Rhapsody In Blue

Cast an eye over the history of popular music and you’ll find one color cropping up again and again, a wonderful leitmotiv. There’s Ella Fitzgerald under a blanket of blue, Elvis Presley wearing blue suede shoes. Miles Davis feeling kind of blue, Bob Dylan tangled up in blue, Joni Mitchell too blue for you. KRS-One lays out the original blueprint; JAY-Z takes note, then gives us three more. 

Jacob Arabo knows a thing or two about that history. After all, the iconoclastic diamond designer has been supplying Grammy winners with custom watches and jewelry for more than three decades. He’s also carved out an enviable (and lucrative) niche as hip-hop’s finest purveyor of all things bling. His roster of clients, past and present, reads like a rundown of rap demigods: LL Cool J, Biggie Smalls, Diddy, Pharrell, Ludacris, Drake—and yes, Mr. Blueprint himself, the inimitable Sean Carter. 

The Epic X Chrono Sky Blue by Jacob & Co. exclusively available at the WATCHES OF SWITZERLAND & MAYORS. The Hudson Yards installation is seen here. Photo by Watchonista/Liam O’Donnell.

Along the way, Arabo has grown his namesake timepiece and jewelry label, Jacob & Co., into an international haute horlogerie powerhouse. The brand’s latest creation is a special edition within the Epic X collection, a line representing Arabo’s unique takes on the super-modern skeleton watch. But instead of his usual flourishes—diamond settings, multi-axis tourbillons, thematic automatons—this new piece gets redesigned with a bold original color scheme, one that echoes the skies and seas. At the age of 56, Arabo, it seems, has entered his Blue Period. 

It didn’t happen overnight. Long before the Epic X debuted, before Jacob & Co. went global, before he was on a first-name basis with the hip-hop vanguard, Arabo was just a New York kid with caviar aspirations and an entrepreneurial bent. Born in Uzbekistan and raised in Queens, he dropped out of high school to enroll in a jewelry design course; by the age of 21, he had a stall at Kaplan Jewelry Exchange, in Manhattan’s famed Diamond District. Even then, he recognized the value of going big, carefully honing his jet-set persona: tailored suits, expensive haircuts, and, of course, a flashy watch. 

The Epic X Chrono Sky Blue by Jacob & Co. Innovation in design gets met with respect for the time-honored practices and traditions of the company’s Swiss watchmakers.
EXCLUSIVE FOR WATCHES OF SWITZERLAND AND MAYORS.

Arabo knew the market. He felt the groundswell of hip-hop culture, too. In a prescient move, he launched Jacob & Co. in 1986, branding his diamond market expertise. From there, his aesthetic sensibilities only got more extravagant. If Dapper Dan was rap’s original high-end haberdasher, Arabo soon became the community’s own fine jeweler. The two men took a similar approach: bespoke products, seven-league-boots swagger, less-is-a-bore design philosophy. Word spread, customers flocked. He picked up a nickname: Jacob the Jeweler. 

So it was written. Throughout the 1990s, if you had a platinum record but wanted a diamond watch—or a gold chain, or gem-set cross, or anything else iced-out and custom-made—you called Jacob. Lenny Kravitz called him. Bono and Jennifer Lopez did, too. After Arabo launched a dedicated Swiss watchmaking division, in 2002, Elton John reportedly purchased two dozen timepieces as gifts for family and friends.  

Still, Jacob & Co. remained synonymous with hip-hop fashion culture. The brand and its founder became lyrical shorthand, a status symbol name-checked alongside Maybach and Dom Perignon. Arabo’s clashes with authority only burnished his credibility, further mythologizing his work. Ask anybody from Faith Evans to Fat Joe, and they’ll tell you: Jacob the Jeweler’s O.G. status is beyond repute. 

The exclusive skeleton Bi-Compax Chronograph self-winding Jacob & Co. movement JACC05 featuring 260 components. Water-resistant to 200 meters, the anti-shock system holds a power reserve of 48 hours.
EXCLUSIVE FOR WATCHES OF SWITZERLAND AND MAYORS.

Not that he’s rested on those laurels. Jacob & Co. has continued pushing further into the realm of high watchmaking with horological blockbusters like the Quenttin, widely cited as the first watch with a 31-day power reserve. The brand’s Manhattan flagship store recently reopened, helping initiate the next generation of hip-hop tastemakers—Migos, Lil’ Yachty, Lil’ Uzi Vert—to Arabo’s VIP experience. Last year, he released the Millionaire Yellow Diamond, an 18-karat gold watch bedecked with 276 vivid canary stones, that got the glitterati buzzing.

Which brings us to the new Epic X Chrono Sky Blue. While Jacob & Co. products are always a flex, this latest special edition shows off a different muscle group. Bereft of diamonds, it exudes a naked confidence: The technical prowess and colorful design stand front-and-center, sporty ethos on proud display. Subtle? Hardly. But if the Millionnaire Yellow Diamond was a full-fledged rock opera, the Epic X Chrono Sky Blue is a perfect 808 drum beat.

Less bling means greater focus on the mechanicals. Good thing Jacob & Co.’s self-winding, anti-shock, column-wheel chronograph calibre is a miniature marvel: The Sky Blue’s movement comprises more than 250 components and boasts a full two days of power reserve. Under close inspection, the detailing absolutely shines. Check the polished bridges, the angled and drawn column wheels, the anthracite rotor with “Jacob & Co Genève” red-lacquered engraving. 

The man himself, Jacob Arabo, Founder and Chairman of Jacob & Co.

These are the surefire signs of Swiss artistry. And they’re all cleverly integrated into the semi-transparent, blue mineral crystal dial. The result strikes a neat balance on the scales of form and function: This watch offers the benefits of movement exhibition, plus the modern charms of suspended chronograph sub-banks, without the visual aggression of a full-open-work treatment. 

There’s plenty going on outside, too. Measuring 47mm, the Sky Blue’s case is hewn from super-durable Grade 5 titanium and polished 18-karat rose gold. Like the movement it houses, this a technically complex design—Jacob & Co. says it’s made up of 60 unique parts—and executed beautifully. Each of the four end lugs taper over the bezel, pointing inward, as if they might converge and criss-cross. Visually, it evokes a large—or, some might say, epic—letter X. (Get it?) 

Ergonomics are another highlight. Small seconds are shown at the 9 o’clock position, displayed opposite the minute counter at 3 o’clock. Elapsed seconds are read off the crimson central chronograph hand, activated by the rubber-coated pusher at 2 o’clock. Meanwhile, an ancillary crown at 10 o’clock, also clad in rubber, controls the rotating inner bezel and sets a countdown timer. 

The 47mm case consists of Titanium Grade 5 and 18K rose gold with blue rubber pushers, and openworked blue rubber strap with 18K rose gold deployment clasp. The caseback is sapphire glass and blue mineral crystal, the sapphire with an anti-reflective treatment. EXCLUSIVE FOR WATCHES OF SWITZERLAND AND MAYORS.

On the flanks, the blue rubber-coated main crown and color-matched chronograph pushers bring pops of contrast to a polished exterior finish. Once turned over, the sapphire and blue mineral crystal caseback allows glimpses of the watch’s inner workings. Water-resistance is rated up to 200 meters, because even JAY-Z goes to the beach. A unique blue rubber strap, replete with rose gold deployment strap, cinches the look. 

It also brings a healthy dose of personality, something the high-end collector market desperately needs, and Arabo’s brand is uniquely qualified to provide. To wit, watches of the Epic X ilk often skew achromatic, drawing from a super-technical palette—carbon composites, DLC coatings, matte ceramics—giving off tactical vibes. At this level of craftsmanship, where each component is a chorus unto itself, those designs risk hiding light under a bushel. 

The watch seen on these pages is a better bet. A limited-edition exclusive to Watches of Switzerland, it’s both an exclusive proposition and a reminder that serious watchmaking can be delivered with exuberance. It’s the skies and seas, and ready to be worn everywhere in between, something like a new blueprint for boutique chronograph breed. It might just be Arabo’s magnum opus.

A close-up of the exclusive Jacob & Co Epic X Chrono Sky Blue installation at Watches of Switzerland Hudson Yards. Photo by Watchonista/Liam O’Donnell.

JACOB & CO. EPIC X CHRONO SKY BLUE

EXCLUSIVE FOR WATCHES OF SWITZERLAND AND MAYORS. $48,000 USD available at:
Watches of Switzerland (1.844.4USAWOS – 1.844.487.2967)
Mayors (1.844.4MAYORS – 1.800.462.9677)


Turn of Fortune

Jaeger-LeCoultre addresses Reverso, the watch that redefined the company—twice.

By James Malcolmson

Photographs by Atom Moore

A few months after her appointment as Jaeger-LeCoultre’s first female CEO, Catherine Rénier announced a change in marketing direction to her staff. Reverso, the famous 1930s model with the swiveling case, would be receiving renewed emphasis at the company’s historic Vallée de Joux manufacture.

Her decision ran counter to widely observed trends in the watch industry. For most of the 21st century, sales of Reverso (along with other shaped watches) have gradually given ground to rounder, more modern models in Jaeger-LeCoultre’s arsenal. The functional idiosyncrasies of Reverso, along with its distinctively art deco design are worlds away from the bland features most Swiss watch executives believe will appeal to a global audience.

Jaeger-LeCoultre executives have, in fact, expended considerable energy adapting Reverso to global trends. “Over the years, we’ve watched it become rounded, waterproofed and superluminova’ed in the more active lifestyle Gran’ Sport edition of 1999, and then seen the swiveling case switched from a rectangle into a square with 2006’s Reverso Squadra. But more recently, the company has brought the model closer to its original design.

The current Reverso Tribute editions, including this year’s rich wine-red model, speak to its art deco heritage, representing a rectilinear countercurrent to the modern wave of rounded shapes. Overall, Rénier’s decision to trend toward more traditional forms amounts to an acknowledgment that the spirit of Jaeger-LeCoultre is inextricably linked to the history of the Reverso. After all, it was not merely a successful product for the watchmaker, but a force that redefined the company more than once.

In fact, Jaeger-LeCoultre, owes its very identity to the development of Reverso. At the beginning of the 1930s, the LeCoultre company was still very much the movement manufacturer Antoine LeCoultre had founded in Switzerland’s Vallée de Joux, a century before. His grandson Jacques-David, had parlayed the firm’s established technical bona fides into profitable collaborations with a number of Paris-based specialists, including the renowned French watchmaker Edmond Jaeger, who put LeCoultre movements into his creations for the top Parisian jewelers. LeCoultre’s technical capabilities, including design and case making, proved essential when Jacques-David was approached by his friend César de Trey with an offbeat idea for a swiveling, reversible watch.

“De Trey was a Swiss businessman who had managed to make a small fortune in dental equipment,” says Stephane Belmont, Jaeger-LeCoultre’s director of heritage. “He developed a keen interest in watches and was exposed to many wealthy people during his travels around the world.”

Stopping in India during the waning days of the British Raj, de Trey managed to mix with members of the polo set, an encounter that led directly to the heavily mythologized story about the need for protection from errant polo mallets leading directly to the complex Reverso concept. Jacques-David LeCoultre was able to turn to the considerable Parisian watchmaking resources he had developed and tasked engineer Alfred Chauvot with the job of designing and engineering a functioning prototype that was first patented in 1931. That Chauvot managed to not only capture the classic proportions of the period, but create a mechanical system that has endured for nearly a century—one of the great unsung feats of watch design.

While LeCoultre marshaled the resources to build the watches, de Trey’s enthusiasm and promotional abilities contributed much to their commercial success. With the model’s popularity apparent, de Trey set up a distribution company in 1933, marketing the watch first under the Reverso brand, while also supplying other brands like Gübelin, Tiffany, and Patek Philippe with the same design. Such was the interconnectedness of the Swiss industry at that time that LeCoultre, still seeing itself more as a supplier than a public facing brand, had few qualms about sharing the benefit of a potential hit. That, however, was about to change.

“After two or three years, in 1937, it was the distribution company that first carried the name Jaeger-LeCoultre,” explains Belmont. It was decided at that time that all the watches actually made by LeCoultre in Switzerland and Paris would carry the name Jaeger-LeCoultre.”

While the Reverso was an integral part of the very formation of the Jaeger-LeCoultre brand, it would not be the last time the company owed its continued existence to the swiveling watch. The popularity of the Reverso gradually declined in the years after its ’30s heyday. By the late 1950s, production of the style had completely ceased. A quarter-century later, the company—reeling like the rest of the Swiss industry from quartz competition—brought back Reverso, not as a mechanical men’s watch it was, but as a comparatively small-sized, quartz model intended primarily for female clients. Once back on the market, the idiosyncratic design ran headlong into a new group of European watch collectors who had rediscovered the appeal of traditional mechanical watchmaking.

“In the eighties, the Reverso was a very different and interesting watch compared to the others,” said Stephane Belmont. “Later, it was the market that asked to combine Reverso again with the mechanical movement and to develop complications for it.”

This particular chapter in Reverso’s history is somewhat personal for Belmont. In 1985, in the midst of the model’s revival, his father, Henry-John Belmont, was appointed CEO of Jaeger-LeCoultre. Working in concert with his group director, Günter Blümlein, Henry-John wasted little time in developing an action plan. By 1988, the management team had settled on an ambitious plan to relaunch Reverso as a modern and complicated mechanical watch on the model’s upcoming 60th anniversary in 1991. The team planned a slew of models to drive home the point that Reverso and Jaeger-LeCoultre were back.

A new, much larger Reverso Grande Taille would recast the watch with the modern dimensions. Another 60th-anniversary edition would incorporate an exhibition back to display a finely decorated gold movement. Most ambitiously, a series of six limited editions would offer special complicated movements for Reverso’s rectangular confines. “Internally, they took the unusual step of showing everyone the sketches for the watches before they were built,” recalls Stephane Belmont. “Janek [Deleskiewicz, JLC’s head designer] sketched the watches, but nobody knew if it was feasible or if it would work. But for the employees, it was a question of survival. Whether it was feasible or not, they had to do it.”

The 60th-anniversary Reversos were launched in a large exhibition designed to reflect the inside of a Reverso case. While there were a few quibbles about the size of the Grande Taille, the watches were extraordinarily successful. The march of complications throughout the ’90s led to a progression of daring double-sided functions that effectively showcased the brand’s technical side and created a female audience for mechanical watchmaking long before other industry competitors could catch on.

The lessons of history are not lost on Rénier, who now presides over one of the most legacy-driven Reverso collections in the company’s history. “My take is that when you are authentic, in the codes and identity of the Maison, no matter the generation, people will understand and will be interested in your products,” she says. “I think our job is to share who we are, to be true to who we are, and not to try to make a story to attract a clientele.”

Supper Club

Surveying the heroes of the Brooklyn food scene with a selection of fine chronographs.

Photographs by Doug Young

It’s almost as easy to lampoon the great awakening of American eating (“The chicken’s name was Colin. Here are his papers.”) as it is easy to lampoon modern-day Brooklyn (“Nah man, Martha’s, that new artisanal mayonnaise spot.”) But the fedora foodies are moving to Ohio, and the half-cocked concept joints closing down, leaving behind only the smartest, realest, most passionate culinary characters. The kind of characters that made Brooklyn’s food scene so remarkable to begin with. The kind of characters that make modern dining feel like a privilege.

In recognition, we spent two days touring the borough, catching up with its most exciting and influential local chefs. We talked about food and progress and the city. Then we dressed them in exciting and influential chronographs, newcomers and mainstays, and photographed them inside the kitchen.

Each chef had a different way of thinking about food. But they all agreed on one thing: It’s a damn good time to be cooking (and dining) in Brooklyn.


Name: Chef T.J. Steele

Known for: Spending more than a decade in Mexico, embedded with local cooks and mezcaleros, then returning to New York and blowing minds.

Wearing: Panerai Luminor 1950 3 Days Chrono Flyback Automatic Ceramica 44mm, $14,700; panerai.com

He says: “All the décor comes straight from my friends in Oaxaca. The bar tiles are from Francisco Toledo and Dr. Lakra. They did the murals, too. There was this famous cantina down there, and it had a mural with three pigs cooking a woman. So we kinda did our own thing with it. Three goats. Pretty great, right?”

Claro
284 3rd Avenue
(347) 721-3126


Name: Emily and Melissa Elsen

Known for: Making patisseries cool again.

Wearing: (Emily, left) Omega Speedmaster 38 Co-Axial Chronograph, $4,900; omegawatches.com + (Melissa, right) Rolex Cosmograph Daytona, $12,400; rolex.com

They say: “Old-school Brooklyn baking is very much Italian, very traditional. New Brooklyn is lot of people like us. More casual, more home-style. When we came here in 1999, it was all delis, you know? Now there’s a coffee shop on every corner.”

Four & Twenty Blackbirds
439 3rd Avenue
(718) 499-2917


Name: Chef Dale Talde

Known for: Besides finishing sixth on Top Chef? Probably the pretzeled dumplings.

Wearing: Jaquet Droz SW Chrono $17,300; jaquet-droz.com

He says: “There’s an ability to take risks out here. Maybe more so before, when rent was cheap. It was the Wild West. When we opened, I couldn’t name another restaurant on Seventh Ave. Did I think I’d still be serving that pretzel dish six years later? No. But I’m happy doing it, because that’s what the neighborhood wants. This restaurant belongs to their neighborhood. If you’re a chef, and you haven’t caught onto that yet, you’re fucking lost.”

Talde
369 Seventh Avenue
(347) 916-0031


Name: Chef Erin Shambura

Known for: Creating a buzzy, wine-focused Italian restaurant that actually lives up to the hype.

Wearing: Hermès Arceau Chrono Titane, $5,100; hermes.comShe says: “We wanted a 1950s Italy feel, but in a modern-day Brooklyn setting. I lived in the Veneto, about 30 kilometers from Venice. The traditional, hand-extruded pasta has sentimental value to me. We’ve got this Tajarin, an egg-based noodle, a play on carbonara, so instead of heavy black pepper in the sauce, the black pepper is in the actual noodle. We’re serving it with ramps, house-cured pancetta, finished with an organic egg … People have so much more knowledge about food than they ever have. They’re eating so many more things. So we can have the pastas, but also sardines and whole fish, presented on the bone. It’s beautiful.”

Fausto
348 Flatbush Avenue
(917) 909-1427


Name: Chef Vincent Fraissange & Cat Alexander

Known for: One of the borough’s smartest seasonal menus, dished up at an unpretentious bistro hidden under the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

Wearing: (Vincent, right) Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Chronograph, $23,900; jaeger-lecoultre.com + (Cat, left) Throne Watches Fragment 2.0, $495; thronewatches.com

They say: “We got married three years ago, and started a catering company. We were looking for spaces, basically a commissary kitchen, and saw the ‘For Lease’ sign. We live like a block away, and this was a famous butcher shop in the neighborhood, Graham Avenue Meats, a staple for like thirty years. Once we signed the lease, we were like, ‘Man, the neighborhood really needs a restaurant.’ So we just went for it.”

Pheasant
445 Graham Avenue
(718) 675-5588


Name: Chef Justin Bazdarich

Known for: Initiating Brooklynites to gourmet-level, rustic wood-fired eats.

Wearing: Patek Philippe Ref. 5905P Chronograph with Annual Calendar, $78,250; patek.com

He says: “My other restaurants [Speedy Romeo] have wood-burning ovens. At first, New York City said we couldn’t have a wood-burning grill. We had to figure out all this stuff with permitting, but we got it done. So I’m sticking with that wood-fired theme here [at Oxomoco], but just doing Mexican cuisine.”

Oxomoco
128 Greenpoint Avenue
(646) 688-4180

Aero-Aesthetics: The Untold Story of the Aviation Watch

By Sam Fritsch

The aesthetics of enlisted men have been kicking off fashion crazes for centuries, often by way of civilian trendsetters. Consider Humphrey Bogart’s trench coat, Tom Cruise’s Ray Bans, Andy Warhol’s camouflage prints. Or, in the case of the pilot’s wristwatch, Charles Lindbergh and Professor Philip Weems.

The evolution of the aviation watch from a practical instrument to modern wardrobe staple is woven into “Time and Navigation,” on display at The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. The exhibit explores how the intersection of time and navigation has changed and shaped our world over the last three centuries. It’s broken up into four sections: seagoing navigation, space navigation, satellite navigation, and air navigation. The latter is of particular interest, as it highlights the unique challenges associated with adapting techniques that worked at sea for use in the air.

Artifacts on show include early chronometers, sextants, and charts used by famous aviators. There’s also interwar flying gear and all types of radio equipment, plus the crystal oscillator of the 1920s, which electrically vibrated a crystal, measured its resonance, and gave the time down to the microsecond. But the real treasure is the 1930s-era Longines’ Lindbergh Hour Angle Watch — and the story behind it.

Navigation during the pioneering days of aviation was a struggle. Airplanes weren’t ideal places to do mathematical calculations: there was an open cockpit, pilots wore thick gloves, and the sky was often obscured, making it difficult to see the horizon. Also, the tools weren’t good. Accuracy suffered; pilots didn’t always end up where they thought they were going.

Roger Connor, curator of the “Time and Navigation” exhibition, says that on Charles Lindbergh’s famous 1927 flight from New York to Paris, he didn’t bring a radio or a sextant because they simply didn’t work very well. These tools were also heavy, and he’d rather carry extra fuel to accommodate for navigational errors. Incredibly, when Lindbergh became the first person to make a nonstop solo transatlantic flight, he did so using a compass and a clock.

Charles A. Lindbergh poses in front of Ryan NYP “Spirit of St. Louis outside a hangar in St. Louis, Missouri, May 11, 1927. Image provided by National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.

But he was nicknamed “Lucky Lindy” for a reason: on the day of his historic trip, the net wind drift across the Atlantic was zero, ideal conditions for navigation. After he made headlines, other pilots thought the trip would be equally as easy; many were injured or killed trying to replicate similar flights. Soon, aviators realized the complexities of negotiating long-range flying.

“Lindbergh himself got lost a couple times (while flying) and finally the lightbulb goes on for him that he needs to figure out how to navigate, because no one else had figured out how to navigate well in an airplane,” explains Connor. “He started asking around and finally someone told him, ‘Oh, this P.V.H. Weems guy has been doing a lot of work on this problem and he’s got some pretty good ideas.’”

Celestial navigation innovator and instructor, P.V.H. Weems.
Image provided by National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.

Philip Van Horn Weems, an Olympic wrestler and Annapolis graduate, was a decorated veteran of both World Wars and the Godfather of modern avigation. As a US naval officer in the late 1920s and early 1930s, he’d pursued new ways of approaching navigation, ultimately creating a new standard for tabulating Greenwich hour angle to improve accuracy, a technique that the military would use for another three decades. This development earned him a position teaching at the Naval Academy at the dawn of precision flying and, later, early space travel. In 1953, Weems was awarded the Magellanic Premium for his contributions to navigation, an honor that has been given only 33 times since its establishment in 1786.

But as far as his developments have gotten him, Weems had a humble beginning: he started with a simple Waltham torpedo boat wristwatch, which was a standard early 20th century military chronometer. He added a hacking feature to it, meaning he could continually adjust it to the second. This new “hack” watch allowed airplane navigators to set the time on their watches using radio signals, instead of setting their time in port like they did with ships.

“Why is this a big deal? Well, if you can’t adjust it to the second, you might be up to thirty seconds off the minute, even if it’s technically set accurately,” Connor explains. “And that type of inaccuracy could mean you’re flying a few miles off of the equator, so it’s a big error. The ability to set the watch to the second really simplifies the process of calculation, and that’s what it’s all about in the airplane: you have to do it quickly and easily.”

After the two men met in 1928, Weems gave Lindbergh one of these second-setting watches and taught him how to use it. Soon after, the Navy assigned Weems to teach Lindbergh celestial navigation, which differs from traditional navigation because the movement of the stars is slightly different than that of the sun. The two came up with the idea of a watch that measured celestial time, so that airplane navigators didn’t have to work out corrections mathematically. Instead, they’d just check the time on their wrist.

The Lindbergh-Longines Hour-Angle Watch wristwatch, marketed in the mid-1930s, eliminated a simple but troublesome calculation in celestial computations.
Image by Eric Long, provided by National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.

Lindbergh and Weems went to Longines with the idea of creating the Hour Angle Watch, which used Weems’s method of calculating the celestial fix. The bezel and dial of the watch would “allow navigators to read off the hour angle of a celestial object at Greenwich, eliminating a simple but troublesome calculation.” Longines was ecstatic at the idea of making a Lindbergh watch, and aggressively marketed the collection in the mid-1930s. Because of Lindbergh’s fame, the watches became wildly popular, and not just among aviators. In doing so, the duo became unlikely sartorial heroes, making the flight-ready aesthetic into a salable item, helping blaze a trail for decades of high-style, aero-inspired timepieces.

“The aviation watch became a fashion accessory and it’s funny because, going back to Lindbergh and Weems, they’re the ones who actually kind of created that fashion craze,” Connor explains. “The practical watches had big knobs so you could adjust them with those thick pilot gloves on, but obviously they were shrunk down for the fashion watch. It wasn’t really for aviators anymore, it was really so you could walk around and say, ‘Oh yeah, I have a Lindbergh watch.’”

Ancient Artifacts

Bulgari’s new watch pays homage to both the past and the future.

By Emily Selter

Photos by Doug Young

Emperor Caracalla, who ruled the Roman Empire from 211 until 217 A.D., was notorious for his cruelty. After ordering the assassination of his brother Geta, and murdering more than 10,000 of his sibling’s supporters, Caracalla enacted a damnatio memoriae, a “condemnation of memory.” This edict made it a capital offense to even utter Geta’s name. Sculptures that depicted him were destroyed, coins bearing his image were melted, and his moniker was wiped from papyrus records. Caracalla himself was assassinated six years later, but passing a damnatio memoriae on his name would have been futile. His memory will never be expunged from history—one of civilization’s largest and most important ancient monuments bears his name.

New lighting, courtesy of Bulgari, reveals centuries-old interior detailing at Museo di Rome.

The Baths of Caracalla were completed in 217 A.D., and were among the grandest public structures of their type in ancient Rome. The expansive complex encompassed saunas, salons, studios—even athletic facilities. They fell into disuse after the city was sacked but, miraculously, the pozzolana and marble edifice still stand today. The site contains numerous artistic treasures, from elaborate sculptures to ancient mosaics. Scholars and archaeologists have spent almost two centuries excavating and restoring the baths, but the monument remains shrouded in its own unique mythos, holding on tightly to its many secrets.

Treasures like these are what draw people to Rome from near and far; even after centuries, the city’s remarkable ancient ruins are a continual source of fascination. They are especially beloved by the proud Roman luxury goods brand Bulgari. Founded in the Eternal City in 1884, the company has long sponsored cultural conservation in its hometown. Recent endeavors include the painstaking (and dazzling) restoration of the Spanish Steps, the grand staircase between the Piazza di Spagna and Trinità dei Monti church, and, yes, a section of tiles in the famed Baths of Caracalla.

Restoring the mosaic tiling at the Baths of Caracalla in several phases during 2015.

The polychrome-marble mosaic flooring, located in the structure’s western gymnasium, had been in complete disrepair. (It also hadn’t been seen by the public in more than four decades; in an attempt to prevent further degradation, the tiles were covered with fabric and soil.) In 2015, Bulgari helped fund a complex, multiphase restoration effort. The following year, CEO Jean-Christophe Babin joined local officials in revealing the mosaic, a pattern of undulating geometric triangles crafted from brightly saturated tiles. It earned praise in the arts community, and garnered international news coverage.

Still, Bulgari’s investment in preserving Roman relics extends beyond goodwill or recognition. The brand’s designers frequently take inspiration from these monuments, channeling the city’s vibrant past to create some of the world’s most innovative watches and jewelry. Look closely, and you’ll see the shape of sidewalk joints along the glamorous Via dei Condotti reinterpreted as a bracelet link; the Spanish Steps in the arrangement of a diamond necklace; the Baths of Caracalla mosaic pattern in pendants and earrings of the Divas’ Dream Collection. Modern riffs on that rich Roman pedigree that Bulgari continues to protect.

The Octo Carbon’s matte-black finish feels at once antique and futuristic, and jibes with both bright and neutral tones.

Similarly, the new Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater Carbon represents a clever (and seamless) blending of classic references with contemporary materials and applications, a striking integration of the past and future, old-world Italian craftsmanship gone high-tech.  

As the name suggests, this new timepiece is made out of an epoxy thermosetting resin called Carbon Thin Ply, or CTP. The material is remarkably strong and incredibly lightweight. But it can be difficult and time-consuming to manufacture, and Bulgari hadn’t worked with the composite before developing this new Octo model.

Both the Octo Finissimo Carbon (above) and Tourbillon Automatic (next image) feature weight-saving techniques and geometric motifs inspired by the coffering on the ceiling of the Basilica of Maxentius from 312 A.D.

“The challenge of using this material was to transform its constraints into an opportunity to develop and propose a stunning timepiece,” says Fabrizio Buonamassa, the director of Bulgari’s Watches Design Center.

Traditionally, getting quality sound transmission from a minute repeater case demanded roominess and rigidity. Rose gold has long been the default choice, joined, in recent years, by titanium.  But CTP is lighter than either, and offers unique physical advantages—namely the rare acoustic properties of its polymers. Buonamassa went a step further with the Octo Carbon’s design, with strategic incisions that amplify resonance inside the case, compensating for the absence of substantial internal volume. This allowed Bulgari to employ its in-house BVL 362 movement, the world’s thinnest repeater caliber, while still endowing the Octo Carbon with powerful sound output.

Incredibly, the new watch is just 6.85 mm thick, nearly 10 percent louder than an equivalent titanium piece, and weighs less than a regulation PGA golf ball.

But this isn’t some hollow, artless technical study. True to the brand, Buonamassa paired his super-progressive design to ancient motifs, naming architectural elements among his inspirations. (The octagon was a common interior detailing motif in Roman antiquity.) Owing to variations inherent to CTP, the patterns and textures of each case and dial are unique. Like the Via dei Condotti or Spanish Steps or Baths of Caracalla, or Bulgari itself, every Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater Carbon is one of a kind, a timeless entity, simultaneously a product of Rome and, above all else, totally unforgettable.

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