HANDS-ON: Does second thinnest mean second best? The new Bulgari Octo Finissimo Ultra 10th AnniversaryZach Blass
Watch brands can be known for boisterous claims or names for their novelties. Masterpiece, icon, ultimate or – in the case of this specific edition of the Bulgari Octo Finissimo – “ultra”. In the acclaimed anime My Hero Academia, “plus ultra” means going all-out, leaving it all on the battlefield, and pushing their abilities to be the best they can. So when you consider the fact the Bulgari Octo Finissimo Ultra is the thinnest entry into an already ultra-thin collection, and the fact it was, for a moment, the thinnest mechanical watch ever made, the “ultra” nomenclature does not feel like a stretch for what it is.
The original Bulgari Octo Finissimo Ultra came to market in March 2022, but three months later the new champion of ultra-thin from Richard Mille entered the fold – beating out the 1.8mm thick Ultra by 0.05mm. During the LVMH Watch Week New York preview, I sat down with Antoine Pin, Managing Director of the Bulgari Watch Division, and asked him how he felt about losing the title for thinnest watch to Richard Mille. And his response was quite thought-provoking. Firstly, he was adamant that, if Bulgari wanted to, they could shave the necessary 0.06mm off of the Ultra to retake the #1 spot. The existing design leaves room for this modification to be made with relative ease. But he then raised the question: do we really need or want to? Regardless of what you think of his claim, it did reshape my approach to this review.
Sure, I could gush about how thin the watch is and frame it as a beaten best effort that is still cool. But, ultimately, the more important question, for any watch that pushes the limits really, is how practical is it to wear? Is it simply a museum piece destined to sit behind glass in safety? Or is it more than a concept watch? A watch that can truly be worn in someone’s daily life. Antoine made it very clear the Bulgari Octo Finissimo Ultra was designed to be worn, not babied. That it was not, in fact, a concept watch doomed to end with a short 20-piece run across two limited editions. Some day a standard-production model, albeit limited in production each year, will come to market. So I know it is no longer the thinnest mechanical watch – literally by the average thickness of a strand of human hair. But does that make it second best? And to evaluate that, I think, and it seems Bulgari thinks, it is less important to harp on about 0.05mm thickness and more important to determine how well it actually wears. On that note, let’s dig into the hands-on review.
With a watch that has a truly ultra-thin profile, made of titanium, of course there is very little heft to the watch. But, while lightweight, it does not translate to cheap. Its sandblasted finish, while more industrious than the glamour of hairline bevels and polished accents, maintains the aura of futurism and modernity the original Finissimo model made its name on. It is a visual reminder that the watch, at least proportional to its size, is not as delicate as you may think.
Antoine pointed out in our conversation that he was very grateful for brands like Piaget, who kicked off the ultra-thin arms race. That it was certainly advantageous to see what they had came up with – ie the Altiplano Ultimate Concept – and to be able to appreciate and learn lessons from Piaget’s creation. It was clear that in pursuing a mechanical watch 2mm thick or less, a core concern would be the integrity of the case and ensuring it does not bend under stress and pressure.
For Piaget, the solution was a cobalt alloy that would not bend like the previous traditional materials they had tried. Through stringent testing, Bulgari has ensured the watch, while not the most waterproof, was “urban-proof” – tested to withstand micro-shocks, magnetism, temperature and aging cycles. Again, I am not pretending the Bulgari Octo Finissimo Ultra is as robust as a Rolex Submariner, but there clearly have been efforts made to make it as robust as possible within this top-tier of the ultra-thin arms race. And this desire for utmost wearability and practicality can be seen in its case design.
The 40mm sandblasted titanium case is 1.8mm thick, but were you to measure from the top of the lugs to their bottom, the measurement would be a tad more. Whether or not that is an asterisk in the ultra-thin conversation I will leave to you. But, within the context of the offering, it does mean the watch can be more comfortably worn. The lugs introduce a camber that allows the Bulgari Octo Finissimo Ultra to form better around the wrist. On a smaller wrist like mine, this was a very welcome element. Were it paper flat all the way across, the tolerance for stress while worn would likely be less, and it surely would have been less comfortable and more likely to wing out over the roundness of one’s wrist.
Let’s get it out of the way. I know the dial’s NFT QR code is a point of contention. Is it an eyesore? That is subjective and a battle that cannot really be won or lost. You either do not mind it, or find it an absolute turn-off. In-hand, however, I didn’t really have any objection to it. Were the cap of the mainspring barrel ratchet wheel, where it is located, have been left plain and untouched, I think the dial would have been a bit stale. So whether or not the QR code finds its way onto future models, the one thing that is clear to me is that something has to take up the real estate. Considering the tier of the offering, and its planned limited production in the future, I imagine engraved personalisation may be the best way to go.
Now, when I say “dial” here it is really both dial and movement. The caseback and mainplate you see frontside is formed from PVD-ALD treated tungsten carbide that largely continues the hues of the sandblasted titanium surrounding it. This is in line with the monochromatic debut of the original Octo Finissimo watch. While incredibly thin, Bulgari has still managed to apply varying decorations to the dial/movement utilising sandblasted/grained, brushed, chamfered, and nailed surfaces. At the top right of the dial you have the hour-indicating sub-dial. This is the only distinguishing element for this edition of the Ultra versus its predecessor, the sub-dial strictly displaying the numeral 10 with indices in honour of the 10th anniversary. Beneath the hours is the minutes sub-dial, and adjacent to it is a smaller running seconds indication displayed directly on the fourth wheel to prevent added thickness. Lastly, to the left of the running seconds indication is the balance wheel anchored by three bridges – the heartbeat of the watch visible for the wearer’s enjoyment.
Like the case and the dial, the bracelet has been designed to maintain the codes of the Octo Finissimo as well with stacked Y or “field goal post” shaped links that are broad in width to sit better on the wrist and compact in length to allow for more sizeability. The challenge was to make an already thin bracelet even thinner, and Bulgari successfully did just that with a bracelet that does not diminish the ultra-thin factor of the case. This not only meant reducing the thickness of the links, but also designing a butterfly clasp that can still sink and hide itself into the bracelet. There is no room for added thickness on a watch like this. While I cannot say it opens with the relative ease of a clamshell clasp, no hidden clasp does really, it is remarkable that, once you are familiar with it, that it is rather easy to open and close. And once closed it feels secure, you will not worry about it popping open.
No true view of the movement is available from the tungsten carbide caseback, but the watch is so thin you can actually see where the jewels have been set – no those are not blemishes to the caseback. The caseback is also the largest, and only element, to be fully mirror polished. Remarkably, the ultra-thin BVL 180 calibre inside manages to offer 50 hours of power reserve. With no traditional crown in its design, you may be wondering how you manually wind the watch or set the time. On the left side of the case is a razor-thin knurled wheel that can be spun with a finger to wind the watch, and on the right at the 3′ position is another wheel that will allow you to manipulate the hours and minutes hands.
One of the romantic elements of owning a mechanical watch is the act of waking the watch up with a wind, and setting the time manually. And you can still enjoy that experience with the Octo Finissimo Ultra. But you do not have to. As we saw with the Bulgari Octo Finissimo Sejima Edition, the box a watch is packaged in can be more than an afterthought. It can be an element that really ties together and heightens the offering. In this instance, Bulgari has designed an incredible watch box that will not only wind the watch for you, but also set the time for you as well – ensuring when it is taken out of the box each morning it is fully wound and accurately set.
Bulgari explains: “The Octo Finissimo Ultra can still be set by hand, but the presentation box offers a whole new interaction: collectors can place the watch in the box next to a digital screen on which they programme the desired time. A button is then pressed to start the cycle and as soon as the precious box is closed, the magic happens while hidden from sight. Upon opening it some 20 seconds later, the owner will find the watch perfectly set to the desired time and fully wound – silently, delicately and with infinite precision. It is no longer just a presentation but a kind of ‘at-home watchmaker’, optimally adjusting on demand the delicate mechanism of the Octo Finissimo Ultra.” It was really cool to see in action, and, considering the intricacies of the watch, is a very useful tool for owners who may not have as much mechanical experience and may mis-manipulate the watch.
Let me be very clear. I have yet to experience the Richard Mille RM UP-01 Ferrari “in the metal”. But, what can be ascertained even without a 1:1 level of hands-on experience is the fact that Bulgari fought a more challenging battle than Richard Mille. Bulgari, within their chase for the ultimate thinnest watch, had the restriction of working within the parameters of their modern icon. Regardless of what they did, it still needed to be an Octo Finissimo. Richard Mille presented an entirely new case form for their brand, rather than working within the constraints of their signature tonneau profile. Even with the small Richard Mille branding at the top of the case, it is not immediately obvious it is something of their design. The through line from Bulgari Octo Finissimo to Ultra, however, is irrefutable. With the Ultra, you have the advantage of a well-received design geometry and aesthetic, rather than the (in my opinion awkward) cushiony plasma TV form of the Richard Mille. That being said, the RM is credited with being able to withstand 5,000 G’s of accelerated force, so it is presumably more robust.
With the Richard Mille, it is a clear exercise in over engineering – the aesthetic perhaps suffering in their incredible pursuit. But, with the Bulgari Octo Finissimo Ultra you can actually see most of the movement, and have larger, more legible, and, perhaps more handsome indications than what is found on the Richard Mille RM UP-01 Ferrari. It looks more like a watch, and I infer it wears better as a watch. So, in my book, it may be second thinnest but it is certainly not second best. In fact, when the limited production model inevitably makes its debut, and maybe loses the NFT-element on its dial, I declare in advance that it will be the best of the ultra, ultra-thin watches you can buy.
Bulgari Octo Finissimo Ultra 10th Anniversary 103611 pricing and availability:
The Bulgari Octo Finissimo Ultra 10th Anniversary 103611 is a limited edition of 10 pieces. For more information on availability and pricing, please contact your local Bulgari boutique directly.
|Model||Octo Finissimo Ultra 10th Anniversary Limited Edition 103611|
|Case Diameter||40mm (D) x 1.8mm (T)|
|Case Material||Sandblasted titanium, PVD-ALD treated tungsten carbide|
|Dial||Openworked, QR Code with NFT|
|Strap||Sandblasted titanium bracelet with hidden butterly clasp|
|Power Reserve||50 hours|
|Functions||Hours, minutes, seconds|
|Availability||Limited Edition of 10 pcs.|