Richard S. Cunanan
August 1, 2017     |    

A Light in the Darkness

Three Aspects of Eight

Bulgari gives us three new reasons to appreciate their Octo collection.

Bulgari has always been a brand that takes their pride in their work and manifests it without shyness. They are fond of putting their best foot forward, and if their pride shows, it certainly has merit to back it up. And with their Octo line, Bulgari has done the double step of focusing their skill on the work they do, letting the line speak for itself. Bulgari has made their Octo collection into a series that captures their best work, whether it be in sight or sound.

With the Octo line, they have added pieces that are not only groundbreaking but record breaking. So they have reason to feel good about themselves. Their new Octo Finissimo Automatic, for example, is the slimmest ultra-thin automatic watch on the market. And the Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Skeleton is a new interpretation of the Octo Finissimo Tourbillon, which was already the world’s thinnest tourbillon. These minimalist mechanics are horologically speaking rather large accomplishments, and that merits some attention all by itself. Although, it’s only fair to warn you: after examining the three watches you’re going to be looking at here today, you may well decide that it’s the third one that is MOST deserving of praise. That’s the Octo Sapphire Tourbillon, which is paradoxically both harder to see and almost impossible to miss.

Still, that’s not a bad duty, so let’s get started. We have three new Octo watches to look at, and let’s begin with the Octo Tourbillon Sapphire.

The Octo Tourbillon Sapphire

The Octo Tourbillon Sapphire captures you from the first. It is a breathtaking construction of black, green, and crystal. It is a spinning cage held within a block of ice, that has been shot through with the poisonous dreams of the witches of our childhood. It is both wheel, and cage, and prism. Bulgari has always been famous for its massing solidity, but in the Octo Tourbillon Sapphire is deliquesces into the heretofore unknown realm of transparent clarity. Albeit with a touch of menace.

The Tourbillon Sapphire is a standout piece, even within the lofty ranks of Octo. (And Bulgari in general, now that I think about it.) From the very first glance, there’s an unmistakable glow to the piece. This is not simple hyperbole, either: the Octo Tourbillon Sapphire has light-emitting tubes within its architecture, that not only serve the structural integrity of the watch, but cast an inner light that serves to eerily illuminate the skeletonized tourbillon movement. This is skeletonization taken to a new extreme, and indeed to a new purpose. The very bones of the watch themselves now throw light upon the mechanism.

It’s a remarkable watch, and I would be tempted to say it’s kind of a striking departure from the norm… except that Bulgari has always been willing and indeed eager to go the extra mile in showing themselves in the best (pardon the pun) light. As I mentioned, here is a brand that is determined to look their best and is unashamed to do so. If the 18th century had possessed light-emitting tube technology, you know darn well Bulgari would have been, like, “Totally put these into our jewelry.” So what they are doing here is no different from what their heritage has always prompted them to do: get it, and then flaunt it.

The case of the watch is a very strategic assembly of black, transparency, and bright green light. The ‘Sapphire’ in the watch’s name derives not from the color (sapphires are usually more blue than green) but from the sapphire crystal that we all know and love. Usually, sapphire crystal is used to form the cover over the dial, and very often the caseback as well, if the watchmakers have decided to make the caseback transparent. But in the Octo Sapphire Tourbillon, Bulgari has extended the usage of the crystal. Not only is the dial cover transparent, and the casback too, but much of the side construction of the case is as well. This makes for enhanced visibility, naturally, but it also adds a very unusual look (and feel) to the watch. The case is solid, but it looks as if it has been partially carved from crystal — which is of course the case. The black parts of the case and bezel are as solid black as black can be, being made of titanium with a covering of black diamond-like carbon, or DLC. But that solid blackness serves almost as an encompassing frame for the sapphire crystal walls of the Octo Tourbillon Sapphire’s largely transparent case. Seen edge-on, the watch’s case is almost a captured piece of glass shot through with green.

The green element here manifests as panels within the crystal case, and also as support bars that anchor that case to the watchwork movement which is the heart of the watch. The green glass bars are structural anchors, but they are also the hour indicators for the timepiece. These bridges thus serve multiple functions: hour index, anchor, and light source, all in one.

The green tubes are backed with the black DLC titanium, but they are primarily composed of ITR2. This is a composite material, with a hardness similar to a metal, but actually laden with carbon nanotube particles. It’s not really right to call them ‘glass’ since they are far tougher. More to the point, they carry within themselves the SLN, which is the material that actually creates the light that you see. SLN is a high-tech luminescent material. It absorbs light during daytime, and then gives it off when in darkness.

The chemical and mechanical aspect of this is impressive enough, but I also like the idea that, thematically, the Octo Tourbillon Sapphire glows brightest at night when it has been exposed sufficiently to sunlight during the day. A cheerful soul might say that the watch carries the daylight into the darkness with you, and that is rather perky and cheerful. Better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness, and all that, although in this case you’re talking about one hell of an expensive candle. It also works to say that the viral green of the watch in nighttime, by being fueled by the power of the day, is a reminder from Bulgari. Though one can shine in the darkness, it is best not to spend all your days in night.

“…the Octo Tourbillon Sapphire, which is paradoxically both harder to see and almost impossible to miss.”
“The very bones of the watch themselves now throw light upon the mechanism.”
“Though one can shine in the darkness, it is best not to spend all your days in night.”

The Octo Finissimo Automatic

In the Octo Finissimo Automatic, as mentioned, we have a record-breaking achievement: the world’s slimmest ultra-thin automatic watch on the market. Bulgari’s Octo case, sizable in width and height at 40mm, is so very slim that it comes in at just 5.15mm thick. The movement itself is only 2.23mm thick, pretty impressive for a self-winding watch. Remember, a self-winding or automatic watch must wind itself using the swinging motion of the hand. (Funny; that makes it sound like more fun than it really is.) That means you need a weight in the mechanism that will take that motion and go with it — in other words, a part of the watch is exclusively devoted to being heavy and swinging around. (Heavy being relative, naturally.) So imagine how difficult it must be to achieve that winding action in a watch specifically designed to be slimmer and less massive.

In the case of the Octo Finissimo Automatic, they help this along by using a platinum micro-rotor. Did you know platinum is one of the densest metals on Earth? Well, now you know. So by using an exceptionally dense material for the micro-rotor, Bulgari achieves a disproportionately strong winding action from a smaller-sized piece. It is kind of ironic that platinum, the noble and extremely expensive material, is on the INSIDE of the watch (doing all the heavy lifting, as it were) while the case and dial of the Finissimo Automatic are of grey-toned sandblasted titanium. Still, there you are. Your mother was right all along: it’s what’s inside that counts.

Not everyone may know this, but being ultra-thin is considered a complication in itself. An ultra-thin watch must do everything a regular watch does, but do it in less space. Thus, it must, by definition, be more efficient at doing the timekeeping… no small feat, one might say. And whereas some complications may find less practical usage for the wearer, a slimmer watch is always less bulky, and directly affects your comfort level. It is a gift that keeps on giving.

102713 BGO40C14TTXTAUTO Octo
Bulgari is famous for its massive, chunky metalwork. Making the world’s slimmest automatic must have been quite a challenge.
Note how particular attention was required for the design of the bracelet, and how it attached to the watch case.

The Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Skeleton

The Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Skeleton is the latest incarnation of the collection’s Finissimo Tourbillon. That watch was already the thinnest of its type in the world, says Bulgari, and this model certainly seems to have gone even further in the pursuit of minimalism.

The Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Skeleton looks like what happens when you take the world’s thinnest tourbillon watch, and then in a fit of inspiration (and a frenzy of weight-saving) choose to rip out the dial.

That sounds like it would be a rash decision. But I can’t help but admire their choice, because the appearance of the watch speaks for itself. One look at the Finissimo Tourbillon Skeleton and you’re sure to be hooked. Unlike many skeletonized watches that pare away the excess, here the dial is filled to bursting with the gears and mechanisms that power the timepiece. In truth, I find it hard to look away; every time I shift my gaze from one part of the watch, it gets captured by another. It’s like one of those endless stairs that Pensrose created. I keep following the gears, only to end up back where I started.

To be fair, they did do away with not just the dial, but many of the things that would normally be on it. There are no hour indices or minute markers to be seen. Only the Bulgari name remains, imprinted on the top. And there’s no denying: this is a watch worth putting your name onto.

It’s rare to have a tourbillon on a watch and not have it be the center of attention, but here there is so much going on that the tourbillon cage becomes a part of the whole show. I don’t think this is a bad thing — it says more about the engaging nature of the whole wristwatch.

The case of this watch is made of the platinum that powers the Finissimo Automatic. It’s an excellent choice, and can only enhance the value of the piece. Platinum is a material I would definitely like to see more of, but in the Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Skeleton, I feel that I would instead remain focused, quite happily, on the turning gears of the interior. I’m not saying it wouldn’t take some getting used to — indeed, I may end up deciding against taking it, assuming such a delicious choice was ever mine to make — but I can’t deny that the Finissimo Tourbillon Skeleton has already made an impression.

Even at the concept-sketch level, Bulgari knew the dial of the Tourbillon Skeleton would be more dynamic than most.


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