A few weeks ago, luxury Italian brand, Bulgari, in conjunction with our friends at Watchonista, hosted a fun event simply called “The B. Dinner” in Rome. The idea was to bring together a group of watch enthusiasts (writers, photographers, collectors, etc.) from around Europe and introduce them to Bulgari’s “Rome”. The Eternal City is, after all, the spiritual and physical home of the brand and as such a great source of inspiration for its designs. What followed was an immensely enjoyable experience that was far more insightful than I think anyone was expecting.
The guests of the B. Dinner in front of Bulgari’s boutique in Rome
The first stop on our mini-tour of Rome was Bulgari’s flagship boutique on the city’s famed shopping street, Via dei Condotti. The boutique was famously renovated by American architect Peter Marino in 2013 and is as stunning as it is opulent. The attention to detail is apparent everywhere, and despite its substantial size, the boutique feels surprisingly intimate. There is also a lovely blend of old and new, with Marino choosing to conserve the original parquet floor and walnut display cases from the 1930s décor in the two galleries located either side of the entrance lobby. The left gallery houses the brand’s decadent high jewellery pieces, whilst the right is home to the wedding jewellery.
The room we were really interested in seeing, the men’s watch room, was more towards the back of the boutique. On our way, we passed the VIP ‘Taylor’ room, where Elizabeth Taylor spent time with Gianni Bulgari, while she was in Rome filming Cleopatra, and which now serves as a private haven for Bulgari’s ultra-wealthy and celebrity clients. A secret door for VIP’s only grants access, but unfortunately, we were discouraged from trying our luck at getting in.
The good surprise of the day…
After having a look around the men’s watch room and ogling Bulgari’s various collections of luxury watches, we were invited upstairs for a cocktail and a special surprise. Each of us would be given our very own Bulgari watch to wear for the evening. Mine was the new Octo Retro Maserati GranSport (check out Brice’s hands-on review of this watch here), although, as often is the case when a group of watch lovers come together, I ended up trading it multiple times throughout the night for the chance to try on some of the other models on offer. It was then time for the second surprise of the evening.
Yours truly, trying to catch this unique “Roma” style, and the watch I received for that day
Rome By Night (And By Fiat 500)
After we left the boutique and climbed to the top of the Spanish steps, we met our tour guides for the evening; a series of colourful Fiat 500’s, driven by even more colourful characters. As you might imagine, eight little Fiat 500’s driving around Rome in a mini-convoy and being pursued by a photographer on a bright yellow Vespa caused somewhat of a spectacle, with many tourists and locals alike stopping to take photos.
With the tops open, we cruised through the city, taking in all the sights, like the Vatican, Fontana dell’Acqua Paola, the Pantheon and the Colosseum before arriving at the Piazza del Popolo where the B Dinner would take place.
The B. Dinner
Jean-Christophe Babin, CEO of Bulgari
As much fun as the tour of Rome had been, the highlight of the trip was, without doubt, the B. Dinner. Not only were we in the company of our colleagues and fellow watch lovers, but also in attendance were; Mr. Jean-Christophe Babin, Bulgari CEO; Mr. Guido Terreni, Managing Director of Bulgari Horlogerie SA; and Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani, Director of the Bulgari Watches Design Center. The atmosphere was relaxed, intimate and very conducive to talking about watches, which we did at length. Mr. Babin explained to us that while all of Bulgari’s watches are made in Switzerland using the latest technology, they are still very much infused with the Italian spirit of design.
As the night wore on, our Bulgari watches quickly came off our wrists and began to be circulated around the table, with the merits of each debated at length. First up for me was the Octo Retro Maserati GranSport I had been wearing all afternoon.
The Octo Retro Maserati GranSport
Bulgari and Maserati have been collaborating on watches since 2012, however, the Retro Maserati GranSport is only the third model to come out of this Italian partnership. Its colour scheme is based on the traditional colours used by the Italian car-maker, meaning black and bright blue. The 41.5mm Octo case is made from black DLC-coated steel, with a black dial, silver indexes and hands, and lovely blue accents. It wears very comfortably on the wrist and is a lot more understated than I initially expected. I particularly like the fact that there is no reference to Maserati anywhere on the dial, although others found this a little curious as the watches are only available to Maserati owners. The jumping hour display at 3 o’clock and the retrograde minute indicator function seamlessly, although if I’m being honest, this is not my preferred style of time display. I certainly agree though that it is very evocative of a car dashboard.
Bulgari Octo Roma
The next watch I got to look at was the Bulgari Octo Roma. Brice has already covered this watch in-depth here, but I had never actually seen it the flesh before. Although it’s a very simple, time-only watch, I found it to be quite a compelling piece. The angles on the case are softer that the traditional Octo, making it a little less polarising, although still very recognisable on the wrist. At 41mm I found it comfortable and could see myself wearing it on a daily basis, although I imagine I might get a little bored with it after a while, so probably best to keep it in rotation. Inside is the in-house developed and produced, self-winding movement, Calibre BVL 191 Solotempo, which features a bidirectional central rotor, 26 jewels and 42 hours of power reserve. Priced at 5,600 Swiss Francs on a leather strap, the Octo Roma was certainly more appealing than I was expecting it to be.
Bulgari Octo Finissimo Automatic
Although I saw the Bulgari Octo Finissimo Automatic at Baselworld earlier this year, I didn’t really get to spend any time with it just on my wrist. Someone was always trying to take a photo of it, or try it on themselves, etc. At the B. Dinner, however, I was able to strap it to my wrist and leave it there for a good hour. In fact, it’s so light and comfortable, that I almost walked out with it still on. Almost. After seeing most of the models from Bulgari earlier in the day and that night, I can safely say it’s still my favourite piece to date from the brand. Technically it’s of course very impressive – it does house the world’s thinnest automatic movement after all – and aesthetically I really admire the boldness of the design. I think this is where the Italian spirit Mr. Babin referred to earlier in the evening really shows through. It’s bold and different, yet at the same time effortlessly stylish and looks good whether you dress it up or down. More details, in our in-depth video here.