Bvlgari Watches History: A Story of Italian Style & Swiss Innovation

Bvlgari Watches History: A Story of Italian Style & Swiss Innovation2018-06-12T23:35:23+00:00

1980 Bvlgari Bvlgari AdvertisementThough most famous for its iconic fine jewelry, Bvlgari offers a wide variety of luxury products and services. These include designer watches, purses, accessories, fragrances, hotels, and resorts.

Overall, Bvlgari watches are world-renowned for immaculate quality and distinctive signature designs for both men and women.

The brand’s ladies’ watch collections, like its jewelry, tend towards the opulent, bursting with color and shimmer. However, the men’s collections are much more understated, yet evoke bold masculinity and timeless elegance.

Many nods to the company’s Greek and Roman roots appear in its watch designs. Coins, inscriptions, and motifs such as serpents come together in stunning timepieces that never fail to make a statement.

In recent decades, Bvlgari has broken world records with its ultra-thin watches featuring in-house movements and cutting-edge complications. The firm is particularly famed for its wide selection of high-end chiming watches.

Bvlgari’s Jewelry House Beginnings

Bvlgari’s founder, Sotirios Voulgaris, first emigrated from Greece to Italy in 1880. Though young and penniless at the time, Voulgaris came from a silversmithing family and was highly skilled in his trade.

He quickly found work in jewelry and decided to start his own jewelry business, named “Bulgari.” Although the brand now produces many types of luxury goods, it was originally established as a jewelry house.

Family Pride In Fine Jewelry

The first Bulgari shop opened in 1884 on the famous Via Sistina street in Rome. The business flourished, and Voulgaris’s sons, Constantino and Giorgio, worked closely with their father to promote and expand it.

Original Bulgari Jewelry And Watch Storefront

In 1905, Constantino and Giorgio assumed leadership of the company and opened a second shop on Via Condotti. This storefront would subsequently become the family’s flagship location.

Later, Giorgio’s sons, Gianni, Paolo, and Nicola, proudly continued the family tradition, leading Bulgari to international expansion and further success. The brand continued to be family-owned for over a century.

It wasn’t until 2011 that luxury goods conglomerate LMVH purchased the family’s share in the company. At $5.2 billion, Bulgari was indeed one of LMVH’s most expensive acquisitions.  In the LMVH Watch & Jewelry Division, Bulgari joined other top luxury brands such as TAG Heuer.

Which Is Correct, Bulgari or Bvlgari?

“Bulgari” is derived from the family’s surname “Voulgaris.”  However, as the brand was founded and headquartered in Rome, the family embraced the Bvlgari logo with the Latin “v” in 1934 to honor ancient Rome. Both spellings are considered correct and may be used interchangeably.

“Bvlgari” is still pronounced with a “u” sound (“BULL-GAHR-EE.”) Though the company’s website domain is “Bulgari.com” and lists its watchmaking subsidiary as “Bulgari Time,” their watches are named and labeled with the stylized “Bvlgari.” So, both are fine – it’s up to you to decide which you like better.

Establishing The Daring “Italian Style” Of Jewelry

Bulgari Sautoir Set With British CoinsThe Voulgaris family worked passionately, developing a distinctive design philosophy to distinguish themselves among other jewellers.

Early on, Bvlgari mainly released Parisian-inspired designs, as was common in fine jewelry back then.

However, by the 1940s, the company was making a mark in the jewelry world, trendsetting with a distinctly Italian flair.

Bvlgari’s “Italian style” incorporated numerous ancient Greek and Roman motifs into its designs, such as serpents and antique coins.

Another essential element of Bvlgari style is the house’s brilliant use of color and variety in shapes and materials.

Before Bvlgari, most jewelers selected gems primarily for value, and so, diamonds and other precious stones dominated designs. Bvlgari instead focuses on a piece’s overall look and often includes semiprecious stones to add color and texture.

This approach was revolutionary, and the brand further pushed fashion boundaries with huge gems, bold hues, and unusual shapes. For example, Bvlgari often uses cabochons – rounded, polished gems – rather than traditional faceted stones.

Film Star Favorite

Sofia Loren Wearing Bulgari Jewels

Sophia Loren in Bvlgari At “La Ciociara” Premiere

In the 1950s / 1960s, dubbed Italy’s “La Dolce Vita” era after Fellini’s 1960 masterpiece film, Bvlgari’s popularity skyrocketed.

The “La Dolce Vita” goddess herself, Anita Ekberg, proudly donned Bvlgari jewels. Consequently, many other glamorous leading ladies of the era also loved Bvlgari:

  • Elizabeth Taylor
  • Monica Vitti
  • Sofia Loren
  • Gina Lollobrigida
  • Audrey Hepburn

Soon, the brand was embraced by Italian nobility, prominent businessmen, and politicians. This period of tremendous success provided Bvlgari with the influence and capital to further expand and diversify its product lines.

Bvlgari Watches Rise To Prominence

Bvlgari has offered pocket, lapel, and wrist watches since its humble beginnings. However, the company didn’t focus heavily on watchmaking until after a few of their watch designs became wildly popular. Let’s take a look at two of Bvlgari’s most famous historical watch models:

Serpenti “Snake-Watch” Bracelets

In the 1940’s, Art Deco-inspired snake bracelets were all the rage. Likewise, Bvlgari designers cleverly riffed on this trend, making glittery snake-watches by placing watches inside the snake heads.

These “Serpenti” bracelet watches exploded in popularity when introduced, and continue to be one of the brand’s best-sellers.

The early Serpenti watches were sumptuously jewel-studded and sculpted to closely resemble real snakes. Today, Bvlgari also offers Serpenti collections that are more abstract and/or understated in nature.

Bulgari Jeweled Coil Serpenti And Tubogas Serpenti

Left: Vintage Bvlgari jeweled bracelet snake-watch; Right: Bvlgari Serpenti With Tubogas Strap

Nevertheless, the serpentine inspiration for the line always remains intact in one way or another. For example, many Serpenti watches sport normal watch faces but feature snake-like straps that coil around the wrist.

Particularly popular among Serpenti models are those that feature Bvlgari’s unique “Tubogas” bracelet straps. These are ribbed, coiled bracelets with an appearance inspired by the piping used to transport gasoline. To achieve their signature shape and flexibility without soldering, the bracelets are entirely handmade.

Limited Edition Bvlgari Bvlgari Watch

In 1975, Bvlgari sent a special Christmas gift to its top 100 customers. This gift was a limited edition yellow gold digital watch inscribed with “Bvlgari Roma” on its bezel.

This limited edition design turned out to be an unexpected hit, coveted by watch connoisseurs everywhere. So, Bvlgari used it as the prototype for a new collection, and released the iconic “Bvlgari Bvlgari” in 1977.

Bvlgari Roma Vintage Bvlgari Coiled Bvlgari

Left: Limited Edition Bvlgari Roma; Center: Vintage Bvlgari Bvlgari; Right: Bvlgari Bvlgari Tubogas Watch

Ancient coins honoring emperors with bold inscriptions and monumental Roman architectural columns served as main inspirations for Bvlgari Bvlgari.

The Bvlgari Bvlgari quickly became popular, even without advertising. Attracted through word of mouth, customers clamored for these elegant yet unmistakably grand watches at the main Condotti store.

To this day, the Bvlgari Bvlgari still dominates as Bvlgari’s most popular men’s watch.

“Bulgari Time” Leads To Watchmaking Excellence

In the 1980s, Bulgari decided to further expand its watch offerings. The brand established Bulgari Time (Bulgari Haute Horlogerie SA), a dedicated watchmaking subsidiary. Bulgari Time is located in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, a veritable watchmaking capital and the birthplace of watch industry giants like Zenith.

For much of the company’s history, Bvlgari watches featured movements manufactured by other premier watch companies. But by 2010, after acquiring several other watch brands and suppliers, it started producing its own in-house movements and complications.

Now Bvlgari has broken several world records for creating exceptionally thin watches. Some of these ultra-thin models manage to house some of the most complex offerings in watchmaking, like tourbillons and chimes.

The Marvels Of Bvlgari Haute Horlogerie

Many of Bvlgari’s most impressive complications are featured in its “Haute Horlogerie” collection of high-end designer watches. The models in this contemporary collection truly push the limits of watchmaking excellence:

Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Squelette

Tourbillon watches reduce timing errors from gravity effects via a complex rotating mechanism for the escapement and balance wheel. Overall, they’re very difficult to produce and contain many intricate parts.

This Bvlgari piece is not only the thinnest (5.0 mm) flying tourbillon watch, it’s also exquisitely skeletonized. This means the beautiful BVL 268SK Caliber is fully visible through the watch’s open-case back.

 

Bulgari Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Squelette And Automatique

Left; Bulgari Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Squelette: Right: Bulgari Octo Finissimo Automatique

Octo Finissimo Automatique

Automatic movements, powered by the motions of the wearer’s wrist, are ubiquitous in luxury watches. But Bvlgari proved its technical prowess in releasing this model, the world’s thinnest automatic watch. The movement itself is a mere 2.23 mm thick. You can learn more about watch movements in our Watch Parts Guide.

Octo Finissimo Répétition Minutes

This watch contains a minute repeater,which is a highly-complex chiming mechanism.

In short, minute repeater watches allow the wearer to check the time without having to look at the watch. At the push of a button, the watch emits a series of chimes that signals the current time.

Only the most sophisticated watchmakers possess the expertise to manufacture such a complex mechanism. The minute repeater is built into Bvlgari’s in-house BVL 362 Caliber, which features chimes that are “crystal-clear” and “perfectly uniform.”

And this Octo Finissimo, at just 6.85 mm thick, is the world’s thinnest minute repeater watch.

Grande Sonnerie Magsonic®

A grande sonnerie, like a minute repeater, signals time with chiming. But instead of chiming at the touch of a button, grande sonnerie watches chime every 15 minutes.

This regular chiming creates even more of a technical challenge, since the watch needs much larger power reserves. But Bvlgari’s BVL 31001 Caliber tackles this requirement perfectly, while also offering great flexibility in usage. Besides grande sonnerie, it can be switched to petite sonnerie (chimes only the hour), minute repeater, or silent mode.

The caliber employs 4 gongs, enabling it to play the famous Big Ben chime. These gongs are made from Magsonic®, a special low-density alloy that aids in sound amplification.

Il Giocatore Veneziano

The dial design of this hand-engraved watch was inspired by “Cardsharps” from 16th century Italian Baroque painter Caravaggio. Fittingly, it features a unique animated gambling “automaton” function that works separately from the watch’s minute repeater.

Activating the automaton causes the gambler’s hands to move, revealing the dice. The dice displays are randomized out of 504 total possible combinations. The stunning design and unique functionality makes for a truly impressive, one-of-a-kind timepiece, even for Bvlgari.

Bulgari Il Giocatore Veneziano And Papillon

Papillon

This watch is inspired by the fluttering of butterfly wings. After all, “papillon” is French for “butterfly.” Mimicking the insect’s delicate movements, the Papillon’s diamond-shaped hands spin 180 degrees around as they rotate around the watch face.

More Contemporary Bvlgari Collections

Though the Haute Horlogerie collection showcases Bvlgari’s most innovative offerings, the brand’s other current collections are also quite noteworthy:

Octo

The Octo watch was designed to appeal to the ideal “Bvlgari man” owing to its characteristic octagonal dial. This unique design was inspired by the octagonal coffers from the ceiling of the Basilica of Maxentius in Rome.

Bulgari Octo Roma Luxury Watch

Today, Bvlgari also offers:

  • “Octo Finnisomo” models, the ultra-thin watches mentioned before,
  • “Octo Roma” models, featuring a special structured case (shown in brown above)

Bvlgari Bvlgari

This classic Bvlgari line is still among the brand’s most popular selections. The simplest variation offered is the Solotempo (“time-only”).  Shown below is a popular style choice of steel with a black alligator strap.

Bulgari Bvlgari Bvlgari Solotempo

Moreover, Finissimo (ultra-thin) and Carbon Gold models are also currently available on the Bvlgari website.

Diagono

Diagono is Bvlgari’s sports watch collection.

The name of this collection comes from “Agon,” the ancient Greek term for “struggle” or “contest.” Accordingly, Bvlgari sought to make a watch strong and lightweight enough for swimmers, racers, and other competitive sportsmen. Shown below is a bright yellow variation of the Diagono Scuba Watch.

Bulgari Diagono Scuba Watch

To achieve its aims, Bvlgari worked with aeronautical and automotive experts to find the most suitable avant-garde materials, including:

  • Scratch-resistant ceramics
  • Peek, a shock-absorbing and stabilizing polymer
  • Motorlac coating, a finishing lacquer for sports cars

For More Bvlgari Masterpieces

We hope you enjoyed our take on Bvlgari’s evolution through time and spotlight on the brand’s historic and contemporary men’s’ watch collections.

To learn more about Bvlgari’s company history, featured watch models, and unique design icons, visit the official website.

Bulgari Watches
Reviewed by Paul Anthony, on .
"Italian style meets Swiss innovation. Fine art and technical prowess converge in Bulgari's vision of unique designs that frequently revolutionise modern watchmaking."
Rating: 5.0 ★★★★★

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