In 1980, Bulgari achieved the perfect fusion between jewellery and watchmaking through the Bulgari Bulgari Tubogas watch for ladies.
The year 1975 was revolutionary in the realms of technology and geopolitics. Steve Jobs began working on his computer designs and rolled out the first prototype from Apple; Bill Gates founded Microsoft; Britain voted to remain in the European Economic Committee (which became the European Union); and the Vietnam War ended with the fall of Saigon. The world of horology, too, witnessed a revolution: the onslaught of Japanese quartz watches.
While the “quartz crisis” wiped out many watchmaking firms in Switzerland, the Bulgari brothers, Nicola and Paolo, decided to create the brand’s first men’s watch in 1975. Inspired by old Roman coins, the round watch used a classic typeface to engrave “BVLGARI” and “ROMA” on the bezel. Keeping up with the ‘quartz age’, the Bulgari Roma had a liquid-crystal display. Unlike most luxury watches in those days, which were fitted with metal bracelets, this one was attached to a woven hemp and leather strap. Limited to just 100 pieces, the watch was a big hit.
Though Bulgari had been manufacturing watches since the 1920s, it was largely perceived as a jeweller. The success of the Bulgari Roma encouraged the company to expand its reach with a new range of watches. In 1977, the brand hired Gerald Genta, the legendary designer who tweaked the Bulgari Roma case making it available in four sizes, and changed the ‘BVLGARI ROMA’ inscription to ‘BVLGARI BVLGARI’, with two large, incised dots separating the words to celebrate the two brothers, who owned and ran the company.
Genta designed the watch for both men and women. While the women’s watch retained the two-hand design, the men’s model, fitted with an ETA automatic movement, had a sweep seconds hand, too.
The Bulgari Bulgari watch, with its clean, gloss black dial and gold indices, became the face of the brand in the 1980s. In fact, there were customers who left their yellow gold timepieces for servicing at the boutiques and took home the plastic models of the same with great conviction.
The sporty-looking plastic timepieces were numbered and sent to boutiques as temporary replacements. There were clients who flaunted their plastic timepiece as a limited edition of the watch, thereby contributing to the popularity of the watch.
Bulgari made the most of this trend by introducing a limited-edition retail version of the service watch in 1993. Fitted with an ETA automatic movement, seen through a transparent caseback, this limited-edition watch had the edition number and the name of the boutique printed on the dial.
The unprecedented success of the limited-edition watch encouraged Bulgari to experiment with newer materials. The brand launched a steel version of the Bulgari Bulgari watch to mark its 20th anniversary in 1997 and the Carbon Gold timepiece in 2005.
Over the past 40 years, the Bulgari Bulgari collection has been building up on Genta’s inimitable design by using different materials and adding innovative features. In 1980, Bulgari achieved the perfect fusion between jewellery and watchmaking through the Bulgari Bulgari Tubogas watch for ladies. A trademark creation from Bulgari, the Tubogas bracelet is named after the flexible metal piping used for sports car exhaust manifolds in the 1920s.
A flexible band of smooth rounded spirals with no soldering, the Tubogas requires hours of highly specialised work. It involves rolling two long bands of metal around a copper or wooden cylinder in a way that the edges align perfectly to form a single, uninterrupted band. The cylinder is then removed or dissolved in acid.
These metal bands of steel or gold are remarkably flexible and can be stretched to five meters in length per coil on the wrist. They are the products of a long series of preparatory and shaping operations carried out by hand, and are finally assembled using the Tubogas technique. The engineering behind it is impressive and the result is a stylish and comfortable design that no one else has been able to replicate so far.
The most impressive examples of these timepieces date to the 1960s and 1970s and were conceived as unique multiple coils in yellow, pink and white gold, featuring a stylised serpent design. And, that and the Tubogas have become the brand’s trademarks.
“Yes, we are a jeweller,” says Jean-Christophe Babin, CEO, Bulgari. “We have the Italian DNA, which means we are very much about design. But, over the past four years, we have been able to bring together our heritage as a jeweller and watchmaking skills quite effectively.”
In the past four decades, the brand has introduced a bunch of enticing timepieces in 18-carat pink gold, gold and steel or polished steel. The watch is adorned with a pink cabochon gemstone as its crown and is also available in an 18-carat white gold case set with brilliant-cut diamonds.
“We want to be a really major competitor in the mainstream segment for watches,” says Babin. “While the Bulgari Bulgari watch is a fantastic pillar and is for people who love logos, we also have the Serpenti and the Lvcea collections. The ladies’ watches are over two-thirds of the volume at Bulgari and we are doing extremely well in this segment.”