Masculine elegance

The Bugatti Aerolithe, a legend transformed into a prestige watch by Parmigiani Fleurier


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28 October 2013

The Bugatti Aerolithe became a legend in car history very soon after it had been presented at the Paris show in 1935. It literally disappeared from the face of the earth, and since then it is remembered only from a few photos and sketches. It was made of an incredible magnesium alloy named Elektron, very light, and incredibly strong, virtually impossible to dent. Unfortunately, it was also dangerously inflammable, and so it couldn't be welded. This is why one of the car's hallmarks was a vertical riveted seam running along the bonnet and roof.

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Parmigiani Fleurier, watchmaking partner for Bugatti, decided to celebrate this mysterious vehicle in a new watch, called simply the Bugatti Aerolithe. It is a flyback chronograph, hallmarked by a function once used by pilots: a single push on a button stops, resets and restarts the chronometer. On a normal chronograph, the same operation requires three presses on two buttons. It enabled one segment of an itinerary to be recorded, recommencing timing for the next segment immediately. The push buttons are at 8 and 10 o'clock, an original feature, making them easy to operate using the thumb (instead of being at 2 and 4 o'clock, requiring operation with the weaker index finger). Small seconds are shown on a subdial at 9 o'clock, while the chronograph function operates with the red central sweep seconds hand, and a thirty-minute counter at 3 o'clock. The date is shown in a window at 6 o'clock. All this is powered by the PF 335 automatic movement with a 50-hour power reserve, visible through the sapphire caseback.

The dial is incredibly beautiful, with all of Michel Parmigiani's attention to proportion and harmony. The colour, Abyss Blue, is created by immersion in a galvanic bath, yielding a finish that contrasts with the red chronograph hands and the white time-and-date elements to perfection. The strap, in Hermès Epsom calf, has a vivid red-finish detail at the sides.

Perhaps the most extraordinary feature of the watch is the way in which it embodies certain features of the Aerolithe car. The lugs, whose spiral geometry is a hallmark of Parmigiani Fleurier, mirror the car's front and rear wheel fairings. On the top of the lugs there is a vertical ridge that subtly reflects the car's iconic seam. The same effect is produced in a different way on the side of the case, with a circular ring that was actually designed for functional reasons connected to the finish of the titanium case.

Another detail is pure Parmigiani Fleurier brilliance. The two push-buttons have the same profile as the lugs, adding yet more to the intriguing appearance and banishing that geeky sci-fi look that mars so many chronograph watches. The Bugatti Aerolithe is a worthy counterpart for a legend.