Over the last decade, Bulgari has become perhaps most famous in watchmaking for its pioneering work in ultra-thin movements and watches. Although the company says that it’s not concerned with records for their own sake, it’s also true that having a fistful of superlatives under your belt doesn’t hurt. The most recent record-breaking timepieces Bulgari has introduced are the Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater Carbon, and the Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Automatic – the former holds the world’s record for thinnest minute repeater, and the latter holds three records: thinnest tourbillon, thinnest automatic tourbillon, and world’s thinnest automatic watch.
While ultra-thin watchmaking has become very strongly identified with Bulgari over the last few years – and rightly so – there have been other and very different expressions of watchmaking know-how, which include some of the world’s most spectacular high jewelry timepieces (those in the Serpenti family are especially irresistible) and as well, somewhat rarely issued but always arresting complicated watches as well. Chiming complications have been especially well represented, and in the past, these have included the 2011 Bulgari Daniel Roth Grande Sonnerie Quantieme Perpetual Watch, as well as the Grande Sonnerie Magsonic, some very elaborately decorated automaton watches (such as the Commedia dell’arte series) and many others.
These have often been in cases that echo the designs used in Daniel Roth timepieces, Bulgari having acquired both Daniel Roth and Gerald Genta in 2000 from Singapore retailer The Hour Glass – at the time, one of the most talked-about acquisitions among haute horlogerie fans. Bulgari acquired considerable resources in complicated watchmaking at the time as well, and since then has made great strides in adding its own research and development expertise to its watch collections, which is most in evidence in its ultra-thin watches – however, it has by no means ignored the creation of high complications as well. Although in the past, these watches have been produced in cases derived from the modified ellipse profile used by watchmaker Daniel Roth in the watches he made under his own name, the Octo Grand Sonnerie Perpetual Calendar is in an Octo-family case – “neither round nor square,” as Bulgari describes it – which shares some of the spirit of the original Daniel Roth case designs. And unlike some of Bulgari’s previous highly complicated watches, which have tended to favor a somewhat baroque visual style more clearly connected to the company’s visual language as a jeweler, the Octo Grand Sonnerie Perpetual Calendar embraces the more spare geometry and austere finishing style that characterizes the ultra-thin Octo watches – in particular, in its industrial-chic angularity, it’s reminiscent of the Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater Carbon.
Looking at a complicated watch from Bulgari is always something of an exercise in nostalgia for me – I remember pretty vividly when the company acquired Daniel Roth and Gerald Genta; there was at the time considerable hand-wringing in some circles about the loss of two such unique watchmaking firms to what we all thought would be a more corporate, generic, and characterless kind of watchmaking.
The past 18 years have proven those of us who mourned the loss of Roth and Genta as independent entities, both right and wrong. Certainly, the two companies no longer exist as independent brands however, as the years have passed and watchmaking at Bulgari has continued to evolve, it’s clear that many of the essentials of both companies are alive and well, but re-imagined in ways that their founders probably could never have imagined. The Octo Grand Sonnerie Perpetual Calendar is a perfect case in point – the movement seems to be more or less identical in general layout to the caliber 5307 used in the 2011 Bulgari Daniel Roth Grande Sonnerie Quantieme Perpetual Watch, and Bulgari identifies the movement with the same reference number (now with the Bulgari movement prefix, BVL 5307) but the externals are a dramatic change from the 2011 model.
While I have nothing against the more lavish, curvilinear sensuality of some of the earlier complicated watches from Bulgari, I think this is an interesting and fresh direction to take in the production of these extremely costly, rare, and exotic watches. Watch design in general, especially at the high end, tends to be extremely conservative; especially for very complex watches, one tends to find a lot of ornament for its own sake. Here, Bulgari is playing, as it did with the Octo Finissimo Repeater Carbon, with contrasts, and engaging in something of an experiment, which is to contrast the very traditional watchmaking on view with a relatively spare, almost anti-ornamental exterior.
From a purely technical perspective, there is, no surprises, a lot going on. Bulgari has experimented before with high tech case construction and materials in chiming watches – most notably in the Magsonic – and the case of the Octo Grande Sonnerie Perpetual calendar follows suit, with the movement contained in an inner case that acts as a resonating chamber, and an outer case with longitudinal slits to allow sound to emerge more readily.
The watch is a grande et petite sonnerie and minute repeater; it’s a Westminster carillon, striking on four gongs, and in addition to the time, there are indications for the day, week, month, leap year, and of course the date. It’s self-winding (both the going train and strike train are wound automatically) with a silent governor for the strike. There’s a one-minute tourbillon as well. There are a number of safety features: the strike train is disabled during setting of the time, and vice versa; and striking on demand via the repeater is disabled during striking “in passing” (and vice versa). You get power reserve indications for both the strike train and the going train as well.
On many counts, this is an extremely unusual watch – it’s a unique piece, by the way, and was originally shown in Rome in July; by the time I saw it last week, in Shanghai, it had already been sold. The price for the last watch in which this movement was used was just shy of one million dollars, and while Bulgari hasn’t disclosed the price it seems reasonable to assume that the Octo Grande Sonnerie Perpetual Calendar is in the same ballpark. It’s a watch, it seems to me, that would appeal to someone with fairly specific case; the owner is, I would imagine, someone with not only considerable financial resources (to state the obvious) but also with a preference for the unusual and exotic. It’s the sort of experiment in watch design I’d love to see more of from Bulgari; I personally find its experiments in contrasting the high tech/industrial, with the traditional, very intriguing. I thought the Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater Carbon was interesting for the same reasons; although I know it’s a polarizing design, I rather think that was the point.
Model: Octo Finissimo Grande Sonnerie Perpetual Calendar
Reference Number: OCP44GSKLTBGSQP
Case Material: sandblasted 18k rose gold
Dial Color: transparent
Water Resistance: 30m
Strap/Bracelet: black alligator with 18k rose gold sandblasted folding clasp
Caliber: BVL 5307
Functions: Grande et petite sonnerie, perpetual calendar with tourbillon, indication of the leap year, day, week, date, phase and age of the moon; power reserve indications for the strike train and going train; various safety systems to prevent damage to the movement during striking en passant or on demand, or during setting of the time; silent centrifugal governor for the strike train.
Power Reserve: 48 hours for the going train; 28 hours for the strike train (in petite sonnerie mode)
Winding: automatic winding for both the strike train and going train
Pricing & Availability
Unique piece; already sold.
To see all of Bulgari’s watch collections, visit Bulgari.com.