Bulgari at Baselworld 2019: The many sides of the Octo


by John Wallis

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March 23. 2019 - by John Wallis

A lot of heads are turning towards Bulgari at Baselworld 2019, thanks to a number of stunning novelties that include a dramatic new world record in the form of the Octo Finissimo Chronograph GMT.


There is a long tradition in the watch industry of being snooty about watches from brands that are primarily known for fashion or jewellery. Cartier normally gets a pass, but recently other brands are finally getting attention from Serious Watch People as well. There are a number of jewellery companies that have really invested in haute horlogerie, and the results are impossible to ignore. Foremost among these has got to be Bulgari, the Italian firm known for fine jewellery, perfume, accessories and, since 1980, watches - made by a dedicated division of the company with a high-tech workshop in Neuchâtel.

Eight sides a week

The Octo is a new watch family, but one that also has considerable horological pedigree and that has already racked up a series of technological miracles in its brief history. The first Bulgari Octo was presented in 2012, but the design was adapted from an older Octo made by Gerald Genta, whose company was bought by Bulgari in 2000. Genta, of course, is perhaps the greatest designer in watchmaking history, responsible for iconic watches from the Nautilus to the Royal Oak - which shares the same case shape as the Octo.

Since 2014, Bulgari has been showing off the full extent of its mechanical mastery with a series of ultra-thin Octos which it calls "Finissimo". It built the world's thinnest tourbillon movement (1.95mm) and thinnest minute repeater (3.12mm), among other spectacular models. This year, it sets perhaps its most impressive record of all: the world's thinnest ever mechanical chronograph movement.


Slimming down

Witness the new Bulgari Octo Finissimo Chronograph GMT Automatic. It's a truly staggering achievement. We often forget that chronographs are among the most complex and challenging complications in mechanical watches - as demonstrated by the continued use of the Valjoux 7750 in the majority of chronos, a movement that was designed in the early 70s.

Bulgari has built a version that is a mere 3.3mm thick, smashing the previous record of 5.5mm set by F. Piguet back in 1987. It's not only a chronograph, but an automatic chronograph, with a cunning "peripheral" rotor that swings around the outside of the movement, rather than underneath like most rotors. And not only is it an automatic chronograph, but it also has a GMT complication for extra complexity. That's just showing off.

When you consider the outrageous technical ingenuity it took to build this movement, it's even more extraordinary when you see the finished watch. 42mm wide and 6.9mm thick, the Chronograph GMT is a gorgeous beast even without the record-setting movement. Combining unabashed bold design with traditional elegance in the way only Bulgari knows how, the watch is still pleasingly versatile - a timepiece that will appeal to a broad number of collectors and that could be worn with some frequency. The watch is $17,600 with a titanium case and bracelet.

Octo Fever

The Chronograph GMT was by no means the only new Octo at Baselworld this year. In January, Bulgari presented the Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Carbon at the Geneva Watch Week (the LVMH competitor to SIHH) - a watch not only spectacularly thin but spectacularly lightweight as well, thanks to a carbon fibre case and bracelet. The total weight is an imperceptible 48 grams.

At Baselworld, the Bulgari boutique is the first brand you come to when you enter the exhibition floor, and while the brand is also advertising a new be-jewelled Serpenti, it is clearly the Octos that steal the show.

Photo: Bulgari

For starters, there's a second Octo in carbon: the Roma Grande Sonnerie Perpetual Calendar. This high-complication masterpiece is a festival of complexity. While the main dial design is relatively understated, the watch face is fully skeletonised, exposing the maddening intricacy of the mechanism responsible for not just a perpetual calendar complete with moonphase, but also a minute repeater and power reserve indicators for both the repeater and the primary movement.

Less dizzying but equally thoroughly skeletonised, the Roma Tourbillon Sapphire is a beauty worthy of its gemstone name. The Roma is a somewhat rounder, gentler version of the traditional Octo, and this rose gold model is easy on the eye, with much of the exposed movement comprised of empty space framed by pleasingly blued components.

Finally, we have two new Finissimo models in black ceramic. One of these is also skeletonised, but we have to say that the one with the regular dial is the more aesthetically pleasing - almost a welcome relief after staring at so many watch innards in the Bulgari display cases. These sleek timepieces are somewhat more accessible to the mainstream collector than the brand's other Baselworld offerings, and it doesn't hurt that ceramic is among the most popular materials in the current market.

It's a good bet that Bulgari's plans for the Octo are only just getting started. We look forward to seeing what records it breaks at Baselworld 2020.

John Wallis

by John Wallis

Living and working in London, John has been writing about watches since graduating university. He got his start at SalonQP, London's finest watch show, where he was inspired by the breadth and creativity of the modern industry. His fascination with mechanical horology has only grown from there.

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