Over the last decade Bulgari has strategically rebuilt its watchmaking division like no other Swiss luxury watchmaker. It cleverly obtained Swiss manufacturers specialised in the fabrication of high-end watch cases, bracelets and dials, and has heavily invested in its watch movement development and manufacturing facility in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. The result? Six world records in six years, including in 2014 the world’s thinnest tourbillon, in 2016 the thinnest minute repeater, in 2017 the thinnest automatic watch (dethroning Piaget, the historic expert in ultra-thin watchmaking), in 2018 the thinnest automatic tourbillon, in 2019 the thinnest automatic chronograph, and in 2020 the thinnest tourbillon chronograph.
Six world records don’t happen by mistake. No. What they do is reflect Bulgari’s relentless dedication to pushing the boundaries of itself, as well as those of modern watchmaking. For a watchmaker to get onto this level it takes a fully integrated manufacturing background – this is the level where the status-phrase “in-house” begins to make a difference. A watchmaker needs a type of flexibility scarcely offered by outside suppliers: it has to own the manufacturing facilities (hence making them “in-house”) to have the capacity to quickly develop new concepts and prototypes and to adapt manufacturing to new designs.
All this Bulgari had to do to craft the all-new and extremely thin cases that were to house its all-new and extremely thin movements, covered by extremely thin dials. Bulgari’s 2021 watch novelties from LVMH Watch Week mark a continuation of its bold new-found role as a premier league watchmaker.
Long-time fans of the company will know that Bulgari has a long tradition in creating ultra-complicated chiming timepieces, also known as minute repeaters. What is a minute repeater watch? It is an immensely complex mechanical watch that can audibly play the time through a set of hammers and gongs. The wearer has to press a button or pull a slider – Bulgari has implemented the more elegant button-initiated construction – hence “charging” up the mechanism, allowing it to have the energy to take a reading of the time and power up the hammers that would strike against metal gongs. Like a church tower… But on the wrist in incredibly compact form. The hours are struck against a low tone, every 15 minutes passed since the beginning of the hour are played on a high-low tone, while the minutes passed since the last quarter are chimed on a high-tone.
Sounds complicated? It takes one listen to understand – but takes months to realise through a series of tiny wheels, cams and funny-shaped arms watchmakers call “snails.” Bulgari has been taking this concept to a yet higher level through its carillon minute repeaters. The latest in this lineage is the new Bulgari Octo Roma Carillon Tourbillon that comprises a whopping 432 components.
The word Carillon refers to a complex play of bells and that’s exactly what the Bulgari Octo Roma Carillon Tourbillon replicates. Press the white gold button on the left hand side of the case and the beautiful chimes begin by a movement that is only 8.35mm thick. The openworked dial reveals a shiny tourbillon mechanism where 6 o’clock normally is that neatly contrasts against the 44 millimetre-wide black DLC coated titanium case.
Reflecting on the brand’s more recent history is the Bulgari Octo Finissimo S Chronograph GMT, built around the record-slim chronograph concept debuted just a few years ago. This is one of the thinnest and most complex sports watches currently (or indeed ever) made available by the Swiss luxury watch industry. As its name implies, the Octo Finissimo S Chronograph GMT combines a chronograph function (more commonly known as a stopwatch function) with a handy GMT indication that allows the wearer to keep track of a second time zone. This is especially useful in today’s globalised world where one might be working with offices located on distant continents, or just wishes to know what time it is where loved ones reside.
All this is combined with a clever self-winding function: whereas self-winding is a common thing on thicker watches, it is a rare feat on so-called ultra-slim timepieces as it requires a great deal of effort to squeeze this hefty and robust mechanism into a slim movement.
The BVL318 caliber inside the Bulgari Octo Finissimo S Chronograph GMT measures just 3.30 millimetres thick, a truly outstanding achievement by Bulgari’s Neuchâtel-based manufacture. The case is crafted either from stainless steel or lightweight titanium and measures 43 or 42 millimetres wide and 8.75 or 6.90 millimetres thick between the two metals, respectively.
Whichever version one goes for, the Octo Finissimo will provide a distinctly elegant look and combine it with the excellent wearing comfort that only ultra-thin watches can attain.
Last but definitely not least in our selection of Bulgari 2021 LVMH Watch Week novelties is the Bulgari Serpenti Spiga, the latest iteration of Bulgari’s iconic Serpenti collection. Rooted in the company’s history, the Serpenti originates from a 1957 wristwatch that had a blocky case attached to a modular construction bracelet. Bulgari added its signature touch of Italian romance to that inspired design and created the Serpenti, characterised by a motif that represents wisdom, vitality, and the circle of life. As Bulgari so eloquently concludes: “the snake has charmed exotic beauties from Cleopatra to the Bulgari woman, and empowered them with its magnetism. Renowned for the ability to hypnotise its prey – this skill is attributed to no other animal – the snake is also famous for its means of seduction.”
The 2021 Bulgari Serpenti Spiga combines that unique story with the know-how of the manufacturer’s master craftspeople. The Spiga motif resembles what it is named for: the Italian word for “wheat.” A symbol of fertility and prosperity that has captivated throughout mythology and antiquity, and a theme that was often linked to marriage in ancient Rome and Greece.
Once assembled, the Spiga bracelet appears an indivisible whole, the sort of beauty that also serves as a testament to the expertise required for the crafting and assembly of its delicate components. The single-row watches comprise 40 different components from 40 different moulds, meaning that no two pieces are alike – an astonishing dedication towards the natural, asymmetrical beauty of the Spiga theme. The two-row watches feature not 40 but 70 components.
Technically impressive and beautifully detailed, its 2021 watch novelties are also a testament to Bulgari’s relentless commitment to its elaborate history rich with mythology, story-telling and, at times, seduction.
Words: David B.