It's not unusual to get a free whistle in a box of cereal, but what about a gold bust of a Roman emperor in a wristwatch? That may sound a bit out there, but upmarket Swiss watchmaker Christophe Claret's Aventicum watch not only has a Roman theme, but also a tiny engraved golden bust of Emperor Marcus Aurelius that seems to float over the center of the dial.

According to Christophe Claret, the inspiration for the Aventicum was Claret's production of a 3D documentary in 2013 about the Avenches Roman Museum's excavations of Aventicum; the capital of the ancient Roman province of Helvetia (Switzerland) and now a stretch of half-buried ruins near the Swiss town of Avenches. Over the decades, the museum has been conducting excavations and among the treasures in its collection is a gold bust of Marcus Aurelius that was discovered in 1939 while cleaning a pipe. One of only three busts of its type known to exist, a tiny micro-engraved replica measuring only 3 mm is the centerpiece of the Aventicum watch.

The hologram-like image of the bust is due to the mirascope that Claret says is the first installed in a wristwatch. It's a common novelty shop illusion that produces a magnified image that seems to float above a small hole in the center of the dial. It's produced by two parabolic mirrors set atop one another to form an elliptical cross section. In the top section, there's a hole in the center. An object placed in the bottom section will show an enlarged image in the hole that, though twice as large, is so realistic that it seems possible to touch it.

Because the illusion takes up where the watch's hub would normally be, the hands have been replaced by a pair of rings on the other edge of the dial. On these are carbon-fiber markers to point to the hours and minutes, and are counterweighted to maintain precision.

All of this is set in the red or palladium-rich white gold and anthracite, PVD-treated, grade 5 titanium case that's water resistant to 3 ATM (30 m, 100 ft). The AVE15 automatic movement with 4 Hz Swiss escapement has 28 jewels and 186 parts, and gets its 72-hr power reserve from its twin barrels.

On the reverse of the watch is inscribed a saying from Aurelius: "Perfice Omnia facta vitae quasi haec postrema essent" (Perform every act in life as though it were your last), and in the middle is the transparent sapphire-winding rotor. The latter has five numbered Romano-Gaulish racing chariots that spin independently. Held horizontally, a swish of the wrist makes them race around with the first one to pass the A in Aventicum the winner.

The Aventicum is available in two limited editions with 68 units in red gold and 38 in white; priced CHF 49,000 (US$52,800) and CHF 53,000 (US$57,100) respectively.

View gallery - 12 images