The Jacob & Co. Bugatti Chiron Tourbillon is the most recent exercise in extreme automotive engineering from Jacob & Co. Bugatti Chiron Tourbillon , and for car lovers, it seems to be a love-it-or-hate-it proposition. I had an opportunity to experience the Veyron when it first came out, and although I am pretty sure I am as far from its target demographic as it is possible to be and still be a member of the species H. sapiens, I thought it was a ton (well, two tons and change, to be more exact) of fun, and I am glad that it exists.
I feel the same way about watchmaking from Jacob & Co. The company continues to practice a kind of watchmaking which at one point many were attempting and at which few succeeded: Maximalist, irrepressibly over-the-top timepieces which were time-telling instruments only incidentally. These were and are wrist-mounted mechanical fantasies that have, perhaps, more in common with mechanical entertainments like automatons than with conventional watches.
The recent partnership between Bugatti and Jacob & Co. has just given birth to one of the most exuberantly diverting watches I have seen in a long while: the Bugatti Chiron Tourbillon. The Chiron is an exercise in pure excess – the centerpiece of the car is its huge, mid-chassis mounted 8-liter W16 engine, which puts out – hold onto your knickers, Gertrude – 1,479 horsepower and easily propels the car to its electronically limited top speed of 261 miles per hour. (HODINKEE’s James Stacey has driven the Veyron and tells me it could find 200kph in fourth gear “on any on-ramp, no exaggeration.”)
The Jacob & Co. Bugatti Chiron Tourbillon, natürlich, is also an exercise in pure excess. Albert Einstein’s theory of Special Relativity came about from asking a very simple but penetrating question: “What would the world look like if you rode on a beam of light?” The Bugatti Chiron Tourbillon, likewise, came about from asking an equally simple and penetrating question: “What would you get if you made a miniature, working mechanical model of the W16 engine in the Bugatti Chiron, and put it in a watch, oh, and we should probably throw a tourbillon in there, and don’t forget the turbochargers?” What you get is the Bugatti Chiron Tourbillon.
As the saying goes, “Just What It Says On The Tin.” This is indeed a tourbillon watch, of Brobdingnagian heft and Herculean impact – 54mm x 44mm. But then, the basic dimensions dwindle into insignificance when considered next to the actual watch. The case is occupied by the caliber JCAM37, hand-wound, with a tourbillon regulator and an honest-to-Betsy working W16 engine inside, which takes up at least half the volume of the case. You push an actuator on the side of the case, and the crankshaft turns, pistons move, and miniature turbochargers begin to rotate.
If there were ever a watch that demanded to be seen in action to be appreciated, this is it. It is a truism that you can only go so far judging a watch from a photograph without seeing it in the metal; it is absolutely true that to get a sense of the impact of this watch, you have to see it doing its thing.
There is a famous line in the movie Jurassic Park, in which the chaos mathematician Ian Malcolm reproves the dinosaur-maker, shouting, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should!” Of course, the fact of the matter is, the moment you see the T. rex, you’re on the side of the dinosaur makers – institutional ethics review boards be damned, making a dinosaur is cool. I kind of feel the same way about this watch. Certainly, there is no reason for it to exist; inarguably it is as damnably indefensible a way to blow a quarter of a million bucks as the Chiron is to blow four (or more, at that point, though, who’s counting?).
It is also, however, a firmly upright middle finger in the face of the sort of lack of imagination and timid incrementalism that characterizes so much of high-end watchmaking from Switzerland. Okay, bien sûr, it is a car-themed watch that costs $280,000; so what? Overpriced car-themed watches are a dime a dozen, and we all know what most of them are like. A little carbon fiber here, some rubber there, a perforated strap with colored stitching and voila, a car-themed watch. To actually be so single-minded as to produce a miniature working engine – with a solid synthetic sapphire engine block, by the way – sets a new high bar for making a car-adjacent timepiece. I shall never ever own a Chiron or this watch, but I can’t clap hard enough for the combination of imagination and sheer bullheadedness it must have taken to make it happen.