While disruption in the format and organisation of watch fairs commenced even prior to the outbreak of the pandemic (Swatch group withdrew from Baselworld in 2018, LVMH debuted their own watch week in January 2020), expectations of blockbuster launch events reduced further in the Covid-19 climate. That said, LVMH Watch Week was the first big (virtual) showcase for 2021 with participation from Zenith, Hublot and Bulgari. TAG Heuer – the fourth major watch brand in the LVMH portfolio – announced its big (and seemingly natural) collaboration with Porsche in a separate digital event.
Releases from each of these makers had their fair share of hits, including the incredibly polarising Zenith Chronomaster Sport, but the largest selection as well as grandest statement came from Bulgari. Bulgari announced 15 new watches across key collections like the Octo Finissimo, Serpenti and Lucea, going from stylish everyday to the breathtakingly complex.
The watches individually are undoubtedly impressive, but when looked as whole, reinforce some interesting things about Bulgari as a watchmaker that could easily go unnoticed.
A dedication to aesthetic crafts
The possibilities presented by a wristwatch as a canvas are endless. In watchmaking, there is room to create pieces with visual splendour, preserve traditional art forms and celebrate the confluence of mechanical and decorative crafts.
Bulgari introduced the Divas’ Dream Peacock collection which takes the possibilities I mentioned to their grandest conclusion. The crafts at play here are marquetry, miniature painting and gem setting, using the peacock and its feathers as the central motif.
Real peacock feathers have been used to create textures, patterns and visual effects that are truly delightful. This is perhaps best seen on the Dischi, which displays time using two rotating discs, indicated by a diamond placed on each of them. This watch has an automatic movement, with each piece requiring individual adjustment to ensure that the weight and balance of the discs are in tune with the timekeeping mechanism. The Dischi makes a statement, no doubt, but does it by expressing sheer beauty and uncompromising harmony. It definitely feels like a watch you can stare at and admire for hours on end.
At the other end of the spectrum is the Lucea collection, which comes in a more familiar and simple format. Crafted in steel for easier wearability, but losing none of the elegance which is a given with a Bulgari ladies timepiece, the Lucea collection is interesting in that it combines this everyday, utilitarian material with the delicacy of marquetry using mother of pearl pieces that are individually faceted and assembled (Bulgari mentions 120 pieces go into the making of each dial). This creates a kind of sun-ray pattern which will reflect light in quite an eye-catching manner. The Lucea watches are further punctuated elegantly with diamond markers.
These watches are testament to how Bulgari cares about crafts and the kind of visually arresting results the brand can achieve for ladies watches.
Building on a distinctive visual signature
The break from trend for the signature, ultra-thin Octo Finissimo collection was that there were no record-breakers this year (there will understandably come a time when you’ll run out of thinness records to best). What stayed on-trend for the collection however, was Bulgari’s keenness to explore different expressions of the contemporary and suave Finissimo aesthetic.
Released in 2014, the Octo Finissimo has come to be Bulgari’s calling card due to the kind of genuinely fresh and unique brand of watchmaking on offer. In the rapidly growing conversation around sport watches over the last decade, the Octo Finissimo has perhaps been the brightest spot for its ability to bring something new to the table. And the newness of this collection has a lot to do with how easily Bulgari have been able to showcase aggressive, modern design alongside unmistakable elegance. This is thanks to the slender profile of Octo Finissimo watches as well as the excellence of their overall execution.
Antoine Pin, MD of Bulgari watches, while introducing the new releases, likened the intended fit of the Octo Finissimo watches to a well-tailored Italian suit, which apart from being a fitting analogy, spoke a lot about Bulgari’s approach to style and the place they’d like their watches to have in their owners’ lives.
The headliner, in my books, was the Octo Finissimo S (‘S’ denotes steel) with a silver dial. The silver dial helps the watch achieve the monotone look in steel, in a manner similar to what they did with grey sandblasted titanium. Except with this satin finish, the watch looks decidedly more elegant. It bears noting that with the Octo Finissimo S, Bulgari have managed to achieve 100m of water resistance by just slightly increasing the thickness (this is still only 6.4mm thick!). This makes the latest version with the silver dial a truly compelling option for a robust and chic everyday watch.
The Chronograph GMT, which is the record-breaker from 2017 (world’s thinnest automatic chronograph), also gets two new versions – one in steel and one in titanium. The steel version on bracelet has a blue dial, while the titanium version has a black dial paired with a rubber strap to introduce a subtly different look in the collection.
Bulgari’s dedication to creating watches with a sense of overt, individual modernity while pushing the limits of ultra-thin watchmaking puts the Octo Finissimo in a unique place, making them equally desirable from both horological as well as stylistic perspectives. Amidst the frenzy that currently grips the world of watches, both these characteristics remain extremely underrated.
Serious watchmaking at the very highest level
Bulgari may have its reputation primarily tied to being a jeweller, but a lesser known fact is that as a watchmaker, they have a very high level of vertical integration, with their facilities spread across Switzerland employing over 400 people to manufacture cases, dials, bracelets and movements in-house. This control over the entire spectrum of watchmaking processes has allowed them to be ambitious as well as audacious with the timepieces they conceptualise and create.
If you consider horological complications as the benchmark, the Octo Roma Carillon Tourbillon was Bulgari’s show-stopper at the LVMH Watch Week 2021. We’re talking about a 44mm titanium watch with a tourbillon and 3-hammer minute repeater that strikes the Westminster chimes on demand.
Even though tourbillons and minute repeaters are arguably more anachronistic than the concept of mechanical watches themselves, they remain admirable feats of craft and engineering, virtually impossible to perfect without careful attention from the most skilled human hands.
We spoke about Bulgari’s design language with the Octo being unapologetically modern, and in case of the Octo Roma Carillon Tourbillon too, these traditional complications (tourbillon and minute repeater) are presented in a visual format that is striking, aggressive and what you could even call industrial. Certainly an interesting and novel aesthetic interpretation for a watch of this nature.
Getting a lot more than what we expected from Bulgari in terms of the number of launches (given the pandemic situation) allowed a holistic glimpse of the brand’s priorities for its timepieces as well as what it stands for in context of its own identity. On that front, the confident and coherent manner in which they are blending art and style with horology is indeed quite impressive. Ultimately, it’s what makes Bulgari a watchmaker that is intriguing, exciting and – dare I say it – extremely underrated.