3 Watches You’ve Never Even Heard Of
For someone looking for a sporty watch in steel, chances are they will probably pick up a Rolex Submariner, perhaps a Panerai Luminor if they’ve got a hankering for something a bit more exotic. But what if you don’t want to contribute to this sea of Submariners, want something less common than the lagoon of Luminors. If you’re one of those people, then take note, because here are three watches you’ve probably never even heard of.
Bulgari Octo 102104 BGO38BSSD
You’ve probably heard of Bulgari, the Italian luxury goods firm with the stylised ‘U’ that leaves copy editors in a bind, but you probably haven’t heard of the Octo, Bulgari’s flagship watch collection. The legacy of Greek—hence the confusing ‘U’—jeweller Sotir Bulgari, who founded the brand in 1884, the house of Bulgari has long since been established as a purveyor of fine jewellery.
What it is less known for, however, is watches. Bulgari isn’t the first jeweller to try and cross the bridge from wrist-tinsel to wristwatches, and it certainly won’t be the last—but for Bulgari in particular, it has been a long and difficult journey. Remember the Bulgari wristwatch worn by Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man? Neither does anybody else.
Despite some serious Hollywood product placement, the bridge remained uncrossed. Given that Audi used the same film to launch its incredibly successful R8—which you most definitely do remember—the problem clearly wasn’t the placement, so much as the product.
The Bulgari Octo, as designed by legend Gérald Genta
What Bulgari needed was an identity. It had that in its jewellery, but a mistake was made in thinking that the design language could carry straight through to its watches untouched. It simply didn’t translate, losing the essence that Bulgari jewellery was famous for and becoming what designers fear most: bland.
The brand regrouped. It was clear that its watches needed separation from its jewellery, needed a punch that left a lasting mark, and where better to get that than from the man who put Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe back on the map: Gérald Genta.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Genta designed a watch for Bulgari that had eight distinct sides, called, in case of any doubt, the Octo. This elaborate piece, resplendent with no less than four retrograde displays, became the conceptual foundation for the whole Octo line, including this.
It’s a look that, as intended, pulls no punches. Genta really went to town with the angles, the bezel and crown the only instances of anything other than a hard angle. Even the dial is broken down into—at first glance—eight sides, which on closer inspection are chamfered with even more flat angles.
The Octo looks like it’ll wear like a tank, but thanks to the slender BVL 191 movement, it’s actually only 10mm thick and 38mm wide, so the virtually square case and equally wide bracelet are surprisingly unobtrusive. The movement, despite having many others to pick from within the LVMH umbrella group pool, is exclusive to Bulgari, with some neat specs like a balance bridge, bi-winding switching rocker and a frankly impressive 3.8mm thickness.
Parmigiani Fleurier Pershing 45 Chronograph PF601396-06
You may have never heard of Parmigiani Fleurier, but you’ll have certainly come across the brand’s work. Richard Mille, for example, the racing driver’s watch of choice, has had many watches furnished with bespoke movements made by Parmigiani. Chopard’s calibre 96, a movement watchmaking legend Philippe DuFour considers a favourite, was developed under the watch of Parmigiani founder Michel Parmigiani. There are many other high-end watchmakers that come to Parmigiani for its movement-making expertise, but those are a secret.
There’s a reason why so many brands use Parmigiani to make their movements, despite it having only been in existence since 2006: Parmigiani is very good at it. And you don’t need to take the brand’s word for it, because its mechanical engines are certified by the FQF, the Fondation Qualité Fleurier—Fleurier being the Swiss locale where Parmigiani and a few other watchmakers, like Chopard’s L.U.C, are based. But as well as making movements, Parmigiani also makes watches—as you can see with this Pershing chronograph.
Parmigiani’s watches present varying levels of aesthetic challenge, and whilst the Pershing 45 Chronograph is by no means the most outlandish—the Bugatti 370 has to take the crown for that—it’s not the most subtle either. Visual hurdles notwithstanding, the Pershing, like the rest of Parmigiani’s collection, offers something rather special.
The diving chronograph for the yachting connoisseur
Sharing its name with an Italian yacht-builder, the Pershing has been designed to be the ideal yachting companion in more than just name. It’s the details that make it, the same attention to which that has given the brand such a stellar industry reputation for its movements.
Speaking of which, the calibre PF334, a hand-finished movement that unfortunately can’t be seen, lays the foundation for the Parmigiani experience. The first press of the pusher reveals something promising, an action that makes the typical 7750-based chronograph feel positively agricultural. Where the 7750 requires way more force than expected to activate, and when it finally gives, feels more like a part has failed rather than engaged, the PF334 snaps into gear with the satisfaction of a Ferrari gated shifter.
The premium plus interaction with this watch continues further, with the bezel held in place with absolutely zero play, engaging its next pawl with a satisfyingly damped thunk—an action made even easier in the potentially wet environment of a yacht’s sun deck thanks to carefully placed rubber grips.
And, despite the poseur glamour of the yachting scene, Parmigiani really expects this watch to be used properly in its intended environment, because the Pershing gets a full 100 metres of water resistance despite being a chronograph. The brand may sound closely related to cheese, but the watches are anything but.
Harry Winston Ocean Dual Time Project Z4 400-MATZ44Z
In 1998, 31-year-old Maximillian Büsser, then a product manager at Jaeger-LeCoultre, received a phone call from jewellery brand Harry Winston. ‘Max,’ the person on the other end of the line said, ‘how would you like to be CEO of Harry Winston Rare Timepieces?’
This phone call, whilst it was not a prank, was a double-edged sword. CEO at 31 is a hugely uncommon achievement, but the company he’d been asked to captain was a sinking ship, and Büsser was being asked to board with the waves already lapping at his feet.
But join he did, because he had an idea. In his time at Jaeger-LeCoultre, Büsser had made many friends in the watch industry, people he’d seen blossom from expert watchmakers building other people’s watches, to master watchmakers building watches of their own. Büsser wanted to create a series of outrageously innovative and complex pieces designed and built by these watchmakers he so admired, these friends he’d made. The idea he called Opus, and in 2001, the first Opus piece was announced, built by someone you may have heard of: François-Paul Journe.
The Ocean Dual Time is the brainchild of MB&F founder Max Büsser
Each Opus watch that followed celebrated another watchmaker, legends like Vianney Halter, Christophe Claret and Felix Baumgartner—and they saved the company, increasing revenue tenfold. In 2005, Büsser took this journey with his friends to the next level when he founded his own brand, MB&F, whilst the now-successful Harry Winston went on to be purchased by Swatch in 2013.
The respect the Opus concept pieces earned Harry Winston—and Büsser—gave the brand a credible foundation on which to expand its collection, carrying the design aesthetic into more affordable—or rather, less unobtainable—collections.
This Ocean Dual Time is one of those watches, one of the last under Büsser’s reign. You’ve got two sub-dials, the big one home, the little one local, each with a day-night sub-sub dial; there’s an exposed big date complication tucked in there too, and a spinning shuriken for good measure—and to let you know the watch is running. There’s not a single on-centre display here, a tricky thing achieved to excess with the calibre HW1001.
Two pushers flank the serrated crown—they’re actually not pushers, who knows why they’re there—which sit under the trademark Harry Winston three bars. The opposite side of the case houses an actual pusher, which advances the local time display forward one hour with liquid smoothness. Then there are the lugs, which are hinged to accommodate differently sized wrists by flapping up and down. And it gets more bonkers still: the watch isn’t steel, or titanium—it’s made of zalium, an aluminium-zirconium alloy that’s light, hard, corrosion resistant—and very Harry Winston.
Maybe you’ve got a Submariner, or a Luminor, or maybe you’re looking for one, and you’re not fully satisfied that they express your passion for watchmaking in a way that fully reflects who you are. Maybe you want something different, something a bit more interesting, and these three watches, whilst they won’t fulfil that for everyone, might do so for you.
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