Collaborations between luxury goods companies is nothing new. This is particularly true when it comes to the watch world. From a marketing standpoint, you can see the obvious collaborative opportunity between a watchmaker and a class-leading automotive company. When the opportunity came up to discuss (among other things) why a collector valued the partnership between Parmigiani Fleurier and Bugatti, I jumped at the opportunity to find out more. And the result is a meeting of our friend William S. Lerner, a Parmigiani Fleurier Bugatti Atalante Flyback Chronograph and well, the right car to match, a Bugatti Veyron.
For those of you unaware, Ettore Bugatti was the Italian founder of the brand that bears his name. The company was launched in 1909 and produced its cars in Molsheim, Alsace (East of France). One key factor when it comes to brand partnerships, is that the product ultimately has to echo the design sentiments of both brands. Looking back, Parmigiani Fleurier and Bugatti have shared a fruitful 12 year long relationship. It is amazing to think the brand was only 8 years old when this first started! Many attribute their success to the way in which they have done business. In an understated manner, with very few over the top events etc. That is not to say the creations are understated! That is for sure. In 2004 Parmigiani debuted its first collaboration timepiece with the Parmigiani Bugatti Type 370. From a design perspective, it was outrageous (in a good way), the range showcased what a front view of a classic Bugatti engine would look like in watch form. This is not the first time we have had William S Lerner on the collector Series. We first met last year when we covered his other Parmigiani. This is however the first time we have covered a watch with a diamond bezel on the Series!
William, tell us about how, and when you came to own your Parmigiani Fleurier Bugatti Atalante Flyback Chronograph?
Well, I certainly was not in the market for a diamond encrusted watch! I was looking at various Parmigiani Fleurier models on their website, and saw the watch. It did not like the gold version that first appeared, due to the black tachymeter numerals on the bezel. Clicking through the variations, the white gold and diamond version appeared. It was love at first sight! Why? well first off, the 30 minute chronograph sub dial at 3:00 had it’s own circle of diamonds. it was unique, beautiful, and completely captured my attention. Most diamond watches look like they just have the diamonds added to the dial, indices and bezels in pedestrian ways. This cohesive layout showed thought, and looked organic, meaning the bezel’s circular ring of diamonds was echoed in a subdial. It could not have been a watch with the diamonds added later (or as a brand’s own options) like what occurs with various Rolex President and Breitling models. Or even worse, the aftermarket additions of diamond bezels which never look right. The second tier of desires were: the auto radiator grill dial, the chronograph pushers on the left side of the case, not the right side, the thick and wide crown, and of course, the gorgeous deep blue Hermes alligator strap. And, if that were not enough to make me fall in love with it, I then learned that only two white gold Bugatti watches with diamonds were ever sold in the US. The watch, and the Bugatti Veyron were recently discontinued. Isn’t one form of an ultimate luxury purchase having something few have? I think so!
Why the Bugatti Atalante?
Well, I have always admired all things Bugatti (even though I have not perfected the art of the gracefully exit from the Veyron, but I am improving…). Most people think of the current Bugatti cars, but I also think of the Bugatti’s of the past. The 357SC Atalantic is one of them. Clearly Parmigiani was emulating the car’s design when they thought of the “Bugattiesque” lugs that adorn their watches. Frankly speaking, the front fender and rear fender’s sweeping design is the watch’s lug shape. I guess they had no choice but to do a deal with Parmigiani or face them in court! The Atalante is by no means the best looking Bugatti, and the Atalante was a cursed car at the start. Why? Well, Ettore’s son, Jean designed the car, and died at 30 while testing the car on the track. I think they should reissue the watch as the Parmigiani Bugatti Atalantic.
What are the links to Bugatti?
Well, for me Ettore Bugatti has always been a visionary. His father Carlo certainly taught him about style and artistic details, how could he not? If you look at Carlo’s groundbreaking furniture designs, you can see the continuation of the Bugatti family’s visionary genius. I mourn for the days that cars had an abundance of style, superfluous details, and really pushed the boundaries to their limits. I completely understand that times have changed for a plethora of reasons, and specifically for ones concerning safety and practicality. Bugattis were rolling, organic works of art. They were prohibitively expensive and rare. Moving forward to mass production cars of the 1950’s we saw the sharp lines and fins of the classic Cadillac’s which are not compatible with today’s european safety standards, which mandate the flat fronted, pedestrian friendly production cars, with impact absorbing bumpers and crumple zones. Cars were not subject to small overlap crash testing. It was a time when crash test dummies were not invented (to suffer a life of migraines, crushed and broken limbs). Backing up a pointy finned car in midtown Manhattan would certainly skewer many pedestrians! Having a Bugatti watch is a nice reminder, and connection to designs, that most automotive styles are no longer practical or relevant, baring limited production cars like the Bugattis, Paganis, Aston Martins, Mclarens, Ferraris, or certain Porsches. These cars are based on pure emotion and lustful designs. Having a watch is no longer a necessity, due to the fact that everyone carries a smartphone (which they look at more than their watch). Collectors continue on, because they love the tradition, experience a certain emotional response to the perfection of design, and admire the complex micromechanical components. It is their joy to acquire, research and share their passion with others, who feel the same way. Watches from their face forward can have magnificent cases, dials and straps, but that is only part of the story, just like supercars. Open the bonnet or boot of a supercar (I drove an English one for four years, so excuse my Brit terms for “hood” and “trunk”) and you will marvel at the structure and complexity. If you see a Pagani in that state, it is a mind blowing experience, just like seeing the Graves watch or the new Vacheron Constantin 57260, which has 2,826 components. Both mechanical, and both highly complex, contained in magnificent exteriors. Sometimes the passion can come from one element of a watch or a car. One of my favorite elements of my supercar was the glove box. Why? Well it was lined in the softest, creamy white leather. It had very complex angles, and the door had the same beautiful wood veneer and heavily chromed hardware on the inside lid too. It made my heart melt every time I used it. The Bugatti watches details have the same effect for me. Discussing watches and cars with peers, which was I did yesterday with Evan Cygler of Miller Motorcars in Greenwich, Connecticut is, simply put…fun! He has a Breguet Marine, and It is on my “to acquire list.” It was a joy to discuss our mutually admired watch, and a bonding experience. What could be better than that?
Do you think watch brands do well when partnering with vehicle manufactures?
Great question, which has two separate answers. Yes, because if you think of what the chronograph was invented for, it was to time horse races. Well, horse races then turned into timing auto races. The most iconic and sought after carthemed watch, The Rolex Daytona, says it all. It is a watch whose purest association is for timing laps. It became a cult watch for other reasons. But many have followed suit concerning other races, such as Chopard’s Mille Miglia series.
From the brand perspective, I think there is some success, but it is marginal, in my opinion. Some of the associations, such as Porsche, do have serious watches bearing their names, and designs them along with leather goods, jackets, etc. Other known associations are: BMW and Ball, Mclaren and Tag, Tag and Nissan, Oris and BMW (which has ended), etc. Many of the associations are for gift ideas, such as Mercedes watches, and really don’t count in my mind.
Can you tell us more about the movement?
It is just a nice flyback chronograph movement, with a 30 minute counter. It is a modular movement, so I know the purists are wincing! What I really do appreciate is that the chronograph pushers are on the left hand side of the case. Why is that interesting? Well, many racing, and race car traditions carry on, such as Porsche’s ignition key slot on the left side of the steering wheel, not on the right. Rolls Royce and Bentley used that layout exclusively for many years. It was done so drivers could turn on the car with one hand, and shift with the other. It was done for a fast getaway. The left hand pushers remind me of that. And, I have a car with the ignition key on the left, so it rings true for me.
How much wrist time does it get?
Well, that was a question I was hoping you would not ask! Not a lot!!! I buy watches because I like them, and that does not mean I have to wear them to enjoy them. I currently have three watches that I bought a year ago which have never been worn. It gives me joy just to see them when I get dressed every day. I wear the Bugatti on special occasions, because it is so overthetop. I will wear it to a fun event, but I generally only wear it with jeans and a Vneck T shirt or with a French cuffed shirt and jeans.. I love the mix of casual and bling. It is a perfect Saturday watch with that attire. It makes it more of a fun watch that way, and eliminates any pretentious undertones the diamonds may convey.
It is without question an eye-catching piece, does it draw many questions?
Oh, yes it draws a fair amount of attention, especially at night. Diamonds are not as reflective during the day, as they are at night, which most people don’t realize. It can go unnoticed in the wrong lighting. In the evening with the right lighting, you can’t miss it! Oddly, no questions, just people’s opinions as to my bling factor. Some love it, and some hate it.
Do you seek advice of anyone before buying?
Only from my master watchmaker buddy Harry (and the Manfredi staff) and my friend Leon at Cellini. They are my trusted resources. Sometimes I make decisions without their knowledge, such as the Bugatti watch. I was terrified of the comments, so I just bought it first!
How does the Parmigiani Fleurier Bugatti Atalante Flyback Chronograph fit into your collection?
It fits in perfectly! It is the only diamond watch I have, and it makes me smile. It makes my collection wellrounded. I am ready for a cameo on the Husbands of Beverly Hills (Miami or Dubai), should I be asked.
Do you tend to buy a ‘watch’ or a ‘brand’?
I buy brands that I like and have a history with, such as Vacheron Constantin. I had lunch with the new President this week, and it is nice to know the brand’s employees. You feel connected to the brand, and want the best for them, and you want to support them. I never buy a brand for status (sorry Patek and Rolex), I buy what my heart wants. I don’t need admiration from others concerning my collection. Very liberating! That said, my first serious watch was a Rolex, followed by a Patek. I am grateful for those purchases, because it started my passion.
What three words first come to mind when you think of your Parmigiani Fleurier Bugatti Atalante Flyback Chronograph?
Beautiful design, automotive passion, luxury.
If a friend who wasn’t into watches asked for three reasons to start collecting what would you say?
It is a very expensive and time consuming hobby… and they need servicing! Joking, sort of. You either have the watch gene or you don’t. I have many friends who don’t and they are thrilled that they have one less thing to worry about, insure and maintain. If you are like me, and other collectors, it can be an irrational compulsion to think about them, research them and acquire them.
What piece of advice would you give to someone considering starting a collection?
Just buy what you like, and can afford. Watch collecting should not be about what other’s think of the watches you own and wear. If you are just starting to build a collection, buy watches from different categories. For example: Oris makes great sports watches, they are a good value, and well made. And never buy a watch because of a trend or advertising. Pantone releases the colors of the year, and I certainly don’t paint my homes or cars in their color choices. Listen to your own voice. Additionally, since watches and cars are items that speak to your own emotions, and possibly aspirations, explore! Go to you local retailers, discuss your passion, see all the watches that are out there to see. Don’t let a lofty price of a watch or car stop you from seeing it. You never know where life will lead you, and many ultra highend watches and cars have desirable entry models. And, there is always the preowned route. Go to the finest retailers and boutiques, that is what they are there for! Never be intimidated, nor feel bad if you don’t make a purchase. They are there to educate, proudly display their offerings, and create passion. Go see the Bugattis and De Bethunes. And, tell Evan at Miller Motorcars I sent you. And, tell Leon at Cellini the same!
When collecting do you think it’s important to stick to a brand or a category (Patek/IWC or Aviation/ Dive)
Absolutely not!! Think of watches as you would shoes, or jewelry. You have trainers, dress shoes, and the comfortable pairs that become your default shoes. No one buys just one brand of shoes, right? However, if you find a brand you love and build a relationship with, then that is great too. If you choose a Maison like Vacheron Constantin, you could have an Overseas sports watch, and a Malte Tourbillon. I own a custom and bespoke, limited production jewelry company (Baz Persaud), and our company makes Emerald and Diamond items that sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. However, our starting price point for Sterling cufflinks and is a few hundred dollars. I might wear our skull bracelet one day, with a fancy intense Argyle Tender, pink center diamond, placed in a dagger pendant (which is as rare as a Bugatti), and a pair of Emerald cufflinks, and our platinum signet ring the next day. Never stick to one category, have fun!
What (if anything) have you got your eye on next?
I am actually happy with my collection for the moment (whew). I have always liked the Breguet Marine series, and there are two models that I do want in the future. I love heavy clasps, and feel that the strap and the band should be as nice as the watch. Breguet did a great job with the Marine series. I also love that it can be on a rubber strap for summer use. One is a perfect everyday watch, and the other one is completely over the top, and costs as much as a very nice house. It makes the Bugatti look like a Timex!
Is the Parmigiani Fleurier Bugatti Atalante Flyback Chronograph a keeper?
Probably…. I try not to get too attached to objects, but it does make me smile! I like to add to my collection, but can only have so many at one time, so there is always a rotation of sorts. Besides, customers need to constantly buy new watches, to ensure continuing sales (I expect flowers, chocolates and hats, from all the Maisons and retailers, for saying that!!)