Say “Tudor” or “Lange” or “Patek Philippe” to their devotees and they will swoon. A die-hard Paneristi will make apologies for that brand’s worst excesses and fight for a limited edition. A Rolex addict will even covet that leopard-dialled Daytona. If so afflicted, it’s difficult to be objective. My obsession? Anything that says “Bugatti”, all the way down to crappy plastic model cars from amorphous brands, sold in pound stores. So, you can imagine what hold Parmigiani Fleurier has on me.
Since the two brands formalised their relationship in 2004, the watches Parmigiani has created for the supercar manufacturer have included the radical, cylindrical Type 370 and its derivatives. These are ultra-rare and boast six-figure price tags, so sighs of relief were issued when the company unveiled more conventional models in round cases, with aesthetic touches to transform them into models worthy of the Bugatti logo, such as the Aérolithe flyback chronograph of 2013.
This gorgeous timepiece paid homage to the Type 57 Aérolithe prototype that was shown in 1935 and then vanished. Its form would evolve into the extreme, exotic, fastback Atlantic, a vehicle that ranks among the world’s most valuable and is now famous beyond car circles because Ralph Lauren owns one. Details that were reflected in the watch included lugs and push-buttons shaped to evoke the Aérolithe’s distinctive riveted bodywork.
Although ostensibly a two sub-dial flyback chronograph, which covers a multitude of layouts, Parmigiani added a couple of twists to further suggest an automotive purpose. Like the Bugatti Atalante watch that preceded it, the controls have been rotated by 180 degrees to make it easier to use, its push-buttons located at 8 and 10 o’clock being easier to access: you use your thumb rather than index finger, as you would with pushers at 2 and 4 o’clock – even easier than a “bullhead”.
Lots of watches feature tachygraphs, but the Aérolithe – now in a titanium case – graduates three separate circumferential scales in miles and kilometres per hour, as well as the 30-minutes register. The black dial, with cross-hatch engraving, shares its pattern with the black calfskin strap, while legibility is enhanced by rhodium hands and both red and blue accents. The date appears in an arch-shaped window above the 6 o’clock position.
So how do you know that this is part of the Bugatti series, if the shapes of the pushers or lugs aren’t enough to communicate it – and there’s no red Bugatti oval to give away the game? Between the centre of the dial and the date rests the “EB” logo, the initials of Ettore Bugatti. And while it’s less immediate an identifier to the casual observer than the red oval, it’s still a sigil that makes me go weak in the knees.
Automatic Calibre PF335; hours, minutes, small seconds; date; flyback chronograph; 50-hour power reserve
41mm titanium; 30m water-resistance
Diamond-pattern black calfskin