I don’t know what a true-to-form, ultra-high-end Frank Gehry watch might look like, but it can’t be comfortable. Swooping titanium biting into your trapezium? I’d rather fly the 14 hours to Bilbao and encounter the man’s genius full-scale.
Still, the prospect of a Pritzker-winning architect-designed watch is compelling, especially—and this is to take nothing away from the joys of the Renzo Piano Swatch—when executed at a high level of craftsmanship.
Great architects have collaborated with watchmakers, but too often you get the sense that their only presence in the design studio was an email. Take the Richard Meier for Project Watches: an under-designed piece that relies on a famous signature for wallop, kind of a horological equivalent to the 1979 Lincoln Continental Mark V by Givenchy.
Or, ponder the admittedly gorgeous Hublot Aero Bang 44mm Oscar Niemeyer from 2011, presented to the 104-year-old architect in testament to his career. The face is chunky, nearly sparking with the citrus yellow and green of the Brazilian flag, the country for which Niemeyer designed a series of iconic federal buildings—including the Brazilian National Congress rendered on the case back. Niemeyer’s contributions to the design of the 2011 Aero Bang 44mm ended around 1960, when the building was inaugurated.
Luckily, every so often petty demands—Pritzker-level flair that goes with a suit! Cross-industry collabs! Obelisk-scale spectacle for the wrist!—are not only heard, but answered.
Yes, picked up by the ether above North America and deposited as far away as Japan, where they tickle the ears of none other than Tadao Ando, architect, legend, and casanova of concrete. In response, Ando—crassly, Pritzker class ‘95—has worked with Bulgari to create something special: a new expression of the Octo Finissimo series, with dials designed by the architect. Finally! A certified Ando design that weighs less than a million pounds.
To appreciate the mini-monumentality of the Bulgari/Ando collaboration, it’s important to know something of the architect’s work. Born in Osaka during World War II, Ando initially trained as a boxer. During a trip to Tokyo, he was inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel and two years later took up architecture, which he learned through a combination of self-study, correspondence courses, and travels to see the work of greats like Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn.
His studio, founded in his hometown in 1968, is known for using concrete as if it were mahogany, or gold. Ando’s buildings are almost exclusively made of a proprietary blend, as creamy and luscious as Earl Gray soft-serve. Besides this trademark dot pattern—made by the meticulous wooden formwork into which concrete is poured—Ando is known for a slavish devotion to natural light, use of existing landscapes, and framing perfect views. It’s almost a challenge: What if you treated the rougher materials of your life with enough care to render them beautiful?
While made of a more traditional titanium, the Octo Finissimo Automatique echoes Ando’s structures in its color, simplicity, and graphic solidity. For the face, the architect designed a spiral that begins at the seconds hand, spooling lazily outward like ripples in one of Ando’s reflecting pools (after a drunk museum patroness tosses in one of her Manolos). The lacquer-painted design, per Ando, “…unravels from minutes to seconds, until it cannot be seen.” With this watch, you can frivolously check the time or confront the world’s march towards oblivion. Your choice!
(Less dramatically, the octagonal, crisply built case stands in for Ando’s buildings, while the concentric circles represent their integration with elements of nature, like water and wind.)
Now, for the thrill of specification and the minor tragedy of availability. The Automatique is 40mm wide and just 5.15mm thick—waifish. Bulgari’s BVL 138 and its platinum mini-motor keep things humming, with up to 60 hours of power reserve. The clear sapphire case back allows a tidy view of the watch’s inner workings, with Ando’s signature obscuring only minor aspects of the mechanism. The whole piece, including titanium bracelet, is waterproof to 30 meters should you valiantly dive into the aforementioned reflecting pool to save that woman’s shoe.
On sale since December, the Tadao Ando x BVLGARI Octo Finissimo is available only in Japan, for around $18,000, depending on conversion rates. Only 200 will be made.
Rarity and distance will be obstacles for many pursuing this piece of Tado Ando design. Still, 200 watches means 199 more chances to buy than any other Ando masterpiece.
(The folks at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth remain closed to even generous offers.)