HANDS-ON: The Bulgari Octo Roma Chronograph is the sportiest take on the sportiest Octo HANDS-ON: The Bulgari Octo Roma Chronograph is the sportiest take on the sportiest Octo

HANDS-ON: The Bulgari Octo Roma Chronograph is the sportiest take on the sportiest Octo

Jamie Weiss

When it comes to big watch fairs like Watches & Wonders Geneva, it’s often the brands that aren’t officially exhibiting at the show that have some of the most exciting releases. Step out of the frenetic hive of activity that is Palexpo and go exploring Geneva’s streets, hotels and bars and you’ll find all manner of watchmakers unveiling some seriously impressive timepieces. Case in point – Bulgari, who set up camp at the Hotel President Wilson right by the beautiful Lac Léman in order to show off, among other things, a youthful new take on the Octo Roma, which recently has been the focus of some impressive mechanical complications. Featuring new clous de Paris dials, 100 metres of water resistance and a new range of comfortable rubber straps, the Octo Roma has never been sportier – especially now that there’s a chronograph variant joining the range. It’s the latter that we were particularly excited to try on, and in my view, is one of the most interesting chronographs on the market right now.

The case

The Octo has been reinvented many times since the legendary Gérald Genta first penned its essential form back in the 80s, but I reckon the Octo Roma’s take on Genta’s design is particularly faithful. Picking up the Octo Roma Chronograph, you’re immediately struck by its evident Genta DNA. Sharp, angular forms contrast with circular motifs in a form that’s both highly modern yet classically architectural – the sunray-brushed bezel is particularly stunning.

The Octo Roma Chronograph is slightly bigger than its non-chronograph stablemates, weighing in at 42mm in diameter and 12.4mm thick compared to the three-hander’s 41mm x 9.15mm. Despite this, I don’t think it wears much bigger than the Octo Roma Automatic – the short, 45-degree-angled lugs and thin links let it hug your wrist, and 12.4mm thick isn’t thin, but it’s by no means excessive. Funnily enough, I think the Octo Roma Chronograph wears smaller than the Octo Finissimo Chronograph. Maybe it’s because the latter is so thin that it makes it feel wider? In any case, the Octo Roma Chronograph wears very nicely. The elegantly designed chrono pushers are a pleasure to actuate, and the cleverly knurled screw-down crown is a cinch to use.

The dial

It’s hard to overstate just how much the Octo Roma’s new clous de Paris dial changes the way this watch looks. It’s very fine and gives the watch an unmistakably sporty appearance. The Octo Roma Chronograph’s subdials, arranged in a classic tri-compax layout, have a nice azurage finish, providing a pleasant contrast to the show-stopping dial texture. There are two classic dial colours available – blue and black. No complaints here; both look great. One minor criticism: the black variant gets a tone-on-tone date disc with a white digit while the blue has a white date disc with a black digit, which doesn’t look as nice and feels like a bit of an aberration.

The bracelet

Bulgari is first and foremost a jeweller, so they know how to make a great bracelet. The Octo Roma Chronograph’s is no exception: extremely comfortable, its cascade of relatively short links have a tasteful combination of polished and brushed surfaces that catch the light like few other metal bracelets in the game. It’s utterly addictive to roll your wrist around in the light while wearing this watch.

However, I’m a big fan of the Octo Roma Chronograph’s rubber strap, which features a texture that complements the piece’s clous de Paris dial. It’s one of the comfiest rubber straps I’ve ever had the pleasure of trying on. Bulgari’s quick-change system is also very easy to use, and is a real selling point.

The movement

Within that delightful case beats Bulgari’s in-house BVL399 automatic movement, which is just a BVL191 ‘Solotempo’ calibre with a Dubois Dépraz module. The movement is nicely finished with côtes de Genève on both its rotor and mainplate. It’s only got a 42 hour power reserve, which is slightly underwhelming – but if you’re wearing it every day, which you very much can – that shouldn’t be a big issue.

The verdict

As soon as you mention Genta and octagons, you naturally invite comparisons to the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak (I mean, the Octo Roma’s got a hobnail dial, too). You could certainly call it a Royal Oak for those who don’t want to wear a Royal Oak – or those who can’t be bothered waiting for a Royal Oak. That said, it offers a fundamentally different on-wrist experience. It has a certain Italian grace that Royal Oak chronographs lack, a more comfortable bracelet as well as an alluring air of sprezzatura. Or maybe I’m just buying into its Italian character too much.

What it is, is a fundamentally respectable daily wearer with plenty of pedigree, boatloads of sophistication and a price tag that’s far more reasonable than many watches with a similar aesthetic.

Bulgari Octo Roma Chronograph pricing and availability

The Bulgari Octo Roma Chronograph is available now, with either a black or blue dial. Price: A$14,300

Brand Bulgari
Model Octo Roma Chronograph
Reference Number 103829
Case Dimensions 42mm (D) x 12.4mm (T) x 43.5mm (LTL)
Case Material Stainless steel
Water Resistance 100 metres
Crystal(s) Sapphire
Dial Blue or black with clous de Paris pattern
Strap Steel bracelet and colour-matched rubber strap
Movement BVL 399, in-house BVL 191 base with  Dubois-Dépraz module
Power Reserve 42 hours
Functions Hours, minutes, dates, chronograph
Availability Now
Price A$14,300