Bulgari debuts an extravagant collection of high jewellery watches

By Paige Reddinger 31 May, 2023

The Italian house aims to increasingly blend its watchmaking and expertise in jewels. The result? Over-the-top works of art

A secret watch set with over 4,800 stones, a necklace set with a 218.53-carat Colombian emerald, and an Octo Roma wristwatch adorned with a cameo of the Roman emperor Augustus encircled in diamonds—these are just a few of the opulent pieces to debut in Bulgari’s new high jewellery and watch collection, presented to press and clients at a star star-studded event in Venice, Italy attended by Zendaya, Anne Hathaway, and Priyanka Chopra.

Jewellers are increasingly pulling out all the stops to entertain their VIP clientele in exotic settings with rare experiences. This event included a dinner at the Palazzo Ducale (the home of the Doge—or leader—of the city, and the seat of the Venetian government), a wonderfully ornate setting that has never before been open to a brand event. The jewels were then paraded out on models on a catwalk designed by Venetian glass artisans.

But the jewelled watches were arguably the stars of the house’s new collection. They also signalled a new direction for the house in which it plans to further blend its high jewellery expertise with watchmaking. “I would say it’s common sense,” says Antoine Pin, managing director of the Bulgari watch division. “You want to work hand-in-hand to join forces and be better at everything you do and, frankly, it’s helping us massively. We’re exploring new techniques, we’re buying our stones together [the watch teams now go on the stone buying trips]. It’s about engineering but also purchasing power. When we are buying our stones all together we have more access to dealers and more stones.”

Bulgari Giardino Marino Grande (top) and Giardino Marino Piccolo (bottom)

The star of the show that highlights the strategy was the ornate Giardino Marino Grande secret watch, a bonanza of gem-set fish, seashells, coral, starfish, and trembling anemone that, according to the official press release took 3,900 hours to make. (Brand representatives said it was anywhere from 4,000 to 6,000 hours of work.) Recollections may vary, but suffice it to say this is a masterpiece requiring all of Bulgari’s high-level expertise. The watch features the company’s Piccolissimo movement, one of the smallest calibres in the world, introduced last year. It is surrounded, as mentioned above, by 4,800 stones and includes a few hidden surprises. Beneath the Paraiba, emerald, diamond, and sapphire-adorned fish hide the watch, while a rubellite and diamond starfish and a Paraiba-tourmaline and diamond shell detach to become earrings. Another sapphire and diamond-adorned shell opens to reveal a pearl.

“It was a very long process to find and even cut the stones because it’s not that easy to find the different shades of the stones and the Paraiba for the big fish,” Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani, Bulgari’s product creation executive director, told Robb Report. “The backbone of these two pieces is like coral, so all of the elements were designed with very, very small details.”

There was also a companion piece in shades of blue and green in the Giardino Marino Piccolo, decorated with diamonds, emeralds, sapphires, Paraiba tourmalines, tanzanite, green tourmalines, tsavorites, topaz and peridot to create its garden of the sea. Its watch, also with a Piccolissimo movement, is set beneath a see-through pear-shaped topaz stone.

Bulgari’s Giardino Marino Piccolo and Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani’s sketches

The seven-figure-plus, one-of-a-kind pieces were sold to one client—and while the bracelets’ extravagant landscapes were too big for her wrist, it was hardly a deterrent: she plans to put them in a showcase in her home to be displayed as works of art. Such elaborate creations as these are indeed masterpieces worthy of an at-home museum. According to Buonamassa Stigliani, the Giardino Marino Grande is the most complicated high jewellery watch the house has ever made. When asked if he planned to top his work next year he replied with a definitive “Yes” and added with a laugh, “I’ll be honest with you, the jewellers are starting to say to me, ‘Maybe you need a few months’ vacation.’”

Bulgari Diva’s Dream Aquarium. Photo by Bulgari

While these two timepieces were the magnum opus of the high jewellery timepieces, they certainly weren’t the only wildly creative and ornate timepieces in the collection. There was also an aquarium for the wrist in a Diva’s Dream creation with a dial of degradé Paraiba tourmalines, sapphires, and diamonds with two moving fish that appear to swim and come decorates in rubies and rubellites and Paraiba tourmalines and sapphires, respectively. They are surrounded by corals, shells, and stones that look as though they are floating beneath the watch’s domed sapphire crystal glass. It is the second time Bulgari has used this construction—it first appeared in the house’s collaboration with avant-garde watchmaker, MB&F in 2021.

Bulgari Diva’s Dream Pavone Watch. Photo by Bulgari

Take, for example, this diamond, rubellite, and emerald peacock bracelet watch which, incredibly, flexibly wraps around the wrist the same way the company’s Serpenti and Tubogas bracelets coil and uncoil around the arm as opposed to using a hinge system. This level of movement in a watch with this many jewels is no small feat—the combination of ease of wear and high-impact glam is a particularly appealing proposition for modern women.

Bulgari Octo Roma Mediterranea. Photo by Bulgari

But Bulgari didn’t leave out the gents. In fact, the brand went full-force with high jewellery watchmaking for them too. Case in point: The Octo Roma Mediterranea, a secret watch for men, decked out with diamond octopus with swirling tentacles clutching Paraiba tourmalines and sapphires. The scene opens up to reveal a watch with an ultra-thin manual BVL 268 SK calibre with a flying tourbillon. 

“We are looking for perfection, in terms of beauty,” says Buonomassa Stigliani of the collection. “We are looking for something each time that adds value to the brand and talk about a new story with our clients and new clients. That’s why it’s not just an obsession to make things more difficult than the previous year, it’s just because we love to make beautiful things. And these elements—the fishes and the shells—come from the Bulgari archive. Often the inspiration is the brand itself, but our idea is to make an evolution of the brand.”