One of the most remarkable and, to many enthusiasts, easily overlooked watches of 2020 so far is the Bulgari Serpenti Seduttori Tourbillon. On price alone, it finds itself in pretty rarefied company (prices start at $ 78,000), and then, of course, gem-set tourbillon wristwatches are not the sort of thing which a lot of folks who find mechanical watches attractive and interesting go shopping for every day (or any day, probably). It is, however, leaving aside questions of price and rarity, a quite remarkable example of an interesting, if niche, genre of high-end watchmaking, and it represents a pursuit of technical excellence very much in line with Bulgari’s various other accomplishments over the last few years, especially its record-setting efforts in ultra-thin watchmaking. This is not an ultra-thin watch per se, but it does signify, in its own way, the pursuit of miniaturization in watchmaking inasmuch as tourbillons this small are extremely rare. We took a look at some of the historical antecedents to the caliber BVL150 last January, and we noted then that there are not many – a mere handful, made by some of the greatest watchmakers of the 20th century – but I had not, at the time, had a chance to actually see the watch in person, and having done so, I have to say that seldom has so small a watch made such a big impression.
The Serpenti Seduttori Tourbillon is a diminutive watch overall, certainly by the numbers – the case is 34mm across its longest diameter and 8.9mm thick, and a considerable portion of the dial is taken up by the aperture for the tourbillon, and by the tourbillon itself. Seen in white gold on a strap, the “Serpenti” part of the name is perhaps less literal than for some of the other watches that have had that name – the ovoid case is a stylized serpent’s head, as the name implies, but it also reads and works perfectly well simply as an abstract design choice. The Serpenti Seduttori collection overall presents some extremely accessibly priced timepieces, including a diamond-set steel model which I am rather pleasantly surprised to report is just $ 6,900 (in quartz, but, you know, still). The bracelets in the collection from the opening price point on up do make the snake connection a little more literal, with their hexagonal, scale-like links, but on a strap, what you lose in overall reptilian ferocity you gain back a bit in versatility and more abstract visual harmony.
While the bracelet version of this watch, set with diamonds, is among the most unabashedly opulent watches Bulgari makes today (and as a jeweler, of course, unabashed opulence is Bulgari’s stock in trade, along with a very bold, clear, architecturally-influenced design language), I don’t think anyone who spends five seconds with this version could possibly describe it as an exercise in economy. It lives a little more in the details than the bracelet model, which is instantly dazzling and in a very fin-de-siècle fashion, but there is no question that this is a watch intended to make you take a deep breath the first (and second, and third) time you see it.
Now, diamond-set watches are like any other general category of watches, running the gamut from the good, to the bad, to the ugly, and to some extent, as with anything else, which is which is a matter of taste. There are, however, some objective standards you can apply when evaluating one. It is certainly possible to take lower quality stones and apply them in a way, and in a quantity, that suggests economy rather than luxury, to mass-produced objects. This is not a bad thing necessarily, and it can make it possible to have a diamond-set watch with an easy and affordable elegance. Certainly, it is also possible to create watches which are ablaze with so many stones, and which are so unrefined in their design, as to be difficult to see as anything other than gauche (which is not a judgment of the watch, so much as it is a moral censure of the maker and, presumably, the owner).
It is also true, however, that high-quality horological gem-setting is a most demanding craft, and the Serpenti Seduttori Tourbillon is a demonstration of very high craft indeed. I’ve been able to see this sort of casework and gem-setting done in person, and it requires a lot more care and skill than is generally understood by watch enthusiasts. Since the case geometry consists of a number of complex curves, and the stones are set directly adjacent to each other, each has its own spec in terms of size and in terms of clarity as well. Color and clarity matching is a big challenge in this sort of work. And while, in the jewelry industry, the ratio of weight from raw stone to finished cut gemstone can be as high as fifty percent, it goes up to sometimes ninety percent for high jewelry watches.
In addition to its being a very elegant watch in terms of design and execution, the Seduttori Tourbillon is also (and this is an easy thing to miss) a remarkable watch mechanically. The movement, Bulgari caliber BVL150, is a record-setting mechanical caliber from a company which has apparently made breaking records a major goal. We have done a more thorough technical analysis of the movement and its place in horological history, but suffice to say that it is the smallest tourbillon in current production from any firm, with a number of interesting and, in some cases, unique technical features.
And on the wrist? Reader, I wore it. That’s not my wrist in the picture (a seven-inch wrist doth not a graceful background make for a timepiece like this), but I feel I would have been derelict in duty to not have at least tried it on and, by golly, if it was not a ton of fun to wear it. It is hard to call anything that costs upwards of eighty thousand dollars and which is not, I don’t know, a life-saving medical device, “worth it,” but if anything in the horological universe right now justifies its price on the grounds of craft, technical innovation, and historical importance, it is probably this watch.
Check out Cara Barrett’s Introduction to the Serpenti Seduttori Tourbillon, right here. The Serpenti Seddutori Tourbillon: case, 34mm x 8.9mm in white gold, set with brilliant-cut diamonds, snow-set on the dial (2.88 carats total weight). Water resistance 30 meters. Movement, hand-wound caliber BVL150, hours and minutes with tourbillon; 22mm x 18mm x 3.65mm, with 40-hour power reserve, running at 21,600 vph in 23 jewels. Price, $ 82,000. For more Bulgari watches, visit Bulgari.com.
All photos, Tiffany Wade.