The financial press has reported that following the media-enhanced euphoria of the Apple Watch launch in April, two sales peaks have been followed by a distinct stabilisation. Although it is generally agreed that smart watches and traditional watchmaking are light years apart, it is still too early to know what effect if any « connected watches » might have on the mainstream watchmaking industry. In anticipation, several brands introduced various proposals of their own at Baselworld this year, clearly eager to be ready for what might be a new sector in the future.
The « luxury intelligent watch » from Bulgari : the Bulgari Diagono Magnesium, was presented to me by Director of the Bulgari Watches Design Center, Fabrizio Stigliani. After four years of designing automobiles, he left for Bulgari to design watches. Fourteen years later, he still prefers the challenges of accommodating watch movements in 40 mm cases rather than engines in 5 meters of metal, explaining that in both situations, prototypes and years of testing are necessary before getting it right. When asked why Bulgari had become involved with the development of a smart watch, he replied that the brand has always liked to surprise and that it has always been modern.
Most of all, he added, was the desire to provide an intelligent timepiece that will remain a timeless luxury product, unlike a smart watch that will be old in 6 months to 1 year. And for purists who love the design but not the idea of a hybrid watch, the Bulgari Magnesium will also be available without the ‘Bulgari Vault’.
The « intelligent » version functions with a Bulgari Vault app that is first downloaded and set up on your mobile (iOS and Android systems). A cryptographic NFC (Near Field Communication) chip and invisible antenna inside the watch enable it to transmit a digital certificate to the application downloaded on the phone. By simply placing the watch near the smartphone that has its own NFC chip, the application is activated, and you can start to encrypt, store, decrypt and access, for example, your passwords, PIN codes, ID, bank account numbers and much, much more. « And one cannot work without the other », explains Stigliani « so there is no risk ». With WISeKey as a partner, a Swiss company reputed for its data storage and digital security, the encrypted information is actually stored on a cloud physically located under the Swiss Alps. And if you lose your phone, the Bulgari Vault app will prompt the destruction of the data that can later be restored by using the encrypted backup activated by the watch. In the future, it is envisaged to make payments with NFC enabled contactless payment systems, open doors, transfer data, access transport tickets… all with your Bulgari Diagono Magnesium watch.
This ‘intelligent’ timepiece has 3 major technical advantages over smart watches : it is powered by a 100% mechanical movement, so requires no battery ; smart watches relay mobile information, whereas this one is a vault ; and unlike Bluetooth or other wireless technologies, the NFC system requires a very close proximity between the watch and the phone to be able to work.
But there is of course no comparison possible. This is a Bulgari timepiece. First launched in 1998 with an aluminium case and rubber strap, this year’s Diagono : the Bulgari Magnesium, with or without « the vault », features a 41mm steel case with a black PVD caseback and case middle in magnesium reinforced with PEEK, the latest evolution of high-tech polymer used in aircraft and high-performance cars that is both light and rigid. It’s a bit big for my wrist, but it is light and nicely curved.
The bezel is in ceramic, engraved with the double Bulgari logo that frames the dial and its hours, minutes and seconds hands, with a date at 3 o’clock. A special finishing, Motor_Lac, also from the auto industry, says ex-auto designer Stigliani, brings unique colours and a grainy texture to the case, the dial, and the vulcanized rubber strap that has a PEEK pin buckle. The steel PVD crown is set with a black ceramic lozenge.
Powered by a mechanical self-winding movement with 42 hours of power reserve, the Bulgari Diagono Magnesium will be in shops ‘soon’, while the « intelligent » Magnesium version is expected in the markets early 2016.
Perhaps one of the most pleasant surprises of this self-winding Bulgari timepiece with high-tech materials and a stong sporty look is the price. The ‘normal’ Magnesium sells for 3,900 Euros and approximately 5,400 Euros for the Magnesium version.