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Bulgari Bulgari, a name to remember
History & Masterpieces

Bulgari Bulgari, a name to remember

Wednesday, 13 June 2018
Editor Image
Marie de Pimodan-Bugnon
Freelance journalist

“One must be absolutely modern.”

Arthur Rimbaud

It takes passion, a healthy dose of curiosity and a sense of wonderment to convey the innumerable facets of watchmaking…

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5 min read

A classic among watches, instantly recognisable by the logo on its bezel, the Bulgari Bulgari marked the Italian firm’s arrival as a watchmaker. Four decades later, it remains an icon of style.

A perfect circle, no frills or fuss, it makes gold its natural habitat and spells out its identity for all to see. Bulgari Bulgari: a signature that has made its mark for more than 40 years. A true original, its distinctive feature – and the hallmark of the entire collection – is its name engraved in capital letters around the bezel. You’d have to be new to Planet Watch, or not much of a reader, never to have seen this icon which, since its debut in 1977, has lent itself to countless variants, both in design and functions. The very first watch to be unveiled by the Rome-based brand, Bulgari Bulgari is a paragon of elegance; an icon of time whose success lies in its pure lines inspired by Classical Antiquity.

A logo-centric design

The brand’s designers didn’t work from a blank page when defining the future face of the Bulgari Bulgari. Back in the 1970s, Bulgari was best known for its fabulous jewellery. There had been a few watches, produced on and off during the 1920s then on a more regular basis from the 1940s, but no real collection as such. For the vast majority of people, Bulgari was a jeweller with an eye for design. Then in 1975 the brand produced a limited-edition watch for its one hundred most important customers. This rather splendid gift was named the Bulgari Roma and presented a mix of contemporary influences and Classical references. Made from gold, its round case, as though sliced from one of the Pantheon’s marble columns, was inscribed with the words “Bulgari” and “Roma” around its bezel. Never before had a brand name featured so prominently on a watch.

Like the Roman emperors who inscribed their insignia on coins, the watch's designers reprised a classical typeface for the dial.

Bulgari’s Roman origins shone through. Like the emperors who inscribed their insignia on the coins they had minted, the watch’s designers reprised the classical font which the brand had instated as part of its identity in 1934 when renovating its flagship store on Via Condotti in Rome. Design-wise, this new watch was an icon waiting to happen. As for the technology behind it, Bulgari went against the grain and, contrasting with the classic form, chose a modern and functional quartz movement combined with a digital display. The strap also broke with the traditional precious metal. Woven from hemp with leather tabs, it looked for all the world like the fastenings Ancient Romans would have used.

Like the Bulgari Roma, its bezel carried an inscription – in this case the brand logo reproduced not once but twice.
Mechanical or quartz, the choice is yours

Bulgari’s new watch certainly didn’t go unnoticed, and requests soon came pouring in. The brand obliged with a first series of Bulgari Roma watches, this time with a classic black dial circled by markers and swept by hour and minute hands. Once again, success was on the cards. This, and the fast-growing interest in the brand, was all the encouragement Bulgari needed to jump aboard the watchmaking train with the Bulgari Bulgari. Like the Bulgari Roma, its bezel carried an inscription – in this case the brand logo reproduced not once but twice. Unlike the Bulgari Roma, the new design gained a central seconds hand as well as a date window. Unusually, considering that quartz was the dominant technology then, Bulgari offered its customers the choice between a quartz movement and, for connoisseurs, a mechanical calibre. In pure jewellery tradition, the Bulgari Bulgari’s case was cut from yellow gold and proposed in four sizes to ensure a perfect fit for men and women.

From the Tubogas to the tourbillon

The Bulgari Bulgari lived up to expectations, and the Italian firm lost no time in expanding the collection. In 1980, a Tubogas bracelet brought Bulgari’s longstanding expertise as a jeweller to bear on the measurement of time, resulting in a watch to be worn like a jewel, coiled around the wrist with all the suppleness of a snake. Come the 1990s, Bulgari was ready with more surprises in store. 1993 ushered in a change in style when the previously all-gold case gave way to a novel combination of gold and a composite. In 1996, the Bulgari Bulgari revealed the intimate secrets of its mechanical anatomy in the form of a skeleton version, demonstrating the dexterity of the brand’s watchmakers at the same time. When the Bulgari Bulgari turned 20 in 1997, collectors were treated to a special edition with that all-important “20th” emblazoned on the dial. The 2000s saw Bulgari join watchmaking’s pantheon of brands. In 2001 the Bulgari Bulgari branched out into the world of sport with the introduction of a chronograph function. The launch of a tourbillon version in 2004 left no doubt that Bulgari meant business. Since then, the Bulgari Bulgari line has continued to grow. Additions to the collection in 2013 coincided with the introduction of a slightly slimmer case and, importantly, the Solotempo in-house automatic movement. An elegant way for Bulgari’s watchmakers to continue to write the story of this iconic watch in capital letters.

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