"An engine block on the wrist"

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Parmigiani Fleurier celebrates a decade-long partnership with Bugatti by launching three spectacular anniversary watches. By Richard Holt

If you make the fastest car in the world, you will never want for attention – boys will put your product on their bedroom walls and billionaires will park it outside the Dorchester. There will also be no shortage of companies eager to step onto the podium with you, to share in your glory.

By 2001, Bugatti was well on the way. Production of the Veyron was still some way off, but the second concept car had been unveiled and we knew that the thousand horsepower car was galloping towards us. It was then that Bugatti decided it would like to partner with a watch company that could produce a timepiece to embody the spirit of the game-changing 250mph technocar that was to be unleashed on a speed-hungry public in 2005.

There were many companies to choose from – so many famous long-standing watch brands, including those such as Rolex and TAG Heuer with a history inextricably entwined with the world of fast cars. Instead it chose one with almost no history at all.

Parmigiani Fleurier was just five years old at the time, so why choose a watch company that was still using training wheels? The truth is that while Parmigiani may have been a new company, the watchmaking skills of its founder, combined with the amazingly comprehensive set-up, made it a company that, for those in the know, was already operating at the very highest level.

Michel Parmigiani had previously spent more than 20 years as a watchmaker and restorer, being entrusted with taking care of one of the most important pocket watch collections in Switzerland, belonging to the Sandoz pharmaceuticals dynasty. It was the Sandoz family that encouraged the launch of his own eponymous watch firm, based in Fleurier, a village in the Swiss canton of Neuchâtel. Having such deep-pocketed backing meant that the company could establish itself as one of the few true manufacturers – ie a company that does all the watchmaking itself, rather than buying parts in from elsewhere.

The company’s range is particularly impressive. A watch such as the Tonda 1950 (pictured on the left-hand page) is a classically styled piece of such simple design that your eyes struggle to understand why it is so beautiful.

The Bugatti watches, on the other hand, push watch design to new levels both technically and aesthetically. The first one, the Type 370, was described by Parmigiani as “an engine block on the wrist”.

The huge tubular movement was assembled on a horizontal axis rather than lying flat like traditional watches. This allowed for a forward-facing dial so that you could read the time while keeping your hands firmly on the steering wheel. The hand-wound movement came with a driveshaft running right through it and that provided an impressive 10 days of power reserve.

There have been a number of different evolutions of the watch during the intervening decade, including a Super Sport – made to coincide with a version of the Veyron made for customers who thought a thousand horsepower just a little bit on the weedy side.

Parmigiani has celebrated 10 years of making Bugatti watches by unveiling three new anniversary models that build on the original Type 370’s design.

The Bugatti Mythe has an Art Deco dial in rose and white gold that pays tribute to the classic Bugatti Type 57 grille. The power reserve is indicated on the side of the rotating drum, viewed through the large sapphire window on the top of the watch.

The dial on the Révélation is in open-worked graphite and is based on the Veyron grille. This model also has an “engine” cover, a hatch that lifts up to reveal the inner workings.

The Victoire has a petrified wood dial and a blackened white gold case that’s engraved with a V-pattern and diamond-set. The tyre-tread design on the calfskin leather strap makes the watch look unmistakably built for speed.

Each piece is unique and priced in the region of a quarter of a million pounds. So they are by no means the mainstay of what Parmigiani offers, rather a haute horlogerie masterclass of what a world-class watchmaker can do given free rein.

With the Veyron, Bugatti let rip and built a production car that rewrote the rules. Which shows why they chose Parmigiani: these crazy machines are made for each other.

www.parmigiani.ch