In the process of becoming the fully integrated, entirely capable watch manufacture that it is today, Bulgari has put vast resources and efforts into mastering all crafts of the watchmaking trade, bringing state-of-the-art facilities and master craftsmen under its roof. Bulgari’s efforts include the creation of a fully equipped haute horlogerie workshop in a separated area inside the brand’s manufacture in Le Sentier, which has been responsible for creating some of the most complicated chiming watches available today. Let’s take a closer look at the fine details and inner secrets of some of these super-complicated pieces.
It all starts with research, development – and design. Originally established in 1884 and still headquartered in Rome, Italy, Bulgari has been famous for tapping into historical design elements of Italian culture – let that inspiration be found in architecture, art, or engineering, when looking for it with a trained eye, a piece of that tradition can be found in the smaller details of the brand’s timepieces, as well as its jewelry. However, some of Bulgari’s key high-complications – and especially the ones discussed below – carry on a different heritage that stems from the watch industry itself.
From 2000 to 2010, Le Sentier Manufacture (Genta & Roth) has separately belonged to Bulgari until its merging with the Italian brand in 2010, allowing the company to carry on the two masters’ work by creating new timepieces which remain true to – but nonetheless further develop upon – their original designs. Both the Bulgari Octo (hands-on here) and the Bulgari Carillon Tourbillon Minute-Repeater (hands-on here) exemplify this evolution.
Once we peel the skin off of these iconic – and yet over the years, cautiously modified and developed – designs, a new world opens up: the universe of fine mechanics. The master watchmakers in the haute horlogerie workshops of Bulgari work on a very wide range of calibers – including movements that go into the Bulgari Carillon Tourbillon Minute Repeater, the Bulgari Octo Grande Sonnerie, and the Bulgari Grande Sonnerie Quantieme Perpetuel which we will see below.
The task of assembling these extremely complicated calibers, comprising several hundreds of delicately crafted parts, falls on the haute horlogerie workshop. In an age of mass production and extremely capable and complicated computer-controlled machinery, the assembly of a device of such complexity as these calibers by another machine is still entirely unimaginable. Even when it comes to watchmakers, only a select few of those with several years – if not decades – of experience are able to successfully compose the movement that goes into an haute horlogerie timepiece.
Among other high complication pieces, Bulgari has been expanding its wide range of extremely complex chiming watches, matching this centuries-old complication to a number of other features such as the tourbillon, perpetual calendar, retrograde indications, and more. One of the main sources of technical challenges is the fact that a minute repeater is “on demand” in the sense that it has to know the exact time down to the nearest minute at any moment when the wearer starts the mechanism. As such, the chiming mechanism takes up a large amount of space in the movement – squeezing more functions into such a small machine is a challenge that keeps many from combining it with new and unusual complications.
Shown above are so-called snails and cams – of rather unusual shapes – from the movement of the Bulgari Carillon Minute Repeater Tourbillon. These components have all been designed to be able to “read” the time from the movement and then, to help the little hammers strike their respective gongs exactly as many times as the momentary time dictates.
The DR 3300 caliber – illustrated both above and below at different levels of completion – powers the Bulgari Carillon Minute Repeater Tourbillon and contains a total of 327 parts. While each of these components have been manufactured with a dimensional tolerance of no greater than 5 microns or 0.005 millimeters, fitting them all into such a confined place is a very demanding task that actually takes several months from start to completion.
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? The uncased movement of the Bulgari Sonnerie Carillon Tourbillon in operation, as seen today at Bulgari's haute horlogerie workshop in Le Sentier. Video by @abtw_david #ablogtowatch #watchnerd #watchmaking #watchporn #horology #instawatch #womw #watchmovement #watchmanufacture #bulgari #carillon #tourbillon #sonnerie #minuterepeater #grandcomplication
How does it all work? Just click on the image above to see a video of the Bulgari Carillon Minute Repeater Tourbillon in action: whenever the mechanism is started by the wearer moving the slider set into the side of the caliber, one sees the cams, wheels and springs of the minute repeater complication move quickly into their position to begin a slow and calculated dance as they help the mechanism chime the exact time.
On the case back side of the Bulgari Carillon Minute Repeater Tourbillon, a maze of rarely seen components becomes visible: chiming mechanisms are fragile and extremely complex machines and, as the term “carillon” indicates in its name, this example is an even rarer kind of chiming watch where the mechanism has not two but three sets of hammers and gongs. The result is a three-note chime that is not only much more challenging to tune and get just right, but also is arguably more playful in its quarter-chiming, and has a more unusual difference between the deeper sound for the hours, and the unusually high pitched one for the minutes.
On the dial side, however, two large plates with engraved grooves make the picture complete, along with the one-minute tourbillon that is held secure by a large, hand-finished bridge, and the opening for the three minute repeater hammers. Wrapping around the entire movement are the three gongs of the Bulgari Carillon Minute Repeater, which resonate as the hammers strike their respective gongs – giving off a clear and audible chiming sound of three different pitches.