Breaking News: Bulgari Exits Baselworld 2020

Due to Coronavirus.

Barely a month after the inaugural LVMH Watch Week in Dubai, Bulgari has announced it is out of Baselworld 2020, citing the “Coronavirus pandemic”. Instead, Bulgari will present its products at roadshows in key markets, where amongst other things it will unveil a new record-setting ultra-thin watch.

In the Bulgari announcement of its exit, chief executive Jean-Christophe Babin was careful to note that the jeweller might return to the event, stating “we remain open for 2021 onwards to continue with Baselworld”, with a decision due to be made by June 2020.

The Roman jeweller is the biggest revenue earner amongst the LVMH watch and jewellery brands, which also includes watchmakers Hublot, TAG Heuer, and Zenith. All four already showed most of their new products for the year in Dubai, though Bulgari is the only one to depart Baselworld.

Sunny and free of the flu in Dubai

In contrast, the three watch brands of LVMH will be staying put. In a press release swiftly put out by Baselworld after Bulgari’s departure, LVMH watch division president Stéphane Bianchi stated: “We believe in the importance of a major event for the Swiss watch industry and look forward to a successful fair, both in terms of image and sales, for our three Maisons.”

The divergence between Bulgari and the LVMH watch division gives credence to talk within the industry that a keen rivalry has developed between Messrs Babin and Bianchi, who joined LVMH in 2018 after a successful stint running French cosmetics maker Yves Rocher. While Mr Babin’s operation is bigger in terms of sales, Mr Bianchi is a mentor to the 25-year old Frédéric Arnault, son of LVMH boss Bernard Arnault and also the digital director at TAG Heuer.

Not quite four

Bulgari is a crucial brand of LVMH, which is one of the “big four” anchor exhibitors at Baselworld, with the other three being Rolex, Patek Philippe, and Chopard. Despite its sister brands remaining, the jeweller’s departure is a substantial blow to the trade fair.

Baselworld has been working to find its footing after a dreadful 2019 that saw it lose its biggest exhibitor, followed by its chief executive, and then a massive loss for its parent company, MCH Group. And 2020 hasn’t gotten better for the Swiss exhibition company. Its other major franchise is Art Basel, which just cancelled its March show in Hong Kong.


 

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Up Close: Voutilainen Vingt-8 ‘Blue Pearl’ 44 mm

Oversized and luminous.

The highly-regarded Voutilainen Vingt-8 has a 39 mm case as standard, along with a dazzling variety of dials and additional complications, from a retrograde date to an inverted movement. But one of the more interesting variants is the simple-but-enormous oversized Vingt-8.

Originally introduced in 2017, the extra-large, 44 mm Vingt-8 is available as a custom order, with the most recent example being the Vingt-8 ‘Blue Pearl’, one of the few Voutilainen watches with a mother-of-pearl dial.

The 44 mm case…

With an enlarged movement to fit

The first extra-large Vingt-8 had a steel case, and for good reason, it kept the watch lightweight. This example has a platinum case, which means an impressive heft, the kind of weight you rarely find on highly-finished, classical wristwatches. But it also means the watch feels heavy on the wrist, which can be good or bad depending on taste.

Importantly – and this is probably the most important design change – the lug width has been widened to 22 mm, compared to just 20 mm on the very first oversized watch. This gives the watch ideal proportions – the new case design needs nothing more.

Visually the watch is light and informal. The mother of pearl is a pale, even blue that is almost luminous and reveals nuances up close. It gives the watch a cool colour palette that’s more restrained than the average Voutilainen, which tends to have an elaborately decorated dial.

Pearl’s progress

The first watch with such a dial was the 2-Eight, the ladies’ version of the Vingt-8 with a smaller, 37 mm case. It was launched in 2012 and one of the 10-piece edition is now on the wrist of Terttu, Kari’s wife.

Only last year did Voutilainen debut the first men’s watch with dial in mother of pearl. It was a custom, 44 mm piece with Roman numerals at the quarters and a dark grey chapter ring. Voutilainen then unveiled the follow up – the watch pictured here, which has Arabic numerals and a pale grey chapter ring.

The differences seem minor, but both watches are notably different, largely due to the colour of the chapter ring. This has a lighter, elegant muted look, with the colours complementing each other. And the earlier example is the opposite – the colours contrast starkly, leaving the mother of pearl set apart from the chapter ring.

Pearly precision

Though the visual focus is on the expansive mother-of-pearl centre, the dial still boasts all of the hallmark Voutilainen elements. That’s no surprise, since the mother-of-pearl dial is still produced by Voutilainen’s subsidiary, Comblémine.

The chapter ring is decorated with barleycorn guilloche and sports applied solid gold markers, while the hands are a beautifully sculpted, two-tone combination of polished steel and blued steel.

The declaration found on all Voutilainen dials, unless specifically refused by the client

The fine barleycorn guilloche next to the hand-made hands

The engine turning and hands are finely made, as is typical of Voutilainen. More notable is the precision of the mother-of-pearl panels, which appear to fit as tightly as physically possible, even under magnification.

This is true of the bottom edge of the main panel, where it meets the seconds, and also around the aperture for the plate with the brand name. Given the delicacy of slicing the material thin enough for a watch dial, the finesse in fit and finish is impressive.

Note how precisely the mother of pearl meets the chapter ring of the seconds

28 upsized

In terms of the movement, Voutilainen did not take the easy way out by simply installing the standard cal. 28 inside the extra-large case.

Instead, the movement used a variant of the cal. 28 that’s been enlarged and redesigned to fit the 44 mm case. The movement has a diameter of 32 mm, instead of the 30 mm of the standard cal. 28.

The enlarged cal. 28

And the standard cal. 28

To accomplish that, the bridges and base plate were enlarged, but also redesigned for a more coherent aesthetic. (And most of the changes have also been implemented in the later generation cal. 28, which now sports a similar design, but on a smaller scale.)

While the standard cal. 28 has a cock to hold the third wheel, the enlarged version does away with the cock and instead has the third wheel secured by the barrel bridge.

More important for the aesthetics is the reworking of the bridge that hold the twin escape wheels and pallet lever. They have been widened and lengthened in order to occupy most of the empty real estate on the base plate. As a result, the enlarged cal. 28 could pass off for a movement that was designed from the ground up, a testament to Kari’s eye for construction and design.

That being said, one element of the movement remains unchanged, and would probably look better if reworked – the balance bridge. On the standard cal. 28 it appears massive, but here seems slightly small in comparison to everything else.

And despite the tweaks, the movement remains notable smaller than the case, and the seconds sits closer to the dial centre than on the standard watch, but neither is major enough to be a deal killer.

Though larger, the movement is finished with the same refinement that’s standard for Voutilainen. A variety of movement decor is offered by Voutilainen, but this example sticks to the classical frosting on the bridges and plates, albeit in rose gold instead of the more traditional yellow gold.

Amongst the best details are the rounded balance bridge, polished teeth on the crown and barrel ratchet wheels, as well as the chamfered edges of the cocks below the balance.

Polished teeth on the crown and ratchet wheels

The cock for the fourth wheel, complete with bevelled edges, chamfered countersinks, and a finely finished screw head

The gold chaton for the cap jewel of the balance staff; also note the bridges for the twin escape wheels below

Because the movement is decorated by hand, there are slight variations and inconsistencies in it, something that can happen to the best from any country.

On this particular movement the lubrication within or around the barrel appears to have travelled out and darkened the barrel ratchet wheel. And when examined up close – very, very close – the polished bevel of the barrel bridge has minor unevenness in certain spots.

Concluding thoughts

The oversized Vingt-8 is a different breed of Voutilainen, being distinct in size, style, and feel. Though different, the combination works well, and the watch looks good. And it is priced within reason relative to the standard Vingt-8.

But like most other Voutilainen watches, it is not absolutely unique, since similar custom orders are possible. That’s not so much a criticism as it is a fact, and does not take away from the intrinsic quality of Voutilainen’s work.


Key facts

Voutilainen Vingt-8 with blue mother-of-pearl dial

Diameter: 44 mm
Height: 11.8 mm
Material: Platinum
Water resistance: 30 m

Movement: Cal. 28
Features: Hours, minutes, and seconds
Winding: Hand-wound
Frequency: 18,000bph, or 2.5Hz
Power reserve: 65 hours

Strap: Alligator with pin buckle

Limited edition: Unique piece, but similar custom watches can be commissioned 
Availability:
 From Voutilainen direct or authorised retailers
Price: Approximately 100,000 Swiss francs, or 136,500 Singapore dollars

For more, visit Voutilainen.ch.


 

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