The only word that Elizabeth Taylor knew in Italian, Richard Burton liked to claim, was “Bulgari”. Taylor’s enthusiastic patronage helped establish the jeweller as one of the most glamorous names to come from a country where stylish brands spring up like dandelions.
With its headquarters a Vespa’s splutter from the Spanish Steps, Bulgari is proudly Roman, playing on many themes from the city’s history. This is particularly evident in its watchmaking. The company got serious about watches in the 1970s, first with the Bulgari Roma and then the Bulgari-Bulgari collection, watches characterised by cases in the style of a Roman coin with classical script engraved around the bezel. These watches continue to be a Bulgari signature today.
In 2012 Bulgari launched a new collection called Octo. These came with a case inspired by the octagonal motifs carved into the walls of the Basilica of Maxentius, one of the later additions to the Roman Forum in the fourth century AD.
The Octo, in all its poly-faceted glory, has also become a mainstay of the firm’s ever-growing watch canon. It particularly hit home in 2014, when the ultra-thin Octo Finissimo Tourbillon was one of the most talked about watches of the Baselworld watch fair, the annual exhibition that makes the Geneva Motor Show look like a village fête.
There are now two new additions to the Octo range, the Mono-Rétrograde (pictured) and the Bi-Rétrograde. Each features a retrograde minute hand, which goes from 0-60 across the top of the dial like a rev counter before flicking back to zero in an instant as the hour-indicator jumps forward by one digit. The Bi-Rétrograde also features a retrograde date indicator at the bottom.
Whilst Bulgari’s heart is in Rome, its watch production takes place in the Swiss Jura. Because while nobody out-styles the Italians, if you want watchmakers, you go to Switzerland. This is a practical approach that the company founder would have understood. When Sotirios Voulgaris opened his jewellery shop in Via Sistina in the late 19th century, the Greek émigré realised that his surname probably needed Romanising if it was to become an emblem of Latin chic. So Voulgaris became Bulgari, and a new Italian word entered the lexicon.
Baume & Mercier
With a history that can be traced back to a small watch shop in the Swiss mountains opened by the Baume brothers in 1830, Baume & Mercier prides itself on producing fine, beautifully finished watches at relatively accessible prices. The newly unveiled Clifton Chronograph Complete Calendar is powered by a Valjoux automatic movement and features day, date, month and day-night indicators, a moonphase disc at six o’clock and a chronograph with blued-steel hands to count seconds, minutes and hours. This is a lot of Swiss watch for a relatively reasonable £3250.
There have been mutterings of disquiet about a Silicon Valley-led assault on the Swiss watch industry for a while now. While most people know that our love of beautiful, ticking clockwork is not about to be ‘swiped left’ out of our lives, a lot of people in the industry are keeping all bases covered. Tag Heuer has decided to work with Silicon Valley rather than against it and, in collaboration with Intel and Google, has produced its first smart watch. The Connected is an attempt to put a smart watch within the design codes of a proper watch. It has a 46mm titanium case and real bezel, while a screen assimilates an analogue watch face that is interchangeable between a chronograph, a three-hand and a GMT dial. As well as those standard watch functions, it links up with your phone and does all the health tracking, messaging managing and so on that the Android Wear operating system offers. So it is a fully functional smartwatch, but one that is proud of its analogue heritage.
Tag Heuer Connected: £1100 www.tagheuer.co.uk