Imagine you’ve just spent $3 million on a new Bugatti Chiron, and want an appropriately pricey and suitably unique watch to go along with it. Innovative watchmaker Jacob & Co. has exactly what you want — the Bugatti Chiron Blue Sapphire Crystal. This incredible watch is a pièce unique, meaning there is only one in the world, and it has been valued at — please sit down for this — $1.5 million.
Digital Trends spoke to Jacob & Co.’s CEO Benjamin Arabov about the work that went into making this watch, and what makes it so special.
Jacob & Co. and Bugatti
Unless you’re a watch aficionado with a love of outrageous timepieces, there’s a chance you may not know Jacob & Co. The company was founded in 1986, has its headquarters in New York, and is best known for its stunning designs, daring use of complications, willingness to push the boundaries of what’s possible with different materials, and, yes — massive price tags.
Jacob & Co. has worked with Bugatti since 2019, initially producing special-edition models based on its Twin Turbo Furious and Epic X Chrono watches, before launching the all-new Bugatti Chiron Tourbillon in 2020. It set itself apart by featuring a tiny “working” version of the Chiron’s incredible 8.0-liter, 1,500 horsepower W16 engine as a complication inside, giving the already insane-looking timepiece even more visual drama.
Shaping sapphire crystal
The W16 engine returns for the one-off Bugatti Chiron Blue Sapphire Crystal, Jacob & Co’s latest incarnation of the design, which you see here. This time it’s mounted inside a fully transparent case made of sapphire crystal, and if that wasn’t challenging enough, the company decided to make the sapphire blue.
“The fully transparent sapphire crystal case and making it blue are what separates this watch [from the previous models],” Arabov explained. “A watch case made completely out of sapphire crystal is one of the top achievements in contemporary high watchmaking. It’s also quite challenging. Giving the case a blue hue presented additional challenges.”
Understanding how complicated and time-consuming it is to make a sapphire crystal case is key to understanding what makes the Bugatti Chiron Blue Sapphire Crystal so desirable. Arabov talked us through the long and complex process:
“It takes about six months of planning and design using Computer Aided Design (CAD) and other automated tools. The sapphire crystal is man-made and grown from aluminum oxide powder heated to about 2,200 degrees Celsius. It takes about 15 days for the sapphire to grow to about the size of the coffee can, when a slice is cut off and machined for about 80 hours until it becomes the watch’s uniquely shaped 57.8mm by 44.4mm case. Then comes the hand-polishing, which is the most challenging and most important step. It takes about another 80 hours and requires different hand-polishing techniques based on the different shapes and textures of the case.”
If anything were to go wrong during this time, the whole process would, of course, have to start all over again. But what could go wrong?
“The mix of geometric surfaces — cylindrical, spherical, and curved — makes it extremely complicated to machine and polish, and the hardness of sapphire adds to the difficulty. It is nearly as hard as diamond, so diamond-surfaced tools are used for the cutting and polishing. This hardness means there is less stability, so breakage can and sometimes does occur during the manufacturing process.”
Make it blue
What about adding a color to the sapphire crystal? Arabov said “it adds challenges to the process,” before explaining what it takes, while at the same time revealing that this was probably a bit of an understatement.
“The color consists of a proprietary mix of rare earth elements, metals, and minerals in a process known as ‘doping.’ It’s added to the aluminum oxide powder at the very beginning of the operation [to grow the sapphire crystal]. To create the rich blue hue of the case, more doping agents were added, but adding color changes the chemical stability of the sapphire and increases the chance there will be inclusions in the piece, which will make it impossible to use.”
Inclusions are visible marks which occur in both natural and synthetic sapphire crystal, often after it has been heated at high temperatures. Inclusions are obviously undesirable in a piece designed to be completely transparent, and Arabov said if any were spotted, they would have to start again.
“In order to get one usable color piece, sometimes you may have to produce between two and 10 samples, which is costly and time-consuming.”
The blue color extends to the iconic EB Bugatti logo inside the case, the hour markers and the tips of the Rhodium hands, and the plaque that reads piéce unique on the case back. The blue is complemented by gold accents and a white rubber strap.
The Bugatti Chiron Blue Sapphire Crystal’s entire case is made from sapphire crystal with titanium for the crown and the two buttons on its base. Inside is Jacob & Co.’s manual, 51-jewel JCAM37 movement, and a grand total of 578 hand-assembled components. The animated Bugatti W16 engine is captivating both in the way it moves and in the technical skill it took to create. The 16 pistons frantically pump away and the two turbos (not four, as in the real Chiron) spin at the same time. It’s as beautiful as it is ostentatious.
The engine uses a different power reserve from the watch’s movement, but both are wound using the crown. Twist it clockwise to wind the movement and counterclockwise for the engine. Press the titanium-capped pusher on the right, and the engine springs into life.
References to the car don’t stop there. The power reserve indicator on the right of the dial that has been modeled on a fuel gauge, and the 30-degree flying tourbillon is seen through the transparent top part of the case that’s shaped like the grille on the Chiron. Arabov talked more about the tourbillon:
“The 30-degree angle of the flying tourbillon was achieved so it can be viewed through the replica of the horseshoe-shaped grille. It’s the first time Jacob & Co. has used an inclined tourbillon, and the ‘flying’ part of the tourbillon means that the regulating organ is only supported on one side, so the tourbillon is even more mesmerizing.”
Arabov also pointed out one of his favorite aspects of the watch that could get missed.
“The thing that isn’t immediately noticeable, but is undeniably vital to the operation of the timepiece, is the suspension holding the movement. There are four screws that look like shock absorbers, and they are more than decoration. They actually suspend the movement in four places. There are two winding crowns and a pusher on the back of the case, and because of the suspension of the movement, we created and patented a special automotive-style jointed transverse system so the crown posts aren’t damaged by the movement going up and down inside the case.”
If the Bugatti Chiron car is the ultimate expression of automotive excess, Jacob & Co’s blue sapphire watch must surely be its horological equivalent. It is unquestionably extravagant and hugely flamboyant, but it’s also spectacular from an engineering standpoint, and a wonderful example of how despite not being electronic in any way, a traditional watch can still be enjoyed by tech fans.
Given there is only one of these amazing watches in existence, you’re more likely to see its inspiration in real life, as Bugatti committed to building 500 Chiron cars. This level of rarity only adds to its appeal, but means we’ll probably only ever marvel at it here, through words, pictures, and video.