After showing me the new Parmigiani Bugatti Type 390, company vice president and CCO Steve Amstutz asked me what I thought of it.
I said, “The co-axial construction of the timekeeping element is extremely cool; I’ve never seen anything like it. I also think it’s going to be difficult to explain how and why it’s so cool.”
“That’s true,” Steve said. “It will be a challenge.”
“Well, you know,” I began —
Shut up, Suzie, stop talking right now! yelled my brain, but it was too late.
— “That’s gonna be our job, as journalists, to write about something so complex in a clear and understandable way.”
GOD DAMN IT, SUZIE.
“Yes,” said Steve. “It is.”
The Co-Axial Movement Construction of the Parmigiani Bugatti Type 390 and Why It’s So Cool
If you actually have a life and don’t spend all your time buried in watchmaking minutiae, you might not be familiar with the term “co-axial”, outside of its most famous use in the name of the proprietary escapement first designed by George Daniels and now owned by Omega. In its most foundational sense, however, “co-axial” simply refers to systems consisting of two or more elements with aligned rotational axes. They rotate around the same line. That’s basically it.
In traditional movement construction — in most gear systems that involve transmission of energy from one point to another, really — things are rarely co-axial. Wheel connects to pinion connects to wheel in an offset progression. It’s impossible within the current laws of physics to implement co-axial construction with the conventional geared array of wheels and pinions. (It does work in a purely theoretical sense, if all your elements have zero dimension. Needless to say, this is not the most practical way of thinking about it.)
I’m not saying that the Parmigiani Bugatti Type 390 defies physics. If it did, I wouldn’t be as calm as I am now. But it does circumvent convention using a series of gear boxes (inspired by car engines) to make co-axial movement construction possible.
Think about it. Gear boxes invert the direction of energy transmission so that you have a recursive rather than progressive structure. The Bugatti Type 390 is therefore able to align all its components in a single cylindrical unit with a single axis of rotation for all elements.
(If you’re feeling extra sharp today, you may have noticed that the escape wheel is obviously offset from the central axis of rotation, so that could possibly be considered an exception to the rule. However, if you consider the tourbillon to be a single component — which I think is a fair definition — then that’s fine, it works out.)
Now here comes the tricky part. Why is this cool? What makes it better than the traditional method? How does it benefit the customer?
Some would argue that it is cool simply because of how difficult it was to accomplish. And, yes, difficulty may be a factor, but there are lots of difficult things and not all of them are cool. My A-level mathematics exam was extremely difficult and yet I can say with great certainty that it was not cool at all. So the level of difficulty is significant, but it’s not the whole story.
The construction of the Parmigiani Bugatti Type 390 is also performatively better than conventional methods. In a regular old movement, you have several points of vulnerability. Every single point in the movement in which something moves is a point of vulnerability. So because you have all these gear axes all over the place, and because these axes are all as skinny as a 90s Calvin Klein model, they are vulnerable to shock. They can break at their pivots (like a 90s Calvin Klein model taking a tumble down some stairs). Reinforcing them is not really a smart move because then your movement will then take up far too much space (like a 90s Calvin Klein model on a high-protein diet and Crossfit regime). Also, friction. Ouch.
If you have only one axis of rotation to reinforce, however, and if you have these fantastic gear boxes that eliminate the need for skinny-ass pivots, then you’re pretty damn safe when it comes to shocks, aren’t you? It’s time to rock and roll.
So if you’re in the market for a watch that looks pretty badass, has transcended centuries-old watchmaking convention, and is demonstrably stronger for it, look no further than the Parmigiani Bugatti Type 390. Ladies and gentlemen, this is how we do it. (Since we’re on a 90s theme here.)
This isn’t the full breakdown of the Parmigiani Bugatti Type 390, of course. There are still a bunch of things to be said about it, such as the flying tourbillon, the transmission of information to the perpendicular plane, the differential-driven power reserve indication, the haut de gamme finishing of the skeletonised dial plate, the articulated case… the list goes on.
Don’t worry, though, you won’t be left in suspense about all this stuff, because it’s really up to us, as journalists, to share all the amazing —
GOD DAMN IT, SUZIE.