A look at how Bulgari makes its high-end watches, from assembly through testing to final casing.
With about 400 employees, Bulgari’s Swiss production facilities include sites in Le Sentier, Saignelégier, La Chaux-de-Fonds and Neuchâtel. The company’s horological expansion in the past decade has culminated in recent years as Bulgari has debuted spectacular ultra-thin watches (including four record-holders), new Grande Sonnerie models, a new Solotempo self-winding base movement and an extensive collection of jeweled watches that most recently added its first minute repeater designed for women.
Bulgari facilities source raw materials to create most of their own watch components and make all their own cases and dials. As noted, high-end watchmaking at Bulgari includes four primary facilities. Le Sentier handles production of mechanical movements, especially at the high end. In Saignelégier, Bulgari makes its cases (gold, platinum, titanium and steel) while in La Chaux-de-Fonds the company’s dial-making operations create for the entire range of timepieces. The operational hub in Neuchâtel handles watch assembly and final testing.
At Bulgari’s Le Sentier facility, we asked John Sheridan, Senior Watchmaker, High Complications, for a quick overview of how Bulgari’s high-end production proceeds, from assembly through testing to final casing. Here are highlights of his responses.
Wheels and Bridges
“Watch production at Bulgari proceeds in multiple stages. All the work is hand assembled and adjusted. The first assembled is the hand setting and winding mechanism.
Then the pieces go to the next bench, where watchmakers will assemble the wheels and bridges. This is followed by use of a machine that will test those wheels and bridges to be sure that the mechanism has the right amount of freedom between the wheels and bridges. If they are not within the tolerances, it will come back to the watchmaker, who will make adjustments, reassemble it and retest it.”
“The next assembly chain is for oiling and escapement adjustment. We use an optical measuring device to check this adjustment by measuring the penetration of the jewels within the escape wheel.
Again, our people disassemble the escapements by hand before making any adjustments. After this is complete, it goes to another bench where watchmakers will adjust to the balance spring in the escapement and then regulate the watch.”
Testing and Casing
“Testing is done in real-time within the full duration of the watch’s power reserve. Once the watches are tested, they are sent to Neuchâtel, which once again tests all of them before it gets cased up.”
“On one of our watchmaking ‘islands,’ we concentrate on all of the ultrathin movements. The ultrathin skeletonized movement and the ultrathin automatic are made here. They also do some of the complication plates for the Bi-Retro movements. We make all of the plates for our complicated movements here, so we don’t have to outsource and these anymore. We used to work with other manufacturers for these, but not anymore.
“The complications are typically done with one person. They will each work on a kit with ten pieces to construct. The watchmaker will assemble ten movements. One watchmaker will do the assembling and then one other watchmaker will do the regulation and the testing.
Originally we wanted to have only one watchmaker make everything from start to finish, but production needed to make more pieces than initially thought. Demand was higher than they expected.”
“In the tourbillon department we have three watchmakers right now. One person specifically does the pre-assembly for things like jewels and pinions. Normally with the tourbillons and beyond we assemble the cage and the movement separately because the cage is a very delicate.
We assemble the cage and then test within a proven working movement. That way when we put it into the final watch, we know that if there’s a problem it’s with the movement, not the cage.
Also, with the skeletonized gold tourbillon, the movement is very delicate, so we try to do as much adjustment with the working movements before it goes into the finished movement.
The normal tourbillons, the skeletons and the sapphire models take three days to adjust; the ultrathin takes about five days. That’s because the adjustments for the ultrathin movements are extremely fine.
With a minute repeater every time you activate it you are coiling a spring, which then uncoils, so they need their own power source. That’s why there are two barrels in the repeater. The basic repeater has about 860 pieces.”
On a Roll: Bulgari’s Ultra-Thin Debuts Since 2014
Octo Finissimo Tourbillon debuts with the thinnest tourbillon movement in the world, only 1.95 mm thick.
Bulgari introduces the Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater, the thinnest minute repeater in the market.
Bulgari breaks a new record with the Octo Finissimo Automatic, which is the thinnest automatic watch in the world. This model is awarded at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG), Best Men’s Watch of the Year. The GPHG Jury awards as well the Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Skeleton in the category Best Tourbillon Watch of the Year.
At Baselworld Bulgari debuts Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Automatic, the thinnest automatic watch in the world, additionally equipped with a Tourbillon. Also, the Diva Finissima Minute Repeater is equipped with the thinnest chiming movement in the world.