racing. “It’s produced by Working Title, which also did the  Ayrton Senna documentary, so they were very supportive in allowing me to both race and act,” Dempsey says. “If I can have that type of partnership, I will be very, very happy.”
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