The new Bulgari Octo Finissimo Ultra is incredibly flat. It’s also beautiful.
Welcome to Dialed In, Esquire’s weekly column bringing you watchmaking happenings and the watch world’s most essential news since March 2020.
In 2012, Bulgari embarked, under the leadership of its executive director of product creation, Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani, on a very ambitious new mission in watchmaking. The Octo, launched the same year, draws inspiration from the veteran Roman brand’s historical jewelry design language, in particular a piece of jewelry from the 1970s, which, in a nod to classical Roman architecture, marries the ancient octagon and circle geometry. But nothing else in the Octo watch line was classic. Buonamassa Stigliani presided over one mind-blowing Octo watch after another, each thinner than the last. And the Octo Finissimo Ultra, launched last week to celebrate the line’s tenth anniversary, deservedly makes it 8. As the name suggests, for Bulgari it’s the farthest – and at just 1.8 mm thick (it’s the whole watch, not the movement), the thinnest of all brands.
The Octo Finissimo Ultra, like its predecessors, is a super-refined dress watch that really thinks it’s a sports watch. And to achieve this, Bulgari has played with the conventions of (very) haute horlogerie by executing incredibly refined timepieces in modern sports materials. The watch is only 1.8mm thick and is made of micro-sandblasted grade 5 titanium. And the ten copies of this watch have a nosebleed price tag of $440,000. At Bulgari, thinking against the grain of conventional fine watchmaking refinements and ditching heavy, fancy metals like platinum and gold to create a watch that is both incredibly thin and incredibly light, is a great way to get the hearts spinning. heads in the very rarefied watchmaking world. .
So far, the Octo Finissimo line has won eight world watchmaking records and in doing so has won a series of industry accolades including, in 2021, the coveted Aiguille D’Or from the Grand Prix de l’Europe. ‘Horlogerie de Genève (literally the best watch in all categories) for the Octo Finissimo Perpetual Calendar. In watches, it’s like winning the World Cup final 10-0. For Buonamassa Stigliani, however, who’s about as crazy about cars as he is watches, the rewards are nice things to pick up – confirmation at least that you’re doing something right – but they’re not what motivates him.
“I’m not obsessed with awards,” he says. “As a designer, I am very happy that we were able to win the Grand Prix de l’Horlogerie. It’s finally a confirmation. I am an industrial designer. I design watches for the client. If you wear a watch, my job is done. If you don’t wear it and put it in a safe, maybe I missed something. I am not an artist. I like that someone uses the object that I create.
In development, reducing the thickness of the watch to such an extreme degree meant a complete overhaul of the automatic movement architecture. Not only did it take redesigning and refining the parts and creating a single gear train to connect them all; it also meant dispersing the normally layered elements of the movement to create a minimalist sandwich. The overly bulky winding stem and crown had to go, replaced by a cog wheel in the plane of the movement and protruding just far enough from the case for you to maneuver it. Even the backrest has been redesigned. In conventional watches, the caseback simply isolates the movement from the elements. Here, to reduce the thickness, it is in fact the plate of the movement itself. And, being made of tungsten carbide, it also adds structural rigidity to the ultra-thin case.
“It really looks like a sports watch,” says Buonamassa Stigliani. “For us, that was the biggest constraint to completely change the perception in terms of proportion and size. And we had to push our master watchmakers to think differently, because to make that work you really have to spread out the parts of the movement.
The big question now is: where does Bulgari Octo go from here? Where are you going beyond Ultra? Ultra Plus? Surely Buonamassa Stigliani isn’t done with his reductive thinking yet, but the Ultra’s new architecture has raised some illuminating new possibilities. The barrel – rarely the most attractive part of a movement – in conventional watches is normally stored out of sight. But here it is – blatantly – the biggest element of the dial. This design necessity was an opportunity for Buonamassa Stigliani to transport Bulgari into a new realm, this hazy world of blockchain and NFTs. A unique QR code is engraved on each of the ten copies of the Octo Finissimo Ultra. It gives its owner exclusive access to the history of the watch as well as unique NFT artwork that will be released over the next few months as the watches hit the market.
“We affixed a QR code to this surface,” explains Buonamassa Stigliani, “so that the owner can access all the information about his own unique watch. We have completed the physical approach: everything is handmade by master watchmakers. And from there, we start a new journey towards something that doesn’t exist.
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