December 20, 2017
by Jason Swire
Italian jeweler and watchmaker Bulgari have developed a reputation for haute horology timepieces in recent years, particularly when working with ultra-thin tourbillons and skeletonized movements. Taking their design language in a different direction, the Bulgari Octo Tourbillon Sapphire is the brand’s latest experiment with clever movement architecture, using the caliber’s bridges as hour indicators. These bridges are DLC-coated and topped with green luminescent material which provides a lot of contrast and thus high legibility for a skeletonized dial.
Bulgari (often written in the Latinized form BVLGARI) is still perhaps best known as a jeweler rather than a watchmaker. Founded in 1884 in Greece by Sotirios Boulgaris, the company moved around a lot until finally settling in Via Condotti, Rome in 1905. Bulgari began selling watches in the 1970s and in 1975 they joined the ranks of Gerald Genta designed timepiece manufacturers with the “BVLGARI BVLGARI” watch, inspired by the repeating inscriptions found on some ancient Roman coins. This collection recently celebrated its 40th anniversary, which we covered in an interview with Bulgari CEO Jean-Christophe Babin here.
In 2000, Bulgari acquired two established Swiss high-end watchmaking companies – Gerald Genta and Daniel Roth SA, including their manufacturing facilities. The distinctive Gerald Genta design language which is very present in the Bulgari Octo collection carries into the Tourbillon Sapphire, with a mix of industrial elements in a 44mm, geometric DLC-coated titanium case with both brushed and polished surfaces.
A version is also available in 18k pink gold, which provides a slightly dressier, more formal feel to the watch. The brand’s signature octagonal bezel and stepped lugs lend this watch a distinctive Gerald Genta flair, and previous models such as the Bulgari Tourbillon Saphir went as far as displaying his name on the sapphire crystal over the dial. Using the movement’s bridges as hour indicators is a clever move by Bulgari, allowing for a fully skeletonized dial that still retains legibility. The hour and minute hands are likewise skeletonized so as to not obstruct the view of the movement, and feature broad arrow tips filled with green luminescent material.
Speaking of the lume, rather than being applied directly to the bridges it has instead been contained within tubes made of a substance called “ITR2,” which Bulgari touts as a unique composite material with metal-like properties and “laden” with carbon nanotube particles. Exactly how or why this substance is beneficial to the design is unclear. Carbon nanotubes can provide extremely black surfaces that absorb almost all light, and have been used in watch dials such as the Panerai Lab-ID Luminor Carbotech (hands-on here), so perhaps the use of ITR2 is a visual enhancement to diffuse or limit the luminosity of the hour indicators.
The crown of this timepiece operates in an unusual manner, with an integrated pusher that activates a red dot at 3 o’clock which indicates the watch is in time-setting mode. Rotating the crown in this mode sets the time, after which another press of the integrated pusher causes the red dot to vanish and locks the time-setting mechanism. While this should enable quicker adjustments than a standard screw-down or pull-out crown, wearers might need to take care not to accidentally engage the pusher with the back of their wrists. Minor caveat aside, the unusual mechanism does add some visual interest to the dial, being able to watch the time-setting function engage and disengage.
Within the Bulgari Octo Tourbillon Sapphire beats the manually-wound caliber BVL 206, featuring a flying tourbillon at 6 o’clock, 20 jewels, and a generous 64 hour power reserve with a luminescent green power reserve indicator visible via the sapphire exhibition caseback. The case is water-resistant to 5 ATM or approximately 50m, which is impressive considering the unusual design element of a sapphire crystal ring running the circumference of the case. This allows for viewing the movement from any angle and helps to show off those lume-filled ITR2 tubes. The watch comes attached to a rubber-lined black alligator leather strap with either a titanium or an 18k pink gold folding clasp, depending on the model.
All-sapphire (or mostly sapphire), skeletonized, tourbillon watches might be both high-end and niche, but competition in this esoteric field does exist. Examples include the Greubel Forsey Double Tourbillon Technique Sapphire and the Bell & Ross BR-X1 Skeleton Tourbillon Sapphire. However the Bulgari Octo Tourbillon Sapphire offers a number of unusual design elements which distinguish it from such offerings. The green-on-black palette is eye catching in a zombie-chic kind of way, and the sapphire ring through the middle of the case is a unique touch. The crown operation is both unusual and novel, and the movement’s bridges acting as hour indicators help ensure the watch stays legible.
This timepiece certainly won’t appeal to everyone, but in a limited run of 20 pieces, it doesn’t have to. The Bulgari Octo Tourbillon Sapphire is priced at $65,000 for the DLC-coated titanium version, and $78,000 for the pink gold version. bulgari.com