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.”
Certain luxury fashion houses are fixated on their heritage, as though doing so would shield them from the erosion of progress. But the sole dependence on “legacy” and “estate” will not suffice. It’s not enough to just be, you must also matter. One of the brands that wouldn’t think of resting on its laurels is Bulgari, which is seeking to upend conventions with two additions to its Octo Finissimo series.
The products in question are the Octo Finissimo CarbonGold Automatic and Perpetual Calendar models. “CarbonGold” is a mix of high-tech carbon and gold elements first introduced in 1993. Now the maison is outfitting the Octo Finissimo Automatic and Perpetual Calendar models with CarbonGold. When it comes to experimentation with new materials, the maison was among the first to venture into crafting steel jewellery watches before moving on to the use of titanium and platinum. But if you think it’s a simple task of changing up the Octo Finissimo line-up with a mould of CarbonGold material, you’ll be wrong.
Never one to take the easy route, Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani, Bulgari’s chief watch designer, saw the need to overhaul the watches from scratch when it came to implementing the new CarbonGold material. “Whenever we work with new materials, we are obliged to start development from scratch,” Stigliani explains. “We had to develop a brand new titanium case insert with lugs and holes for the screws for the case back, but with a different shape. The carbon case, bezel and bracelet came next. It was a challenge for us even after producing the carbon minute repeater.” The carbon cases are adorned with rose gold crowns and carbon dials with matching gold-coloured accents. The case, strap and dial are crafted from exceptionally lightweight, anthracite-coloured carbon with a matte finish. Clean lines border the models, which exude a measured majesty.
Within the remarkable slimness embodies the extraordinary watchmaking expertise of the manufacture. For the Perpetual Calendar, in this new carbon iteration, the classic ultra-thin perpetual calendar complication requires no adjustment until 2100. For the Automatic, there’s an automatic winding, gold bridges and a gold-plated platinum off-centred micro-rotor.
Due to the difficult intricacies of CarbonGold, it took Stigliani and his team three years to develop. But at the end of the day, it is a technical marvel. “One of my obsessions as an industrial designer is things like these that look very simple,” Stigliani adds. “I love the execution, texture, and how unconventionally we played with the material. Everybody knows carbon in the watchmaking industry, but only Bulgari can make such a watch with this kind of thickness, bracelet and movement in carbon and gold.”
It’s not the goal of housing a complication in a slim profile, it was Stigliani’s objective to “enhance the dynamic tension—this unique proposition between having a watch that was, when viewed straight on, very muscular and even aggressive, yet when you turned it on its side, you’d be absolutely surprised to find how thin it was.”
There’s something to be said about Stigliani’s obsession with marrying CarbonGold with the Octo Finissimo. The man came from the school of thought where “beauty is a necessity”.
This is Stigliani’s unconscious search in finding beauty even in the most technical of forms.
Watch snobs, hear us out: Before you turn your nose up at fashion watches for men or any piece that does not bear the prestigious Poinçon de Genève, consider the possibility that jewellery and, yes, even fashion brands have been coming out with head-turning timepieces for ages.
Luxury French fashion house Hermès, for example, made serious inroads into the horological world by putting up its very own booth at Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie for the first time in 2018. French fashion brand, Louis Vuitton, produced a watch that earned the mythical Poinçon de Genève: the Flying Tourbillon, released in 2016.
Times are changing, and these fashion and jewellery brands have shown they take their watch departments very, very seriously. And there’s another thing these brands that combine savoir-faire with technical excellence can do: When it comes to producing true objects of desire, they have nailed it down to an art.
Still not convinced? Here are a few of the companies that have made some of the most beautiful timepieces over the years.
Say the name “Cartier” to any woman, and her eyes will no doubt light up with visions of its legendary jewellery—the Love bracelet, the Juste un Clou bangle, and the jaw-dropping Tutti Frutti and Panthère collections, just to name a few. But you, of course, will recognise that Cartier makes incredible watches, and you would be proud to have one on your wrist. Brand founder Louis-Francois Cartier did, after all, take over the workshop of master watchmaker Adolphe Picard in the 1800s, forming the company’s earliest foundations on innovative clocks and fashionable wristwatches. Thanks to the patronage of royalty that included King Carlos I of Portugal and King Edward VII of Great Britain, its reputation would later be cemented as the “jeweller of kings.”
Our pick: The Cartier Tank Solo
The Cartier Tank was inspired by the tanks used in World War I—as far as origin stories go, it doesn’t really get any cooler or more badass than that. The Solo is a modern addition to the collection, yet retains all the features that make the watch an enduring classic.
With its highly coveted handbags, such as the Kelly and the Birkin, true luxury definitely equates to Hermès. From its early beginnings as a harness and saddle supplier, the French luxury house is now best-known for its quality leather and signature silk scarves apart from branching out into perfumes, jewelry, and even accoutrements for the home. Naturally, the brand first created saddle-stitched cases for pocket watches and leather watch straps before dedicating itself fully to watches for men and women by establishing La Montre Hermès in Bienne, Switzerland in 1978.
Our pick: Cape Cod
Created by Hermès creative director Henri d’Origny in 1991 when he was tasked with making a square watch, the case and dial take cues from the brand’s distinct chaîne d'ancre motif, resulting in a shape that is unmistakably Hermès. Bonus points if you get it with the famous double tour strap, a twice-winding leather wristband designed for the house by Martin Margiela in 1998.
The Italian jewelry house was made famous by Elizabeth Taylor, who turned the Serpenti into an icon when she was photographed wearing it on the set of Cleopatra while filming in Rome. In her personal life, she was known to be a prized Bulgari client, too, care of a tumultuous romance with Richard Burton that resulted in even more gifts of diamonds and jewelry for the Hollywood star. But Bulgari’s watches are worthy of just as much admiration and awe for the way it blends the Italian flair for design with Swiss watchmaking’s technical expertise. The company showed how serious it was about the latter with the establishment in 1980 of Bulgari Haute Horlogerie in Neuchatel, Switzerland. It also acquired the Daniel Roth and Gérald Genta brands in the year 2000, leading it to introduce its own in-house mechanical movements by 2010.
Our pick: Bulgari Bulgari
You could say that this was the watch that started it all, originally intended to be a Christmas gift to the house’s top 100 clients in 1975. Recognisable by the engraved “Bulgari Bulgari” logos surrounding the bezel, it was conceptualised as a tribute to the design of ancient Roman coins.
By now, everyone is familiar with the French fashion giant’s humble beginnings as a travel trunk-maker in 1854. This later expanded into that famous monogram adorning just about everything, including a notorious punching bag designed by Karl Lagerfeld. But just as LV has a knack for turning all of the things it touches into precious objects of desire, so it goes with its watches. It’s a relatively new player, considering it marked its entry into the field with the launch of the Tambour fine watch collection in 2002. But it has certainly worked double-time and caught up since, producing many gorgeous fashion watches for men in between, leading up to the inauguration of La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton in Geneva in 2014.
Our pick: Tambour Damier Cobalt Chronograph
It’s fitting we should throw it back to the Tambour collection, but this new edition comes with a twist: interchangeable straps that allow you to quickly switch up the look, even without specialised tools. The Damier canvas is also ever-so-subtly visible on the dial, but you’ll be able to spot that eye-catching V from across the room.
Now it’s time for the American entry into this list: Tiffany and Co., whose legend will forever be tied to New York, Audrey Hepburn, breakfast, and that instantly recognisable robin’s egg blue. Though of course it is primarily known for jewellery, thanks to its association with dreamy engagement rings and the famous 128-carat Tiffany Yellow Diamond proudly displayed at the flagship store on Fifth Avenue, the company has been selling timepieces since 1847. In fact, one of the flagship’s most recognisable features is the nine-foot Atlas Clock right above the door—also the inspiration for Charles Lewis Tiffany’s coining of the phrase, “New York minute.” Tiffany also created America’s first stopwatch, the Tiffany Timer, in 1868.
Our pick: Tiffany Atlas
An homage to the Atlas Clock that has been standing guard since the 1850s, the Atlas watch uses the same Roman numerals that New Yorkers have used to check the time over the years. In two-tone rose gold and stainless steel, it could prompt you to create a New York minute of your own.
From: Esquire Ph