Movement in Focus

From our special watch innovation report in issue 30, Alex Doak examines six beautifully exposed case backs

Calibre: 240

Watchmaker: Patek Philippe

Year of origin: 1977

Vital statistics: 161 parts; 48-hour self-wound power; 3Hz balance oscillation

Housing: Calatrava 4997/200G-001

Created when electronic quartz technology was slimming down wristwatches to diaphanous extents, Patek Philippe’s micro-mechanical engineers proved it could be done with moving parts too, ‘embedding’ the self-winding gold rotor into the height of the base movement where it would normally spin on top. So perfect, the calibre geometry has barely changed since.

Calibre: 7121

Watchmaker: Audemars Piguet

Year of origin: 2022

Vital statistics: 268 parts; 55-hour self-wound power; 4Hz balance oscillation

Housing: Royal Oak ‘Jumbo’ Extra-Thin 50th Anniversary

For the first time in 50 years, since AP’s iconic steel sports watch took the Riviera jet set by storm with its octagonal boldness, the mechanics inside – traditionally based on Jaeger-LeCoultre’s 2120 of 1967 – have been upgraded for this golden anniversary with the all-new, in-house 7121. Its energy reserves are up, among many things, charged by a rotor stencilled out all too appropriately.

Calibre: BVL 318

Watchmaker: Bulgari

Year of origin: 2019

Vital statistics: 433 parts; 55-hour self-wound power; 4Hz balance oscillation

Housing: Octo Finissimo Chronograph

Intricate ‘integration’ of the stopwatch mechanism into the already-wafer-thin base movement, along with a platinum weight rotating about its circumference, Bulgari scored its fifth slimmest-ever record in 2019, cementing Octo as so much more than a sculptural design classic.

Calibre: DUW 2002

Watchmaker: Nomos Glashütte

Year of origin: 2013

Vital statistics: 84-hour manually wound power; 3Hz balance oscillation

Housing: Lux Zikade

Since reviving interest in East Germany’s former Mecca of watchmaking, the village of Glashütte, Nomos has spent the last 30 years building a Bauhaus-designed horological tribe, with concomitant Bauhaus accessibility. Just occasionally though, its watchmakers like to dabble in the higher end, celebrating their indigenous Saxon traditions in the process: three-quarter baseplate (with glorious sunray polish), engraved balance cock and blued steel screws.

Calibre: 9R31

Watchmaker: Grand Seiko

Year of origin: 2019

Vital statistics: 72-hour manually wound power; 32,768Hz quartz-crystal oscillation

Housing: Spring Drive Omiwatari

A concept doggedly pursued from 1977 by Seiko’s ambitious young engineer Yoshikazu Akahane: an ‘everlasting’ watch powered by a traditional mainspring, yet delivering the one-second-a-day quartz precision that had made the Japanese giant’s name, with hands gliding smoothly via an electronic brake system. A mere 28 years and 600 prototypes later, Spring Drive was born.

Calibre: 3200

Watchmaker: Vacheron Constantin

Year of origin: 2015

Vital statistics: 292 parts; 65-hour manually wound power; 2.5Hz balance oscillation

Housing: Traditionnelle Tourbillon Chronograph

The apogee of modern haute horlogerie, steeped in brand heritage stretching back an unbroken 260-plus years, yet benefitting from all of today’s computer-facilitated CAD design and CNC machining. Note the 360-degrees-per-minute tourbillon, or ‘whirlwind’ cage, shaped as a Maltese cross, the emblem of Geneva’s oldest maison.

Photography Leandro Farina at East Photographic

Set design Alice Whittick

Production assistant Hermione Russell at artProduction

This article is taken from Port issue 30. To continue reading, buy the issue or subscribe here

Port Issue 24

The Spring/Summer issue of Port – featuring actors Samuel L Jackson and Harris Dickinson, architect Sir David Chipperfield, novelist Max Porter and new writing from Jeanette Winterson and Deborah Levy – is available for pre-order now

Actor Samuel L Jackson is a rare breed of film star who defines every film he is in, but it is a mantle that belies the personal and social struggle he has faced. Inimitable and yet chameleonic, Jackson has been a DJ in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, a snake-fighting FBI agent in Snakes on a Plane, a bounty hunter in Tarantino’s western The Hateful Eight and the Jedi master Mace Windu in the Star Wars prequels. Now 70, he continues to dominate the big screen as Nick Fury in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. His success is clear: measured in monetary terms his films have grossed more than those of any other actor in the world. Talking to award-winning short-fiction writer ZZ Packer for the cover story of issue 24, he discusses race, mayhem and how he’s been building characters for the past 50 years.

Another mesmerising talent graces our alternative cover, this time in the shape of Harris Dickinson, breakout star of 2017’s Beach Rats. The young actor, writer and director is quickly defining himself as someone who wants to do the right thing, as long as it’s demanding.

Elsewhere, we visit Simone Leigh  the prodigious activist and artist – in her studio in Brooklyn; Jem Southam presents spectacular photographs of England’s west country; we grab a coffee with Britain’s most respected architect David Chipperfield; delve inside the mind of modern renaissance man Peter Mendelsund and visit Bulgari’s state-of-the-art jewellery factory in Valenza.

Fashion director Dan May together with photographer Tom Craig bring an extended fashion story from LA; photography director Max Ferguson presents the very latest watches and Rose Forde styles the Spring / Summer collections, as well as Fendi’s SS19 collection.  

Our Commentary section is guest edited by Sylvia Whitman, owner of the one of the coolest bookshops in the world: Shakespeare & Co, with new writing from Jeanette Winterson and Deborah Levy, dialogue from Leïla Slimani and Deborah Landau, and extracts by Marie Darrieussecq and Sylvia Plath.

Finally, in The Porter, author Max Porter reflects on the practice of writing and the items and ideas that inspire him; the New Yorker’s creative director tells us his favourite bar in the Five Boroughs; Alfred Mallory reflects on 50 years of B&B Italia’s design classic the Up5 chair and Arthur Mamou-Mani discusses the future of architecture.

Please note, orders will be sent out from 8th May, when the magazine goes on sale. 

To pre-order Port issue 24, click here

Pieces of Eight: Bulgari

TenTen travels to Bulgari’s light-drenched watchmaking atelier in the village of Saignelégier to discover how the quintessentially Roman brand is making waves in Swiss horology

An hour’s drive up into the Jura hills from the lakeside city of Neuchâtel, the village of Saignelégier is as sleepy a Swiss locale as you’re likely to find. The main business appears to be horses, with a sign welcoming you to “the cradle of the Franches-Montagnes” – Switzerland’s most celebrated breed, examples of which loaf about in the surrounding pastures. Near the sign, a side road runs past a rusting barn and piles of old farm machinery to a small factory building. This is the unheralded outpost of one of the most august names in global luxury, from where Bulgari – opulent, grandiose, LVMH-owned and magisterially Roman – has wrought a quiet revolution in Swiss watchmaking.

Six years ago, when Bulgari was bought by LVMH, such a revolution didn’t seem on the cards. It was exactly those qualities of Italian immoderation and decadence that were seeing Bulgari turn out watches that, while good fun, were so overcooked in concept and design as to be headache inducing. There was no shortage of ingenuity, ensured by the brand’s early-noughties acquisition of two microbrands, Gérald Genta and Daniel Roth – along with the haute horlogerie manufacture and skilled workforce the companies shared in the watchmaking town of Le Sentier. But how to channel such elements – Italian flair, Swiss skills – into something coherent and contemporary was proving a head-scratcher.

There was no better illustration of this than the Octo, a multi-faceted megalith of a watch that expressed marvellously the geometric obsessions of Gérald Genta, the legendary watch designer whose business Bulgari now owned. And Bulgari had made it particularly hard for itself: The case of the Octo – a symphony of 45-degree angles, overlapping surfaces and faceted layers – had 110 different plains, each of which had to be cut, milled and polished from a single lump of metal.

 It’s not watch movements that are made at the Saignelégier factory, but cases, including that of the Octo in its various guises. The profound expertise herein has enabled Bulgari, since its acquisition, to transition the Octo from complex behemoth to suave, streamlined brand icon. The watch is now produced in volume as an automatic with the superb in-house workhorse movement, Calibre 191 Solotempo, designed specifically for the task, while in its Finissimo versions, the Octo has become a platform for a series of masterpieces in the genre to which its design would seem least suited: watches that are spectacularly slim. Over the past three years, Bulgari has notched up the world’s thinnest tourbillon watch, the thinnest minute repeater and this year the thinnest automatic, all in cases that reduced the once-unwieldy Octo to a mere 5mm or so.

“When they first proposed the Finissimo I thought we may as well just go home,” says Mario Cancellara, an unassuming Swiss-Italian who oversees the case-making operation. He points out that 18 operations go into the milling of the Octo’s bezel alone – the sole round bit of the watch. For the rest of it there are scores of processes enacted by bespoke, hugely expensive CNC milling machines.These turn raw blanks into mini sculptures that are then attacked by a platoon of skilled hand-polishers. With multitudes of facets and angles to approach separately the cases are coated in red lacquer, meaning any facet that’s still red has yet to be worked on. When you’re working with mere millimetres of surface and microns of tolerances, this is deeply artful stuff. 

Of course, the cases are mere housing for movements that, in the example of Bulgari’s Finissimo series, are modern horological wonders, and so flat you’d be forgiven for thinking someone had driven over them. In the Le Sentier movement factory, they’re created with the kind of dexterity and creativity that’s deeply rooted in a firm still producing (in the same building) the dizzyingly complex chiming watches and bespoke complications that go right back to the Roth-Genta days. And a few miles away, in La Chaux-de-Fonds, the exquisite dials that sit above the movements are also made in Bulgari’s own specialist factory.

It’s not normal, this. Among Swiss watchmakers, those who make their own dials and cases are vanishingly few – fewer even than those who make their own movements. Much fewer, in fact. Even Patek Philippe relies upon suppliers for most of its cases. But Bulgari, the Italian jeweller, does the lot. It’s a level of integration that has allowed it to be astonishingly nimble and to perform a perfect volte-face on the watch world. What was once a bloated and unfocussed collection, is now finely honed around a quartet of streamlined designs: the Serpenti and Lucea women’s lines, the old favourite Bulgari Bulgari (which includes its own Finissimo versions) and, leading the way, the unlikely and brilliant Octo.

The latest editions of the Octo Finissimo – the minute repeater and the automatic – are not even cased in precious metals or steel but in lightweight, beadblasted titanium, giving them a grey, matte texture that’s matched by a grey dial, for an ambience that’s breezy and effortless and wholly contemporary. It’s as unlikely a fit with the great maestros of Roman bling as it is with the skilled case polishers of Saignelégier, but it’s a perfect synthesis of both.

Photography Gabby Laurent

This is an extract from TenTen, the annual watch supplement of Port. To buy or subscribe the latest issue, click here.

Fabrizio Buonamassa: Tiny, not tinny

No one expected the world’s thinnest chiming watch to come from Roman jeweller Bulgari, least of all for it to be hewn from deeply resonant titanium. Here, creative boss Fabrizio Buonamassa reveals how this remarkable timepiece came to be

Records in watchmaking generally feel like a way of brands marking territory, rather than something that benefits the buyer. However, Bulgari’s Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater is a record-breaker with a difference – it may be the world’s thinnest minute repeater, but it was also designed to be an ‘everyday wearer’.

“It is a stealth watch with a stealth complication,” explains Fabrizio Buonamassa, Bulgari’s charismatic chief watch designer. “It is an industrial design product; something that should be worn every day and that isn’t exclusive.

“Essentially, we needed a new Finissimo iteration and I’ve always thought that the minute repeater was one of the most noble complications,” he adds, “so I started sketching.”

This, perhaps, belies the sheer level of technical mastery at play here, of which its thinness is only a part. In this world, there are very few thin minute repeaters – so-called for their ability to read-out the time to the nearest minute, by striking the hours on a low-tuned metal wire ‘gong’ encircling the movement, followed by the quarters with a ‘ding dong’ on both a second high-tuned gong and the low-tuned gong, followed by the remaining minutes within that quarter on just the high gong. Prior to this year, Jaeger-LeCoultre held the record with its Hybris Mechanica 11, which comes in at 7.9mm thick, though it does also house a whirling ‘tourbillon’ complication. 

Bulgari has excelled that record by squashing its movement down to 6.85mm; something it achieved by attaching the winding barrel to the bottom plate rather than placing them under their own bridge, as well as using a totally flat balance spring.

However, the innovation doesn’t stop there.

“I wanted the watch to be made in titanium,” says Buonamassa, “because it would give space to the movement.” What he means is that by using titanium instead of luxury watchmaking’s stock-in-trade gold or steel, the metal’s richer resonance reduces the need to use so much of it for a similar audible effect. But achieving a 30m-water-resistant case with all its unforgiving tolerances while using such a brittle material is a real headache, as the Octo’s case design is already notoriously tricky in something as soft as gold, thanks to its jigsaw puzzle of 110 facets, edges and angles – all milled from a single lump of metal over the course of 18 operations and plenty of rejects.

The other major difference about this minute repeater is that it is a ‘digital’ minute repeater. So, rather than chiming the hours, quarters and then subsequent extra minutes, once the push-piece at nine o’clock is depressed, a single hammer ‘dongs’ the hour, then two hammers take it in turns to ‘ding dong’ however many 10-minute intervals have elapsed since the top of the hour. Finally, a single hammer ‘dings’ out the remaining minutes. You can just about see this mechanical ballet dancing away beneath the dial, thanks to its stencilled indices – a titillating peep show of horological delights, which also happens to amplify the sound a touch more. 

But this isn’t just a horological masterpiece; in keeping with Buonamassa’s guiding principle that, at Bulgari, “beauty follows function, not form,” it also looks incredibly elegant on the wrist.

“When I was sketching the design, I thought it would be perfect for the Octo shape, especially as the tuxedo and thin watch trends have been very strong for us,” he says. “And it is also down to Bulgari to break the rules in this arena, which isn’t easy when people’s expectations of us are so high.”

Bulgari has certainly challenged people’s expectations of what a high-complication watch should be by making something wearable, rather than something designed to be kept in a safe; it’s a watch for the customer, rather than for the record books. That it has managed to garner the title of ‘world’s thinnest minute repeater’ seems to be, for Buonamassa at least, merely a delightful coincidence.

This article was originally published in our new horology supplement TENTEN, available with PORT issue 19. Out now.

Photography Benjamin McMahon