Bulgari Octo Finissimo Automatique
They say that something valuable is worth its weight in gold, and in watchmaking there’s a lot to be said about having some heft. So, given that—and despite having a fully integrated bracelet and costing a gasp-inducing £12,100—the Bulgari Octo Finissimo Automatic, at just 73 grams—less than the weight of a bag of Doritos—might just be, pound-for-pound, the very worst value watch in the world.
Thinking of Bulgari doesn’t automatically engender the image of a fine watchmaker, the Italian brand having spent much of its 135 years of existence concentrating its efforts on jewellery-making. Some watches came and went here and there, but nothing ever really moved the needle. If the brand was to be taken seriously as a watchmaker, it would need to take watchmaking seriously itself.
So, in 2010, the expertise of two men was sought, namely Daniel Roth and Gérald Genta. The names might be familiar to you; Roth revitalised Breguet and Lemania in the 1990s, Genta did the same for Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe in the 1970s. There’s an obvious connection between these two men, and that’s the ability to take an ailing, once great watchmaker and make its watches special and desirable once more. This, however, would be their biggest challenge yet.
But Roth and Genta weren’t career businessmen; their expertise didn’t lie in marketing, or international sales, or anything like that: they were hands-on creators, the minds from which the future of Bulgari’s watchmaking would come. Both these men had signature designs that, thanks to their flamboyance, were easily transposed into the very Italian Bulgari collection—and just like that, Bulgari became a credible watchmaker.
Although, not just like that, not really, because as every conglomerate knows, simply buying up a brand is not good enough to generate success by itself. Bulgari needed to take its approach to watchmaking even more seriously than that. And what better way to do so than by breaking a few records—big records. So, Bulgari took Genta’s familiar eight-sided Octo design and fitted it with a tourbillon. But not any old tourbillon: the thinnest in the world.
Given that a tourbillon is one of the most complex mechanisms in watchmaking, the fact that the calibre tourbillon BVL 268 measured in at just 1.95mm thick is frankly astonishing. And if the tourbillon is one of the most complicated mechanisms, then the minute repeater is the most complex; and that’s what Bulgari did next, making the world’s thinnest at just 3.12mm for the BVL 362.
But massively expensive flagship pieces—and these were very, very expensive—are often considered more of a concept, a flavour of what a brand could achieve if it really tried. The real proof is in the mass-market pudding, the watches that people of more ordinary means could contemplate purchasing. And that brings us to this, the Bulgari Octo Finissimo Automatic.
So, what is the Octo Finissimo Automatic, and why should it be considered a worthy successor to the Bulgari Octo line thus far? It’s a simple watch, time only, no date; it doesn’t even have central seconds, a mild complication that’s been foregone for a sub-dial instead. The dial itself is plain, embellished only with print, not an applied marker in sight. There’s no polishing, no brushing, just a utilitarian bead-blasted finish across the entire watch, dial and all. It is altogether rather unremarkable.
That is until you turn it on its side, because this watch contains the calibre BVL 138, which took the record for the world’s thinnest automatic movement. At just 2.23mm thick, the BVL 138 can squeeze into a case with a depth of only 5.15mm, and that’s mostly thanks to the micro-rotor hiding to one side.
An automatic watch typically uses a weight that is centrally hinged and spans the radius of the watch; here a very small rotor is sunk into the movement itself. This would ordinarily mean the rotor would not have enough mass to adequately perform its duties, but here it’s made entirely from platinum, giving it the heft it needs to keep the watch wound.
Combine this with a titanium case and an equally slender titanium bracelet—so thin in fact that the clasp is recessed into it—and you get a watch that, to quote Ned Flanders, “feels like I’m wearing nothing at all.” But it’s uncanny: you see the not-inconsiderable chunk of this square, 40mm watch and its broad, integrated bracelet, yet to wear it honestly feels like there’s nothing there. If you’ve ever had a bug land on your wrist, you’ll know what it’s like to wear an Octo Finissimo Automatic.
What it does mean is that the experience of the Octo Finissimo Automatic is a very alien one. We’re used to wearing watches that weigh something, that carry some heft, and when a watch weighs virtually nothing at all, it feels … cheap. It’s not, both in the sense of the engineering achievement and the actual RRP, but it’s an unusual experience nonetheless and one that could be misconstrued as poor value.
But the truth is that Bulgari has broken new ground yet again, taking the automatic movement and, some hundred years after it was first developed, pushing it even further than ever before.
You could fairly say that Bulgari is not a proper watchmaker. The heritage isn’t there, the historical influence—it’s a jewellery brand that bought out some watch companies, and nothing more. But I think that’s doing Bulgari a disservice. Sure, it may have fast-tracked its way into the industry, but it’s taken what it has and pushed it to the very limits of possibilities on multiple occasions. There are many long-established watchmakers resting on their laurels that, through decades of complacency, can no longer claim to be anywhere near as innovative as Bulgari is being now. The Octo Finissimo Automatic may feel like the worst value watch in the world, but its value to watchmaking as a whole? It’s priceless.
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