Bold & Beautiful: Bvlgari’s Impossibly Thin Octo Finissimo Perpetual CalendarBy Wei Koh
In my 2020 story chronicling the extraordinary history of the Bvlgari Octo Finissimo, I referenced the First Impressionist Exhibition held in 1874 to demonstrate that, sometimes, it takes a while for the world to completely process and understand something that is truly visionary. I used the example that upon viewing Monet’s now-iconic Impression, Sunrise, the humorist, critic and clearly something of a moron, Louis Leroy, scathingly and derisively wrote, “Wallpaper in its embryonic state is more finished than that seascape.” History, of course, being the greatest judge, holds Monet in awed reverence while Leroy’s name has faded into an anonymity that is most analogous to the “unfinished wallpaper” he once so unwittingly compared Monet’s painting to.
While it might have taken the world a few years to fully comprehend the extraordinary visionary magnitude of the Bvlgari Octo Finissimo, we can be assured that we are now in an era where this watch has become universally lauded as a modern icon. Indeed, I have consistently taken the position that it is the single most important new watch design in the last decade and the most powerful sports chic integrated bracelet watch of the new millennium. Why? Because of the fearlessness with which the Octo Finissimo defined an all-new design aesthetic, which focused on the incredible dynamic tension between a bold, muscular presence on the wrist counterpointed by what was an unbelievably lithe, svelte and ultra-thin profile.
I feel that people sometimes misunderstand Bvlgari’s focus on setting new records for thinness each time they create a new complication. On one hand, this is clearly to demonstrate their true watchmaking credibility. On the other hand, the real reason is that thinness is vital to the design language of the Octo Finissimo because it is at the heart of this dynamic tension between aggressive styling and supreme elegance. Fabrizio Buonamassa, Bvlgari’s design director, explains, “The objective of thinness was not arrived at in isolation. After all, there are many brands that have been associated with ultra-thin watches, especially in the 20th century. The objective was to enhance this dynamic tension, this unique proposition between having a watch that was, when viewed straight on, very muscular and even aggressive, yet when you turned it on its side, it was really surprising in how thin it was. I wanted to bring something to watches that the world had never seen in terms of this proposition.”
All-New Design, Seamless Integration
The fearlessness with which the Bvlgari team, in particular CEO Jean-Christophe Babin and Buonamassa, approached their new creation was made manifest in the huge investment needed to make these watches a reality. To make a watch that was just barely above 5mm in thickness, Bvlgari had to completely rethink each and every component. Dials were 0.3mm in thickness, thinner than most indexes in other watches. On the subject of indexes, when applied, these had to be galvanically grown and stuck to the dial almost like decals. Bvlgari had to create an all-new way of casing their watch with the movement placed into a monocoque case from the front, and the watch held together with screws that run from the bezel traversing to the caseback.
Buonamassa explains, “Of course, we wanted a sapphire back to showcase the beauty of our in-house calibre with its beautiful ‘full bridge’ architecture. However, to conserve space, the sapphire back is integrated into the case, basically pre-fitted into the monobloc case. Next, the movement is placed into the case, [then] the dial and hands are added, and finally the bezel and sapphire are placed on top. It is the bezel that seals the watch.” Each bezel features eight hollow, threaded posts that are inserted through the case and fixed at the back of the watch with special fasteners that look like five-sided nuts. I particularly like that because they are not slotted, they are never out of alignment as you see on other watches that are fastened in the back in this way.
Then, there are the bracelets. To me, the true genius of the Octo Finissimo is when it is fixed to its signature bracelet that is, like the case, thinner than anything that’s ever been made and features a clasp so seamlessly integrated, it all but disappears when fastened on the wrist. Of course, a watch like the Octo Finissimo could only be made by a company in possession of in-house ability across all these disciplines, including dial making, case making, movement making and bracelet making.
Their objective of dynamic tension between bold and thin necessitated Bvlgari to push the technical envelope in every component of the Octo Finissimo. Says Babin, “The Octo Finissimo was only possible because we own our movement maker, dial maker, casemaker [and] bracelet maker, as it would be impossible to convince outside suppliers to make the effort we needed.
The Impossible Plan That Worked
I would like to see the face of any external bracelet supplier when looking at the plans of the Octo Finissimo’s gossamer-thin unit. I imagine they would simply recoil in shock, make the “cuckoo” sign by spinning their forefinger at their temple and shout out, “Non, non, non, c’est impossible!” But not only is it possible, Bvlgari has demonstrated that it can also be one of the most comfortable bracelets on the market.
Wearing an Octo Finissimo is a sensory experience like no other. While there are other light watches, in particular Richard Mille’s come to mind, the combination of extreme lightness, when rendered in titanium or carbon fibre, and extreme thinness makes the watches all but disappear on the wrist. Says the legendary Parisian retailer Laurent Picciotto, “We tell our customers this is probably going to be the last watch that you buy because once you start to wear the Octo Finissimo, once you experience how extraordinary it is in terms of comfort and lightness, it is impossible for you to go back to heavy bulky watches.”
Picciotto adds the following anecdote to further illustrate the unique quality of the model, “I was on my motorcycle, and at one point I was convinced I had not put my watch on because under my leather jacket, it felt like I was wearing nothing. Before I turned around and went back home for my watch, I pulled my bike over and pulled back my sleeve. Of course, I had my watch the whole time, but the Octo Finissimo is just that effortless to wear.”
Picciotto is famous for having divested of his massive watch collection a few years ago. As he started to rebuild his collection, he found himself buying almost exclusively Octo Finissimos across every different complication. He said, “It made sense because, in the end, this is the watch that is on my wrist the most often, so I decided to just focus on Octo Finissimos. I cannot overstate how amazing the watch is on the wrist, especially with the incredible bracelet.” Not only does the Octo Finissimo bracelet complement the model, with its combination of muscular design when viewed from the front yet extraordinarily slender profile when viewed from the side, it is also incredibly comfortable. Says Babin, “This is down to the incredible clasp that Fabrizio designed that is fully integrated and that you barely even feel is there. Again, you see that at Bvlgari, it’s always technical innovation serving the needs of aesthetics.”
The Octo Finissimo has reached such iconic status in modern watchmaking that it has also proven itself to be an extraordinary platform for collaboration. Amongst these, the watches made with Japanese architect Tadao Ando are some of the most stunning. With a circular ripple emerging from the dial, the Ando watches imbue the Octo with a Zen-like tranquillity and evoke an expression of infinity. In contrast, the incredible laser-engraved Octo Finissimo Tattoo Aria designed by legendary tattoo artist Mo Coppoletta and created for Laurent Picciotto elevates the watch into a truly sublime work of fine art for the wrist. I like to think the collaborations between Revolution and Bvlgari — which yielded a pierced dial titanium small seconds model, a titanium chronograph GMT with a fully luminous dial named “White Light”, and this year’s “Nuclear Option”, a black ceramic cased version with a highly luminous dial — are also successful demonstrations of alternative designs that add to the Octo Finissimo’s adaptable nature. To borrow from American poet Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”, the Octo Finissimo’s tagline should be, “I am large, I contain multitudes.”
The 2021 Octo Finissimo Perpetual Calendar
Of the many manifestations of the Octo Finissimo, the one that has captured the hearts and imaginations of the watch-buying public is the new 2021 Octo Finissimo Perpetual Calendar with double retrograde display, a watch that combines the signature Bvlgari dynamic tension between thinness and bold design with a new, ultra-cool retrograde animation for the days and the leap year. Says Jean-Christophe Babin, “As with our previous six record-setting watches, our ultimate goal is never about thinness as the objective but to create the most beautiful watch that expresses our unique proposition of strong presence, combined with incredible elegance and wearability.”
Nonetheless, a record was smashed. With a movement that is just 2.75mm in thickness, resulting in a watch with a barely there 5.8mm in thickness, the Octo Finissimo Perpetual Calendar is a revelation. In fact, it takes away the record for thinness in this complication from no less than Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin, which was initially introduced purely as a concept watch, so profoundly daring was its flirtation with the barest of tolerances. There was a major reworking of the calibre 2121, which also included building the perpetual calendar works directly into the baseplate of the movement, which measures 2.95mm in thickness. But the Bvlgari beats it by a significant margin, and while the Audemars Piguet has a moonphase indicator, the Octo Finissimo has the double retrograde indications. According to Buonamassa, the original idea was to include a grande date mechanism into the dial but that proved to be too thick. For him, it was important to create an immediate visual distinction with how the Octo displayed time. He explains, “There are already many perpetual calendars on the market. It was very important that for a watch that was born through innovation, we also had a very distinct design for our indications. It would not be enough to simply have three or four subdials.”
The result is a watch that is not only irrepressibly free-spirited but also extremely legible. The date arcs in a semicircle occupying the top half of the dial and surrounds the Bvlgari logo. The month occupies a neat subdial at the lower right of the dial, and the days of the week sit next to it on the left. The leap year indicators appear at six o’clock at the very bottom of the dial. As it only jumps once every 365 days, you need to keep your eyes peeled no matter how much champagne you’ve had on New Year’s Eve if you don’t want to miss the simultaneous jumping of the date and leap year hands.
Looking at the calibre BVL 305, I am reminded of how well-designed Bvlgari movements are. In particular, I love the full traversing balance bridge which is fixed on both sides and provides much better stability than a balance cock. The laser engraved platinum rotor has a matte sandblasted type finish applied to it, leaving the polished words “PERPETUAL CALENDAR” to stand out in sharp relief. The Octo Finissimo Perpetual Calendar is offered in two versions. The first one is in sandblasted titanium, which is a signature look for the brand, but it is also the very first Octo Finissimo made in a platinum version with a blue lacquered dial on a blue alligator strap. The result is another spectacular addition to the ever-growing and increasingly dominant Octo Finissimo family.
No story on the Octo Finissimo can be complete without also a look at the model’s history since 2014. Bvlgari has achieved a staggering number of world records in that time, but to me they have done much more than set new technical benchmarks. From my perspective, Bvlgari has rewritten the design language of modern watches. Here’s how they did it. I recall the moment I tried on the Octo Finissimo manual wind watch that was 5.15mm thick with a movement that was 2.23mm in thickness in 2014, thinking to myself what an absolute revelation it was. While there is nothing wrong with watches that are almost exact extensions of models created a half century ago, here we had for the first time in the sports chic genre something that moved the game forward aesthetically and technically by light years. The Octo Finissimo, in many ways, reminds me of the cars designed by my friend, Ferrari creative director Flavio Manzoni, in which he intentionally avoids overtly referencing the past; instead, he wants to create the aesthetic heritage of the future by taking massive and fearless leaps forward. In 2014, Bvlgari also launched the incredible manual wind Octo Finissimo Tourbillon with a movement that was a mind-blowing 1.95mm thick, resulting in a case that was 5mm thick.
In 2016, another model in the Octo Finissimo family had collectors, journalists and even the most jaded retailers’ eyes moist with emotion. Our hearts were filled with unbridled avarice because Bvlgari had created the coolest minute repeater in modern watchmaking and one of the real defining watches of the new millennium. Says Jean-Christophe Babin, “While it is unusual [that] you refer to this complication as cool, somehow it is very appropriate. Minute repeaters, which are considered to be the pinnacle of watchmaking art, are extraordinary creations but they are very rarely considered to be cool. That’s because they are generally classically styled watches. In comparison, the Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater set the record as the world’s thinnest minute repeater with a movement just 3.12mm thick and a case 6.85mm in thickness. This watch was created intentionally as the ultimate stealthy complication. It was made in grade 5 titanium with just the smallest details that showed the difference between this and a simpler three-hand watch. Why? Because we knew the world had changed, and we felt there was a whole new generation of connoisseurs that liked to live in a more relaxed, discreet and cool way. That’s the reason for the matte-coloured titanium and the way the pusher for the repeater is so subtly integrated into the side of the case.” Bvlgari’s amazing BVL 362 minute repeater calibre would later appear in an even more stealthy carbon CTP (carbon thin ply) and PEEK (polyether ether ketone) case featuring a carbon fibre dial replete with the complication’s signature skeletonisation. And then last year, the watch appeared for the first time in a precious metal version, namely sandblasted rose gold. Says Babin, “In each instance, we had to re-adjust the movement to the particularities of the case. Titanium has very good but different resonance qualities from carbon fibre and, again, from gold. So each version requires its own research and development.”
Bvlgari followed up the incredible minute repeater with another world record, now in the category of the automatic small seconds watch featuring a micro-rotor. And, perhaps just as importantly, introducing the world to Bvlgari’s now- signature ultra-thin integrated bracelet. Launched in 2017, the Octo Finissimo Automatic and its BVL 138 movement would eventually supplant the manual wind version. Says Babin, “We moved to the micro-rotor automatic movement because we knew from our clients that this was a desired added touch of practicality. Yet we managed to achieve this without adding a single micron in the thickness to the [2.23mm] movement going from manual to automatic, which I consider as great an achievement as any of our complications.” Like its manual wind predecessor, the resulting watch is just 5.15mm in thickness.
But there is another model in the Octo Finissimo family, which, like the minute repeater, has established Bvlgari as an innovator in the high complication segment, and that is the Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Automatic. “The watch [the manual wind version of the Octo Finissimo Tourbillon] also set a record as the world’s thinnest at its launch in 2014 — it was launched beside the petite seconds manual wind. You should understand that, at Bvlgari, we do not pursue these world records for their own sake. At the early stage of development of the Octo Finissimo range, we realised that we were already at such a thin profile that it encouraged us to really explore what we were capable of in the ultra-thin category. And this resulted in the world records for the manual wind, the automatic, the repeater, the tourbillon and later the chronograph,” explains Babin.
Fabrizio Buonamassa adds, “The automatic tourbillon is a watch that really shows off the technical side of Bvlgari. Here you have a flying tourbillon that is resting on ball bearings. It is a flying tourbillon, meaning that there is no visible bridge, giving you a full unobstructed view of the one-minute tourbillon and the oscillator beating inside it.” This watch is 3.95mm in thickness with a movement that is 1.95mm thick.
It must be said that each time Bvlgari adds a complication to its arsenal, it does so with a seamless and perfect design integration of the new functions. This is certainly the case with the minute repeater that adds a single, barely noticeable, yet totally functional push-piece to the side of the case. And it is certainly the case with the Octo Finissimo Chronograph GMT launched in 2019. The chronograph pushers of the watch are so perfectly placed and integrated that, at first, you’d think that Bvlgari has just added a subtle pair of crown guards. Ditto the push-piece on the left of the case that operates the super functional GMT indicator, which can be read off the 24-hour scale in the subdial at three o’clock. The rest of the dial offers supreme ease of use, with a continuous seconds indicator at nine o’clock and a 30-minute chrono totaliser at six o’clock.
Looking back at its staggering number of world records and skyrocket-like trajectory in popularity and prominence, it is incredible that Bvlgari’s Octo Finissimo is only seven years old. In that time, it has won innumerable accolades. These include the 2019 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG) Chronograph Watch Prize; a double win in the 2017 GPHG for Men’s Watch with the Octo Finissimo Automatic and best Tourbillon and Escapement with the Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Skeleton; not to mention the Revolution Awards in 2014 and from 2016 till 2019 for their world record-setting watches.
Of all that he has achieved, Jean-Christophe Babin is perhaps most excited about his latest and apparently simplest models. These are two new Octo Finissimo S models introduced in 2020 with the “S” referring to steel. The first watch features a black dial while the second has a rich blue dial. As opposed to the previous rhodium-treated, sandblasted versions, these new watches feature a charming use of brushed and polished finishes. They have also been increased slightly in thickness to 6.4mm and now feature a screw-down crown and a corresponding 100-metre water resistance. What I love about both versions of this watch is that they are the first to tread boldly into Royal Oak and Nautilus territory and, at USD 12,000 retail, offer up some very serious competition. But I also love the fact that Bvlgari avoided doing this for a full six years, first setting five world records and truly cementing their status as a modern-day icon before playing this card.
Says Babin, “For me, the complicated watches are like supercars. They are watches that are more rare and at a different price category. I feel it is only at this point with the launch of these two new steel models that we are actually moving into iconic status. Because now the watch is much more accessible to a greater number of people.
The steel models are Bvlgari’s GT [grand tourer] models as opposed to the minute repeater or tourbillon, which are our supercar models. I feel now that with the Octo Finissimo on many more wrists, this opens up a new era for us.” Babin was right as the Octo Finissimo S is now the subject of many waitlists around the world, such is the demand for this watch. The steel versions have been updated this year with a silver dialed small seconds model and a stunning blue dialed Chronograph GMT.
Finally, in 2020, Bvlgari also introduced the world to the world’s thinness automatic tourbillon chronograph measuring a svelte 7.4mm in thickness with a movement that is 3.5mm thick. This stunning skeletonised watch is a fantastic demonstration that there were no limits to what Bvlgari can do aesthetically or technically. An irrefutable fact that has been backed up this year with a perpetual calendar that is genuinely game changing on all fronts. To summarise, I will quote my friend Laurent Picciotto, who says, “If you love watches and are looking for something that is stunning and original in design, genuinely modern and effortless to wear, there is no other watch like the Octo Finissimo.”