Bulgari Octo Roma Carillon Tourbillon

Angus Davies discusses the Bulgari Octo Roma Carillon Tourbillon and explains why, in his opinion, it is a remarkable watch.

Bulgari Octo Roma Carillon Tourbillon

In recent years, the Bulgari nomen has become synonymous with ultra-thin watches. The Manufacture has repeatedly combined its multi-faceted Octo design with an array of complications with each variant sporting a svelte waistline. Such is the brand’s prowess in this domain it has set numerous world records.

However, there is much more to Bulgari than merely slender watches. The brand is vertically integrated making movements, dials, bracelets and cases. Moreover, its Haute Horlogerie creations are made at its dedicated Manufacture located in the Vallée de Joux. This region is known for making complicated watches, especially chiming timepieces. Over the years, Bulgari has made a multitude of chiming watches, encompassing varying degrees of complexity, including the ultimate chiming watch, the Grande Sonnerie.

Image – Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater, Octa Roma Carillon Tourbillon and Octa Roma Grande Sonnerie

The Swiss-Italian firm has recently unveiled the Bulgari Octo Roma Carillon Tourbillon, a model which combines two ‘high complications’: a 3-hammer carillon with Westminster chime and a tourbillon. Many brands would describe this watch as a ‘Grand Complication’, however, for some reason Bulgari does not use the term in its product literature. Perhaps the brand is being unduly modest?

Chiming watches – Minute Repeaters

A minute repeater employs two gongs and two hammers to impart the time aurally. This complication dates back to an era when there was no street lighting, hence the wearer would push a slide on the case and actuate a chiming sequence that indicated the hours, quarters and minutes. A minute repeater is an incredibly complicated mechanism to make and requires the skills of a highly experienced master watchmaker.

Bulgari Octo Roma Carillon Tourbillon

The making of the gongs is very protracted. A steel wire is shaped by hand, then subjected to heat and thereafter quenched. This process is repeated several times. The gongs are repeatedly filed in order to achieve the desired tone, however, should the watchmaker remove too much material, the gong will no longer be fit for use. The gongs are mounted on a ‘plot’, yet remain separate, and the plot is affixed to the movement and/or the case. In terms of the Carillon, Bulgari state the ‘chimes are fixed directly on to the casebody for the most effective transmission of sound..’

Usually, the chiming sequence starts with a low tone for the hour, a combination of both hammers striking the gongs (high and low tones) for the quarters and, lastly, high tones for the minutes.

Chiming watches – Carillon

While a minute repeater has two gongs and two corresponding hammers, a Carillon has three gongs and three hammers. Like a minute repeater, low tones indicate the hours and high tones indicate the minutes, however, the quarters are imparted with three successive notes for the quarters (high-mid-low). A few years ago, I had the opportunity to hear the Bulgari Daniel Roth Carillon DR3300 and I recall its sound was one of the sweetest I had ever heard. Several years have since elapsed, but nothing has changed my opinion.

Bulgari Octo Roma Carillon Tourbillon

The case – titanium

The case of the Bulgari Octo Roma Carillon Tourbillon measures 44mm in diameter and is formed of DLC coated titanium presented in a matte finish. Some experts talk of gold as the best case material for chiming watches, however, others argue that lightweight materials, such as titanium, prove superior as they wonderfully accentuate the chimes. Having spoken to several specialists over the years, the overriding sentiment is that the sound produced by a chiming watch is a matter of personal taste.

When making a case for a chiming watch, the interior walls are designed to optimise sound. Indeed, Bulgari alludes to this in their press literature (see later). Moreover, the three openings in the side of the case ‘allow sound to exit from the chamber’.

The dial – some points to note

The dial features a series of black grilles, again allowing sound to propagate throughout the case. The mainplate and bridges are dressed in PVD, imbuing the watch with a contemporary appearance. A tourbillon escapement is located at 6 o’clock. The case is presented in a gleaming silvery finish, while the twin-arm tourbillon bridge adopts the same stealthy appearance as the bridges.

The hammers are mirror polished. This type of finishing is regarded as the most challenging to execute. It normally entails placing the component against a flat tin plate, smeared with diamantine paste. By rubbing the hammer against the plate, it ultimately adopts its flat profile and assumes a mirror-like, blemish-free appearance. When viewing the polished component from different angles it can appear white, grey or black.

Bulgari Octo Roma Carillon Tourbillon

Positioned at 9 o’clock, adjacent the white gold pushpiece, are two semi-circular apertures. Behind these apertures is a centrifugal governor. This device ensures that the gap between each hammer strike is of equal duration.

The movement – areas worthy of mention

The hand-wound, skeletonised movement is visible via an exhibition caseback. The eyes are indulged with the sight of the snails and racks which work in close collaboration with a dedicated mainspring and the motion works. Each component has been painstakingly crafted.

Bulgari Octo Roma Carillon Tourbillon

Bulgari has equipped the Octo Roma Carillon Tourbillon with two barrels. One is dedicated to the chiming mechanism and is energised merely by pressing the pushpiece. The second barrel is devoted to the indication of hours and minutes. By adopting this approach, irrespective of whether the first barrel is fully charged or depleted, the watch’s timekeeping remains unaffected. A power-reserve indicator is positioned to the rear of the watch.

Closing remarks

Owing to the present Covid situation, I have not handled the Bulgari Octo Roma Carillon Tourbillon or even seen it from afar, hence I feel unable to proffer an opinion on its readability or wearer comfort. However, those aspects which I can see from the images provided by the brand, leave me in no doubt that this is a remarkable watch.

Bulgari has limited production of this model to 15 pieces (the unique reference number is shown on the vertical flank of the crown). I suspect this is a consequence of the protracted period necessary to make each example. Indeed, to put this in context when I visited Bulgari’s Haute Horlogerie Manufacture a number of years ago, I was told that each Daniel Roth Carillon DR3300 took six months to make. Based on its specification, I cannot see how the making of the Octo Roma Carillon Tourbillon would prove any less labour intensive.

Further reading

Technical specification

  • Model: Bulgari Octo Roma Carillon Tourbillon
  • Case: Black DLC coated titanium; diameter 44 mm; water resistance 3ATM (30 metres); sapphire crystal to front and exhibition caseback
  • Functions: Hours; minutes; carillon with Westminster chimes, tourbillon, power-reserve indicator
  • Movement: Calibre BVL 428; hand-wound movement; frequency 21,600 VpH (3Hz); power reserve 75 hours
  • Strap: Black rubberized alligator strap with black DLC coated titanium 3-blade folding buckle 
  • Price: $259,000 (RRP as at 22.2.2021)

The brand’s press release

Bvlgari Haute Horlogerie is once again the spotlight, proudly presenting its new Masterpiece of Sound, the Octo Roma Carillon Tourbillon. Designed to raise the level of sensorial expression through sound, the timepiece features a three-hammer chime combined with a tourbillon regulator: an artful Italian interpretation of Swiss watchmaking expertise that comes to life in its innovative materials and audacious design. A perfect fusion of artistry and technique, in which precision is the framework that underpins exquisite, transcendent beauty.

Shifting the paradigm of modern-day horlogerie, Bvlgari has established itself as the Master of the Estetica della Meccanica, balancing superior savoir-faire and the innovative aesthetics of ultra-thin watches to create groundbreaking timepieces. This expression of the unique fusion between cutting-edge design and the technical expertise of Swiss watchmaking is an exercise of the highest complexity which can be seen in Bvlgari’s mastery of highly complicated watches, including the whole typology of chiming timepieces: 2, 3 and 4 hammers, from the Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater to the Octo Roma Grande Sonnerie. Thanks to its unrivalled expertise in this field, now the brand explores a new facet of its Estetica della Meccanica inspiration, creating another Sinfonia della Meccanica with the Octo Roma Carillon Tourbillon.

The Bvlgari Sinfonia

Expressing the intangible emotion of music with the tiniest complex mechanics is something that could only exist in the world of watchmaking. Creating the perfect, ethereal, chills-inducing chime is a complicated art, one that Bvlgari has devoted itself to, creating a masterful three-hammer chiming watch that using ultra-complex mechanisms and the innovation of a metal grid on the movement that helps to propagate sound throughout the case body.

A Sinfonia is an orchestral interlude in a large-scale vocal work in which the maestro coordinates all the instruments. It is a triumph of precision and technique, a movement that produces an experience of resounding beauty. In creating the Octo Roma Carillon Tourbillon, the Bvlgari master watchmaker is the maestro, choosing, finishing and assembling hundreds of micro parts to create the perfect chime. Like the orchestra conductor, he uses the strictest parameters to create something transcendent and captivating. It is an undertaking of utmost skill: Bvlgari chiming watches can require up to 1200 components in the case of the 4 hammers Grande Sonnerie — a true Sinfonia della Meccanica.

Parallel Passions

Music is woven into the very fabric of Italy; evoking culture and history, the country’s most famous works resonate with passions passed down over centuries. Similarly, Swiss watchmaking is a story of devotion; that single-minded pursuit of excellence that deepens over generations.

Opera was born in Italy around the year 1600 and, to this day, Italian opera continues to dominate the genre. Works by native Italian composers of the 19th and early 20th centuries, such as Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi and Puccini, are among the most famous operas ever written and today are performed in opera houses across the world.

While opera was taking root in Italy, Swiss watchmaking was developing in Geneva in the second half of the 16th century. From Geneva, techniques and innovations spread over the Jura Mountains to other regions. The Swiss watch industry continued to flourish during the 19th century and, by the middle of the century, the Swiss became the world’s most important watch manufacturers.

For five centuries, each art form has been a source of wonder, enchantment and inordinate beauty. And now, with the launch of the Octo Roma Carillon Tourbillon, the two come together in harmony to create a true masterpiece.

Purity and complexity

Completely manufactured in-house, the brand new manually-wound Caliber BVL428 is 8.35mm thick, and comprises a total of 432 components.

Meeting strict criteria across a number of parameters, the construction of Caliber BVL428 has prioritized sound first and foremost. The power and clarity of the sound is a key point of quality in all striking watches, and the generous proportions of the case are designed to maximize sound propagation, allowing for increased torque of the three-hammer construction and more sound power production. In particular, the middle case is designed to maximize sound and allow it to be broadcast as much as possible. It features hollowings within the design to reduce the amount of metal between inside and outside, and three openings that correspond to the three chimes, to allow sound to exit from the chamber. Chimes are fixed directly on to the casebody for most effective transmission of sound and the case is crafted in titanium to ensure the clearest possible diffusion of sound. The back is also hollowed and revamped with a meticulously crafted titanium grid that protect this resonance zone and allow sound to be transmitted to the outside.

The gongs of the watch were created by hand, in multiple stages. They are folded and formed by hand before being annealed, or hardened, at a temperature of 900 degrees, then cleaned before ironing in the oven at 500 degrees, an operation which will give the metal its crystalline resonance. Like certain components of the striking mechanism, they are lengthened with a file, so as to refine the chords of the ringing. The melodic sequence of this Carillon with three hammers sounding three tones plays the note C for the hours, the mid-re-C notes in sequence for the quarters, and the mid note for the minutes.

The movement is equipped with two barrels. One ensures the functioning of the sound mechanism and winds automatically when the bell is triggered, the other guarantees a power reserve of at least 75 hours for the movement at full charge.

The architecture of Caliber BVL428, the cut-out of the bridges and the positioning of the various components were intended to be original, contemporary and contrasting in order to reveal the beauty of the mechanism. The hammers, gongs, Tourbillon cage and perforated surfaces are crafted in alternating polished steels, while the finely-wrought mainplate and bridges have been treated with PVD. The high-tech carbon-based vacuum deposition is elegant in a modern deep black. This construction is protected by a titanium case fitted with the Carillon activation push-button on its left side.

Available in an ultra-limited edition of 15, each exemplar is engraved, individually, with a number from 1 to 15 on the crown to indicate its singularity within the edition. The watch features a transparent sapphire crystal case-back, water-resistant to 3 Atmospheres, and comes on a black alligator leather strap with a three-blade folding clasp treated with DLC Titanium.

With the new Octo Roma Carillon Tourbillon, Bvlgari adds a new sense by which to appreciate watches: hearing. It’s an impeccable expression of the Maison’s Sinfonia della Meccanica inspiration, conceived to bring the mechanics to a higher sensorial level set to the music of an exceptional calibre.

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