The Bulgari Octo Finissimo Ultra-Thin Automatique made a very big splash at Baselworld last March, and with good reason: it’s another technical feather in Bulgari’s cap, housing the caliber BVL 138, which is the new record holder for the world’s thinnest automatic movement. The AP 2120/Vacheron Constantin 1120/JLC 920 continues to be the world’s thinnest full-rotor automatic, as it has been since 1967, which gives you a sense of how rare it is to see new records set in extra-flat watchmaking.
Our first impressions of both versions of the Octo Finissimo Ultra-Thin Automatique were extremely positive on either a strap or a bracelet, the watch is unbelievably light and slim, and the faceted titanium case design captures all the traditional charm of an ultra-thin wristwatch while feeling very contemporary at the same time. It’s still true, though, that you can discover things about a watch after wearing it for an extended period of time that aren’t immediately apparent when you just pick it up and handle it at a trade show no matter how strong the first impression, it’s still just a first impression.
A refresher on the basics: the watch is 40mm in diameter and 5.15mm thick, with sapphire crystals front and back, and the whole job of the case is really to express both the traditional appeal of ultra-thin watchmaking, and, at the same time, to keep the whole thing forward-looking enough to appeal to a broader audience. Not for nothing is ultra-thin watchmaking something that the majority of people looking for a luxury mechanical watch don’t consider; these watches are indisputably elegant, and making ultra-thin movements and cases that are suitable for them is difficult enough that it’s sometimes described as a sort of separate complication in its own right.
However, historically they’ve also been as delicate as they look, with little to nothing in the way of water resistance, a need for more frequent servicing than you would expect for a non-ultra-thin movement, and a need for specialist watchmakers capable of working within the absurdly demanding tolerances characteristic of ultra flat watches not just in the movement per se, but in the case, dial and hands as well, where there’s just no spare headroom at all.
This is where the Octo Finissimo Ultra-Thin really shines. Just about every other ultra-thin watch I’ve ever worn, with few exceptions, has felt a bit fragile; you’re always aware that you have something on that was designed to push the boundaries of flatness, not robustness (or accuracy, for that matter) and that you serve yourself and the watch best by remembering to take a little extra care when handling it. One of the few exceptions to this I can think of are the Royal Oak Jumbo and the Vacheron Constantin Overseas Ultra-Thin, but even then, those two watches have such highly finished and polished cases and bracelets that again, you feel like you need to take a little extra care wearing them.
The Octo Finissimo Ultra-Thin, on the other hand, seems to make no such demands at all. I’m not sure what it is about it that makes it so easy to wear well, first of all, there’s the titanium case, which at 40mm x 5.15mm is remarkably light and comfortable. Then there’s the finish unlike the jewel-like facets of the Jumbo or the Overseas, the entire watch is an even, matte grey; it feels very utilitarian but at the same time very clean and sculptural. It comes on either a strap or a bracelet and interestingly enough, on a strap it feels a bit more like a conventional ultra-thin watch; certainly still very easy to wear and definitely still not a watch that wants to be treated gingerly, but it’s really on its matching titanium bracelet, I think, that the Octo Finissimo Ultra-Thin comes into its own.
The industrial-chic design of the Octo Finissimo Ultra-Thin really encourages you to wear it. During the week I had it on, it felt incredibly natural to wear every day; one of those watches that you just put on and go. Light, warm, and comfortable, it kept excellent time and I had no hesitation about wearing it while at the same time doing everything from working at my desk (often, I’ll take off whatever watch I’m wearing while writing in order to avoid scratching the clasp or buckle on the desk surface) to washing dishes, folding laundry, wandering around New York, camera and notebook in hand, chasing stories, and what have you.
It was a quite delightful and interesting daily companion to have when spending time with other watch enthusiasts as well; unusual but at the same time very inviting, with of course, the added pleasure of being able to share the experience of Bulgari’s caliber BVL 138 Finissimo movement (2.23mm x 36.6mm; a somewhat large diameter for an ultra-thin watch but the extra diameter is probably necessary in a watch where you have both a 60-hour power reserve, and a platinum micro-rotor and automatic winding train in the same plane as the mainplate.)
My feelings about the Bulgari Octo Finissimo Ultra-Thin after spending a week with it were really pretty straightforward: I liked it. I liked it a lot, and I liked the fact that despite its cooly urbane, rather postmodern physical design and monochrome palette, it somehow became a very warm presence and the last thing I’d ever have expected from an ultra-thin watch: it’s a great every day watch. Water resistances is 30 meters so it’s not an every day watch to the extent that you could take it diving (at 30m I wouldn’t necessarily wear it swimming either) but in just about every other respect it really came across as a go anywhere, do anything watch.
This is a very interesting direction for Bulgari stylistically; this kind of design is a bit of a departure for them you think of Bulgari and you think of bold, almost Imperial Roman-feeling design work, heavy on the precious metals, with an overt celebration of opulence for its own sake. Here, you get the characteristic Bulgari clarity of design, but coupled with a toned-down stealth-luxury feel that has an almost German/Bauhaus feel. The fact that things like the dial fonts and complex case geometry keep it connected to the Bulgari world, however, means that it feels like a natural addition to Bulgari’s watchmaking lineup, rather an a one-off or an aberration, and it’ll be interesting to see where Bulgari goes with this next.
The Bulgari Octo Finissimo Automatique: on a titanium bracelet, $13,900; on a strap, $12,800. Movement, caliber BVL 138 Finissimo, automatic winding via a platinum micro-rotor; decorated with Cotes de Genve, chamfered bridges, and a circular-grained mainplate; 2.23mm thick x 36.60mm, 21,600 V/H, 60-hour power reserve. Case, 40mm in sandblasted titanium, transparent case-back, 5.15mm thick; titanium crown with ceramic insert; water-resistant to 30m; titanium dial, black hands with PVD treatment; titanium bracelet with folding clasp or black alligator leather with titanium pin buckle. See Bulgari’s timepiece collections online at Bulgari.com.