Bulgari Impresses With The World's Thinnest Automatic Movement
The slender Octo Finissimo series is on the radar of watch connoisseurs.
BY Daniel Goh | Jun 13, 2017 | Feature
When a jeweller or a luxury house dabbles in watches, horology connoisseurs are usually sceptical—and perhaps rightfully so. First, there is no track record; most collector watch brands come with centuries of amazing stories. Second, do they even know how to make watches? Where did the expertise come from? But, in 2014, Bulgari stunned the world by unveiling the thinnest flying tourbillon movement ever made, forcing the serious watch guys to sit up and take notice. Then, last year, we witnessed one of the most impressive thin watches to come out of Bulgari yet—the world’s thinnest minute repeater—and this year, they scored a hat trick by offering the world’s thinnest automatic movement with their new Octo Finissimo Automatic. This trilogy of super-thin watches certainly piqued our interest so we sought out Guido Terreni, Managing Director of Bulgari watches, to find out more.
Esquire: You’ve been with the company since 2000. What was the watch division like when you first joined compared to now?
Guido Terreni: There is no comparison. The whole world has changed since then. At that time, the industry was led by Japanese buyers, the price points were one-third those of today, and we were designing and assembling watches. Now, we are an integrated manufacture that expresses an extraordinary know-how at the service of our Italian creativity, and we have a clear offering rooted in the brand’s DNA such as Serpenti, Lvcea, Octo and Bulgari-Bulgari.
Esquire: In 2009, there was a very interesting development for Bulgari’s watch division. Both the Daniel Roth and Gérald Genta brands, which were already under the Bulgari group, were absorbed into Bulgari watches.
Guido Terreni: At 12.30am on June 30, 2009, I received a call from my boss, informing me that I had to integrate the two brands into Bulgari, assume responsibility for the manufacturing facility in Le Sentier, and prepare for Baselworld 2010. Gérald Genta and Daniel Roth didn’t sell their brands to Bulgari. We bought them from The Hour Glass in July 2000. The family foresaw the coming watchmaking renaissance after the quartz crisis. Initially, the idea was to develop the brands independently, but in 2008, they were generating only EUR25 million collectively. However, they had an extraordinary savoir faire that deserved a much wider audience and the creation of the most beautiful timepieces possible.
Esquire: Initially, the names Daniel Roth and Gérald Genta remained on the dial, but were slowly phased out. Why did this happen?
Guido Terreni: Initially, we kept the two names on the dial, as we integrated models and movements that existed under their former brands. However, due to a lack of awareness, the logos created more confusion than clarity. With the launch of the Octo in 2012, we abandoned this approach, and integrated the collection into Bulgari offerings. It was also because we had developed movements that Genta didn’t have.
Image of Bulgari Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater
Esquire: Tell us a little more about Bulgari’s in-house movement.
Guido Terreni: The first in-house base calibre was the BVL 168 that debuted in the Sotirio Bulgari collection in 2009. It was followed and improved by the Solo-tempo calibre (BVL191) that was introduced in 2013 on the Bulgari-Bulgari collection and the Octo.
Esquire: Why was it important for Bulgari to create their own in-house movements?
Guido Terreni: Luxury is a question of identity and mastering the know-how necessary to craft the timepieces that we create. Furthermore, the extraordinary savoir faire that we have acquired and further developed has given us a competitive advantage with the thinnest movements in the world. Finally, it was also a question of maintaining strategic independence. As you might remember, in 2009, Swatch Group announced that they would no longer supply parts to other brands. We were acquired by LVMH in March 2011, four years after embarking on this industrial strategy to internalise the manufacturing of our movements. This gave us access to the El Primero chronograph.
Esquire: Speaking of the LVMH Group and Jean-Claude Biver, who is now the head of watchmaking at LVMH, how does this association affect Bulgari?
Guido Terreni: We are a jeweller that diversified into watches, fragrances and hotels, with an enormous potential as a whole. Our CEO Jean-Christophe Babin has full autonomy to lead us in our growth.
Esquire: Which brings us to the three thinnest, record-breaking watches—how did this all come about? What was the philosophy behind the decision to develop them?
Guido Terreni: Everything started in early 2011, when I wanted to extend our male offer to thin watches. Having seen that the industry addressed this particular segment of watches in a very old-fashioned and traditional way, we wanted to make a statement in style, being Italian, by presenting a contemporary interpretation of masculine formal elegance. The barrier was the movement—we needed to develop a manually-wound petite secondes and double it with a super-exclusive version on a tourbillon. These two movements were launched in 2014. By 2016, the natural evolution was towards the minute repeater that is the most difficult and sophisticated métier of all complications.
Esquire: So why do the Octo Finissimo Automatic last, and the more complicated super-thins first?
Guido Terreni: In 2017, we achieved the automatic, in order to have a movement for daily use, and allow not just a very happy few to enjoy contemporary and masculine elegance. Breaking records was not the main goal. It’s just a consequence. We wanted to give an extraordinary luxury experience to our customers and the ultrathin is an ultimate experience. If by doing so we had to break some records, so be it.
Esquire: Well put! So will this trend continue on? Thinnest chronograph? Thinnest perpetual calendar perhaps?
Guido Terreni: One thing at a time…Let’s enjoy the latest achievements. It seems easy to say, but I can assure you that it isn’t easy doing what we did in such a short period. It takes the best talents possible who have the guts to take on such a challenge, whom I’m so proud to lead.
Octo Finissimo Tourbillon
This is the one that kickstarted it all. It landed in 2014 when the watch industry was enjoying a better global outlook. When viewed from the front, it has all the makings of a Bulgari watch. A nice angular case surrounds the octagon-shaped dial, the hands and the indices that are a signature of the brand. From the side, however, it’s easy to see how the watch awed watch connoisseurs. The movement is a mere 1.95mm, making it the thinnest with a flying tourbillon ever made. Even more astounding is the fact that it comprises 249 components, and the plate and the bridges are decorated with Côtes de Genève.
Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater
The tourbillon may be the flashiest complication on a watch, but the minute repeater is by far the most complicated. And to undertake the gargantuan task of fitting it into the world’s thinnest movement is an art form in itself. Needless to say, this Octo Finissimo broke the record for the world’s thinnest minute repeater. The movement in question is the BVL Calibre 362 that measures just 3.12mm thick. The first challenge was to fit the 362 components into a movement of this size, but perhaps the more difficult task was ensuring the sound of the gongs travelled well. As with a normal minute repeater, titanium was the material of choice for the case because it ensures the best sound diffusion possible. But unlike a normal minute repeater, which has more space within the case to amplify the resonance, the 6.85mm Octo case needed special innovations. Upon closer inspection of the dial, all the hour markers have been cut out, along with the indications on the small seconds, to allow for an optimised sound effect.
Octo Finissimo Automatic
The third successive world record belongs to the Octo Finissimo Automatic for the thinnest self-winding watch on the market. Its measurements are as follows: a movement that is 2.23mm thick, a case 5.15mm high and 40mm in diameter. In a word: stunning. Although its functions are quite simple, the execution of it is anything but. Even considering its thickness, the watch sits bold and masculine on the wrist, partly due to the sophistication of the Octo case with 110 facets that play with the light and the dynamic grey-sandblasted finish on the titanium case. This reference is paired with a supple alligator leather strap, but the titanium bracelet, which matches the case perfectly, gives the watch a pretty cool look.
The movement is the Calibre BVL 138, and it is wound by a micro-rotor crafted in platinum. We love the fact that when you flip the watch over, the movement fills up the entire sapphire case back, giving you the feeling that it was built specifically for its case. It’s decorated with Côtes de Genève and circular-grained finishing, while the power reserve is capped at 60 hours.
This article was first published in the print edition of Esquire Singapore, June/July 2017.