At the turn of the millennium , the renowned Italian marque Bugatti was on the lookout for a powerful and enduring partnership with a watchmaking brand. Not any watchmaking brand, it had to be one that met the exacting demands of the Italian thoroughbred car manufacturer. Bugatti was in search of a young but dazzlingly talented watchmaker, young enough for the relationship to evolve intuitively, rather than be stuck in history and tradition. Technical excellence was of course a must, together with the necessary creative and artistic confidence brought about by a heightened awareness of design. And finally, the watchmaker, while established and respected, had to be fully independent so that a creative partnership could develop with the key decision makers on board.
Bugatti eventually chose Parmigiani Fleurier as its partner. The watchmaker did not merely meet its demands, it exceeded all expectations. The Fleurier-based manufacture has created timepieces for the Bugatti collection since 2001. Much more than ere watches with the car marque log, each watch is a Bugatti inspired interpretation of a watch – a car in watch form no less.
Last year Parmigiani released the Bugatti Aerolithe, a new addition to an exceptional collection. The Parmigiani Fleurier Bugatti Aerolithe was unveiled at the Paris motor show in 1935 by Ettore Bugatti, as a single one off vehicle. It subsequently vanished from the face of the earth. All that was left to confirm it ever existed at all was a solitary photograph and a few sketches of the vehicle in its hue of pale green.
The vehicle was made from a material known as ELEKTRON, a magnesium alloy – which became a nickname given to this avant-garde vehicle. This material was remarkably light yet so strong it was impervious to knocks and dents. The only not insignificant drawback was the fact that the body of the Parmigiani Fleurier Bugatti Aerolithe was also highly flammable. Because of this traditional welding could not be contemplated to build the car. Its assembly required another delicate technique, conceived by Jean Bugatti, the son of Ettore. The bodywork was assembled in two longitudinal sections, and then riveted together using a dorsal seam structure which went the length of the vehicle, from front to end.
It was the very volatility of the vehicle which gave it its revolutionary design. Its futuristic curves and were smooth, streamlined and pulse racing just to look at. The dorsal seam concept was adopted for its successor, known as the Bugatti Atlantic.
Now Parmigiani Fleurier has paid tribute to the ELEKTRON by developing the Bugatti Aerolithe timepiece, which emulates the spirit of this legendary vehicle. The complex process of transcribing the car’s DNA, capturing its most distinctive features, is a question of interpreting the shape, a colour or even a technical procedure and faithfully reflecting them in a timepiece.
Of course in the case of the Aerolithe the rivet that crosses it from front to end is the key feature. It’s what gives the car its unique character as well as its streamlined appeal. The dorsal seam was faithfully recreated on the watch, and which was echoed on the four lugs of the piece.
The job of recreating the Aerolithe dials fell to Quadrance et Habillage, a manufacture which specialising in dials. The chosen colour for the dial, Abyss Blue was obtained by plunging the dial into a galvanic bath. Through an electrolytic reaction a salt is deposited on the dial material, which creates the distinctive deep blue colour. The challenge lies in repeating the process since the galvanic bath is apt to alter the colour with each exposure.
The watch is powered by the Calibre PF335 self-winding movement which comprises 311 components and is entirely built in-house.
Over the bicompax sub-dials sweeps the racing red hands which exactly complement the red and black Bugatti logo at six o’clock. The Hermès strap, on which the watch comes features grained sapphire blue calfskin again with matching red edging to reflect the vivid red of the dial. And as a final obsessively detailed touch, the buckle was redesigned to look like a car grill.
And the price, since everything must have a price, is €22,000 but today the long since disappeared prototype of the Parmigiani Fleurier Bugatti Aerolithe would be considerably more.
LES ARTISANS BOÎTIERS TAKE UP THE CHALLENGE
Each time Parmigiani Fleurier starts to design a new Bugatti timepiece, the La Chaux-de-Fonds manufacture Les Artisans Boîtiers braces itself for a new challenge. It knows that there will be many hours of technical meetings and numerous decisions to be taken before the project they receive – a designer’s dream transcribed onto paper – can blossom into a veritable timepiece, a piece which has broken through constraints that the imagination couldn’t predict in theory.
In this particular case, it was discovered following the digital simulations, that it was not possible to polish the titanium case of the Bugatti Aerolithe as initially designed, to the desired standard.