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Bulgari - Italians Do It Better

Bulgari Italians Do It Better

The new Bulgari Octo Roma Carillon Tourbillon is — no surprise — an exceptional piece of work

Guys, I want to tell you about the first time that a watch made me react with emotional violence. It was almost exactly seven years ago, 23 January 2014. It was a Thursday morning, after an intense three days at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, and I finally had the time to accept a few daytime appointments and meetings outside Palexpo (the exhibition centre near Geneva airport). The thing is, I was in charge of organising a huge work dinner that evening, and during the day I was mostly hoping for light catch-ups and the kind of casual but essential relationship maintenance that comes with the territory when you’re a consumer journalist. So I wasn’t expecting anything too heavy, wasn’t looking to have my mind blown, when I checked my schedule and realised I had an extra 30 minutes free, which allowed me to fulfil my promise to the Bulgari people to pop into their boutique on Rue du Rhône if I had the chance.

Italians Do It Better

Octo Roma Carillon Tourbillon © Bulgari

Upstairs in the private presentation room of the Bulgari boutique, the incomparable Pascal Brandt unveiled to me the Ammiraglio del Tempo, a Westminster chime carillon minute repeater with “cathedral” gongs, a constant-force mechanism and detent escapement. When the minute repeater was activated, I involuntarily shoved my chair away from the table and stood up, compelled by some insane, visceral mix of amazement, delight and rigid excitement. My jaw dropped and I was this close to screaming (with great restraint, I managed to get a grip on myself, continuously berating myself “Damn it, Suzanne, be cool!”). Those anthemic, iconic opening lines “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?” reverberated through my mind, scored by the clarion chime of the watch, a veritable Bulgari Rhapsody.

All this sounds like massive hyperbole, but I assure you it is not. I am not an excitable person. Ladies and gentlemen, be careful when you go into a Bulgari boutique, because you too could have your mind blown and your world shaken.

Italians Do It Better

Octo Roma Carillon Tourbillon © Bulgari

You’ll need to keep this caveat in mind if you get the chance to experience the new Bulgari Octo Roma Carillon Tourbillon, launched just this morning as the brand’s headline timepiece at LVMH Watch Week 2021. Design-wise, we know the Octo Roma. More robust than the fiercely seductive Octo Finissimo, the Octo Roma is ideal for a carillon minute repeater, precisely because of its more generous dimensions. A carillon is essentially any chiming mechanism that can produce more than two notes, a classification that applies beyond horology, as illustrated by church towers with spectacular arrays of bells, also called carillons.

As you might have picked up from my (slightly embarrassing, now that I come to think of it) anecdote earlier, this is certainly not the first time that Bulgari have done a carillon repeater. It’s not their second or third time either. I haven’t called them up to find out exactly how many carillon sonneries they’ve ever made, but I can already name four Bulgari carillon timepieces off the top of my head — including a seriously impressive grande et petite sonnerie “Westminster” quantième perpétuel — and I’m not even what you would call a Bulgari expert.

Just to get the basics out of the way before we go into what people really care about, the BVL428 calibre of the Octo Roma Carillon Tourbillon is a three-note manual winding minute repeater movement with 75-hour power reserve (a nice touch to have a long power reserve in a manual-winding watch). It comes in a limited edition of 15 pieces, titanium case with black DLC (diamond-like carbon) coating that gives it exceptional scratch resistance and a pretty slick dark urbane exterior. Talk about tall, dark and handsome (and can sing)! The openworked case middle and dial is an extension of something we saw in Bulgari’s earlier sonneries such as the Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater (pierced dial) and the Octo Grande Sonnerie (perforated acoustic “sound box”). It’s both functional and aesthetic, and you can’t ask for more than that.

Italians Do It Better

Octo Roma Carillon Tourbillon © Bulgari

In terms of construction, you can draw a straight line of descent from the BVL428 back up to the DR3300 calibre that powered the Bulgari Daniel Roth Carillon Tourbillon (2012). Coincidentally, this latter watch is also one of the best minute repeaters I ever heard in my career — resonant, crystalline, and melodic. This makes me extremely confident about the chime coming from the Octo Roma Carillon Tourbillon, which I must admit I haven’t personally heard yet, but you know what? I’ve never encountered a Bulgari minute repeater that didn’t sound good. From almost every other brand that makes minute repeaters, I’ve heard good ones and not-so-good ones. Bulgari minute repeaters have never let me down, not once.

One more thing that needs to be said — we can talk all day about how incredible the design is and how sophisticated the mechanism is, but what puts everything into context is how astonishingly well priced it is. A good friend of mine, a watch retailer who’s sold more than his fair share of Bulgari complicated watches, tells me that people who are in a position to buy minute repeaters don’t really care that much about price, but I don’t think that’s the point. An in-house tourbillon minute repeater that retails at around 30–40 percent less than other similar timepieces? I know CHF 255,000 isn’t cheap, but considering the quality of the movement, the refinement of its design, the pure beauty of its chime — I think we have a clear winner here.

 

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