By: Jonathan Bues
Bulgari’s high-end watchmaking has a tendency to fly under the radar. After all, Swiss horology is only one facet of what this Italian high jeweler is known for. In fact, the company is far more than just a world-renowned jeweler. Bulgari makes a wide variety of luxury items and even provides destination experiences such as five-star hotels and restaurants. Its métiers span disciplines seldom found within a single company.
That’s why I was surprised to encounter one of the finest, most comprehensive watch manufactures I have ever visited in my 12 years of inveterate watch reportage. My day spent with Bulgari spanned two facilities: the company’s dial factory, in La Chaux-de-Fonds; and its haute horlogerie manufacture, in Le Sentier. This latter factory is the erstwhile Daniel Roth Manufacture, owned for years by Bulgari before the line, known for its minute repeaters and sonneries, was subsumed along with the Gérald Genta line by their Rome-based Italian parent.
We began our visit at Manufacture de Cadrans, Bulgari’s dial factory, which is specialized in creating finely finished, lacquered, and unusually shaped dials like the ones found in the Serpenti.
Unsurprisingly, though, it’s what’s under the dial that delivered the greatest thrills throughout the visit. The most prestigious of the company’s estimable horology is on display in a small room in the Swiss Jura, where four expert watchmakers craft some of the very best-sounding minute repeaters and sonneries in the world.
As those who follow watchmaking know, Bulgari has emerged as a leader in the ultrathin category in the past few years, with a specialty in svelte complications. First, we saw the Octo Finissimo Tourbillon, and last year the company brought its know-how in chiming watches to bear in the Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater.
Without further ado, our inside look at Bulgari watchmaking.
Machining movement plates and bridges in Le Sentier.
Applying perlage, a traditional form of decoration, to a baseplate.
A steady hand fits a minuscule bridge into a movement with the smallest of tolerances.
A close-up of this small wheel reveals that even its inner spokes are decorated with beveled edges.
Securing a tourbillon bridge in place.
Final assembly of a movement.
Setting a complex tourbillon escapement in the movement, a delicate process that requires extreme dexterity.
A close-up of a tourbillon escapement and a portion of what will eventually be the Bulgari Papillon with Central Flying Tourbillon display.