Of all the classic watches designed by Gérald Genta, the Bulgari Bulgari is, to me, the most interesting. It isn’t necessarily the piece I adore the most, but it’s the one I find most unique among his other famous designs. In contrast to the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, Omega Constellation, Patek Phillippe Nautilus, and IWC Ingenieur, the Bulgari Bulgari doesn’t use a polygonal face or integrated bracelet, and instead opts for a more minimalist and “classical” dress-watch look — a Genta-unique nuance, and one that only adds to the designer’s legend.
The original inspiration for the Bulgari Bulgari, however, did not derive from Genta. In 1975, the brand produced the Bulgari Roma: it was a simple, long-lugged, gold digital quartz watch, limited to 100 pieces for some of the most ardent of the company’s fans, but soon afterward expanded to the mass market due to its popularity. It was not until 1977 that Genta was first involved, and tasked to reinterpret the quartz Roma into a mechanical piece for the larger luxury market, which would become the Bulgari Bulgari. This watch was also minimalist in its look, but in this case used a Bauhaus-inspired design, had an outer bezel engraving of the watch’s name, and told the time and date in a straightforward, analog fashion.
The modern edition of the Bulgari Bulgari is available in steel, yellow gold, and rose gold, with options of white, black, and sunburst blue dials — as compared to just the gold case and black dial of the vintage model. It’s housed within a 39-mm case adorned with a plain crown, long angled lugs, and the design’s trademark outer bezel engravings. On the dial is a modern interpretation of the original’s Bauhaus design, with simple applied indices for each of the hour marks — except the elongated Arabic numerals at the midnight and 6 o’clock positions — and a small date window at 3 o’clock. On the outer edges of the dial is a printed white minute counter, and counting those minutes are skeletonized sword-style hour and minute hands. Within the watch is the automatic Bulgari Caliber BVL 191 “Solotempo,” visible through a sapphire caseback, and capable of a 42-hour power reserve. Depending on the case material and choice of leather strap or metal bracelet, models are priced as low as $6,600 for steel models, and as high as $19,900 for gold editions.
Like many other modern watches based on Genta designs, it’s worth noting that today’s Bulgari Bulgari is an historically-derived timepiece, but by no means a strict re-creation. Of the modern piece’s similarities to its 1970s forefather, the design channels the original’s minimalist Bauhaus influences in dial layout, maintains its most distinctive outer engravings, and continues to favor an automatic caliber.
As for the differences, the amount of options in colors and materials are now much more vast, the lugs are wider and more angular, the crown and case are distinctly larger, and the dial is fit for 21st-century tastes. With applied as opposed to printed hour markers, an outer minute ring, and skeletonized hands, the watch’s roots are obvious but its legacy seems to come in secondary to Bulgari modernity. Finally, the modern watch uses a sapphire caseback and a contemporary movement (below), two common, and expected, design choices for one the brand’s best-selling luxury pieces.
Today, while Bulgari has yet to jump on the bandwagon and release a vintage purist’s dream of a more period-accurate Bulgari Roma or Bulargi Bulargi re-edition, this modern watch does well in both honoring the brand’s past and pushing its designs into the future. Simple stick hands, minimalist dials, and straight lugs have not always been known to sell well in today’s market, nor have 33-mm-sized men’s dress watches like the original Roma. On the other hand, better finishing, larger cases and crowns, and more complicated dials and movements, have. Bulgari was concerned in catering its watches to the modern market back in 1975, and again in 1977 by bringing in the most fashionable watch designer of his time in Gerald Genta, and so the company has justly followed suit with its most famed watch in the modern era.
For our last article in which we cover the modern edition of the Panerai Mare Nostrum to its vintage inspiration, click here.
Caleb Anderson is a freelance writer with a primary focus on vintage watches. Since first learning about horology, he has garnered extensive knowledge in the field, and spends much of his time sharing his opinions among other writers, collectors, and dealers. Currently located near New York City, he is a persistent student in all things historical, a writer on many topics, and a casual runner.