The world has been in the midst of a ‘90s cultural revival for several years now, with styles from that decade popping up in everything from music to fashion to watchmaking. While this trend began mostly emulating the loud and colorful themes of the early ‘90s, it was only a matter of time before the metallic, streamlined, and optimistic looks of the latter half of the decade began to show through. Bulgari is leading the charge on this movement as part of its 2020 Geneva Watch Days announcements, reviving the smooth Aluminium collection first introduced in 1998. With a bold elemental look, innovative materials, and a surprisingly affordable price point, the new Bulgari Aluminium series offers a unique new throwback entry point to the brand.
Of course, the new Bulgari Aluminium begins with a 40mm aluminum case. (The brand uses the British spelling “aluminium” for the official series name.) While generally a rarity in luxury timepieces, aluminum offers several benefits in light weight and durability that make for a solid alternative to a stainless steel sports watch. The design itself is faithful to the ‘90s original, with a few touches that help to elevate this classic profile to a new feeling of quality. The trademark black engraved bezel dominates the overall form with its prominent Bulgari branding, rendered here in sporty black rubber. The caseback echoes this durability-forward, sporty material philosophy, with a windowless style in black DLC-coated titanium. The aluminum mid-case, with its short semi-integrated lugs and small, squared-off crown guards, also adds a few points of added detail to the original formula. The largest of these comes in the form of the lugs, where a noticeable break separates the cylindrical lug assembly from the main case body as opposed to the flowing single form of the original. Likewise, the flathead screws securing the bracelet in place of spring bars returns from the original, but add an outer brushed ring surrounding the screw for a more cohesive look. The other major departure, of course, comes with the chronograph variant. The overall impact the complication has on the case is remarkably restrained, as the chronograph keeps the same 40mm diameter as its three-hand counterparts, only adding a pair of rectangular DLC titanium pushers. Both the three-hand and chronograph versions of the Bulgari Aluminium provide a sporty 100-meter water resistance.
Bulgari offers three dial options in the Aluminium series, all of which cleave close to the original 1998 style. The white dial three-hander is the most literal interpretation, with a fashion-forward set of black baton hands, bold printed baton hour markers, oversize Arabic numerals at 12 and 6 o’clock, and a distinctive red-tipped second hand. It’s a clean graphic look that feels every bit as handsome and fashionable as it did in the ‘90s, although the 3 o’clock date window does mar the visual symmetry somewhat. The black dial model follows this same pattern in exact reverse for a more conventional and sportier look, but somehow the mix of black dial surface and white dial indices loses a touch of the charisma and charm of the creamy white dial styles. It’s by no means an unattractive combo, but it feels a touch less dramatic. As with the case, the Bulgari Aluminium chronograph manages to preserve much of the character of the three-handers while injecting its own racy energy. The panda subdials at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock gel well with the black-on-white theme of the base design, and the inclusion of a chronograph function takes the red-tipped central seconds hand from a fashionable pop of color to a genuinely useful tool. The size of the subdials is nicely balanced as well, as the slightly recessed azurage surfaces strike a chord between visual impact and overwhelm. If there is an Achilles heel to this chronograph reinterpretation, like the three-hand models, it comes with the date window. As a no-date, this would be a stylish and phenomenally balanced design, but the angular cutout at 4:30 creates a minor disruption.
For three-hand versions of the Aluminium, Bulgari uses the ETA 2892-A2-based B77 automatic movement. Like its ETA forebear, the B77 is a solid if unspectacular performer, with a 42-hour power reserve. Bulgari also uses an ETA-based movement for the Aluminium chronograph, in this case, the ETA 2894-based B130 automatic chronograph movement. Sharing much of the same architecture as the three-hand model with an additional 12-hour chronograph module, the B130 also offers a reliable 42 hours of power reserve.
In keeping with the original 1998 design, Bulgari offers only one strap option for the new Aluminium series. It’s a bold, idiosyncratic hybrid between a classic rubber strap and a multi-link bracelet, flowing directly into the semi-integrated case. There are two wide bracelet links on each side of the case, rendered in rubberized aluminum with a prominent raised signature. After these two links, the rest continues as a smooth black rubber strap, complete with aluminum pin buckle. While it’s certainly a left-field design, it flows well with the rest of the package and serves as a unique showcase for Bulgari’s material use.
With the Aluminium series, Bulgari has created a remarkably faithful tribute to its own heritage while offering a stylish new entry point to the famous Roman marque for collectors. The Bulgari Aluminium line is available now through authorized dealers. MSRP for the three-hand Bulgari Aluminium is $2,950, while the Bulgari Aluminium chronograph is priced at $4,250. For more information, please visit the brand’s website.