There are few places in the world where you can catch a glimpse of our galaxy. From Earth, some 30 constellations are part of the visible region of the Milky Way’s galactic plane, arcing across the night sky like a hazy wave of white light. This is but a sliver of the spectacle that is our universe, and yet it is enough to invoke awe and hint at the grandeur of the real thing.
When Bvlgari’s creative director Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani — he of the record-breaking Octo Finissimo fame — was entrusted to work his magic on MB&F’s LM FlyingT model, it was to our solar system that he looked for inspiration. The collaboration between the Rome-based haute joaillerie maison and the indie watchmaker known for its sci-fi and steampunk-themed machines could not have been more unexpected. Surprise rippled through the industry at the announcement.
“A multibillion-dollar company speaks to a midget? This is monumental, because it never happens,” MB&F founder and maverick watchmaker Maximilian Büsser told the Financial Times. The brand is no stranger to collaboration. The F in its name stands for “Friends” and famous co-conspirators of its curious collectibles include Finnish watchmaker Stepan Sarpaneva, Swiss master engraver Eddy Jaquet and clockmaker L’Epée.
A niche laboratory like this working with one of the biggest names in the luxury hemisphere was unheard of but the final product was so cohesive that it was more surprising it took this long to happen. After all, no one knows precious stones and the art of seduction with gleam and glitter better than Bvlgari, whose reputation in serious watchmaking has skyrocketed in recent years. And few could conceive entirely original reinterpretations of time-telling the way MB&F does, spurning convention to give the imagination full rein in its historically inspired Legacy Machine and contemporary Horological Machine collections.
The FlyingT, launched in 2019, is an example of its enthusiasm for the unorthodox. The ultra-feminine piece, a first for MB&F, is named after both Büsser’s wife Tiffany and the diamond-set tourbillon that takes pride of place in the model. Eschewing the horological norm of anchoring the complication to a radial and co-planar movement, the namesake flying tourbillon floats high above the dial plate, supported by the vertical movement built along a central axis to create the three-dimensional architecture that shapes all MB&F curiosities. Protected by a high sapphire crystal dome, it twirls freely like a grand mechanical ballerina, untethered and unrestrained.
Time, meanwhile, is a secret between the wearer and the watch, expressed through a second dial resting at a 50-degree angle against movement. Its incline conceals the hour and minutes from prying eyes, save those of the woman whose wrist it graces. This design masterpiece won MB&F the Prix de la Complication pour Dame at the 2019 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève.
Iterations in precious materials followed, spanning blankets of diamonds to dials mined from lapis lazuli or malachite. But collectors had never before seen anything like the FlyingT Allegra.
Büsser and Buonamassa first met at Dubai Watch Week 2017, and while the brands they represent might seem like David and Goliath respectively, there was an immediate kinship between the two personalities. In 2019, they shook hands over the idea of infusing Bvlgari’s signature glamour into the avant-garde FlyingT.
And so the FlyingT Allegra was born. It was christened after Bvlgari’s high-jewellery Allegra watch, in which gemstones of various sizes and colours join bands of diamonds in an orbit around the dial. In a similar vein, Buonamassa pictured the FlyingT as a miniature planetarium with vivid gemstones acting as planets gravitating around the central tourbillon. The high dome reminded him of flying saucers in 1950s and 1960s pop culture, and influenced the redesign of the lugs and middle, both shaved to their finest to accentuate the stones and complication.
Playing with the proportions and colours changed the character of the FlyingT. No MB&F machine has worn such a multi-hued cloak before, and it is undoubtedly a good look for the timepiece. Its cool precision and micromechanical complexity are tempered by the chromatic warmth of tourmalines, tsavorites, rubellites, amethysts, tanzanites and topazes. The cabochon gem-cutting style favoured by Bvlgari for its extreme clarity mirrors the voluminous profile of the FlyingT without detracting from its futuristic persona. Snow-set diamonds pave the dial to create a dazzling stage upon which this tableau of the galaxy is recreated. In fact, without the planetary references, the FlyingT Allegra is reminiscent of a bejewelled flying carpet, a work of utmost levity and liveliness. Its moniker is entirely befitting — Allegra is an Italian name that means “joyous”.
Just 40 pieces of the FlyingT Allegra will be produced, half in 18-carat red gold with a matching leather strap and the other 20 in 18-carat white gold with a forest green alligator strap. Bvlgari and MB&F will divide the collection equally between them to offer their respective clients. The mix of gemstones differs for each version, with the white-gold iteration highlighting three tsavorites in square, pear and round cuts while the stars of the red-gold edition are a foursome of tsavorites and tourmalines.
Serpentine blued hands indicate the time on the inclined second dial while powering them and the 60-second tourbillon is the FlyingT automatic movement, composed of 280 components and boasting an impressive 100 hours of autonomy. The left crown winds the watch while time-setting is orchestrated by the right. A sapphire crystal caseback reveals a beautiful sun-shaped oscillating weight displayed as a striking juxtaposition of metals, its gold sandblasted rays rotating on a ruthenium disc positioned above a platinum counterweight.
In blending their expertise in high jewellery and highly conceptual watchmaking, Bvlgari and MB&F have broken the barriers that typically separate titanic brands like the luxury emporium and esoteric independent labels. Aficionados examining the FlyingT Allegra might agree that those barricades seem to have little substance — superlative quality, craftsmanship and creativity suffuse both brands, though the directions they ordinarily take might wildly differ.
When he shared the Financial Times article on the partnership on LinkedIn, Büsser captioned the post, “Let’s talk about a pretty amazing ‘lovechild’.” And it truly is. The FlyingT Allegra is a stunning amalgamation of jewelled gardens, magic carpet rides and epic space-age sagas that involve sliding down the Milky Way or slingshotting around planets.
In short, it lives up to its name. It is joy, even exuberance, personified.
This article first appeared on Dec 13, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.