It has certainly been a busy month for me, travelling around the world from one event to another – but this Parmigiani Fleurier x Bugatti event was more like a wedding anniversary. It’s important to look at this love story as if it’s any normal relationship – trying to find the perfect match in each other before seriously settling down for marriage and eventually having children.
In this case, Parmigiani Fleurier president Michel Parmigiani was lucky enough to have found true love for his brand when he married the perfect partner, Bugatti, back in 2004. In fact, the carmaker had begun its matchmaking search in 2001, aiming to find the ideal watch company that had the technical know-how and the artistic flair to showcase Bugatti’s design and the elegance of its forms. Now, in 2017, I was privileged enough to be invited to witness the birth of their new child – the Bugatti Type 390 watch, honouring the ultimate supercar, the Bugatti Chiron. Thirteen years? Seriously, how many modern-day marriages last this long – unfortunately, my own marriage only lasted a year, and let’s leave it at that.
My whirlwind trip started off as a 13-hour flight from Hong Kong to Paris Charles de Gaulle, and then another five-hour car ride into northeastern France’s commune of Ottrott, where we stayed at the Hostellerie des Châteaux & Spa. En route, we drove passed the beautiful Champagne region, which I’m sure you know – naturally, there were endless vineyards along the way. The first evening featured a casual cocktail reception at the hotel, followed by dinner for around 60 guests.
I was told only 40 media people were picked from around the world for this event – and naturally #legend was privileged to be among them. I have to say, the press who were invited weren’t the usual suspects that I’m accustomed to; it was really nice to meet some new friends on this trip. The breakdown was roughly 80 per cent male and 20 per cent female, and quite a few were from specialist car media. All in all, they seemed like a very friendly bunch – plus they all looked awfully young, too.
During our first night’s dinner, I was pleasantly surprised to be seated next to Parmigiani Fleurier’s vice-president and chief commercial officer, Steve Amstutz. What an honour it was for me, as nobody even mentioned that I was to be seated next to somebody that senior from the watchmaker. During these trips, I always ask people if they’ve ever been to Hong Kong and if their answer is a yes, my next question is if they’ve ever been to Dragon-i. In nine out of 10 cases, the club tends to be a great icebreaker at the table during dinner or conversation with strangers – all of a sudden, I became the centre of attention and I was giving out my #legend business cards like Dragon-i VIP cards for everyone’s next visit to Hong Kong.
Early the following morning, we all gathered in the lobby, waiting to get in our vans to take us to the Bugatti factory in Molsheim, the historic pilgrimage that dates back to 1909. A half-hour later, we all arrived at the mansion that Ettore Bugatti once owned. Waiting for us was Wolfgang Dürheimer, the president of Bugatti Automobiles, who opened the doors for the first time ever to any press as we got an exclusive glimpse into the remarkable factory.
Our first call of order was to experience the power of the new Bugatti Chiron. We were the first group of press to be driven by Bugatti’s test car drivers, composed of well-known drivers from the racing circuit. Needless to say, I brought all my film equipment and camera mounts to capture this once-in-a-lifetime experience so I could share it with you, #legend readers.
The new Bugatti Chiron’s 1,500 horsepower and top speed of 420km/h has earned it the title as the world’s most powerful and fastest car. Going from zero to 400km/h and back in just 42 seconds, let’s just say it was a hell of a ride.
And nothing in this world can buy you the thrill of being in a Bugatti Super Sport. It isn’t trying to be flashy, not does it roar like a beast that wants to draw your attention. This finely built and rather understated machine is beautifully designed, with a super-refined, timeless interior that isn’t equipped with hundreds of buttons to overwhelm you when you’re sitting in the driver’s seat.
The instrumentation is simple to understand for any type of driver – and it certainly goes fast as you put that pedal to the metal. The acceleration, for those who have never been in a supercar before, can be extremely frightening for most passengers. That G-force will pull your heart right out of your mouth while accelerating and push it back into your chest when the car comes to a stop at high speeds. In fact, during my filming inside the car while accelerating, my stabiliser-mounted camera couldn’t even handle the amount of force caused by the beastly acceleration. This powerful 8.0-litre, 16-cylinder engine uses four turbochargers and it sounds just like a normal car that you can d3rive every day – that is, until you want to unleash the beast.
I was also extremely lucky to have met Etienne Salomé, Bugatti’s head of interior design, who kindly showed me around the buildings, which showcased most of his illustrations of the carmaker’s various models. We couldn’t wait to take some group shots together next to his latest Bugatti Chiron. There were also a host of other activities, such as riding in a classic open-top Bugatti and a flight in Parmigiani Fleurier’s hot-air balloon, which was launched at the back of the mansion.
After our test ride, we were led into the venue where the hosts from both sides welcomed us with more champagne – and to reveal the amazing Bugatti Type 390, which is limited to just 20 pieces in the world (10 in rose gold and 10 in white gold). Though vastly different in size, the Bugatti Chiron and the Bugatti Type 390 are both equally exhilarating. The only question you had to ask yourself was which colour combination you wanted to order for both the car and the watch.
During our press session after lunch, we were able to witness up close and personal how the Bugatti Type 390 was created based on the Bugatti Chiron. This revelatory new timepiece features an automobile-inspired engine, interior and bodywork construction. At its heart sits the cylindrical mechanical calibre PF390 with flying tourbillon; the movement’s most distinctive features are its triangular barrel coupling system and its inclusion of the world’s smallest ball bearing.
After our day spent at the Bugatti factory, we had another three-hour drive into Switzerland to Hôtel Palafitte in Neuchâtel. We arrived in the evening, exhausted, with just enough time for us to check in and have a quick dinner before everyone retired to their rooms. After a solid night’s sleep, it wasn’t until the following morning after pulling the blinds up that I realised what breathtaking views our rooms had. Built right on the edge of Lake Neuchâtel, you could literally jump into the lake for a morning swim right from the room’s balcony.
Our final day was an educational one indeed. Our two chaperones from Parmigiani Fleurier – brand spokesperson Flavien Gigandet and Ning Rossel, the marketing and trade manager – took us on an in-depth guided tour of the factories that produce all the different components for Parmigiani Fleurier’s watches. In the morning, we visited Les Artisans Boîtiers, which makes all the casings, followed by Quadrance & Habillage, which produces the watch faces.
After breaking for a quick lunch at a very local French restaurant at the Hôtel des Six-Communes in the beautiful town of Fleurier, we then headed to the Vaucher Manufacture, which produces the internal movements. Finally, we ended up at the Parmigiani Fleurier Manufacture, where we were lucky enough to see some of the special collection pieces, as well as Parmigiani’s Restoration laboratory, which totally blew me away with its restoration craftsmanship. To be honest, there’s only so much information one can possibly absorb in a day – I felt like a goose being forced fed like a foie gras.
On the last evening, we were brought to the renowned Le Poisson restaurant in Auvernier, where all the different press gathered to enjoy the famous seafood dishes and revel in our new-found friendship. We all bid each other farewell, knowing that there’s one thing for certain – we’ll all meet again in Dragon-I one of these days.
This feature originally appeared in the December 2017 print issue of #legend