Bulgari vs. Audemars Piguet - Contrasts you can hear
Gisbert L. Brunner has been writing about wristwatches since 1981
At first glance, they don’t look all that special on the wrist. But anyone who sees any kind of release mechanism activated is normally spellbound. The wristwatch with the most precise repeater announces the time acoustically right to the very minute. First it announces the hour in a low note. Then double chimes for the quarter hour. And then a high note comes for every minute that has passed since the last complete quarter hour.
So pay special attention at 12:59. First you hear twelve low notes, then three double chimes and finally 14 high notes. That’s 32 in all, requiring 20 to 25 seconds of concentrated listening. It all requires force which comes from the chiming mechanism under the dial - made up of about 100 parts - stretching a spring.
The chiming mechanism is activated by fully pressing a push-piece or slider on the side of the case. Of course it has to be absolutely correct. The smart “all-or-nothing” safety feature makes sure of that; it either works fully or not at all.
For precise repetition of the time, the switch mechanism has to be perfectly synchronised with the position of the hands. To this end, the watchmakers fit the hands right at the end to chime in with the strikes of the repeater mechanism. Special cam wheels pass the time from the movement to the repeater mechanism, all of which has to happen at moderate speed for the purpose of the count. Each movement with a minute-repeater also has speed control.
In spite of the complex minute-repeater, the Bulgari hand-wound BVL 362 calibre is only 3.12mm thick. That is not the thinnest out there, though. The current world record is held by watchmakers at Vallée de Joux, which is also where the Bulgari Atelier of Haute Horlogerie is located. In the early 20th century, through dogged and painstaking work as they sweated over every tenth of a millimetre, they managed to get the movement down to just three millimetres thick. This fact hasn’t impinged one jot on the performance of the luxury manufacturer with its Italian roots. There are 50 limited-edition microcosms, each made up of 362 components with 3Hz and approximately 42 hours’ power reserve.
There is currently no other hand-wound movement with this complication that is so thin on the scene today. Press the subtle push-piece on the left-hand side of the case and the two small hammers will strike the time to the minute on two coil chimes mounted directly into the case. The 40-millimetre case with transparent back is made of light, hypoallergenic titanium for ideal sound results. A specially designed dial also provides for an impressive acoustic time-telling experience. The open-work bar numerals help to better emit the notes.
A noiseless centrifugal force governor guarantees the consistent strike sequence. Not surprisingly, this watch, which sits just 6.85mm thick on the wrist, is not suitable for divers. But the flat case is still water-resistant to three bar. So this sonic timepiece is splash-proof. You can leave it on your arm when washing your hands and no harm will come to it. Bulgari has made 50 limited-edition Octo Finissimo Répétition Minutes, each costing €165,000. I understand that demand has already outstripped supply.
In stark contrast to the Bulgari Octo Finissimo, we have the decidedly opulent Royal Oak Concept Supersonnerie from Audemars Piguet. They have the minute-repeater, 42-hour power reserve, 3Hz and titanium case in common. The 44-mm case certainly makes an impression. It is the result of eight years’ research and development. The manufacture’s watchmakers and scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne have jointly come up with a new case concept, protected by three different patents.
Side openings on the exterior of both case backs mean the minute-repeater is particularly sonorous. Tried and tested principles of string-instrument construction were applied when it came to the sound body. The experienced artisans from Vallée de Joux provided the required know-how. A traditional escapement system operates the chiming mechanism which, according to Audemars Piguet, is more flexible than a type of centrifuge and also prevents unwanted noise caused by vibration when in motion. There is almost no adverse noise with this timepiece. Low frequencies are muted.
The in-house hand-wound 2937 calibre measures 29.9mm across and is 8.28mm thick. In addition to the resounding chiming mechanism, there is also a minute tourbillon and flywheel chronograph with a 30-minute counter. The watchmakers require 478 components in all for all the functions. The wristwatch, water-resistant to two bar, does not have a transparent back. However, the openwork dial means you can see the chiming mechanism’s switch mechanism. The investment will set you back €589,500.