Parmigiani Fleurier Bugatti Type 390: The Horological Essence Of Japanese Mecha
Megazord . . . ACTIVATED!
If you are a child of the late 1980s and early 1990s like me, you very well may know all about Megazord and how the five Dinozords (Tyrannosaurus, Mastadon, Triceratops, Sabertooth Tiger, and Pterodactyl Dinozord) combine to form the ultimate monster fighting machine. The Dinozords are, of course, the giant mecha (robots) that accompany the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers’ mystical powers to mechanically connect to create Megazord, a large multipiece mecha.
Out of all the weird things from my childhood, Megazord stands out as powerful image of what is possible with science and technology (and a lot of sci-fi magic) and has strangely stuck in my mind for years. In a way, I think it subtly influences – along with a variety of other cultural ideas – how I think about mechanical engineering and design as I recall it from time to time when brainstorming how to create some new mechanism.
Having completely independent machines able to connect to each other to create a new machine with new functionality is an amazing concept and, in most instances, would require tremendous understanding of hundreds of variables to make work. Perhaps that is why I enjoyed it so much: in a practical sense, it represents advanced engineering that implies a whole host of technologies yet to be invented.
The same can extend to the Transformers or even the Jaegers from Pacific Rim: mechanical marvels as a conduit for engineering dreams.
When I first saw the Parmigiani Bugatti Type 390, I was reminded of this concept, and Megazord crept into my mind. The Bugatti Type 390 represents a new way of developing a movement and thanks to a worm gear, stacked movement, and hinged case is like nothing else on the market.
Let’s dig a little deeper and perhaps you’ll see why this watch reminds me of early 1990s mecha creations like Megazord.
Parmigiani Bugatti Type 390
The Bugatti concept is the pinnacle of creative watchmaking within the fiercely independent brand Parmigiani.
Beginning in 2004 as an idea after founder Michel Parmigiani visited the Bugatti manufacture, the Type 370 and Type 390 are atypical in pretty much every respect.
The cylindrical foundation was first inspired by the engine blocks within the Bugatti automobiles but since then has become distinctive in its own right. The new Type 390 builds on that and takes inspiration from the Bugatti Chiron in all its automotive glory.
The Type 390 shifts somewhat dramatically from its predecessor, creating a display that appears traditional at first glance but upon closer inspection reveals that the PF390 movement is far from traditional.
The main display is in a wedge-shaped portion of the case providing a clear view into the motion works that drive the hour and minute hands. Pretty straightforward so far, the gears are sandwiched within skeletonized bridges that lay bare the inner workings of the time display.
But that access also shows that there is nothing else there: in this entire space there is no other part of the movement aside from those four wheels.
Okay, that isn’t entirely accurate. Obscured behind the numerals and minute track is an axle running across the width of the movement featuring two gears oriented perpendicularly to the time display at each end and a worm gear in the center.
A worm gear is a spiral with the negative shape of a gear tooth that acts like a screw to slowly drive a regular gear. This axle, the only other part of the movement that rests within this assembly, is what interfaces with the actual movement that holds all the critical components. This is where we return to the concept of Megazord.
Like a sci-fi robot
The cylindrical movement is a fully functioning assembly that houses the mainspring barrels, power reserve display, winding mechanism, flying tourbillon, and planetary gears to translate the power into the appropriate rotational speed.
It exists as a complete assembly that, when wound, will keep perfect time. It just doesn’t display the time. But it still is a fully functioning movement with everything it needs to operate as a time-measuring mechanism.
The motion works and its frame are a standalone mechanism of sorts. While it’s true that it needs an input to move, it is a structure that is fully assembled separately from the cylindrical movement and does not need any of that assembly to be complete.
The cylindrical movement can be inserted into a cradle on the motion works assembly and secured, but the motion works is fine without it. If anything, it acts more like an additional module that can be added onto the movement to produce a new indication like a moon phase or calendar.
It may be a stretch, but this really reminds me of Megazord in that it combines two machines to make a bigger, more epic machine. One is the powerhouse and nerve center, the component that controls the show like how Tyrannosaurus Dinozord formed the head and torso of Megazord and its pilot commanded the combo. The motion works and time display are supporting features like an appendage that increases functionality.
The reference may be incredibly nerdy, but I feel the analogy gets at the heart of how the movement was designed in the first place, so unlike the original. The time display on the original Bugatti Type 370 was on one end of the cylindrical movement (more accurately a stacked oval) with the balance and escapement on the opposite end.
Everything worked together and the assembly (while unique) could be said to be fairly traditional in application. A largely standard movement architecture was just split between a bunch of levels to create a specific form factor.
But the Type 390 is anything but traditional.
First, nearly everything is co-axial, which necessitates added complexity to achieve the proper gear ratios from the mainspring barrels in the center to the tourbillon at the end of the movement.
This is accomplished by a set of planetary gear systems to translate the high-torque, slow rotation of the mainspring into the lower torque and higher rotation needed to drive the flying tourbillon.
However, since it is a tourbillon, the output speed doesn’t need to match the speed of the escape wheel but only the one-minute rotation of the tourbillon. This keeps the torque higher for the power-hungry tourbillon and maintains the overall coaxial design.
The mainspring is actually two serially operating mainsprings: twin barrels that unwind one after the other to increase the power reserve, requiring another planetary gear system between them.
Moving further toward the crown we find the power reserve indicator using a differential with conical gears to drive a sapphire crystal tube to indicate the state of wind. Finally, we have the winding and time-setting gears that are operated via the crown at the end of the cylinder movement.
All together, this movement does its job without any outside input. It does, however, have two outputs to drive the time portion of the movement, basically cutouts in the movement plates that expose the wheels so that the two perpendicular wheels on the motion works can interface with the self-contained movement.
These openings are unique in that any geared system could theoretically be driven off these outputs, and depending how one were to make the calculations pretty much any display could be implemented.
That reminds me again of Megazord or, for a more down-to-earth example, a farm tractor with a PTO (power take-off) that allows anything that can connect to a shaft to be powered by the tractor’s rotational energy.
The systems can be fundamentally separate and independent of each other, yet one can add capabilities to the other. This technically could be the ultimate modular movement, with engineers creating a wide variety of mechanisms to be driven off the outputs.
Small details, big deals
And if the entire method of construction isn’t enough to get you fully excited about the technical challenges within the PF390 movement, then other small details might put the cherries on top.
The planetary gear systems each feature three miniature planet gears that have the (unconfirmed) world’s smallest ball bearings at their center. At 1.28 mm in diameter, the ball bearings have micro-sized ceramic balls of 0.2 mm diameter, otherwise known as “ridiculously tiny.”
There are a total of nine of these recordbreaking bearings in the movement, and this detail doesn’t even merit top billing in a watch like this.
Further, the crown offers probably the most tactile crown experience I’ve seen in a long time. Instead of unscrewing or pulling the crown out, the user pushes the crown and twists it clockwise a quarter turn to unlock it. The crown pops out, under spring tension, to the winding position.
The mainspring barrels can be wound, and once the reserve reaches the top the crown disengages and cannot wind further to protect the mechanism.
Then you can pull the crown out one position to set the time, which engages the far-right wheel on the worm axle. After setting the time the crown can be pushed all the way in and twisted another quarter turn clockwise to relock it.
This mechanism is more like high-end electronics than a watch crown, adding an awesome tactility not usually found on any watch regardless of cost. This feature was first implemented on the Type 372 and it remains an alluring detail.
But perhaps you just want to customize it for yourself; well, Parmigiani has you covered. Nearly all the details, from the case material, movement materials and coatings, sapphire crystal color, finishes, and strap options are fully customizable, with so many options that the vast number of combinations compared to the extremely limited number of watches ensures that every watch is likely a unique piece.
And all the options barely change the price (relative to its approximate CHF 300,000 price tag), so it’s not only an extremely unique mechanical creation, but you will have the only one like it as it will be built to your tastes.
The factors that go into this watch to make it such an incredible horological machine dwarf some of the other watches on the market in this price range. Often, those watches are very limited in number and options and they may represent less creativity or mechanical innovation than this as well.
For example, how many watches have a case that hinges in the center to conform to your wrist? How many are constructed on two entirely different planes in different directions? How many include nearly complete customizability for not much more than the asking price?
The answer is not many, if any. I can understand this watch is a grail even for millionaires, but from a creativity and engineering perspective the Parmigiani Bugatti Type 390 is easily within the top 20 coolest watches I’ve seen. And that is saying something.
So let’s take it down to the bones and see what it’s made of!
- Wowza Factor * 9.99 I don’t think I have heard any reaction other than wow for this watch!
- Late Night Lust Appeal * 125.5» 1,230.734 m/s2 Given that the Chiron inspiration can travel more than 260 mph, there are enough G forces at play with the Type 390 to keep you plastered against your chair for ages!
- M.G.R. * 70.6! This watch continues where the Type 370 left off and creates yet another incredible engineering feat, definitely ranking high as a very geeky movement!
- Added-Functionitis * Mild Power reserve, the old stand-by requirement for manual wind watches. Gotta love it, and with that small addition the Type 390 requires children’s strength Gotta-HAVE-That cream for the very fast horological awesomeness!
- Ouch Outline * 12.5 Impaling your gums on a piece of wood that was hiding in your brown rice! Every year, hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) of non-edible items make their way into our food supply. It’s understandable, there is a LOT of food processing that takes place across the world. Still, when you accidentally impale your gums with a shard of wood (or stem or husk) that is camouflaged as brown rice, the moment is not your favorite. Still, I’d probably take it again if it meant getting this bad boy on the wrist!
- Mermaid Moment * A worm gear? A hinged case?! Love is built right in and makes me want to send out invitations to the ceremony asap!
- Awesome Total * 1,258 Begin with caliber number (390) and multiply by the frequency of the balance in Hz (4), then subtract the number of components in the movement (302) for a fittingly huge awesome total!
For more information, please visit www.parmigiani.com/en/high-complications/bugatti.
Quick Facts Parmigiani Fleurier Bugatti Type 390
Case: 42.2 x 57.7 x 18.4 mm, titanium, pink gold, white gold
Movement: manual winding Caliber PF390 with one-minute flying tourbillon, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes; power reserve
Limitation: 30 pieces, 10 in each metal with customizable details
Price: Starting at CHF 295,000