How Bulgari Watch Cases Are Made In Saignelégier

How Bulgari Watch Cases Are Made In Saignelégier

How Bulgari Watch Cases Are Made In Saignelégier Inside the Manufacture Special aBlogtoWatch Content For Bulgari

When we talk about watches, there is such a large number and wide variety of components to consider — however, the case actually is one of very few components of a timepiece we actually touch, feel, and interact with. A lesser-known fact is that while watch movements do seem to take most of the credit when it comes to complexity and precision in execution, high quality watch cases of today are manufactured with comparable, or even exactly the same tolerances as are movement components – we are talking about 3-5 microns of tolerance in execution. That is the kind of work Bulgari does at its in-house case manufacture in Saignelégier, Switzerland.

How Bulgari Watch Cases Are Made In Saignelégier Inside the Manufacture
A Bulgari Octo case light years away from completion – and yet already reminiscent of its trademark shape.

The thing is that watch movements can be hidden under solid casebacks, and the average watch lover or wearer will never find out if, well, let's just say efforts have been anything less than meticulous. On the other hand, cases can be and always are scrutinized, if something is not assembled, decorated, or designed properly, it will be noticed sooner or later – and such mistakes and shortcomings can be deal-breakers even for non-expert buyers.

Cases must not only function properly - as in remain water tight, put up with and protect the movement from knocks, temperature changes, humidity, and other elements - but also look and feel perfect. That is a lot to ask and a huge challenge to overcome, and we are discussing them in detail now because so often their qualities are taken for granted.

How Bulgari Watch Cases Are Made In Saignelégier Inside the Manufacture

How Bulgari Watch Cases Are Made In Saignelégier Inside the Manufacture

This explains why so many of the industry's famed names still outsource the production of their cases (as well as dials – which we discussed here) and why it takes extremely expensive machinery and a well-trained staff of engineers, CNC operators, assemblers and polishers to manufacture high-quality cases any luxury brand would feel confident in putting their name on.

How Bulgari Watch Cases Are Made In Saignelégier Inside the Manufacture

How Bulgari Watch Cases Are Made In Saignelégier Inside the Manufacture

How Bulgari Watch Cases Are Made In Saignelégier Inside the Manufacture

The manufacturing processes for watch cases can differ based primarily on the complexity of the design, the materials used, the number of produced pieces, the knowhow, and the level of automation of the manufacture. In essence, watch cases are either first stamped to create the rough shape and then further refined with a seemingly endless number of CNC cuts, or indeed produced exclusively with CNC, without the first stamping step.

How Bulgari Watch Cases Are Made In Saignelégier Inside the Manufacture

How Bulgari Watch Cases Are Made In Saignelégier Inside the Manufacture

The point is that CNC machines are pretty much always used for watch cases today – machines with five or more axes of movements and with extremely precise drill heads are capable of producing the remarkably complex shapes of today's cases. What is more is that they can rotate the case and drill all the holes and threads for the crown, pushers, movement holders and other parts with the required precision of around 5 microns (that is about 1/20th of the average thickness of a human hair).

How Bulgari Watch Cases Are Made In Saignelégier Inside the Manufacture
Cases, like all other components, are rigorously checked for quality and precision of execution, and the ones that fall short after any production process, are discarded – like the ones in this box, excluding the Octo, of course!

"Blasphemy!" you may feel inclined to shout, rightfully asking "Where is the human element in the production?" Well, before we jump to case finishing, we'll say that the machines are not only maintained, but indeed programmed, operated, and checked by the trained staff of the manufacture. Also, all produced pieces are checked after all major production steps to ensure that no faulty pieces – should any come out as such – proceed through the chain of processes, and of course also to prevent the production of larger batches of sub-par components. Needless to say, all of this is performed by experts at the respective step of the production.

How Bulgari Watch Cases Are Made In Saignelégier Inside the Manufacture

How Bulgari Watch Cases Are Made In Saignelégier Inside the Manufacture

How Bulgari Watch Cases Are Made In Saignelégier Inside the Manufacture

With this, we have arrived to the step where no machine can replace a set of trained eyes and hands: case polishing. Bulgari's Saignelégier facility has a large room dedicated to this task, with several dozen people working at their benches, deep in the concentration required to get polishing just right. In fact, while a movement, in most cases, can be taken apart and re-assembled again should the watchmaker make a mistake, if a case is badly polished, it very often is non-salvageable.

How Bulgari Watch Cases Are Made In Saignelégier Inside the Manufacture

How Bulgari Watch Cases Are Made In Saignelégier Inside the Manufacture

How Bulgari Watch Cases Are Made In Saignelégier Inside the Manufacture

Polishing works through removing material – it is not simply "smearing it around" on the surface, but rather, with the use of more and less abrasive polishing pastes and brushes, removing an extremely fine top layer of it. If a piece is not polished enough, it will not have a balanced, uniform appearance – which, of course, is totally unacceptable for a luxury timepiece – and if it is exposed for too long or too roughly to the quickly spinning polishing brushes, the material will develop a wavy, uneven surface. If you ever had to suffer a poor restorer's or watch repairer's work, you probably have witnessed your beloved timepiece show the former or the latter symptoms.

How Bulgari Watch Cases Are Made In Saignelégier Inside the Manufacture

How Bulgari Watch Cases Are Made In Saignelégier Inside the Manufacture

When it's done right, though, what you end up with is not only a watch case, but a genuine piece of jewelry. It is no longer an extension, a carrier device of a movement and a dial, but a separate – and yet inseparable – piece of jewelry. Some of Bulgari's watch designs, like the Octo as seen just above, use extremely complicated geometric designs with alternating finishes – these, with the polished and brushed surfaces so close together, are remarkably challenging to get right; something that only the most experienced case polishers are entrusted with.

How Bulgari Watch Cases Are Made In Saignelégier Inside the Manufacture

How Bulgari Watch Cases Are Made In Saignelégier Inside the Manufacture

How Bulgari Watch Cases Are Made In Saignelégier Inside the Manufacture

Following a number of final quality checks, cases are assembled – with their crystal and bezel, middle-case, caseback and rear crystal, as well as the gaskets and pushers all fitted together – and are tested for their water resistance. Once this is done, they are sent to a digitized and largely automated storage system, from which they will be dispensed to final assembly, where watchmakers dedicated to the task of fitting the movements, dials, hands and cases together, will put together and, again, quality-check the finished timepieces. This is how watch cases are made, by Bulgari. bulgari.com

Sponsored Content produced by aBlogtoWatch for an advertising partner is a form of article content meant to share information about a particular company through the aBlogtoWatch lens. It is not natural editorial content where aBlogtoWatch includes opinions, suggestions, or reviews. Sponsored Content is written by aBlogtoWatch for an advertiser without an editorial or opinionated angle and is meant to convey facts and media in a way that helps advertising partners share insights and views into their brands and products.

  • There sure are a lot of sub-standard Octo cases in that pile. Makes you wonder what the failure rate is (in percentage).

    • David Bredan

      All I can say to that is that I had a feeling that the pile was not compiled in a day or a week but much longer than that and also that a lot of these are held onto because they are used to test new processes/machines/drills, etc (as opposed to risking raw or perfectly good examples).

  • Adam Young

    I wonder if I could get a good discount on a factory second Rolex then? Like how you used to be able to buy bags of broken biscuits or chocolate bars cheap from the factory 🙂

    • I_G

      Dream on.

    • IanE

      A packet of biscuits with rattling/cracked/damaged contents is a bit more acceptable than a watch in the same condition!

      • Raymond Wilkie

        At least you could eat the biscuits

  • Raymond Wilkie

    Hmm,…….my lovely watch doesn’t seem that special anymore.

  • Boogur T. Wang

    Very informative piece.
    Thanks.

  • Ryan B.

    Being a huge fan of the Octo this is a great article. Nice to see what goes on behind the scenes.

    I’m also rather concerned about the lonely palm tree looking type of plant sitting there all by itself. It needs a friend.

  • DanW94

    Interesting read and nice photos. Love how the racks are labeled with what looks like scrawled on masking tape that could peel off at any minute. High tech meets low tech….

  • trj66

    I adore the Bulgari Octo, but gosh how I do hate the sponsored posts!

    I would happily pay a (reasonable) monthly fee directly to Ariel et al. just to get rid of this awful, sponsored dribble…

    “Light years away from completion”? Is the case transported through hyperspace by Captain Kirk or Dr. Who to another galaxy for completion and finishing?? Is it then returned through a time-warp or an interstellar black hole to the consumers of today???

    Please…

    • Ariel Adams

      Well, in the future that is something that we might do (a subscription model). From a technology and user behavior standpoint I am not sure if the community is ready for that. Superlatives like you pointed out I agree should not be included. We’ll edit that part out. Thanks for your close attention and passions as these posts are not intended to be editorialized.

    • DanW94

      A simple phrase, maybe not used in the best context, but certainly not something to get to excited about. You know what sponsored posts entail. Simply avoid them if you wish and let ABTW get on with the business of business.

      • trj66

        Hi Dan, thank you for your comment.

        Yes, I could skip reading the sponsored posts, but occasionally the articles are informative and not OTT dribble-wise.

        As far as I’m informed “Light years away…” is a description of distance. In the context of this article, the pictured watch-case has to be transported far, far away to be fully finished – which means Bulgari must have workshops on another planet than Earth.

        A slightly more correct hyperbole would be “Aeons from…” as it describes a very long (indefinite..) timespan, i.e. the amount of working-hours required to obtain the desired finish.

        That was the reason for my “excitement”.

        • trj66

          To a elaborate a bit:

          I know we’re talking metaphors here. ”Light
          years away” is a figure of speech describing ”a long way to go” before the final destination/goal is reached, and as such it most often is used to describe a stretch of time necessary for that journey.

          In my native Danish we have the exact same phrase (”Lysår fra”) so I’m familiar with the use – but I still find it to be a very sloppy and imprecise expression when trying to describe the amount of labour (i.e. Time) put into manufacturing a product – especially when that product is meant to measure time with precision.

          Basically, I just would have liked the writers to use a more correct phrase to describe/laud the most certainly time-consuming
          and impressive workmanship put into finishing these beauties.

        • DanW94

          Understood, and I agree with you about the Octo case, it’s a great design. I especially like the tourbillon.

  • I always flinch when a light-year is used as a time measure. It measures distance.

    • Which is how it was used (distance) in the photo caption. Am I missing something?

      • trj66

        Hi Mark,

        I think the copywriters at Bulgari meant that the unfinished case needs a lot of workmanship and TIME to be completed and not that the case has to travel for a long distance for completion; so in that context the use of light-years is incorrect.

        That is why Esteban and I both are flinching.

        • Well I will agree they could have worded it better. But “light years away” implies distance to me (even if they really meant time). I took it to mean that there are a lot more steps in the process and if you think in terms of an assembly line, well, there is a distance notion. But who knows… Cheers.

          • Yes, what trj66 said. Even if it implies Distance to you, the wording is ambiguous at best, and we both (at least) understood they implied Time.

            It would have been so much impressive it they used actual figures: “A Bulgari Octo case 7 weeks away from completion…” That would really give a measure of the work involved, not some unit we hardly can agree on what it means (let alone comprehend its massive scale).

  • BNABOD

    cool article goes it show it takes skills to polish a case but I am sure other reputed brands do the same thing. no idea how tolerances compare from one manufacturer to the other but with fancy cnc machines run a by a computer achieving precision is no longer a difficult thing to do. I suspect the hand polishing takes years to grasp and this is where things might be different across people and brands.

    • JimBob

      Agreed. CNC and EDM are utterly conventional technologies. Most of the time and expense is final finishing and polishing.

  • Marius

    The fact that Bulgari has a sponsored post almost on a weekly basis should give you a clear idea of how good the sales figures are. Regarding the light-years analogy, I have to agree: the shed where the cases are manufactured is located light-years away from the shed where the movements are installed. To enable the connection, Bulgari uses an in-house device (developed with the help of MacGyver) called the Stargate SG-1.

  • SuperStrapper

    I like that Octo case more every time I see it.

  • iamcalledryan

    i must confess that I did not have Bulgari on my hit list, but they certainly make a strong CASE for themselves…