This article was originally published in the May/June 2022 Issue of the WatchTime print magazine.
In 2022, Bulgari celebrated the 10th anniversary of its award-winning Octo collection with the Italian maison’s eighth world record, the thinnest mechanical watch ever produced. Meet the 1.8-mm thick Octo Finissimo Ultra.
1.80 mm. One point eight millimeters for the watch as a whole, from the caseback to the top of the sapphire crystal. That’s exactly half of an ETA 2829-A2 automatic movement. More importantly, 1.8 mm means that the Octo Finissimo Ultra (Ref. 103611) is an impressive 0.2 mm thinner than the previous record holder, the Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept watch from 2018. “’Can we do it?’ No sooner was the question asked three years ago than our teams answered, ‘How are we going to do it?’,” recalls Antoine Pin, Managing Director of the Bulgari Watch Division. “This ability to meet challenges is embedded in the brand’s DNA.” And he adds, “As for the word ‘ultra,’ it expresses this desire to go beyond the limits, to play with extremes — an idea that we love in-house!”
To create the world’s thinnest, and at the same time still reliable and robust mechanical watch, the designers, engineers and watchmakers had to start from scratch. Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani, Bulgari’s Product Creation Executive Director, explained, “The challenge of this eighth record was the most difficult to overcome, since we had to break the rules not only in terms of movement design, but also of the case, the caseback, the bracelet and the folding clasp. To achieve this degree of thinness, you not only have to review your way of thinking, but you must also draw upon a wide range of skills, play with multiple materials and adapt to a multitude of new constraints. In this sense, the Octo Finissimo Ultra is unquestionably the ultimate complication in this vast field of possibilities represented by ultra-miniaturization.”
One obvious example of the many challenges the team had to overcome: the indications for the hours, minutes and seconds all had to be executed separately to reduce height. The off-centered seconds display — a signature element of the collection — on the wheel at 6 o’clock, is placed next to the two regulator-type counters for the hours (top) and minutes (lower half). And speaking of signature elements, the Octo Finissimo Ultra retains all the design codes of the Octo collection, like the eight-sided case, representing the intersection of circle and square, or the overall monochromatic execution — an additional constraint that the R&D teams working on this project set themselves, according to Bulgari. As a result, the 40-mm octagonal case is made of sandblasted titanium and features an integrated bracelet as thin as the watch.
Three years of research and development were required for several technical teams involved from Bulgari in the Vallée de Joux and Neuchâtel and from movement specialist Concepto in La Chaux-de-Fonds to overcome all the difficulties involved with creating the world’s thinnest mechanical watch. One central technical solution: The construction of the Octo Finissimo Ultra uses the caseback as a mainplate on which the 170 components of the BVL Calibre 180 are integrated. The volume of the bracelet links also had to be totally rethought since, at 1.80 mm thick, they have to fit perfectly into the case, yet are twice as thin as an ordinary Octo Finissimo bracelet. In addition, the folding clasp also had to be redesigned.
Another issue was the overall rigidity required, which was achieved by combining the case middle, bezel and titanium lugs with a caseback/mainplate element in tungsten carbide, a particularly dense, hard and ultra-resistant combination of carbon and tungsten. Moreover, in order to take advantage of the entire surface of the watch, the hours and minutes dials, the large barrel — which stores an impressive 50 hours of power reserve — as well as the escapement have redefined the circular geometry of the bezel opening.
In short, at this level of thinness, and when all the components of a mechanical watch are indispensable, Bulgari had to rethink not only the components’ design and production — to restricted tolerances — but also their functions. Whereas a component serves a single function in an ordinary watch, some of them now need to serve up to four functions in an ultra-miniaturized watch like the Octo Finissimo Ultra. Such is the case with the dial, which, in addition to displaying time indications, also serves to hold components in place.
Another problem to be solved was the crown for winding and setting the watch: If it had to fit on a 1.80 mm thickness, a classic vertical crown would be much too small and impossible to handle properly. Bulgari’s solution was to use two horizontally placed knobs — one for winding and the other for setting. Another innovation lies in a differential gear mechanism serving to handle time-setting without disturbing the gear train.
Unsurprisingly, a total of eight patent applications have been filed as a result of the work invested in making this new dimension of contemporary watchmaking possible. They relate to the watch glass assembly, barrel structure, oscillator module, differential display, modular structure, bracelet, bimetal case middle-mainplate/caseback, as well as the Bulgari Singularity technology.
The individual QR code that has been engraved on the barrel’s ratchet wheel serves as a gateway to additional digital content, like interviews, “making of” segments, a virtual 3D tour of the movement and an exploration of the visible/ invisible concept linked to the watch. More importantly, each of the 10 owners will receive an exclusive NFT (nonfungible token) artwork, which is both guaranteeing the authenticity of the watch and also serves as a link between watch and owner. Bulgari calls this “an everlasting bond guaranteed by the Bulgari Singularity tech,” which also happens to be the eighth patent.
Regardless of where the owner looks at the watch, the Octo Finissimo Ultra appears to be both a two-dimensional and a three-dimensional object. From the front, the watch allows the wearer to experience the depth of the mechanism; viewed in profile, the watch almost becomes a twodimensional object.
“This fabulous benchmark that we are setting today with the Octo Finissimo Ultra is, in fact, for me and for all the teams, an apparently impossible dream come true,” notes Jean-Christophe Babin, CEO Bulgari, “one that guarantees that Bulgari will forever be recognized as a company that has written some of the finest pages in Swiss watchmaking. And the fact that this is an Italian house makes us particularly proud.”
Bulgari Octo Finissimo Ultra Specs:
Manufacturer: Bulgari Horlogerie SA, Manufacture de Haute Haute Horlogerie, Rue de Monruz 34, 2000 Neuchâtel, Switzerland
Reference number: 103611
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds
Movement: Mechanical manual-winding movement BVL Calibre 180 (1.50 mm thick), 50-hour power reserve, 28,800 vph
Case: Sandblasted titanium case and tungsten carbide plate with anthracite DLC treatment, black PVD-treated hands, water resistant to 10 m
Bracelet and clasp: Titanium bracelet with integrated folding clasp
Dimensions: Diameter = 40 mm, height = 1.8 mm