am fascinated by this model.” During our meeting in the lounge of a Geneva hotel, Benjamin Arabov cannot take his eyes off the Jean Bugatti, the year’s major launch for Jacob & Co., the brand that bears his father’s name – or more precisely, his father’s first name.
The new watch is itself named after an heir: Jean Bugatti was none other than the son of Ettore Bugatti, who founded the eponymous French carmaker with Italian roots in 1909, and pioneered the ultra-luxury automobile segment. Bugatti is still one of the world’s most exclusive brands.
“What is interesting about Jean Bugatti is that he designed cars that went in a totally different direction from what the manufacturer had been doing until then,” says Benjamin Arabov. “Similarly, this timepiece is totally different from anything Jacob & Co. has done before.” A century apart, these two heirs appear to have opened a dialogue, based on their shared desire to perpetuate a legacy by transforming it.
- Born in 1909, the year his father Ettore set up his own automotive company in Molsheim, Alsace, Jean Bugatti was strongly inspired by the creativity of the “Roaring Twenties”. When he joined the family business, he created masterpieces such as the duotone Type 50 series, the Type 41 Royale with the longest wheelbase ever and the Type 57SC Atlantic, the most expensive collector’s car in the world.
A century apart, two heirs appear to have opened a dialogue, based on their shared desire to perpetuate a legacy by transforming it.
- Benjamin and Jacob Arabov
A reallocation of roles between father and son
The arrival of the son, who works in marketing and operations, has allowed the father to devote himself to his favourite activity: pure creation. “We divided the tasks between us, which gives him a great deal of freedom to express his ideas, without having to be everywhere all the time.” While the brand’s roots were in jewellery, Arabov’s schedule reflects Jacob & Co.’s increased focus on watchmaking, which now accounts for the majority of its business. He spends one week a month in Geneva, two weeks in New York and the rest travelling elsewhere in the world.
The brand has had to adapt to an era that favours heritage watchmaking more than ever. It’s a far cry from the 2000s, when all the codes of this classic art were blithely broken. The new Jean Bugatti is as much the embodiment of a generational revival as it is the symbol of a new era for watchmaking in general.
- The Bugatti Atlantic had an extremely long bonnet and an oval-shaped rear end extending almost to the ground, from which six thin tailpipes protruded. The Atlantic’s raised seam ran vertically from the hinge in the split bonnet to the tail. These proportions were unheard of in the automotive world at the time. The Jean Bugatti timepiece pays tribute to these avant-garde and artistic interpretations.
However, Jacob & Co. is not abandoning its more extravagant side: “The collaboration with Bugatti has resulted in models that are polar opposites,” says Benjamin Arabov. “On the one hand, there is the Twin Turbo, with its extreme codes, its dominance of the wrist – one of our most successful collections. And on the other hand, we have the Jean Bugatti, still a complication but with elegant and more classical lines. These two faces reflect the contemporary identity of Jacob & Co.”
The brand has had to adapt to an era that favours heritage watchmaking more than ever. It’s a far cry from the 2000s, when all the codes of this classic art were blithely broken.
- The Jean Bugatti timepiece, a major launch for Jacob & Co. in 2022.
Don’t judge a book by its cover
Let’s start with the exterior of the new timepiece. With its 46 mm case – which is relatively modest for a Jacob & Co. model! – the Jean Bugatti represents a new design direction for the brand, a more retro styling in an era fascinated by vintage. Featuring numerous rose gold appliques, this model has the general appearance of a vintage Bugatti dashboard, with openings on the bottom of the dial reminiscent of the grille and headlights of a 1930s roadster. It is available in two versions: in a rose gold case with cream-white dial or white gold case with blue dial (both limited to 57 pieces).
The Jean Bugatti follows the most traditional codes of watchmaking, with a round case and bezel, discreet lugs, vintage mushroom pushers, blued hands and cursive applied numerals. “It would almost look tame if it weren’t for its unique layout,” the brand’s publicity material states – an assertion that is not exactly... ordinary at Jacob & Co. Indeed, the timepiece’s moderation is perhaps its loudest claim: in the context of the brand as a whole, this model stands out as much for what it is not as for what it is...
“The collaboration with Bugatti has resulted in models that are polar opposites. These two faces reflect the contemporary identity of Jacob & Co.”
The apparent classicism visible at first glance is, however, slightly misleading. On closer inspection, several details are puzzling. What are these two large openings at 5 and 7 o’clock under discs of smoked sapphire? Why are the hands pointing in a direction that makes no apparent sense? And is that a vertical large date at 6 o’clock? To answer these questions, you have to look inside, at the intriguing device that passes for an engine.
A need for speed(s)
A pair of one-minute flying tourbillons. A high-frequency double-retrograde chronograph with split hands and digital jumping 30-minute counter. Peripheral hands. Smooth pushers coordinated by a column wheel system linked to a separate barrel and regulating organ. It is often said that simplicity is the most complex thing to achieve. The highly innovative JCFM09 calibre is the perfect embodiment of this adage.
On the surface, what do we see when the chronograph is engaged? Here again, things are not as they seem. The two blued hands in the centre of the dial do not indicate the hours and minutes; they measure the seconds (the longer one) and the tens of seconds (the shorter one). These are the chronograph hands, the central element of the Jean Bugatti.
The Jean Bugatti represents a new design direction for the brand, a more retro styling in an era fascinated by vintage.
When the start/stop pusher is activated, the first hand starts moving from 0 to 10. As it reaches 10, it jumps backwards to 0 and starts its course anew, as the other hand jumps forward from 00 to 10. As time advances, the first retrograde hand keeps moving up like the rpms on a dashboard counter, and back as the gears change. The other hand soon reaches 60, at which point it also jumps backwards to 00.
At that point, in the oval medallion at 6 o’clock, a disc with gilded numerals instantly jumps from 00 to 01. This 30-minute counter is made of sapphire in order not to obscure the view of the pair of tourbillons. This separate second with double retrograde hands and a digital jumping minute disc is a completely unique feature.
But that’s not all. When the chronograph is stopped and reset, the second hands cannot jump backwards, regardless of the position they’ve stopped at. If they haven’t reached the end of their travel, the spring that propels them backwards hasn’t amassed sufficient energy. In order to execute the reset, they slowly continue to their final position, and only then can they make their final retrograde leap. The Jean Bugatti’s interpretation of rpms and gears is thus in tune with that of an automobile.
You have to look at the back of the watch to fully grasp the sophistication of the movement and its 470 components. This model is being presented by the brand as potentially its “most demanding watchmaking project ever, even for the creator of uber-complications such as the Astronomia, Twin Turbo Fast & Furious or Bugatti Chiron.”
Indeed, to manage this multi-calculation chronograph system, the JCFM09 calibre is fitted with a double set of regulating organs. A small balance wheel on the back of the movement is dedicated to the chronograph operation, as is a separate barrel. Together, they provide a two-hour power reserve of high-accuracy measurement. Coordinated by a column wheel of extremely refined construction, this chronograph has been designed to offer the smoothest possible operation and the best haptic feedback. Minimal force is required to engage the pushers.
Since, as we have seen, the centre of the dial is occupied by the chronograph hands, the “standard” hour and minute hands are translated into red arrows located on the outer rim of the dial. They are positioned at different heights because, as they run on the same scale, they must cross paths as the minute pointer catches up with the hour pointer, i.e. 24 times a day. These red hands are directly linked to the movement’s timekeeping parts, regulated by a pair of one-minute tourbillons running at 21,600 vph, which operate side by side.
The timepiece’s apparent moderation is perhaps its loudest claim: in the context of the brand as a whole, this model stands out as much for what it is not as for what it is...
The high number of components in the movement is a direct consequence of its dual structure: two different and interconnected systems co-exist on the same mainplate. One is the timekeeping part, with a dedicated barrel, gear train and twin tourbillons driving the peripheral display. The other is the chronograph part which has its own barrel, stacked on top of the other one, to share access to the crown-operated hand-winding.
This barrel is linked to a dedicated regulating organ with a short hairspring, allowing the smooth balance wheel to oscillate at 36,000 beats per hour, or 5 Hz. It sits in between the flying tourbillons. When the elaborate system of clutches is engaged by the pushers and coordinated by the column wheel, the balance wheel immediately reaches its optimal amplitude and frequency, allowing it to drive the chronograph hands with maximum precision.
It doesn’t stop there. A pair of extremely long and thin springs emerge from the sides of the balance wheel bridge, which is openworked in three dimensions. These springs accumulate the energy needed by each retrograde hand to jump back at the appropriate time. A star-shaped wheel drives the instantaneous jump of the 30-minute counter disc.
- Jean Bugatti and the Royale Type 41 Roadster
The JCFM09 calibre is a forest of springs, levers, clutches and mirror-polished bridges. The openworked components are highly polished and bevelled to stand out against the blacked-out circular-grained mainplate. The Jean Bugatti is a timepiece to behold, both on the front and the back.
It is this balance between high-flying mechanics and innovative retro design that will “seduce a new clientele,” says Benjamin Arabov. These are collectors who “may already appreciate the great classics of Patek Philippe or Vacheron Constantin and who will take a new look at what we do.”
The brand has received numerous requests for smaller-diameter cases. Consequently, “all the developments we have planned for the next two years are in the 42-44 mm range. We are treading a much more conservative path in this respect,” continues the representative of the new generation.
This development is also intended to satisfy a new and increasingly youthful clientele. “Until a few years ago, we didn’t really have any customers under the age of 40. Today, new customers in their twenties and thirties are keen on watchmaking creativity and have the means to fulfil their ambitions.” It is with these new generations, as well as with purists, that the Jean Bugatti will work its charm.
The JCFM09 calibre is a forest of springs, levers, clutches and mirror polished bridges. The openworked components are highly polished and bevelled to stand out against the blacked-out circular-grained mainplate.
It’s a new facet of a brand born in the wake of the New York hip-hop bling scene, now diversifying its field of activity. “We are far from being satisfied with a single audience,” says Benjamin Arabov. Although it operates a few of its own boutiques, the brand continues to rely mainly on a network of third-party retailers: “They have the know-how with local customers. For example, we are looking to enter new markets in Vietnam, South Africa and Portugal. Personally, I have never even been to these countries. Who better to develop our presence there than those who are rooted in the local community?”
Moreover, now that the markets for sale and resale are practically one and the same, Jacob & Co. aims to improve its standing on the secondary market. But not by reducing its production (currently around 1,200 watches per year): “To achieve this, we need to better align supply and demand,” explains Benjamin Arabov. “If we wanted to create a strong secondary market, we could reduce supply straight away. But we prefer to bet on a future increase in demand, which will create higher value on the secondary market, within two to five years.”
The Jean Bugatti also fits into this equation. In the background, Jacob & Co. whose creations have so far been appreciated mainly in the less conservative markets, such as the Middle East and China (and, of course, New York!), is now hoping to reach new audiences in the more traditional markets. But also in tech: the brand has launched its first creations in the metaverse...