When Gérald Genta and Daniel Roth were both still active and independent companies, I was just starting to take an interest in fine watchmaking, and there were active (and independent-minded) collectors of both Roth and Genta watches pretty much everywhere watches and watch collecting were seriously pursued. Roth was the high-minded advocate of very traditional but still instantly recognizable classicism, while Genta was the renegade – the perennial bad-boy who had outraged the staid standards of the watch industry by having the audacity to introduce, at one point, a Mickey Mouse watch, and other Disney character watches (which are still, by the way, the subject of one very focused collector’s sustained and obsessive interest).
The acquisition of both companies by Singapore’s The Hour Glass, and the subsequent sale of both to Bulgari, occasioned a lot of hand-wringing, but there was as it turns out a silver lining. Though neither brand survives today as an independent company, much of the movement and design expertise that they represented is alive and well at Bulgari’s manufacturing center in the Vallée de Joux, in Le Sentier. There, a building which first housed Daniel Roth, and subsequently, both Roth and Genta, is now where the watchmaking craft and design language both represent is not only being kept alive, but is essential in the strongest sense of the word, to Bulgari’s many advances in fine watchmaking.
However avant-garde some of Bulgari’s watchmaking may be, the small manufacturing center where the Bulgari in-house Finissimo calibers are made, as well as where their high watchmaking efforts unfold (up to and including their repeaters and grand sonneries, both of which use movements derived from mechanisms design by constructors for the original Gérald Genta firm) has a surprisingly artisanal feel given the impression one gets from Bulgari as a powerhouse presence in fine watchmaking these days. There are rooms devoted to the standard armamentarium of modern watchmaking, including computer guided lathes, CNC machines, and wire erosion machines which can produce parts to micron tolerances, but there are also many folks who execute the same manual adjustment, assembly and movement decoration techniques that have been practiced in the Vallée de Joux for generations (and probably by the parents, and grandparents, and great-grandparents of the craftsmen working there).