I believe it was in 2015 that Bulgari first debuted the Papillon Tourbillon Central as an extension of the Daniel Roth brand that they absorbed some years back. By now, all that is left of the Daniel Roth brand DNA is the “Papillon” name, distinctive case design, and movement architecture that exists within Bulgari’s exclusive haute horology department. In other words, even though all the Daniel Roth branding is gone, those familiar with watches from the last 20 years will know the origin and recognize the DNA of this model. For everyone else, it is another interesting element of the dynamic Bulgari brand.
Before speaking about the uncommon topic of central tourbillons, I’d like to for just a moment address those people who for whatever reason still dismiss brands like Bulgari as a “serious watchmaker” because the company’s logo also exists on women’s purses and fragrances. If you feel that owning a “fashion house” watch is “wrong,” then you are only as correct as the quality of the watch itself. Moreover, if you feel that you are somehow “less of a serious watch lover” for wearing anything but a timepiece from a company who exclusively produces watches and nothing else, then you are unfortunately limiting yourself from enjoying a great number of truly impressive watches. But, I digress. If you’re interested in reading more about this topic, check out my Point/Counterpoint discussion with our own James Stacey here.
I, for one, like the blend of Italian-inspired design aesthetics with the mechanical magic that only comes from a carefully assembled and meticulously designed Swiss caliber. Indicating just the time, the Bulgari Papillon Tourbillon Central is yet another timepiece which is all about the emotion that can be elicited by playing on how we convey the simplest of information like the time.
When I think of successful modern analog watches which are really good at showing the time in a way that doesn’t use traditional hands I think of Urwerk. Even though the “satellite” concept of how their watches indicate the time isn’t new, it is easily the most impressive rendering of the “wandering hour hand” concept. The beauty in said Urwerk watches is that they challenge the notion that time indicated in an analog manner is most efficiently done with three hands. They bring up a legitimate question as to whether or not that method of displaying the time can be improved upon.
Admittedly the practice of indicating the time on analog dials via hands which operate in a continuous linear motion isn’t just effective from a legibility standpoint, but is also very efficient mechanically since fewer parts need to do even fewer things. Thus, experiments on how we play with the notion of how to indicate time, such as on Urwerk watches or the Papillon by Bulgari will always be more complicated, and thus more exotic and expensive.
The reason I keep mentioning Urwerk is that while the Bulgari Papillon Tourbillon Central does not function in the same manner, the operation of the minute hand is sort of similar. This isn’t the first Papillon watch around, as I stated earlier, as it pre-dated the Bulgari name on the dial, but this is the first time I recall it being moved a bit more to the periphery of the dial versus being right in the center.
The way it works in the Bulgari Papillon Tourbillon Central is that two hands alternate to indicate the minutes along the track that makes up a half-circle on the bottom part of the dial. The hands rotate into place when being used, and when one reaches the end of the minute scale it rotates horizontally and the other hand takes over. This prevents the need of a jumping retrograde hand – which only adds to the wear and tear on the movement given all the jumps. The solution for indicating the minutes is both elegant and clever.
My only complaint is the fact that Bulgari decided to go with a mirror-finish for the hands which renders them difficult to see in various lighting situations on the dial. Making these already smaller hands for the minutes a bit more conspicuous would have been a good idea. Perhaps in the future, though, as Bulgari is only producing a total of 40 pieces of the Papillon Tourbillon Central.
The Bulgari Papillon Tourbillon Central’s next quirk is in how it indicates the hours. Here we have a jumping hour mechanism which displays the hours in 24-hour format via a window at 12 o’clock. I am actually not sure I am aware of any jumping hour watches of this nature which prefer a 24-hour versus 12-hour format as it requires an even bigger disc to place all the numerals on.