Not all watches are created equal. In fact, some are created using ancient Roman coins and are dressed in ribbons of gold and diamonds, like the Bulgari Monete Catene Dual Time that we saw hands-on at Geneva Watch Days 2023. For the jewelry fiend, the history geek, or simply the tired watch enthusiast, this quintessential Bulgari timepiece is 100% sure to entertain.
Having listened to Professor Garrett G. Fagan’s excellent 22-hour History of Ancient Rome lecture at The Teaching Company more times than I’d like to admit (mostly when traveling), and then to see a piece of that history meet an integrated watch and jewelry manufacture’s modern know-how and creativity was, as expected, nothing short of a thrill. It’s the sort of thrill that makes one want to win the lottery (a few times over) and buy incredible stuff like this on a whim, not just for the craftsmanship, but also for the sheer audacity — to celebrate and support such unlikely fusions of vastly different fields of passion.
No other brand currently alive and prospering in the world of watches would be more ideally suited to pull something like this off than Bulgari. Headquartered in Italy, with watchmaking and certain jewelry operations in Switzerland, the brand is dripping with Italian pride, history, and inspiration, and it isn’t shy to celebrate all of that frequently. Bulgari isn’t afraid to admit that it is passionate about beauty, style, and Italian excess — in fact, it is very much part of that with its high-jewelry photography campaigns and creations such as this Bulgari Monete Catene Dual Time Secret watch.
The centerpiece of the Bulgari Monete Catene watch is of course the use of Roman coins — and two very special pieces of those. Emperors minted coins to reinforce their status across the Roman Empire, and by putting their faces, names, and, at times, their most significant achievements on them, it meant that coins spread the word of their successes and power. With that in mind, it is easy to see why it was extremely rare for emperors to share this platform with anyone, and therein lies the specialty of the two coins carefully secured on the lid of the Monete Catene. The coin on the right displays Emperor Septimus Severus (193-211 AD), while the one on the left shows his empress Julia Domna (193-217 AD), also revered as a goddess. These coins are antique treasures that Bulgari claims to have curated and authenticated.
It goes without saying that time was recorded on a completely different scale by the Ancient Romans than it is done by us today. Bulgari nevertheless took this opportunity to create a passionate couple’s dual-time zone watch where one dial keeps track of her time, while the other could be adjusted to wherever he may be in the world — probably far away from Rome, leading a campaign against the Parthian Empire. The Bulgari Monete Catene Dual Time Secret watch is powered by two Piccolissimo movements, a Bulgari-manufacture caliber that is just 12mm wide and 2.5 mm thick. Half of that is covered up by the 6mm wide barrel, providing 30 hours of power reserve to this remarkably tiny movement. Learn more about how Bulgari designed and produced the Piccolissimo in this article.
The case of the Bulgari Monete Catene watch is crafted from rose gold and white gold, covered more than generously in brilliant-cut and baguette-cut diamonds. It is octagonal, a geometrical shape preferred by both Bulgari and Roman design and architecture. The gold lid opens at the push of the buttons set into the side of the case to reveal the two time displays, surrounded by a sea of diamonds, many of which are random in size, making the production planning and realization all the more difficult. Even the impossibly thin profile of the two pushers is set with diamonds. Another incredible detail is one we have seen on the inside of the head (lid) of Bulgari Serpenti Secret watches: Once you open the cover, you will discover the intricate shapes into which the lid’s diamonds are set.
The Bulgari Monete Catene watch is secured around the wrist by a bracelet that looks like a waterfall of gold and diamonds. Blinded by historical importance and some 42.56 carats of diamonds (~21.76 carats of baguette-cut diamonds and ~20.80 carats of brilliant-cut diamonds), I realized the bracelet is composed of double rows of rose and yellow gold links, adding some visual complexity and refinement that is already challenging for the eye to take in and for the mind to compute. The Monete Catene might just be one of those watches you want to take good note of where you placed its unused bracelet links. The clasp is, as befits a high-jewelry watch, tricky to operate and virtually impossible to put on without an extra set of hands — I’m sure Bulgari would call this another opportunity to assist your beloved as you are getting ready for a special event.
Frankly, if it wasn’t Bulgari, this could perhaps be labeled as an over-the-top jewelry watch with some coins on top. But it is a Bulgari. A piece like this joins the slowly but steadily expanding list of ultra-high-end jewelry that the brand has been producing since the 1940s when the genuine Italian Bulgari style began to emerge, and, just as important, it is yet another exercise of Italian excess that only this watch brand can deliver today. Whether one is touched by the rare and passionate connection between two enormously powerful individuals from a long-gone world — and the idea that this watch might end up with two similar individuals some 1,800 years later — is a call for everyone to make on their own.
The Bulgari Monete Catene Dual Time Secret Watch is priced at $659,000 — but you can get lost in the wonders of Ancient Rome for a whole lot less listening to Professor Fagan. Learn more about the Bulgari jewelry watches at the brand’s website.