Ancient Artifacts

Bulgari’s new watch pays homage to both the past and the future.

By Emily Selter

Photos by Doug Young

Emperor Caracalla, who ruled the Roman Empire from 211 until 217 A.D., was notorious for his cruelty. After ordering the assassination of his brother Geta, and murdering more than 10,000 of his sibling’s supporters, Caracalla enacted a damnatio memoriae, a “condemnation of memory.” This edict made it a capital offense to even utter Geta’s name. Sculptures that depicted him were destroyed, coins bearing his image were melted, and his moniker was wiped from papyrus records. Caracalla himself was assassinated six years later, but passing a damnatio memoriae on his name would have been futile. His memory will never be expunged from history—one of civilization’s largest and most important ancient monuments bears his name.

New lighting, courtesy of Bulgari, reveals centuries-old interior detailing at Museo di Rome.

The Baths of Caracalla were completed in 217 A.D., and were among the grandest public structures of their type in ancient Rome. The expansive complex encompassed saunas, salons, studios—even athletic facilities. They fell into disuse after the city was sacked but, miraculously, the pozzolana and marble edifice still stand today. The site contains numerous artistic treasures, from elaborate sculptures to ancient mosaics. Scholars and archaeologists have spent almost two centuries excavating and restoring the baths, but the monument remains shrouded in its own unique mythos, holding on tightly to its many secrets.

Treasures like these are what draw people to Rome from near and far; even after centuries, the city’s remarkable ancient ruins are a continual source of fascination. They are especially beloved by the proud Roman luxury goods brand Bulgari. Founded in the Eternal City in 1884, the company has long sponsored cultural conservation in its hometown. Recent endeavors include the painstaking (and dazzling) restoration of the Spanish Steps, the grand staircase between the Piazza di Spagna and Trinità dei Monti church, and, yes, a section of tiles in the famed Baths of Caracalla.

Restoring the mosaic tiling at the Baths of Caracalla in several phases during 2015.

The polychrome-marble mosaic flooring, located in the structure’s western gymnasium, had been in complete disrepair. (It also hadn’t been seen by the public in more than four decades; in an attempt to prevent further degradation, the tiles were covered with fabric and soil.) In 2015, Bulgari helped fund a complex, multiphase restoration effort. The following year, CEO Jean-Christophe Babin joined local officials in revealing the mosaic, a pattern of undulating geometric triangles crafted from brightly saturated tiles. It earned praise in the arts community, and garnered international news coverage.

Still, Bulgari’s investment in preserving Roman relics extends beyond goodwill or recognition. The brand’s designers frequently take inspiration from these monuments, channeling the city’s vibrant past to create some of the world’s most innovative watches and jewelry. Look closely, and you’ll see the shape of sidewalk joints along the glamorous Via dei Condotti reinterpreted as a bracelet link; the Spanish Steps in the arrangement of a diamond necklace; the Baths of Caracalla mosaic pattern in pendants and earrings of the Divas’ Dream Collection. Modern riffs on that rich Roman pedigree that Bulgari continues to protect.

The Octo Carbon’s matte-black finish feels at once antique and futuristic, and jibes with both bright and neutral tones.

Similarly, the new Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater Carbon represents a clever (and seamless) blending of classic references with contemporary materials and applications, a striking integration of the past and future, old-world Italian craftsmanship gone high-tech.  

As the name suggests, this new timepiece is made out of an epoxy thermosetting resin called Carbon Thin Ply, or CTP. The material is remarkably strong and incredibly lightweight. But it can be difficult and time-consuming to manufacture, and Bulgari hadn’t worked with the composite before developing this new Octo model.

Both the Octo Finissimo Carbon (above) and Tourbillon Automatic (next image) feature weight-saving techniques and geometric motifs inspired by the coffering on the ceiling of the Basilica of Maxentius from 312 A.D.

“The challenge of using this material was to transform its constraints into an opportunity to develop and propose a stunning timepiece,” says Fabrizio Buonamassa, the director of Bulgari’s Watches Design Center.

Traditionally, getting quality sound transmission from a minute repeater case demanded roominess and rigidity. Rose gold has long been the default choice, joined, in recent years, by titanium.  But CTP is lighter than either, and offers unique physical advantages—namely the rare acoustic properties of its polymers. Buonamassa went a step further with the Octo Carbon’s design, with strategic incisions that amplify resonance inside the case, compensating for the absence of substantial internal volume. This allowed Bulgari to employ its in-house BVL 362 movement, the world’s thinnest repeater caliber, while still endowing the Octo Carbon with powerful sound output.

Incredibly, the new watch is just 6.85 mm thick, nearly 10 percent louder than an equivalent titanium piece, and weighs less than a regulation PGA golf ball.

But this isn’t some hollow, artless technical study. True to the brand, Buonamassa paired his super-progressive design to ancient motifs, naming architectural elements among his inspirations. (The octagon was a common interior detailing motif in Roman antiquity.) Owing to variations inherent to CTP, the patterns and textures of each case and dial are unique. Like the Via dei Condotti or Spanish Steps or Baths of Caracalla, or Bulgari itself, every Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater Carbon is one of a kind, a timeless entity, simultaneously a product of Rome and, above all else, totally unforgettable.

Photo Essay: Robots vs. Skeletons

In the impending age of automation and artificial intelligence, the Swiss carry out aesthetic experiments on a most human device:
the wristwatch.


Bell & Ross BR-X1 Black Titanium
$18,600; bellross.com


Ulysse Nardin Executive Skeleton Tourbillon
$20,900; ulysse-nardin.com


Hublot Classic Fusion Aerofusion Chronograph
$15,100; hublot.com


Piaget Altiplano Ultra-Thin Skeleton
$57,000; piaget.com


Roger Dubuis Excalibur Spider Double Tourbillon
$322,000; rogerdubuis.com


AG Heuer 45 mm Heuer 01 Chronograph with Skeleton Dial
$5,450; tagheuer.com


Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda 1950 Squelette Steel Sapphire
$22,500; parmigiani.com


Vacheron Constantin Malte Tourbillon Openworked
$305,000; vacheron-constantin.com


About the photographer: Junichi Ito was born and raised in Tokyo. Based in New York since 2005, he has photographed major commercial campaigns for Armani, Barneys, Estée Lauder, Moët & Chandon, Nike, and Victoria’s Secret. He has also shot original editorial content for Allure, Fast Company, Real Simple, Vogue Japan, and Wallpaper. His Instagram is a must-follow.

Hit List: Frédérique Constant Hybrid Manufacture

And now, for something completely different—but not so you’d notice.

Inside the Hybrid Manufacture’s 42 mm case sits a 33-jewel, self-winding mechanical movement, driving the conventional second, hour, minute, and date functions. The twist? Built into this caliber is a battery-powered digital module, which, via subdial display and iPhone app, brings next-gen functionality, including sleep tracking and fitness coaching. It also logs analytics for the mechanical movement, measuring rate and beat error, and adds a worldtime complication.

$3,795; frederiqueconstant.com

Hit List: Breitling Exospace B55 Yachting

Are connected chronographs the next big thing in competitive sailing?

Breitling thinks so. The 46 mm Yachting offers the same features as the other Bluetooth-enabled Exospace watches (text and call notifications, a dedicated smartphone app, digital/analog quartz movement, rapid USB charging). But there are now regatta-ready features, including split timing and a dedicated countdown system, allowing multiple resets to synchronize with the judge’s timer.

$7,170; breitling.com

Girard-Perregaux: The Final Frontier

The divide between past and future is collapsing.

 

It’s happening slowly and all at once; more and more, tomorrow looks a lot like yesterday, run through a funhouse mirror. Did you see Star Trek: Discovery, the next-gen period piece that’s set a decade before the original series? Catch high-fashion’s astro-chic looks on the runways last year? Or hear that S.J. Clarkson, a young Netflix director, will helm the franchise’s next film? Welcome to life inside the supercollider of “back then” and “right now” and “in a moment.” It’s pretty weird in here.

 

It’s also harder than ever to put a finger on the zeitgeist. But that’s exactly what Girard-Perregaux is doing with its current collection. The latest entry into that heady catalog, the new Neo Tourbillon Three Bridges Skeleton, arrives steeped in tradition; its triple-arch layout, the brand’s signature motif, dates back to 1884. One hundred and thirty years later, Girard-Perregaux reinterpreted the idea with the Neo Tourbillon. The bridges, traditionally gold, have been enlarged and hewn from titanium, a nod to modern cable-stayed structures, like Southern France’s Millau Viaduct, the tallest in the world.

 

The new Skeleton conveys all that history, while also introducing decidedly futuristic design elements. Girard-Perregaux’s flagship automatic movement carries over here, composed of 260 components, with a lightweight, titanium tourbillon cage and 18k white gold micro-rotor, offering a 60-hour power reserve. But the 45 mm case is taller and, crucially, the baseplate is gone. Exposed screws now sit deep into the structure of the openwork movement, holding the polished and bevelled bridges in place.

 

Somehow, the resulting piece, a mash-up of heritage and progress, feels cohesive. The Neo Tourbillon Three Bridges Skeleton isn’t a limited-run proposition. But its $138,000 price point ensures exclusivity, and, in a way, it’s the rarest piece of all: one that’s both timely and timeless. Like the rest of Girard-Perregaux’s contemporary portfolio, it would look right on the wrist of William Shatner’s Kirk, or Patrick Stewart’s Piccard, or Jason Issacs’s Lorca, in any galaxy and on any planet, a watch sure to remain fashionable and collectible well into the future—even if that future is just a colorful sendup of the past…

 


 

 

Neo Tourbillon Three Bridges Skeleton

 

It starts with the case, steeply-cambered, anti-reflective-treated sapphire front glass and sapphire crystal caseback. Inside, the unidirectional, self-winding mechanical movement features a brilliant 18k white gold micro-rotor. Still, the bridges remain a highlight. They’re made of titanium, sandblasted, blackened via PVD process. Their shape is so complex, composed of interior angles, arches, extensions and overhangs, that their machining is a watchmaking feat in itself. The result is a taut and powerful shape. Gravity, mass, transparency—what do you need with a spaceship? This radical new skeleton has it all.

 

 


 

 

Constant Escapement L.M.

 

The L.M.’s avant-garde, titanium case contains an innovative solution to the age-old horological concern: how to maintain the precision and regularity of a mechanical watch. Introduced as a prototype in 2008, this award-winning movement uses an integrated, microscopic silicon blade; it serves as an intermediary device in the escapement, metering energy to ensure constant power delivery to the oscillator, and, in turn, constant amplitude and constant rate. Sound like science fiction? Consider this: Even with Girard-Perregaux’s master watchmakers gave ‘er all they had, the super-complicated L.M. still required eight years of research and development.

 

 


 

 

Laureato 42 mm

 

The Laureato is sports watch icon. Designed by a Milanese architecture studio, it was released in 1975, flourishing in an era that celebrated leisure for leisure’s sake. In 2016, Girard-Perregaux brought out a limited-edition re-release; it was so well-received, the brand upped the ante, bringing out a whole new range. This Laureato 42 mm beams the octagonal case styling of its iconic 1975 predecessor straight into the present, but brings two thoroughly modern touches: a handsome rubber strap in place of the old integrated bracelet, and the acclaimed mechanical GP01800 caliber (designed, produced, assembled, and adjusted in-house) in place of the original’s quartz movement.

 

 


 

 

Laureato Skeleton Ceramic 

 

That new Laureato collection? It now includes dozens of references, housed in a variety of case sizes and materials. Among them, a skeletonized ceramic, which uses a thin, suspended, indexed ring as a dial, in turn offering a glimpse deep into the heart of the movement, dubbed GP01800-006, those last three digits denoting a skeleton variant. It’s a self-winding labyrinth, comprised of 173 total components, sand-brushed and treated using a galvanic process (“anthracite gray ruthenium,” according to the Girard-Perregaux’s master watchmakers), decorated by hand in a “unique and contemporary manner.” Which is all to say: the Laureato Skeleton Ceramic is a collector siren. Resistance is futile.

 

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