Tag Heuer has produced two limited edition watches with Super Mario Bros. Panerai has partnered with Razer, the hardware company known for its PCs and peripherals. And Hamilton worked with the developers of Far Cry 6, the first-person shooter game, to create a commemorative field watch, the likeness of which your character could also wear in the game, a model ‘ready for virtual and real-world adventures’.
Now Bulgari, the luxury watchmaker known for its complex movements and ultra-thin engineering, has announced a watch in partnership with the enduring racing simulation franchise Gran Turismo—and designed a concept car to drive in the game, too.
While many of the world’s greatest car brands have developed virtual ‘Vision GT’ custom cars to drive in Gran Turismo—the Jaguar Vision Gran Turismo Coupé; the McLaren Ultimate Vision Gran Turismo; the Ferrari Vision Gran Turismo, and so on—Bulgari is the first non-automotive brand to do so. (Nike did produce an electric ‘sci-fi buggy’, the Nike One 2022, that could be powered by a human body via a ‘spark suit’ that converted body movements into electricity, for 2024’s Gran Turismo 4, but it was not available for purchase in the game and could only be used in practise mode.)
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the game’s Vision GT programme.
Bulgari’s Italian-born design boss—or product creation executive director—Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani, went straight from design school to work for Fiat and Alpha Romeo before joining the watch brand in 2001, and cars remain a passion.
The company’s Bulgari Aluminium watch, first released in the late 1990s, was both a product of its times and something of a pioneer in sports watches, the first luxury wristwatch of its kind built using an aluminium case and a rubber strap and bezel—an unusual choice of materials said to be directly inspired by car design.
Relaunched in 2020, by the admission of the brand’s own CEO in order to target millennials, it won a Red Dot Design Award earlier this year, the jury praising its ‘perfect proportions and premium-quality materials’, a miniature ‘synthesis of the arts’. It is this model that’s provided the springboard for the new watch.
The chronograph comes in two versions, one with a yellow dial and black counters, produced in a limited edition of 500, and one with an anthracite dial with yellow indices, produced in a run of 1,200.
Both are sized at 41mm and come in an aluminium case with a titanium caseback with a DLC coating and a rubber bezel and strap. The watches are engraved with a ‘10th Anniversary Vision’ GT’ logo.
“It was inspired by the dashboard of one of the most important cars in rally history, a legendary Italian gran turismo car from the 1990s,” Stigliani tells Esquire, ahead of the project’s reveal at the Grand Turismo World Series Finals, the climax of the professional esports tournament, in Barcelona this afternoon.
The project began after Stigliani reached out to Fabio Filippini, the noted Italian car designer, former design director at the coachbuilder Pininfarina and executive director of the automotive design agency Acceaffe, having discovered his retrospective book Curve and contacted him on Instagram.
Filippini, in turn, knew of Stigliani and his automotive background—and also knew the people at PlayStation.
“I said ‘Fabio! You know I am a great fan of Gran Turismo?’’ Stigliani says. “I played for decades, when I was young—during the night!’
“It was just Gran Turismo on my PlayStation, no other games. But now I have kids, they start to play FIFA, other games… But Gran Turismo for me, is a legend.”
The pair hatched a plan to design a Vision car, the Bulgari Aluminium Vision GT. It was to take its design cues from the industrial aesthetics of the Bulgari Aluminium watch—“Big wheel arch, big screw that reminds you immediately of the screw on the side of the watch,” according to Stigliani. “Geometry of the windshield and the lower part of the body of the car that is totally black.”
PlayStation’s Gran Turismo team then designed the project in-house—the first time they’d done this.
“We said immediately, ‘We don’t have the skills, we don’t have the software to make this kind of thing’,” Stigliani says. “‘So please, you can make the 3D for us?’ And Kazunori Yamuachi, one of the masters of Gran Turismo 3D [department] became the link between Bulgari and Gran Turismo.”
(At this point Stigliani shows Esquire a folder of work-in-progress sketches for the project. It is enormous. “This is a selection!”)
While a brief to design your own virtual race car for PlayStation might conjure up ideas of letting your imagination run at record-breaking lap speeds, Stigliani points out that there are rules. Fairly strict ones.
“This car [should be able to] be built and driven [in the real world],” he says. “Gran Turismo say from the very beginning ‘We do not want to have a ‘watch with a wheel’. We want to have a real car!’ You have to imagine that Gran Turismo, it is so precise for the simulation, that you have some very important [car brands] in the automotive industry that ask Gran Turismo to make a simulation. ‘I have this car, with this [build], with this kind of engine, with this kind of suspension, and I want to [test it out with a view to] participate in 24 hours of Le Mans. Tell me the performance of the car.'”
In other words, car companies use the Gran Turismo Vision GT programme as a proof of concept.
“It is super, super precise,” says Stigliani.
Still, designing such a project was, he says, something of a boy’s dream come true.
“The idea was to make a very cool, Italian-style car, inspired by the [models produced at] the end of the 1960s, inspired by the lightweight Alpha Romeos, with the very pure shape. The amazing exotic cars of the Porsche builder, or Pininfarina. Or other cars from [designer Flaminio] Bertoni, [Marcello] Gandini, [Gruppo] Bertone, the Lancia Stratos, all these kind of cars. Very lightweight. Like the Lotus, the Maserati… This was the idea. Because the Aluminium is a lightweight watch… it’s an amazing design in terms of shape, in terms of high-tech design.”
To get the drive the car in Gran Turismo, you need to first buy the watch—which comes with a QR code.
It is also possible to purchase it in-game, but for that you need one million credits. (Since your correspondent has never played Gran Turismo, Stigliani assures me this is a lot. “And when you achieve this kind of result, you don’t want to spend one million credits on just one car, because you can buy a lot of different cars. And you can make a lot of fine-tuning [to your existing cars].”)
As for how the car handles in the game, Stigliani had some ideas for that, too. “The idea for this car was pushed a lot by me, because I would love to drive a very easy and fun car. Lightweight without a huge engine without thousands of horsepower, because for me that doesn’t make sense. I just [wanted] to enjoy the pleasure of driving the car. In a very pure way. So it’s a bit like a go-kart. With a certain finish.”
As for Stigliani’s own Gran Turismo performance—he admits he’s not quite the demon he once was. “You need a lot of training,” he sighs. “Because, you know, the cars are super-reactive. And the tracks are very precise. When you get older your reaction is less quick.”
“My son Julio started playing Gran Turismo when he was eight, and he’s still playing now he’s 10. When you get older your reactions are less quick.
“At that point, for kids, it’s easier.”