The story in a second: Forget bling: thin is in, and Bulgari are king.
The Octo Finissimo Automatic is the latest in Bulgari’s trio of record-breaking ultra-thin watches, and perhaps the greatest. We have a look at the watch’s barely-there beauty, and find out why it’s such a standout.
Any discussion of the Octo Finissimo Automatic has to start with some specs. And for the case, the key figure is 5.15mm. That’s slight, no matter how you slice it, but it manages to avoid feeling frail on the wrist. The level of finishing is very high, and you can see how anything superfluous has been pared back or – in the example of the caseback – removed completely. For me, though, the real surprise about this case wasn’t how thin it was, it’s the weight. On the excellent bracelet (more on that later), the Octo Finissimo clocks in at only 73 grams, thanks to the titanium construction. It’s so light that I did an almost comical double take the first time I picked it up. But the benefit of the titanium case extends beyond its lightness; it’s exceptionally thermo-conductive, meaning it very quickly matches your body temperature, making it even more comfortable.
The other major advantage of titanium is less of a physical property and more of a cultural one. Traditionally, titanium is not a luxury material, rather it’s used for its technical properties. That Bulgari opted to use it here is smart, as it’s the perfect complement to the industrial, architectural Octo case, a 40mm exercise in sharply formed angles, lines and light. The sandblasted finish only amplifies the effect.
The dial, like the case, is matt and grey, with minimal detail to detract from the purity of the design, or add thickness. There are the trademark Octo hands, and paired ’12’ and ‘6’ numerals. Everything else is reduced to flat black hash marks. It’s clean to the point of being sterile, with only the Bulgari brand text and off-centre small seconds providing visual relief. Some might find the uncompromising aesthetic stark, but there’s no denying it’s legible and amplifies the mood of cutting-edge modernity the Octo Finissimo projects.
The BVL 138 is ostensibly the star of the show, and it doesn’t fail to deliver (though it must be said the case and bracelet gives it a run for its money). Measuring in at 2.23mm, it’s a piece of miniaturised engineering that doesn’t cut corners as it breaks records. The previous record-holder, Piaget’s Altiplano, measures 2.35, meaning the Bulgari has shaved a (not so massive) 0.12mm off the width. Another popular ultra-thin, JLC’s Caliber 896, measures nearly double, at 3.98mm. For all its slightness the BVL 138 still manages to offer contemporary standards; a platinum micro-rotor, 60 hours of power reserve and 3Hz beat rate.
To my mind, a good strap accentuates the properties, style and aesthetic of the watch it’s attached to. By these criteria alone, the titanium bracelet on the Octo Finissimo is a real winner. The scaled, segmented full-width links are a natural extension of the case, flowing around your wrist in a sinuous titanium curve. It also adds a feeling of rigid solidity, which doesn’t go astray on an otherwise svelte piece.
On the wrist
This watch disappears on the wrist in the best possible way. Its lack of bulk or weight means you can actually forget you’re wearing it, until you need it. But when you need to tell the time, and look at it, you forget all else, so striking is the design. And, in many ways, this watch is a far more conspicuous object of design than many of its Swiss cousins. This is due, in equal parts, to the Italian design sensibility of Bulgari, but also the strength of the Octo design, a Gérald Genta original that Bulgari has continued to evolve, smartly and tastefully. When I look at the Octo Finissimo it doesn’t bring to mind other watches, but rather modernist architecture; everything from the concrete lines of Oscar Niemeyer, or the organic forms of Zaha Hadid. The fact that Bulgari is comfortable breaking with the conventions of a delicate, dressy round watch is the great strength of this watch, above and beyond its exceptional thinness.
This watch was one of the real surprises from Baselworld. Not the slender-factor per se — given their previous efforts with the Octo Finissimo tourbillon and the minute repeater, we were well aware of their credibility in the ultra-thin space. No, what surprised journalists and industry veterans alike was just how well this watch worked on the wrist. Breaking a record for the sake of it is one thing, but breaking a record creating a beautiful, supremely wearable watch is something else entirely. I know a lot of people who have never before considered a Bulgari that are now looking at the brand with fresh, and covetous, eyes. For my money, it’s one of the best releases of 2017.
You think that’s thin? Check this out …
Who’s it for?
If you appreciate high horology but want a different look, or just want to keep a low profile, you should check this Octo out.
What would we change?
For me, it’s the dial. I understand why it’s so plain, but I’d love to see something more. Perhaps it’s just that I’ve been spoiled by the strong look of the cut out indices on the Minute Repeater.
Bulgari Octo Finissimo Automatic Australian pricing
Bulgari Octo Finissimo Automatic, on titanium bracelet, $19,250
Images by Jason Reekie.