The slinky genius of the record-breaking Bulgari Octo FinissimoD.C. Hannay
Welcome to The Icons, a series where we take a horological deep dive into the most legendary watches of all time. We’ll delve into the story behind the watch, its evolution over the years, famous (and infamous) wearers, the classic references, and the contemporary versions you should be checking out. This week, it’s the Bulgari Octo Finissimo.
Introduction: The Bulgari Octo Finissimo
“You can never be too rich or too thin” isn’t a sentiment I generally agree with, but in the world of horology, opulence and a slender profile are considered attractive virtues. And while some attempts at both smack of a “because we can” attitude (without considering whether or not that exercise is successful), sometimes, just sometimes, you end up with a jaw-dropping thing of beauty that resonates with the watch-buying public.
Audacity is what drives progress. Much like a Formula 1 race car – while wholly impractical as a daily driver, these machines are test beds for innovation. An intersection where science meets design. Without this sort of bold thinking, the automotive world would never have known innovations like composite construction, anti-lock brakes, or hybrid powertrains, commonplace on the vehicles you and I drive today. It’s the same sort of abandonment of limitations that produced the Bulgari Octo Finissimo, one of the most audacious timepieces ever created. Not only beautiful in its design, the Octo Finissimo has broken several technological records since it burst onto the scene, and it shows no signs of slowing.
The Octo Finissimo’s design springs from the headwaters of what’s now known as the “integrated bracelet sports watch”, pioneered by legendary designer Gérald Genta. Genta was the Swiss visionary who envisioned the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak in 1970, considered the granddaddy of luxury sports watches. Not one to rest on his laurels, he followed that triumph with the Patek Philippe Nautilus in 1976. Considering these two models are icons that still are among the most desirable watches in the world, most of us might call it a career and retire, but Genta was far from finished. One of his later designs released under his own auspices in 1991, the Gérald Genta Octagonal, was a virtuoso expression of the watch designer’s art, and most importantly, the case shape was a harbinger of what was yet to come.
In the year 1999, Genta sold the Gérald Genta brand and intellectual property to a distributor in Singapore, who then sold the rights to Bulgari the following year, and subsequently, the original Octagonal became the genesis for the Bulgari Octo Finissimo. While no longer at the helm of Gérald Genta Design, Genta never retired, and before his passing in 2011 at 80 years old, he was still creating under the Gérald Charles name.
Rise To Fame
The Octo Finissimo case we know today began to take shape after the Bulgari acquisition, and by 2004, the combined maisons had developed the Gérald Genta Octo Bi-Retro, which featured a jumping hour movement, a cloisonné enameled dial, and most significantly, that sculptural, faceted case that remains visually arresting nearly 20 years later.
The octagonal stepped case design was positively architectural, and was a callback to the Gérald Genta Grande Sonnerie, a chiming tourbillon (with a striking resemblance to a Mayan pyramid, of all things) released in 1994, which retailed for just south of a million US dollars at the time.
After several more years of refinements, Bulgari set its sights on a new version of the Octo, one that emphasised their technical capability. Thin was in, and by 2014, the Octo Finissimo was ready for the world stage. And what a debut: The ultra-thin Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Manual measured a scant 5mm thin. It was a mind-boggling accomplishment of its own, but Bulgari wasn’t done. The new model, done up in a matte-finished platinum case, bracelet, and dial, established another key element of the Octo Finissimo design language: the monochromatic look.
And while not every Octo Finissimo sports the same colour-matched visage, it’s the overwhelmingly popular choice.
In the years since, Bulgari has broken a number of their own records, including thinnest automatic watch, thinnest tourbillon movement, thinnest tourbillon chronograph watch, thinnest minute repeater watch, and in 2018, the thinnest automatic watch and thinnest tourbillon watch with the release of the Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Automatic at an astonishing 3.95mm thin (with only 1.95mm for the movement).
It’s safe to say that Bulgari’s watchmaking chops are well-established in the horological firmament. And not content with merely being thin, the brand has also released several lightweight models in full titanium and ceramic, with matching bracelets.
Actor Adrien Brody, a Bulgari ambassador, is a major fan of the Octo Finissimo Extra Thin Small Seconds, a quirky choice for the quirky actor. Other A-list Octo wearers include actors Gerard Butler, Jared Leto, Bradley Cooper, and Marvel superheroes Eric Bana (pictured) and Jeremy Renner. And has anyone spotted Alfred Molina with one? A Doctor Octopus/Octo Finissimo collab seems like some no-brainer synergy, IMHO.
And now, onto some of my favourites from the current Octo Finissimo lineup.
First up is the world’s thinnest fully ceramic automatic watch (5.5mm), and the one that catapulted the Octo Finissimo model into the public mind, the monochromatic black badness of the Octo Finissimo Automatic with small seconds. It’s the one most associated with the range, and the go-to choice for fans of the svelte and stealthy.
Next, one of the hottest models in the lineup, the automatic Chronograph GMT adds two useful complications, and houses them in a fully sandblasted titanium case and bracelet. Even with a sapphire display caseback, this beauty clocks in at a trim 6.9mm.
The skeletonized wonder of the Tourbillon Chronograph, also in blasted titanium, lets the wearer revel in both sides of the 52-jewel movement on full display.
If you want to turn some heads, the manual-winding Octo Finissimo Skeleton in bold black ceramic ups the visual ante with accents of racy red on the hands, small seconds/power reserve subdials, and minute track.
Finally, if ballin’ is your job and price is no object, the Perpetual Calendar Haute Horlogerie in platinum on a blue alligator strap will fit the bill nicely. The gradient blue dial is a stunner, and the watch is a mechanical wonder too. All that functionality in an automatic movement opens up the calipers a mere 5.8mm, rather unreal for a perpetual calendar with a display caseback. You’ll pay for the privilege, though, with a list price just north of $102,000 USD.