The Swiss watch planet in movement – Part 7

November 2010


Operation ‘Calibre 168’ (named thusly because it comprises 168 components) began in earnest for Bulgari in 2007, the year the Roman brand purchased the machines, production tools, and the intellectual property necessary to make its first in-house calibre. The main aim of this operation was “not to reinvent the wheel,” says Guido Terreni, Director of Operations of the Watch Business Unit at Bulgari, “but to offer the brand the means to master the fabrication of a basic tractor, a motor that could evolve and thus give Bulgari an additional step towards watchmaking legitimacy.”
In parallel to the Calibre 168 program, the progressive acquisition of watchmaking legitimacy has passed by a series of investments and complementary acquisitions, beginning of course with that of Roth and Genta in 2000, which allowed the brand “to grow and strengthen the watch culture at the heart of the group,” even though up until last year, these two entities had not yet been directly integrated into Bulgari’s production.
In 2005, it was the turn of Cadran Design to pass into the fold of the group. Cadran Design was already making all the dials, often quite complex, for Roth and Genta, and enjoys unequalled savoir-faire in this domain. That same year, with the goal of gradually acquiring the know-how necessary for the complete fabrication of a watch, Bulgari purchased Prestige d’Or, a Jurassian company fabricating bracelets and clasps. Finally, in 2007, Bulgari acquired the case maker, Finger, a specialist in very complicated and technical cases with high added value such as, for example, the 104-component case of the Diagono Sport with three time zones.

The Swiss watch planet in movement – Part 7 Guido Terreni, Some of the Bulgari/Gérald Genta and Bulgari/Daniel Roth movements

A ‘tractor’
Judging from the specifications of the Calibre 168, it seems that, from the very beginning, the group wanted to create a basic automatic-winding calibre that would be “practical and capable of evolving,” equipped with a torque powerful enough to later receive various complicated modules. Among the other demands, this calibre had to be designed and constructed to assure optimal chronometric performance, while being produced on an industrial scale, in ‘sizeable’ volumes—in other words several thousand pieces.
The plans of this 11.5’’’ line movement, with an encased diameter of 25.60 mm and a total thickness of 4.75 mm, were in existence but they had never been realized. These are the plans—the intellectual property—that Bulgari bought in order to develop internally. And, thanks to its new production apparatus, all of the in-house components for its new calibre are made by Bulgari, with the exception of the assortment (Nivarox), barrel spring and the stones.
In view of the solidity and rigidity of this movement, with very classic architecture and finishings, as well as the fact that it is destined to receive additional modules in the future, the bridges and plates are made in nickel silver, a very hard and resistant high-end alloy that is complex to work with. The cross-wise balance bridge assures working stability and rigidity of the balance. Moreover, this 4-Hz movement, thus beating at a frequency of 28,800 vibrations per hour, possesses a winding system with a bi-directional oscillating weight, and offers the traditional 42 hours of working reserve. It is also equipped with an automatic winding coupling device when the watch is wound manually, thus decreasing the risk of premature aging in the gears.
In its current version, its finishings are very classic in nature (circular-grained plate and palettes bridge, 3/4 bridge engraved with the Côtes de Genève design, spiral design on the barrel drum, beveled bridge edges). It also displays hours, minutes, seconds, and a central date using a hand that jumps instantaneously, which also gives the watch a characteristic identity. For its public introduction, this movement equips the new Sotirio Bulgari collection that sells for CHF 6,500 in its steel version.

The Swiss watch planet in movement – Part 7

Gradual rise in strength
Today, Bulgari is finalizing its first pre-series before increasing its industrial strength, scheduled to take place starting at the beginning of 2011. “A few thousand pieces” will be produced in the short term, a matter of “feeling out the markets,” as Guido Terreni explains.
Another point of action, still in the domain of the mechanical movement, is the integration of the two brands from Le Sentier—Roth and Genta—in an offer specifically signed Bulgari/Daniel Roth or Bulgari/Gérald Genta. This integration, which was at the time highly criticized by the purists, has apparently been “well received by the public.” Guido Terreni vigorously defends the importance of this integration that is allowing “these two brands to move out of their niche” and to “defend this exceptional patrimony of savoir-faire through the power of the Bulgari group.” Unlike before, these two particular collections are now being presented and sold in Bulgari’s many flagship stores.
For the moment, at least, the Calibre 168 will not equip the Roth and Genta complications, which still use Girard-Perregaux and Frédéric Piguet calibres, with the exception of the grand complications (such as the Grande Sonnerie, for example), realized entirely in-house by the 70 employees in Le Sentier.

Source: Europa Star October - November 2010 Magazine Issue