Bulgari was founded in 1884, and the name has been synonymous with Italian style and elegance ever since. Steeped in tradition, most of the brand’s products have a link to the history of the maison. At the same time that the Roman brand has been focused on the historical and the traditional, Bulgari has been aiming to be as disruptive as possible. Seems like a paradox, doesn’t it?
That’s exactly why Bulgari CEO Jean-Christophe Babin is smiling. He wants you to question, to refuse to accept the status quo, to ask why and to ask why not, to revel in the confusion, then realise that it all makes sense.
Making the Break
Most complicated watches are designed for the safe, or for occasional, gentle wear, while Bulgari with its Finissimo line, has worked diligently to bring these delicate masterpieces into the real world, crafting its ultra-thin timepiece to be robust enough to wear every day. Heretical in its conception, brilliant and hyper-successful in its multiple executions, Bulgari is changing the way the world views complications.
The Octo, Bulgari’s flagship masculine timepiece introduced in 2012, is the perfect vessel for this experiment, as the shape is both disruptive and classical, and is catching on as an icon within the Bulgari collection.
“Octo is to men what Bulgari jewellery is to women,” explains Babin. “The Octo is expressing ultimate, contemporary luxury. The Octo is THE Bulgari men’s watch, refined but casual, with a very strong character. We believe that even a high-end, grand complication is a watch that you should be able to wear every day. I wanted the Octo, in all its forms, to be a daily wear watch.
“The drive to possessing just to possess is gone, now it’s about enjoying what you possess. Our expressions of high watchmaking in the Octo focus on enjoyment as well as collecting.”
Add to this that the Octo is also being adopted by women, such as Laura Harrier, who is wearing the Finissimo on the cover of REVOLUTION magazine. Women wearing traditionally masculine timepieces has been a trend for many years, but the Octo Finissimo, due to its elegant thinness, makes this choice more reasonable and organic.
The Octo Design
The Octo is an interesting design exercise, one that combines two pure shapes, the circle and the square, with an impressive number of angles (110 in the classic Octo). What results is a shape that catches the eye, is interesting to look at and allows for additional exploration of the shapes throughout the life of the watch.
“The Octo is very contemporary,” says Guido Terreni, Bulgari’s Managing Director of Watches. “I think that watchmaking is too often re-interpreting the same ideas from decades ago. Everybody is so into vintage watches these days, but I don’t see any value of going into the archives and seeing what is cool from 50 years ago and redoing it. The Octo is a fresh new symbol and, if we treat it carefully and do the right things, I think it can be one of the most important designs in the industry. In terms of sales, it is the second strongest collection after Serpenti, but it is growing so strongly. On the men’s side, the Octo is a new icon.
“The shape itself is disruptive,” he continues. “The tapered bracelet is very wide, and you either love it or you hate it, which is fine with me. The dial is so pure, it’s very readable, and in the Finissimo collection, you have the monochrome effect because all the elements are from the same material, so they match perfectly. It’s a look that is completely new. It’s a balance of elements. You can’t push everything to the limit because your eye couldn’t stand it. The case is so powerful, so you might be overwhelmed, but little by little you discover things.”
At first glance, the Octo looks different from everything else on the market, but it is traditional at the same time, which is a tough thing to pull off. Too often, watches either look classic and vintage, or they look avant-garde and cutting edge.
“There are a lot of elements in the Octo that say Bulgari – all the geometrical shapes,” details Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani, Senior Director at Bulgari’s Watch Design Centre. “You can find the octagonal shape in many cultures. It means perfection, the combination of two pure shapes, the square and the circle. In the history of art, you can find a lot of octagonal shapes. Leonardo da Vinci used octagonal shapes all the time, like in his Vitruvian Man. We love to play with perfect and pure shapes and you can find this kind of approach in many of our collections. The Octo makes sense because it is an octagonal shape with a round bezel, which generates a new shape. This is our way to play with pure forms.”
Buonamassa Stigliani has been the designer of all the new Octos, including the Finissimo and the Grand Complications. His goal: to change the face of the watch but not the overall design, because Bulgari trusts in the design. In order to become a true pillar of the Bulgari brand, the Octo had to be more versatile.
“The Octo design is unique in terms of rules,” Buonamassa Stigliani says. “We need time to develop dials because you don’t have a round shape for the dial. It’s not so easy, but it’s a different challenge.
“Making changes to the Octo is difficult, because behind the Octo, you have the history of Bulgari and the history of Gérald Genta with the Octo Signature,” he adds. “My role is to respect the heritage of Bulgari but at the same time to make an evolution.”
High Watchmaking the Bulgari Way
Bulgari is on a mission to combine Italian style with Swiss high watchmaking, while at the same time revolutionising how these products are worn.
“Being mechanical, these watches have to be exceptional,” Babin continues. “Combining design with extraordinary engines is about creating legends. It’s difficult to be a great brand with only design. It was really important to combine our design skills with exceptional mechanical movements. As we combined thinness, we had to create a new movement. It wasn’t enough to just shrink the Octo Solotempo. Maybe one day the Finissimo will be seen as something that created a new trend, which broadened the market, attracting new customers. We would love if we were considered a brand that contributed to the evolution of watchmaking, along with others. We have to contribute to watchmaking by expressing it our own, Bulgari way.”
Bulgari is a true watchmaker, mastering the operations needed to make these groundbreaking timepieces. The conception, design, manufacturing, finishing, testing and final assembly are all done in-house by dedicated watchmakers, committed to producing timepieces of the highest quality.
“The client of luxury products wants real watchmaking,” says Terreni. “If you don’t have that, you aren’t a luxury item. It started in 2000, when the Bulgari family bought the Gérald Genta and Daniel Roth manufactures to acquire the savoir faire. In 2009, we decided to put everything we had on the table to do the best watch we could. We have the Bulgari brand, the Italian style and the watchmaking knowledge, and the Octo Finissimo is where it all comes together.”
Octo Finissimo – Thinking Thin
Bulgari, with the Octo Finissimo collection, placed all its chips in the centre of the table, betting on making “thin” a symbol of everyday elegance.
“When you are a jeweller, what you bring is elegance and beauty,” Babin details. “For men, the ultimate elegance is thin. We wanted to bring this essence to men’s watches, which mirrors what we stand for in jewellery and makes us consistent. We specialise in elegance, so it makes sense – ultimate contemporary elegance.
“At the same time, if elegance wasn’t combined with a very strong character, it wouldn’t have worked so well,” Babin continues. “We have kept the strength of the Octo design, even though we have shrunk it. Octo today is the best option for someone who wants elegance. It has the balance.”
Says Terreni, “No one was addressing ultra-thin towards a younger gentleman, who wants to wear his watch all the time. We wanted something very robust. I believe that the Finissimo is the watch that can be used all day, every day, something that was born to take thin watches from strictly formal use and make them an everyday watch.”
One of the signatures of the Finissimo range, apart from its super thin profile, is this use of monochrome materials throughout, from the case to the dial and even to the bracelet.
“With Finissimo, it’s the first time a dial has been crafted from the same material as the case,” notes Babin. “In the beginning, this was a functional decision, to get a better sound in the minute repeater. We decided to do this, matching the look of the dial and the case, across the range. In many models we have the same materials for the case and the dial, which is unique in the industry.”
For Basel, Bulgari is introducing two new models in the Octo Finissimo Automatic collection, using one of the world’s thinnest automatic movements.
First, Bulgari is introducing a full pink gold version, with the case, bracelet and dial all matching.
The other iteration is a completely new way of treating material – steel at its core, with a flash of gold and a flash of palladium, followed by a rhodium treatment. According to Bulgari, the two flashes are necessary, because rhodium on steel can peel off. The result gives a look that is a bit dressier, but modern and fresh. Bulgari calls it bianchissimo, which means “very white”.
In addition, this year Bulgari has introduced a new version of the Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater. Still the world’s thinnest minute repeater on the market, Bulgari’s Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater is now available in a delightfully stealthy black-DLC case. Driving it is the BVL 362-Finissimo manufacture movement with manual winding and small seconds, at only 3.12mm thick. It’s decorated with Côtes de Genève, chamfering and perlage finishing, with power reserve around 42 hours.
This is housed in a 40mm extra-thin Carbon CTP & Peek case a slim 6.85mm thick, enhanced by a skeletonised carbon CTP dial and transparent caseback. Details include a titanium crown with black-DLC treatment, integrated alligator-leather strap with titanium sandblasted ardillon clasp with black-DLC treatment. Despite the thinness, the watch is water-resistant to 30 metres. It is limited to 50 examples.
So, to recap, today’s Finissimo collection includes the following pieces:
Says Buonamassa Stigliani, “We are very proud of our movements, but Bulgari is not just about technical features, it’s a different type of aesthetics. When we talk about Bulgari, it’s Italian lifestyle, Italian design and Italian taste. You can see it every day when you spend time in Italy.”
With the Finissimo collection, Bulgari has set records and won a number of prizes, including the prestigious Grand Prix d’Horogerie de Genève (GPHG). In 2017, the Octo Finissimo Automatic won in the Men’s Watch category, while the Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Skeleton won the Tourbillon & Escapement prize.
In the same year, the Octo Finissimo Automatic won the Watch of the Year Award at SIAR, the most important show in Mexico, won a Spiral Award in Hong Kong, won the Watch of the Year award from the Italian magazine L’Orologio, and took home the Best Men’s Watch Award at the 2017 Revolution Awards (the Finissimo Minute Repeater won the Revolutionary Watch Award in 2016).
“The Octo design works because it uses two very pure shapes and, when you combine them, it is different but not strange,” says Buonamassa Stigliani. “We can do grand complications, but the Finissimo execution is even more difficult because it is a grand complication with a very simple look. It’s cool, contemporary and maybe even timeless. It’s a different approach.”
The Future for Octo
Octo has become the standard bearer for men’s timepieces, as the Serpenti is for women. You can expect many more developments to come. “The future is for the Octo to become even more important,” Terreni insists. “The Octo is at the beginning of its era; we introduced it first in 2012. The original was going in a sportier direction, the Finissimo is mechanical excellence with an elegant execution, and the Roma is born to have access to the line, with a more conventional proportion. All three will grow. The Finissimo will be the most important one and we hope the titanium version will be the reference. To be able to combine this look with different movements will be the challenge.
“I always said that the Octo was going to be the backbone of the male assortment,” Terreni continues. “It has become very important very quickly. The acceleration has been exponential. It takes time to appreciate the product. It has really found its best sponsors in collectors and people who know what watchmaking is about. They can look at the watch and see a piece of art.”
The Octo is a new icon in the watch industry, and one that Bulgari is banking on to take it to never-before-seen heights in watchmaking. The brand has already done marvellous things with the Finissimo collection, including the spectacularly awesome Finissimo Tourbillon, the amazing Finissimo Minute Repeater and the world record-breaking Finissimo Automatic.
We here at Revolution have recognised Bulgari for its achievements in our Revolution Awards many times and we celebrate the new Octo Finissimo models introduced at Baselworld this year. That said, we can’t wait to see where the Octo will be going next.