Tiny movements are big at Bulgari – The New York Times | Candle Made Easy

In June, Bulgari unveiled its vision of the Garden of Eden, dubbed Giardino Dell’Eden Piccolissimo. It was an extravagant jewelry watch covered in diamonds, rubies, pink tourmalines, mandarin garnets, pink and yellow sapphires, and rock crystals, all arranged around the dial on the wings of a butterfly, the scales of a hatching snake, and scattered throughout a flower bed in flower.

The opulent piece concealed a remarkable detail: at its heart was the BVl100 calibre, also known as Piccolissimo (‘very small’ in Italian), a mechanical micro-movement developed by Bulgari in-house to power its high-end jewelry watches.

“This is the product of our miniaturization know-how from Switzerland and our jewelry-making art from Italy,” said Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani, creative director of Bulgari Watches, in an interview in Paris in June.

For most of the 20th century, Bulgari used small mechanical movements in its jewelry watches, but the Roman jeweler switched to quartz or battery-powered movements in the late 1970s, when the popularity of Japanese-made quartz watches pushed many Swiss mechanical movement manufacturers out of the business .

The Piccolissimo, which debuted in four Serpenti “secret watches” (watches disguised as bracelets) in January, is a return to that early practice — but with a difference. Composed of 102 components that weigh a total of 1.3 grams (0.045 ounces), the caliber is 12.3 millimeters in diameter and 2.5 millimeters thick, and according to the brand, keeps a watch ticking for 30 hours.

“We have made every effort to ensure its reliability,” said Mr. Buonamassa Stigliani. “If you don’t master miniaturization, you can end up with a very small power reserve.”

Precision and reliability in ultra-thin watches has been the manager’s daily focus since he joined Bulgari in 2001 (except for a two-year absence while working elsewhere as a consultant). An industrial designer who came to watches after working in the automotive industry, he was what the brand’s CEO Jean-Christophe Babin called at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2021 ceremony: “Bulgari’s own Leonardo da Vinci, both an artist and an engineer.” (Mr. Babin accepted the Aiguille d’Or, the grand prize of the Grand Prix, for the Octo Finissimo Perpetual Calendar with retrograde date display and a 60-hour power reserve.)

Over the past decade, Mr. Buonamassa Stigliani has been the driving force behind Bulgari’s transformation from a jewelry brand to a respected player in the men’s luxury sports watch category.

And since 2014, his design team has set eight world records for ultra-thin movements, including the world’s thinnest watch, the 1.8mm Octo Finissimo Ultra – until July 6, when Richard Mille unveiled the 1.75mm RM UP-01 Ferrari introduced.

“For the last 12 years we have focused on the Finissimo series,” said Mr. Buonamassa Stigliani. “This move to the women’s side is part of the same ‘Ultraslim’ discussion. We could not have imagined the piccolissimo without the finissimo.”

The piccolissimo, small as it is, must be wound by hand; The crown was placed on the case back to save space. The stem can be turned clockwise to set the time or counterclockwise to wind.

Jean-Marc Wiederrecht, a retired watchmaker and founder of movement manufacturer Agenhor, wrote in an email: “The 30-hour power reserve at a thickness of 2.5 millimeters, despite the caliber’s limited overall volume, plus the crown on the case back, which is itself a complex challenge, are great achievements that show how well Bulgari has mastered this miniaturization.”

The piccolissimo has its own case, separate from the structure of the bracelet. “This means that you can turn the movement and read the time correctly whether you wear the watch on your left or right wrist,” said Mr. Buonamassa Stigliani. “It also means the movement can be serviced without having to touch the jewelry bracelet.”

Bulgari is not the only luxury brand working with miniature movements. Introduced in 1929, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Caliber 101 remains a standard among small movements for jewelry watches, weighing less than 1 gram and measuring 14 millimeters in length, 4.8 millimeters in width and 3.4 millimeters in thickness.

“Jewelry was going through a renaissance back then,” said Lionel Favre, product design director at Jaeger-LeCoultre, in a video interview from the brand’s Vallée de Joux factory in Switzerland. “And Jaeger had the specific know-how with different metiers that were vertically integrated into its production.”

Herr Wiederrecht wrote, “Mini calibers were common until the introduction of quartz movements in the 1970s,” and he noted, “Jaeger’s Caliber 101 holds the record for slimness among baguette-shaped calibers.”

While the popularity of inexpensive watches with Japanese-made quartz technology hurt Swiss watch sales – and dampened brands’ interest in investing in micromechanical movements for the less lucrative women’s market – Jaeger-LeCoultre continued to tweak its caliber.

“The Caliber 101 is now in its fifth generation,” said Mr. Favre. “It’s gone from 78 to 98 components as we re-evaluated it for precision and reliability.”

In the past, Jaeger sold the Caliber 101 to houses like Cartier or Van Cleef & Arpels for their luxury timepieces, but limited production has ended the practice. “We only make 10 to 20 units a year because each movement is adjusted by hand,” says Favre. “The process is purely manual and therefore expensive.”

Up until the mid-1970s, Bulgari’s Tubogas watches were powered by small mechanical movements purchased from suppliers including Vacheron Constantin. But customer demand, at least in part, prompted Bulgari to invest in developing its own micro-caliber.

“We’ve had requests from Asian customers who love our jewelry watches but prefer a high quality mechanical movement,” said Mr. Buonamassa Stigliani. “Also, when we talk about sustainability, a mechanical jewelry watch lasts forever and is more environmentally friendly. You can pass it on, it will become a family heirloom.”

For both Bulgari and Jaeger-LeCoultre, it was all about quality. “The utility can always be questioned, but our goal is to create an exceptional property with the highest quality standards,” said Mr. Favre. “It’s like having a jacket with a silk lining versus a cotton lining. Some people may not be sensitive to the difference, but at higher price levels some want the better quality.”

Bulgari has announced that it will develop a series of fully mechanical women’s models with the Piccolissimo. While each piece has to be assembled by hand, Mr. Buonamassa Stigliani said: “We will increase our internal production capacity and are aiming for 40 Piccolissimo movements this year.”

The one-of-a-kind Giardino Dell’Eden watch, he noted, sold on the first day it was shown to customers.

But, he said, “we will make others, with other flowers, and this model will serve as a platform. The development of this microcaliber has opened a new chapter.”

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