With its 3.95mm-thick Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Automatic claiming yet another new watch industry record, Bulgari is on a horological roll.
The buzz was strong at Baselworld 2018 soon after Bulgari debuted its latest ultra-thin watch. Its Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Automatic, which by the way is equipped with a tourbillon, snagged a record as the world’s thinnest automatic movement. The watch is the fourth impressive ultra-thin design from the company in as many years. It follows Bulgari’s Octo Finissimo Tourbillon in 2014, the Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater in 2016 and last year’s Octo Finissimo Automatic.
Bulgari’s efforts have been acknowledged by consumers online and at retailers for several years. But Bulgari’s watchmaking peers have also rewarded the brand’s horological work. At last year’s Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève, for example, Bulgari took home awards for both the Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Skeleton and the Octo Finissimo Automatic.
To gain insight into how Bulgari decided to develop its series of record-breaking ultra-thin watches, we sat down with Bulgari Managing Director of Watches Guido Terreni during Baselworld. Here’s what he told us.
Can you tell us why Bulgari started making ultra-thin watches?
In 2011, when I wanted to enter the ultra-thin watch world, we were just leaving the financial crisis and the taste of the consumer was evolving from larger watches. What we wanted to do was to give gentlemen a contemporary elegance. We looked at ultra-thin as the opposite of the previous trends.
As an Italian brand we were very sensitive to aesthetics. We considered the ultra-thin watches an expression of traditional aesthetics. Ultra-thin watches are a design of the 1950s in 1960s, and they had not evolved from an aesthetic point of view. They were usually made with precious metals, and you always wore them with a suit or a tuxedo.
So we thought, why shouldn’t a gentleman from today enjoy ultra-thin timepieces? This is the reason we have made our ultra-thin timepieces with titanium, or on bracelets. We also invented a monochromatic look, which is very modern. This is why we have been so successful, both critically and commercially. Gentlemen who are buying these watches are really true connoisseurs. They see this watch as a new signature in the watchmaking landscape.
So you decided to create a series?
We wanted to build an assortment around the ultra-thin idea. Instead of playing with dials like everybody else does, we wondered how we could evolve this in monochromatic effect. Then we developed the titanium and the steel we use. You cannot rhodium-plate steel because it will peel off. To develop this white steel you first put a plate of gold, which is yellow, and you then have to cover the gold with palladium, and only then can you finish with the rhodium plating. The watch has three layers to create this white finish.
This is our aesthetical choice, and from a price point of view it is quite similar. Our gold is sandblasted to give a new look. Most gold is polished or brushed, so our finishing appears quite fresh.
Tell us about the new record-breaking Finissimo ultra-thin?
This year we showed the thinnest automatic watch, which, by the way, is also tourbillon.
First of all, we start with the tourbillon cage. This is the same cage as in the manual winding tourbillon from 2014. It is very thin because we use a ceramic ball bearing system that holds the cage without a bridge. We actually kept this movement at the same height as the manual winding movement. The manual movement was 1.95mm just like this movement, which is automatic.
How is this possible? We use a peripheral winding mass. Now, at this thickness the crown was exactly in the center of the peripheral mass. So we have a pushbutton, and we don’t have a crown that passes through to the movement. Instead we have a system of wheels connected to the barrel.
The push button is a selector. When you press it you disengage one set of wheels and you activate another set of wheels that set the time. The crown allows you to set the time or wind the watch and allows you to have a peripheral mass that doesn’t interfere with the crown. This is 3.95mm thick versus 4.30mm for the previous record. Note the Bulgari logo on the peripheral mass.
You may also notice that there is no back case of sapphire. This case can only be this thin if it’s titanium, which is sufficiently sturdy. We have only two components, the case with an integrated back case, and then we case in the movement and close the bezel. The price is 125,000 euros and it’s also a 50-piece limited edition.
So you see the consistency within this collection. It’s all about a monochromatic look and the technical challenges to make it so thin.
Why did you make a Carbon version?
Then we thought about making an all black version. We thought ‘what is black in nature?’ The answer is carbon.
Carbon has two technical qualities. First, it chimes very well. The second is it’s lightweight. Our watches were already light, but even compared to those this carbon is very light. The same watch in titanium is 77 grams, but the carbon is 47 grams. And it is unprecedented that we have made an all carbon bracelet. I’m not aware of another brand that has made an all carbon bracelet.
This is true carbon as you see it in nature; it’s not injected like a plastic. We use layers of carbon placed one on top of the other. This makes it more resistant to shocks. When you see the concentric lines on the bezel it’s because the bezel is made of four layers of this carbon, which we then cut at an angle for the bezel shape. Look at the dial: That is one layer of carbon as it looks in nature. It has a camouflage effect. It is not carbon fiber. It’s a .03 mm layer of carbon.
We cannot work the carbon as we can gold or steel. We have to make the bracelet link by link, which cost a fortune. We realize that we cannot serialize this, so we have used it for the minute repeater. The sound is not metallic and is very clean. We make fifty pieces in a limited edition priced at 170,000 euros.
You’ve also made a new repeater for ladies, correct?
Yes. One-hundred-years ago we did our first watch for ladies. To commemorate that, we are doing a minute repeater for ladies this year. We don’t address ladies by simply downsizing in men’s watch. We make feminine watches. The design is from our Divas’ Dream collection, recognizable by the charm that hangs from it. This is inspired by our jewelry collection.
Note that the charm is not just decorative, it has a function. It’s our minute repeater movement, but since it is set in gold it is less loud, and of course it is set in a decorative case and dial. The dial is inspired by Japanese Urushi lacquer. It’s a ten-piece limited edition.
We also did a skeleton model using our logo and our own Tubogas bracelet. It’s very technical. We have ten meters of gold string that actually hold them together. We’ve done new Serpenti introductions also. We have new changeable Serpenti Twist Your Time with a gold chain made with seven small chains and two push buttons.