Every luxury watch brand — no matter its level of technology and complication, no matter the affluence of its intended audience — makes a great effort to justify the often eyebrow-raising price tags on their most high-end models. Many tout their in-house movements, or high levels of hand decoration on the movement and/or dial. Others point to their complex, precious-metal cases with elegant finishing. There are exceptionally long power reserves, rare combinations of horological functions, and clever breakthroughs in micro-mechanical technology. And of course, there is collectibility brought about by the sheer rarity of a limited-production timepiece. The Bovet Fleurier Virtuoso V, whose price comes in at just under $70K, offers all of the above, as well as substantially more — namely, a patented case construction that makes it truly four timepieces in one.
Bovet’s Amadeo convertible case system allows the watch to be used as a wristwatch (one with two distinctively different dials; all of the pieces in Bovet’s Virtuoso series, in fact, are designed to provide information on both sides of the movement), a pocketwatch; or a small table clock. After reversing the case to display the opposite dial side, both ends of the strap can also be easily detached and reattached, by means of two push-pieces on the bow over the winding crown and a hinged bezel; the included gold-plated silver pocketwatch chain can also click easily into place to replace the top half of the strap, allowing the owner to channel his inner 1920s gentleman and carry the watch in a vest or jacket pocket. The same hinged bezel that folds out to disengage the bottom half of the strap also can be deployed as a stand to position the watch on a table or shelf.
The horological complications provided by the watch’s technically stunning and lavishly decorated Virtuoso II caliber include jumping hours, retrograde minutes, reverse hand-fitting, and a double co-axial seconds display. It’s probably best that we savor this horological smorgasbord one dial side at a time.
On one side, an off-center, white lacquered subdial — with gold hands, gold Roman numeral hour appliqués, an applied gold Bovet logo and a cursive-script “5 Jours” indicating the power reserve — draw the eye at 12 o’clock. Sensuously curved bridges surround it in a flowing embrace. At 9 o’clock, a blued hand indicates the watch’s power reserve: when it’s pointing at the “+” that means the watch is fully wound and ready to run for five days; when it’s hovering near the “-” it’s time to wind the mainspring. Cursive script can also be found on the dial’s flange, which is decorated with an inscription in French: “Faictes de mains de Maitres pour servir ponctuels Gentilshommes, ce par quoy attestons longue valeur,” which translates to “Born from hands of Masters to serve punctual Gentlemen, by which we certify enduring value.”
Between the 8 and 9 o’clock position, we get a view of the oscillating balance wheel, rhythmically beating at a leisurely frequency of 21,600 vph. Directly across from it, the center wheel and its bridge are in plain view. Balancing out the elegantly symmetrical dial architecture is the small seconds cage at 6 o’clock, with a wheel-like triple hand, each “spoke” covering 120 degrees, sweeping across a 0-20 curved scale. Tilt the watch to the side and glimpse into the seconds aperture through a loupe, and you’ll see this watch’s patented technical marvel — its co-axial seconds display with reverse hand-fitting, which allows the seconds to continuously run clockwise on both sides of the movement. Which brings us to the other side of the dial…
The watch’s other face offers even more lavish decorations, with a more unconventional and (to be honest) slightly less intuitive means of telling the time. The seconds are once again positioned at 6 o’clock, but here with a single blued hand sweeping across a 0-60 scale. Radiating outward from the seconds cage and curving voluptuously toward the large subdial at 12 o’clock are a series of layered plates, with alternating lacquered and hand-engraved finishes, held (and highlighted) by blued screws. The bright white lacquered subdial at 12 o’clock indicates the time via a jumping hour numeral in a centered aperture and a single retrograde minutes hand pointing at a 0-60 scale. Inscribed numerals in an elegant font appear at each 10-minute mark, with small but legible indices in between. At the start of each new hour, the numeral in the window changes, while the hand simultaneously jumps back from 60 to zero to begin timing the next hour. As Bovet points out, it’s a rarity in watchmaking to combine these two functions (jumping hour, retrograde hand) — perfectly synchronizing the jump of the hour disk with the flyback of the minute hand is an immensely difficult feat — and it makes for an effective and suitably dynamic visual for timekeeping, as you can see in the below video:
The five-day power reserve, which we have mentioned in passing thus far, is another important asset, and notable for the fact that it stores all this energy in a single mainspring barrel. This, the brand says, helps the balance’s frequency to remain stable over the entire power-reserve period. Of course, from a practical standpoint, a five-day reserve means winding the watch less frequently, which means putting less wear and tear on its gears overall. Some, like myself, will find fewer occasions to wind the watch to be an asset for another reason: the one aspect of this piece that I found less than ideal was the actual winding of it, by means of the onion-style grooved crown at the top of the case. Of course, this unusual positioning of the crown is a hallmark of Bovet that goes all the way back to its pocketwatch days, but on this wristwatch, ensconced under the curved bow that attaches the top half of the strap, the crown is a bit challenging for larger fingers to grasp and turn. That said, the winding system itself is quite efficient; just a few dozen turns moves the little power-reserve pointer up the scale to the plus side. Another elegant detail emerges here, too: blue sapphire cabochons in both the center of the crown and in the bolts on the sides of the bow.
All of this watchmaking artistry is contained within a gleaming, polished 18k rose-gold case measuring 43.5 mm in diameter and 11.8 mm thick; rather modest proportions, relatively speaking, for a timepiece of this level of complexity, but certainly large enough to draw admiring eyes from across a room, which, trust me, it will.
The black alligator leather strap — which is, of course, actually two specially equipped strap segments that allow for ease of switching in the Amadeo convertible case system — fastens this substantial but not-too-weighty timepiece to the wrist with a simple, elegantly curved gold buckle bearing an engraved Bovet logo. It’s best to be careful, however, if (as I was) you’re unable to resist demonstrating this watch’s cool convertibility to fellow watch lovers in a public space: the unattached strap loop can very easily slip off and get lost. We had a minor panic at my office when it fell off during photography and we needed all hands on deck to retrieve this tiny but crucial piece of the package before the cleaning crew arrived.
Such practicalities aside, however, perhaps the most appealing of this watch’s many attributes — and to return to my earlier statement about four timepieces in one — is its versatility. While I confess I didn’t spend a lot of time with the Virtuoso V in its pocketwatch or table clock mode, I did switch from “classical” dial to jumping-hour dial quite often, depending on my mood and surroundings. Since I had the pleasure to wear it during several work-related trips, I was also able to use its two dials to keep track of two separate time zones; the jumping hour disk can be adjusted independently with a corrector in the side of the case.
The Bovet Amadeo Fleurier Virtuoso V is a limited edition of 100 pieces, priced at $68,500 — or, if you’d prefer, $17,125 each for the quartet of exceptional gold-cased timepieces you receive in this horological ensemble.