Finer details of watchmaking, including different finishing techniques and proprietary movement construction solutions are very much common knowledge among watch enthusiasts. Haute joaillerie, or “high jewelry,” on the other hand, is a more rarely discussed element in these circles, even though it is very much an integral part of some of the finest timepieces in the world. Given their aesthetic cues and the resulting designs, it should come as no news that a majority of finely bejeweled timekeepers are ladies’ watches – and that is where we find a key territory of expertise for Italian jewelry and Swiss watch manufacturer, Bulgari. As a kick-off to a series of articles discovering the brand’s high jewelry watches for women, today we look at the history of Bulgari’s ladies’ watches and discover where and how these precious, yet functional accessories are made today, and tomorrow.
History Of Bulgari, Maker Of Fine Jewelry
Designing and producing fine jewelry is how Bulgari’s story actually began in 1884 in Italy, when Sotirio Bulgari – a Greek immigrant and descendant of a family of silversmiths – opened his first shop in Rome, on Via Sistina. In 1905, with the help of his two sons, Costantino and Giorgio, a second shop was inaugurated on Via Condotti, which is the historical actual flagship Boutique. His Greek origins and the remarkable culture of Rome made for a special mix, and before long, the store became a place where the aristocracy, the rich, and the famous came for unique high-quality jewelry designs that integrated Greek and Roman arts. Giorgio devoted his life to the creation of a “Bulgari style,” while Costantino compiled his studies and experiences in what later became one of the most authorized and serious reference books on Roman silver, the Argentieri, Gemmari et Orafi d’Italia.
Today, all this heritage is carried on by what is an almost overwhelmingly large and diverse selection of remarkably different and complex high-jewelry pieces and watches for women. This vast range of pieces is nevertheless connected by a very strong DNA, defined by the brand’s 130-year presence in Rome, with the Eternal City’s some three-thousand-year-old history serving as an unfailing source of inspiration. In line with what you would expect from anything with roots set deep in Italian culture, we will see romantic stories and timeless elegance meet daring design decisions in these high-jewelry pieces.
History Of Bulgari’s Fine Ladies’ Watches
For over a century, Bulgari has been keeping time for women – a statement that is both true, but also too vague to convey the story that lies within. To merely keep time, for Bulgari was never the primary challenge, not even at the outset. According to Bulgari archives, their first – and in fact diamond-encrusted – ladies’ watches can be dated back to 1920, combining Art Deco trends with the company’s initial custom-made pieces. An even more important milestone followed in the late 1940s: it was at this time that the Serpenti, this instantly recognizable Bulgari jewelry-watch collection was born – it is a classic in the sense that it’s been a true star of countless movies and red carpet events, and in that it has coiled wrists of women around the world with seduction.
Shortly after its release, the Serpenti’s coiling watch design was reinterpreted in the 1950s, as the “Tubogas” was formed of the meticulous goldsmithing that is the tubogas technique – something that we will discover in a full article dedicated to the Serpenti.
1975 marked the release of the Bulgari Roma, with the exclusive launch of a 100-piece watch set gifted to Bulgari’s top clients, only to set off a wildfire of demand. 1977 answered the call, and the emblematic Bulgari Bulgari collection was born in a double engraving, as the coin inscriptions of ancient Rome. Following key new collections for men (later re-interpreted for women) including the Diagono in 1988, Grand Complications from 2004, and the Octo from 2012, in 2014 the brilliant star of the Lucea watches collection shone through, inspired by the Roman sundial and distinctively crowned with a pink cabochon stone.
The same year, Bulgari received Geneva’s 2014 Jewellery Watch Award for a Divas’ Dream piece, bursting with over ten carats of diamonds and emeralds. 2015 meant a follow-up with more Divas’ Dream pieces, while 2016 marks the year of the Serpenti – coming full circle and getting back to the origins of all Bulgari ladies’ watches.
Producing Today’s & Tomorrow’s Bulgari Ladies’ Watches
We have put together the pieces of the Bulgari watch manufactures here, and it should come as no surprise that the brand’s fully integrated watchmaking facilities work together in close harmony with the admittedly even more vast jewelry departments and workshops to create Bulgari’s haute joaillerie timekeepers for women.
As is true for watches, craftsmanship is of central importance also for jewelry watches. Historically, throughout the 20th century, Bulgari has worked together with some of the finest movement manufacturers to power the Maison’s ladies’ watches. Audemars Piguet, Piaget, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Movado, and Vacheron Constantin usually customized their movements for Bulgari, with the logo of the respective movement’s maker also appearing alongside the Bulgari name on the dial. Today, a wide range of movements can be found in Bulgari ladies’ watches, from supplied Swiss Made quartz (preferred for their small size and high autonomy, allowing for the use in small watch heads fixed to fine jewelry) and mechanical movements, all the way to some of Bulgari’s own haute horlogerie calibers.
The jeweled elements of each jewelry timepiece are crafted either in the Bulgari Jewelry manufacture in Valenza or in the High Jewelry Workshop in Rome, determined by the watch’s features and its preciousness. When it comes to the jeweled pieces, the type of production carried out is the traditional lost-wax casting technique. Expert goldsmiths clean, assemble, and finish all the metal elements, giving shape to the actual watch, including bracelets (which we will discover in greater detail in an upcoming article dedicated to the Serpenti) and stone-set cases.
Special attention is paid to details, since it is fundamental that every element perfectly interlocks with the others, following the natural movement of the wrist, and that the clasps and settings are expertly realized. Expertise and experience are necessary during the delicate phase of setting the gems, to ensure that every stone is firmly anchored in place. The watch element itself is assembled in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, where the movement is encased and the final quality control is carried out.
The Biggest Jewelry Manufacture In Europe
Announced in December 2015 and set to be inaugurated by early 2017, Bulgari will open its expanded and completely integrated jewelry manufacture in Valenza, a province of Alessandria, Italy. Forming a bridge between tradition and innovation, the complex will include the Goldsmith’s Farmstead, originally built and used by the first jewelers in the area in the early 19th century, as well as a completely new, three-story building, with a 600-square-meter yard for natural light and ventilation.
All designed to be perfectly sustainable (and LEED certified), this new complex will be the biggest jewelry manufacture in Europe, providing over 700 craftsmen with space to help create an ever greater quantity of Bulgari jewelry pieces, so as to cater to the ever growing market demand. The all-new Bulgari Academy, to be established here in Valenza, will help the brand to further train employees and freshly hired craftsmen, perpetuating the skills and crafts required to produce such high jewelry creations in-house.
Valenza serves as an addition to the High Jewelry workshop in Rome, the Accessories Manufacture in Florence, as well as the workshops developing and assembling watch mechanisms in Switzerland.
With this complex, but definitely bright outlook to the future, Bulgari will continue to help women express, enrich, and delight themselves with some of the finest jewelry – including those pieces with a ticking heart inside. We will continue to discover Bulgari’s mixed world of fine jewelry and watchmaking with a look at the Serpenti, one of the most recognizable and yet inimitable of ladies’ haute joaillerie watches. bulgari.com