For all their technical brilliance, fine timepieces are creatures of emotion. Like fine art and collector automobiles, they are icons of personal expression at the highest level. Indeed timepieces are uniquely suited to this role, because they are constant companions, and the very best offer layers of complexity that capture the qualities that make each of us unique.
Like many relationships, one with a fine timepiece begins when the appearance catches our eye. The first look initiates a cascade of pleasure-inducing endorphins, and we immediately sense that we want to know more. In the realm of aesthetics and self-expression, all timepieces are not created equal. Some possess an intrinsic intensity that immediately sets them apart. And when a timepiece of immense complexity sets a stunning world record as the thinnest of its type ever created, it can’t help but stand apart and capture attention.
A timepiece is the product of the culture that creates it, and throughout history, one country’s culture has universally been recognized as the leader in the field of aesthetics, of design and of beauty: Italy. Italian cars, Italian art, Italian fashion, Italian furniture, Italian architecture, Italian leather goods, and the list goes on. This is the legacy of centuries of creative expression. Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Caravaggio, Botticelli, Bernini, Titian, Donatello, and again, the list goes on. When you think of beauty and quality in their most powerful forms, you think of Italy. Italians love life, and they have mastered the art of expressing that love. You might say it’s in the Italian cultural DNA, and for that reason, Italian brands dominate the realm of refined personal expression.
Of course when we think of Italy, we think of Rome, the eternal city that ruled one of history’s most powerful and influential empires — an empire whose influences are still felt today. A Roman creator of the finest in personal art will represent not only the Italian aesthetic, but also the power that Rome represents. Founded in Rome in 1884, Bulgari embodies the best of Italian design and Roman self-confidence. Guido Terreni, managing director of the Bulgari Watch Division, told us, “The history of Rome speaks to strength and power. These qualities are part of the Roman DNA, and they are unmistakable in Bulgari creations.”
Today the Bulgari name is synonymous with creativity and craftsmanship. Bulgari often takes its inspiration from the Eternal City’s architecture, and this influence is evident in its jewels as well as its timepieces. Bulgari’s singular designs represent a bold vision that appeals to those confident few who know and express themselves. Guido Terreni told us: “The Bulgari client is confident in his choices. He does not follow others, but charts his own course. His personal style sets him apart, and Bulgari expresses his style and his confidence.”
Long known for the most beautiful and creative jewels crafted for royalty and the aristocracy, Bulgari has built a watchmaking capability that knows few peers. Bulgari understands that true masters of luxury control all aspects of creation, from the initial design to every aspect of the manufacturing, to the retail experience through exclusive boutiques. Complete control and complete mastery convey the highest form of legitimacy in the world of luxury.
In the world of haute horlogerie, Bulgari is at the pinnacle of in-house manufacturing capabilities, creating not only a full range of movements, but all of the major components of its timepieces in its own manufactures, all located in Switzerland. Grande Complication, ultra-thin Finissimo and the Solotempo automatic base caliber movements are produced in Le Sentier; gold and steel cases and bracelets are manufactured in Saignelégier, and high-end dials are manufactured in La Chaux-de-Fonds. Assembly of the complete watch and the final quality controls take place in Neuchâtel, the nerve center of operations. Neuchâtel is also home to Bulgari’s Watch Design Center, headed up by Fabrizio Buonamassa. Fabrizio says that the Design Center is like a little piece of Rome in the heart of Switzerland.
This extensive manufacturing capability allows Bulgari’s designers absolute freedom to follow their dreams, and this in turn allows Bulgari to create timepieces that combine strong Italian aesthetics and the finest Swiss-made calibers. Bulgari’s manufacturing mastery also allows it to explore particularly challenging areas of watchmaking where few others dare tread, including ultra-thin high complications.
Among its men’s timepieces, no other collection embodies Bulgari’s history, ideals and expertise better than the Octo. Like Bulgari’s finest jewels, the Octo case is shaped to play with light. The case contains no fewer than 110 facets, almost twice as many as a round, brilliant-cut diamond. This design grew naturally out of Bulgari’s history of working with the finest gemstones, which Bulgari cuts and polishes, creating facets within which light can dance and play and dazzle the eye. Bulgari CEO Jean-Christophe Babin told us, “The Octo case is incredibly difficult to craft. The complex shape requires tremendous expertise. Once finished, you never get tired of looking at it. The beauty of an icon is that you can look at it again and again, and you’re always discovering something new. This pursuit of beauty is part of the Italian spirit.”
For Baselworld 2016, Bulgari takes the Octo to a place no luxury watchmaker has ever been, accomplishing something no other watchmaker has ever achieved. This year, Bulgari presents the Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater. This new triumph boasts both the world’s thinnest minute-repeater movement and the world’s thinnest case, and in typical Bulgari style, the case is as breathtaking as the movement. Babin told us: “Octo is the men’s watch that took Bulgari to new heights. After the Octo Finissimo Tourbillon, we introduce this year a new world record: the Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater, which concentrates the quintessential values of the finest available complications. This new and stunning state-of-the-art chiming creation demonstrates our expertise within both thin and ultra-complicated watches.”
This spectacular achievement demonstrates Bulgari’s mastery of both the art and the science of ultra-thin minute repeaters, which, many will agree, represent the pinnacle of watchmaking. Considered separately, minute repeaters and ultra-thin calibers each presents tremendous challenges, and each represents a type of caliber that only a few of the world’s finest brands have mastered. Creating an impressive minute repeater, even with a full-size case, is something few have achieved, and even simple ultra-thin calibers require nothing less than perfection at every step: movement design, engineering, component manufacturing and assembly. A few others have created thin repeaters, but none has made one this thin, and certainly none has done so with Bulgari’s Italian flair.
When you think of an ultra-thin watch, you picture a round case. Most manufacturers choose round because round is easy. Round is obvious. Round is common. When we spoke with Fabrizio Buonamassa, he told us: “Our clients don’t need a common object. When our designers start making sketches, they imagine a Bulgari product, and that is something different, something with great design.”
A simple, round ultra-thin watch may represent a technical achievement, but it lacks an emotional element. It does not say “I am different” — it says “I like to conform”. The Bulgari Octo Finissimo lies at the other end of the spectrum. The unmatched complexity inside the case represents a stunning level of achievement. The caliber is a triumph of sheer watchmaking audacity. At 3.12mm, it is not just the thinnest minute-repeater movement ever, but it is the thinnest by a significant margin, besting the former record by 0.78mm, or 20 percent. That’s like someone beating Usain Bolt’s current 100m record of 9.58 seconds by running a 7.66. It’s an unheard-of achievement.
Looking at the numbers, the case is equally impressive. It measures 6.85mm high — besting the former record of 8.09mm by 1.24mm, again a huge margin in a realm in which records are typically broken by one- or two-10ths of a millimeter. Aesthetically, the case represents absolute mastery of shapes and materials, and of light and sound. When the finest minds in Italian design focus on one goal for more than four years, this is the result. It deserves no less an accolade than “masterpiece”.
Working at the edge of the possible requires not only mastery of design and construction, but of materials as well. To make the world’s thinnest minute repeater, Bulgari selected titanium for both the case and the dial. Titanium offers superior strength and outstanding sonic performance. Guido Terreni explained that when you enter the world of ultra-thin cases, the simple daily act of putting the watch on your wrist and pulling the strap to put the pin in the right hole generates forces that can deform the case. Bulgari employed titanium to hold those forces at bay. As thin as this watch is, Bulgari made sure it’s sufficiently robust to be worn every day.
The dial incorporates some unique features as well. It is openworked, with cutouts for the hour markers and the small seconds. These openings improve the propagation of the repeater’s sound waves, enhancing its auditory impact.
Like the Octo Finissimo Tourbillon before it, the Minute Repeater initially strikes you as unreal — something from another dimension. Your eyes see it, but your mind tells you it’s not possible — this complication simply can’t exist in a case this thin. The complex Octo case, with its 110 facets, contributes to this mind-bending effect. Not only shouldn’t the movement be this thin, but the case shouldn’t be either. It is a spectacular achievement.
We asked Guido Terreni why Bulgari decided to develop a line of ultra-thin watches. He told us, “The idea of entering the world of ultra-thin watches started in 2011. We wanted to create a formal execution of a watch, a formal beauty of a watch, that was contemporary. Because if you look at ultra-thin watches today, they are all very classic. They are an expression of ancient and traditional watchmaking aesthetics, which I have full respect for, but it’s not what we think a formal watch for men should be in 2016.” Putting a sharper point on it, he said: “I don’t drive my grandfather’s car, I don’t wear his clothes, why should I wear his watch? We care about expressing who you are today.”
We’ve already mentioned the 2014 Baselworld sensation, the Octo Finssimo Tourbillon, which set a record for the world’s thinnest tourbillon. For 2016, Bulgari presents a black-tie Ultranero version. Already a masterpiece of Italian design, the black diamond-like carbon (DLC) finish adds a touch of sporty sophistication and elegance. Jean-Christophe Babin told us: “The contrast between the absolute black of the case and the gold of the hands, and in some cases of the hour markers and bezel, is truly outstanding!”
As Guido Terreni points out: “Ultranero lends even more strength and contemporary power to the Octo watch. Its impact both visually and on the imagination is immediate and striking.” In black, the Octo Finissimo case takes on a technical attitude that sets it even further apart from traditional white metals. In this new case, there is no question that the Octo Finissimo Ultranero Tourbillon represents the pinnacle of Italian artistic genius and Swiss haute hologerie.
Inside, the Octo Finissimo Ultranero Tourbillon is pure watchmaking artistry. At 2.23mm high, it’s the world’s thinnest tourbillon caliber. To make the movement this thin, Bulgari had to devise several innovative solutions. For example, ball bearings are used in key locations — three bearings around its periphery guide the mainspring barrel. This solution allowed the mainspring itself to be twice as wide as normal, yielding an impressive 55-hour power reserve. Similarly, the tourbillon cage has a cartridge bearing that allows it to pivot, and the escape wheel pivots on another bearing. Bulgari also eliminated the regulator assembly, as the timing is adjusted on the balance wheel directly. These inventive solutions result in a movement that is robust, reliable and ready to be worn every day.
Some complications naturally look great in black, and the chronograph is one of them. The Octo Ultranero Velocissimo is proof. The black DLC case sets off the pink-gold bezel and crown. The combination of black and pink gold is part of Bulgari’s DNA, and it is particularly striking here. While the eye is typically drawn to the Octo’s 110 facets, in this iteration, the unique two-tier bezel becomes the focus. The trademark circle-on-octagon construction represents Rome’s architectural influences on Bulgari design.
The black case is understated, the pink-gold bezel is bold, and the dial ties everything together. The dial’s surface is a deep-black lacquer, set with a bold, applied numeral “12” and applied octagonal hour markers, all of which feature complex brushed and polished surfaces. This unique dial is, of course, manufactured in-house by Bulgari. The faceted hands and the intricate subdial indices complete a façade that is at once sporty, elegant and technical. The dial is so rich with fine details that the eye does not take it all in with the first look, or even the second. This palette delights the eye with every glance.
Beneath the dial resides one of the finest chronograph calibers ever created. Crafted by Bulgari’s sister company Zenith, the vaunted El Primero is a rare high-speed chronograph capable of timing events to the nearest 10th of a second.
For 2016, Bulgari is also offering the Octo Ultranero Solotempo, a pure example of refined simplicity that captures the essence of time: hours, minutes, seconds and date. Available with a pink-gold or Ultranero black-DLC bezel, this timepiece stands as a proud member of the Octo family with its manufacture BVL 193 self-winding mechanical caliber that was designed and developed entirely in house by Bulgari. This sophisticated movement is wound automatically by a rotor mounted on ceramic ball bearings. Twin barrels offer a 50-hour power reserve, while a clutch system saves wear and tear on the pinions. A stop-seconds device allows for precise time setting. This movement wears the finest perlage and Côtes de Genève decoration and chamfered finishing. The movement’s constituent parts — including the mainplate, bridges, and gear train — are made at the Manufacture Bulgari in La Chaux-de-Fonds, while final assembly and adjustment take place in Le Sentier at Bulgari Manufacture de Haute Horlogerie.
The art of self-expression begins with an appreciation for the difference between style and fashion. Fashion is fleeting and ever-changing. Fashion is about following trends. Style is about creating your own unique personal statement. Successful individuals pursue the best, in themselves and in their lives, and this is reflected in their personal style. Without doubt, the finest high-watchmaking movements are produced in Switzerland, and equally without doubt, Italy dominates the worlds of style and design. Bulgari is uniquely situated to offer the best of both worlds — the finest Swiss-made haute-horlogerie movements presented with a timelessly modern aesthetic. Bulgari dares to accept the greatest challenges in watchmaking — ultra-thin high complications — and it shatters records held by traditional Swiss brands with timepieces that have become icons of the modern age.