Bulgari’s “buzz” watch from this year’s Baselworld was undoubtedly — and deservedly — the groundbreaking Octo Minute Repeater, which set a new record for thinness in its category. However, not to be overlooked was the brand’s new Octo Ultranero collection (we covered it here), with its handsome combinations of black DLC (Diamond-Like Carbon) and rose-gold elements. In a post-Basel meeting at Bulgari’s HQ in New York, I found myself drawn specifically to the new Octo Ultranero Velocissimo Chronograph — noticeably so, it turns out, since the Bulgari team subsequently suggested I wear it for a week while attending the recent watch and jewelry trade shows in Las Vegas. They didn’t need to ask me twice. Below are my impressions from a week in Sin City with the watch.
The watch makes an immediate impression with its famous octagonal case — another contribution to watch design history by the legendary Gérald Genta, whose other horological brainchildren include the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and Patek Philippe Nautilus. The combo of shiny black and matte black with polished rose gold and brushed rose gold is appealing as one might expect. The multi-layered Octo case catches the eye with its brushed-finish round bezel layered over the octagonal, polished-finish base.
The multifaceted, multilevel case is all sharp angles and smooth, straight edges and yet is extremely comfortable on the wrist and also not excessively large or heavy, though not every wearer might agree with me here. I can report that the watch, at about 13 mm in thickness, did not have a problem staying discreetly tucked under any of my dress shirt cuffs, not that I was all that concerned with hiding it from admiring eyes. The polished black dot inset into the rose-gold screw-down crown was a nice touch; even nicer was the use of gold screws to anchor the black DLC caseback around the see-through window.
It’s best if you’re not overly concerned with the date, as it is tucked away, quite unobtrusively, between the 4 and 5 o’clock indices and can be easily overlooked but not so easily discerned in low lighting. The white type on black background makes the small date numeral blend seamlessly with the rest of the dial, but here’s a case where the design blasphemy of a less elegant, black-numerals-on-white-background date window may have improved legibility. (One stops worrying about the day and date quite easily while running around to and from events and appointments in Las Vegas, so this was not, frankly, something, that caused me much concern during my review period.)
For those uninitiated in the corporate hierarchies of watch brands, Bulgari shares corporate parentage with TAG Heuer, Zenith, and Dior Timepieces under the LVMH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton) luxury group. Thus, Bulgari’s watchmakers have access to one of the watch world’s most prestigious chronograph calibers, the Zenith El Primero, which they have used here as the basis of Bulgari Caliber BVL 328. As aficionados of this movement are aware, it features an integrated, column wheel-controlled stopwatch mechanism, a silicon escapement, and an ultra-speedy balance frequency of 36,000 vph — which means, in practical terms, that the watch can theoretically time events down to 1/10th-second accuracy (velocissimo, indeed). Here’s a short video of the high-frequency movement in action:
Bulgari has, of course, made this movement distinctly its own, with an openworked, almost weapon-like rotor, which if not for the application of Geneva waves on the surface would resemble something that a Klingon from “Star Trek” or a Dothraki from “Game of Thrones” might wield in battle. The movement has a high level of haute horlogerie finishing overall, in fact, including circular graining, côtes de Genève, and chamfering.
The double-edged chronograph pushers are a mixed bag, sacrificing some ergonomic smoothness in favor of seamless design integrity, i.e., maintaining the Octo case’s iconic shape. I found that a firm push on the top edge of the top start-stop pusher was the best position from which to activate the stopwatch while another firm push on the side edge of the bottom pusher was the best to return the gold, central counter hand to the zero position. As one would tend to expect from a movement based on the legendary El Primero, the chronograph function itself performed splendidly. Readability of the chronograph is also good, as the gold central counter hand and the small gold subdial hands (counting 30 minutes of elapsed time at 3 o’clock and 12 elapsed hours at 12 o’clock, while the running seconds tick away at 9 o’clock) contrast nicely with the black dial, as do the white numerals and indices on the subdials and minute track.
The black rubber strap, which integrates perfectly into the case, adding the illusion that it is flowing directly from the black lugs, adds a dimension of sportiness without detracting one iota from the watch’s luxurious look. The polished black ardillon buckle with the engraved Romanesque “BVLGARI” logo is also a nice extension of the case. (The logo also appears in white below the applied gold “12” numeral on the dial. Another Romanesque touch: viewed from straight on, the screw-down gold crown has fluted sides that are reminiscent of those on a Doric column out of ancient Roman architecture. I’m not certain this was intentional (it’s not mentioned in the press materials), but if not, it’s a serendipitous coincidence.
So what functions did the Bulgari Octo Ultranero Velocissimo Chronograph serve me during its week in my care? Some were practical, as when I used the chronograph on my first night in Vegas to time exactly how much time I would need to get from my hotel to the JCK show at Mandalay Bay, from Mandalay Bay to the Couture show at the Wynn, from the Wynn to the World Watch Market show at Trump International Hotel, et cetera. Others were less so, as when I wore this black-and-gold timepiece as a good-luck talisman for my black-and-gold NHL team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, in the Stanley Cup Finals, which were being played during that week. (It seemed to work for Game 2, less so for Game 3.) The Pens did win the Cup in the end, though, even after I’d returned the watch to Bulgari. I like to think it left a bit of its magic behind.
The Bulgari Octo Ultranero Velocissimo Chronograph combines luxury with sportiness in a very distinctive package; the technical excellence and rugged reliability of its chronograph movement are a horophile’s bonus. The watch carries a retail price of $13,400.