Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
EdgyGuyJide

The Bulgari Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater Carbon

Recommended Posts

 

Sometimes it's a watch that's the equivalent of a daily driver, and working with it gives us a chance to see how it holds up under real world conditions in terms of legibility, general aesthetic appeal, accuracy, and the like. 

20016686.jpg?ixlib=rails-1.1.0&auto=form
Sometimes, however, we get a watch in to test drive which puts us in the position of a car journalist being thrown the keys for a Bugatti Chiron for the weekend, like this one: the Bulgari Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater Carbon, a $160,000 superwatch that not only turns quite a few conventions about luxury watchmaking upside down, but also flies in the face of conventional wisdom about what high end watchmaking from Bulgari is all about as well. This is the first time we've done A Week On The Wrist with any minute repeater – we've covered a rattrapante, and a perpetual calendar, but never a repeater, and this is one of the most unusual minute repeaters anyone's making right now.

A Record-Breaking Revolution

 

20016687.jpg?ixlib=rails-1.1.0&auto=form

You can't talk about the Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater Carbon without talking about its record-shattering slimness – the caliber BVL 362 is just 3.12mm thick (and 28.50mm in diameter) making it not only the thinnest minute repeater movement in current production by a considerable margin, but also arguably the thinnest wristwatch repeater movement anyone's ever made, period. 

The closest competition in modern wristwatch production is the 3.90mm thick Vacheron Constantin caliber 1731, which is 3.90mm thick and can be found in the The Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Contemporaine Ultra-Thin Calibre 1731. When  debuted in 2013 it was the world's thinnest repeater movement. ("Considerable margin" is perhaps a little hyperbolic considering the difference between BVL 362 and the Vacheron 1731 is all of 0.78mm, but as that's exactly one fourth of the total thickness of BVL 362, maybe it's justifiable hyperbole.)

B89A7195.jpg?ixlib=rails-1.1.0&auto=form
Making ultra-thin repeater movements is about the most specialized and exacting form of traditional watchmaking I can think of. Generally speaking, thinness is not really consistent with either mechanical robustness or good sound quality – in the first instance, the reduction in rigidity of parts, and the tightness of clearances significantly increase the risk of failure and in the second, miniaturization of the gongs and hammers means you've got a mechanism inherently less capable of transferring energy from the movement to the surrounding air. That Bulgari holds the current world record for ultra thin repeaters, past or present (with the possible exception of Vacheron's reference 4261 from the 1940s, which used a movement just 3.10mm thick, reportedly) is commendable to put it mildly, but it's also surprising to the point of seeming at first blush, improbable – if it were the year 2000, nobody in their right mind would have considered it even a remote possibility.

 

B89A7220.jpg?ixlib=rails-1.1.0&auto=form

B89A7228.jpg?ixlib=rails-1.1.0&auto=form

B89A7228.jpg?ixlib=rails-1.1.0&auto=form

I mention the year 2000 specifically, because that is the year that this improbable record actual became possible for Bulgari. That was the year in which Bulgari acquired Gerald Genta from Singapore's The Hour Glass, as part of a $24 million deal that also included Daniel Roth, and a company known as Manufacture de Haute Horlogerie, SA. It's never been specifically stated by Bulgari, but a reasonable hypothesis is that the movement was acquired at the same time – Gerald Genta as an independent company had produced some exceedingly complex watches, including a 25th anniversary unique piece from 1994: a grande and petite sonnerie, with Westminster chimes, and minute repeater with jump retrograde hours, so the technical expertise was certainly there. 

 

P3210937.jpg?ixlib=rails-1.1.0&auto=form

fa7ac10722d59371d7be8845448439a4?ixlib=r

fa7ac10722d59371d7be8845448439a4?ixlib=r

13 ‴ ultra thin repeater movement, Vacheron Constantin ref. 4261.

Genta himself was not a watchmaker or movement designer, of course, which leaves open the question of who the movement designer actually was, but the caliber is certainly testimony to a most accomplished constructor. I have wondered if the BVL 362 was to some extent reverse engineered from the caliber in the Vacheron 4261, but while there are the general family similarities between the two movements that you would expect from classically designed, ultra thin hand-wound repeater movements, there are significant differences as well. 

Whatever the actual pedigree of the movement, it remains an extraordinary piece of traditional watchmaking – one which Bulgari has very much made its own, in pairing it with an extremely unusual case.

The Carbon Thin Ply Case

 

20016634.jpg?ixlib=rails-1.1.0&auto=form

The case is made of a material Bulgari calls Carbon Thin Ply, or CTP for short. This is basically a thermosetting epoxy resin, reinforced with carbon fiber. It's extremely light and also quite tough, providing a stiff, highly efficient resonating chamber for the repeater. To best take advantage of the resonating properties of the material, the foot of the gongs is not attached to the movement, which is the usual practice – instead, it's attached directly to the case. Carbon fiber, like titanium, is from a sound dynamics standpoint an interesting material to use in a repeater, but it's even rarer to find it used in repeater construction than titanium. The only other minute repeater using a complete carbon fiber case I'm aware of is the Hublot Classic Fusion Tourbillon Cathedral Minute Repeater Carbon, which aside from some materials similarity, is a watch that is both stylistically and philosophically diametrically opposed to the Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater Carbon.

20016605.jpg?ixlib=rails-1.1.0&auto=form
From an engineering standpoint, the material is also an excellent choice for an ultra thin watch. The addition of carbon fiber gives good distribution of mechanical stresses, and the ability of the material to resist deforming is very helpful in being able to successfully construct such a thin watch. However, it's not the primary reason that Bulgari chose to make a version of this watch in CTP (when the Bulgari Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater was launched, it was in a titanium case of exactly the same dimensions as the CTP version – 40mm x 6.25mm). Rather, the choice of case material was primarily a design decision.

Now, the movement in the Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater Carbon is an exercise in absolutely classic watchmaking. While some of modern watchmaking's most extreme exercises in making record-breaking flat movements involve highly unusual materials and construction (the Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept Watch is an excellent case in point) caliber BVL 362 does not. For most fine watchmaking brands that deal in this sort of thing, placing such a classically informed movement in anything other than a very traditional case would be unthinkable and given the commitment to traditional designs and methods that usually travels along with this type of movement, it would be tantamount to cultural heresy. Perhaps it makes sense, then, that it took a relative newcomer to high end mechanical horology like Bulgari, to take the risky but also daring and imaginative step of pairing the movement with a very modern composite material that seems to have more to do with engineering than with aesthetics.

20017441.jpg?ixlib=rails-1.1.0&auto=form
The indexes and outline for the small seconds subdial are actually apertures in the dial, which allow sound to emerge more easily from the case.

Or does it? One of the fundamental tenets of modernist design and architecture, from the Art Deco period right down to the present, has to do with celebrating the inherent qualities of materials per se, rather than relying primarily on the transformation or decoration of those materials. We're accustomed to this sort of thing in materials like glass, concrete, and stainless steel in architecture; in watch design, the benchmark for the elevation and celebration of an industrial material is the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, which for all that it's entertaining in precious metals, seems most at home, and most itself, in stainless steel. Carbon fiber-based materials remain challenging, however – again, Audemars Piguet has used forged carbon cases to interesting effect, as have some other brands. 

B89A7204.jpg?ixlib=rails-1.1.0&auto=form
Much more often, however, carbon fiber composites are instant clichés – rather anxiously, and awkwardly, wedded to pre-existing, and more or less traditional designs as a way of making those designs seem more au courant, more sporty. The results are generally forgettable and best, and impossible to un-see at worst. The Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater Carbon, on the other hand, actually celebrates the roughhewn qualities of CTP – a poke in the eye of standard ideas of luxury, yes, but one which has roots in the classic Modernist belief that materials speak with the greatest conviction and clarity when they are allowed to speak for themselves.

20016643.jpg?ixlib=rails-1.1.0&auto=form
The case is an exercise in brusque angularity – up close, it looks like a piece of Brutalist architecture, or like one of the menacing pyramids of the Tyrell Corporation in the original 1982 Blade Runner. At the same time, while it suggests a great deal, it avoids looking as if it's trying to illustrate something – like the dial for the Grand Seiko Snowflake Spring Drive, it's not a literal representation of anything, which makes the viewer an active participant in the design, rather than a passive recipient. Another object the case suggests is the fuselage of the first operation stealth aircraft: the F-117 Nighthawk, which became operational in 1983 and which was as much a violation of all the traditional tenets of aircraft design as the Minute Repeater Carbon is of wristwatch minute repeater design.

Sound And Vision

20016664.jpg?ixlib=rails-1.1.0&auto=form

20016664.jpg?ixlib=rails-1.1.0&auto=form

Of course, a minute repeater is a chiming complication, and chiming complications, unlike every other kind of watch, appeal to more than just the sense of sight. They're traditionally judged according to specific criteria. One of these is volume – a repeater that is not loud enough to be heard over low to moderate ambient noise, has given up something in functionality, however else it might appeal as a piece of high craftsmanship or as a piece of design. A major pitfall for modern watch brands is forgetting that while a watch may not be something one needs (especially, I suppose, one does not need a minute repeater) it remains true that abdicating one's responsibility as a watchmaker, to create a watch with functional integrity, is to create something disappointing. This has little or nothing to do with whether or not one actually needs that functionality, but we regard it as essential that, for instance, you could dive with a dive watch, because otherwise what one has is not a watch, but rather, an illustration of a watch, which ultimately becomes as dissatisfying and disappointing to own as if it were in fact, merely an illustration.

20016576.jpg?ixlib=rails-1.1.0&auto=form
On this score, the Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater Carbon does extremely well. Not only is it clearly audible in even a moderately noisy environment, it's also very pleasing in terms of tone. The gold standard for repeaters is, in fact, gold – it is generally conceded that steel gongs resonating inside a rose gold case offer the best combination of audibility, clarity, and quality of tone. I think however that one can be perhaps a bit more broad-minded on the subject – after all, you don't feel disappointed in Japanese sake because it doesn't have the operatic histrionics of a big Bordeaux; you meet it on its own terms.

I think it is certainly possible to appreciate the sound of the Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater Carbon in the same way. No, it does not have the polychromatic warmth of rose gold, but it does have a different sort of appeal – a penetrating, crystalline clarity that expresses, in its coolly persistent tone, the character of the watch with great precision. One cannot ask more of a repeater than that the sound harmonizes, so to speak, with the design and to find that the tone of the Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater Carbon is such a wonderful aural expression of the watch's juxtaposition of traditional and cutting edge, is an enormous pleasure.

 

 

20016746.jpg?ixlib=rails-1.1.0&auto=form

I've never worn a minute repeater for longer than, I would say, perhaps an hour or two around the office when we've had one in for photography. While most brands are more than happy to loan reviewers samples of chronographs, diver's watches, everyday beaters and the like, minute repeaters are simply too expensive, complex, rare, and accident prone to be easy to come by, and the fact that they can be so time consuming to produce (production time is often measured in weeks or months) means that repeaters which are completed are generally spoken for already, or at the very least are expected to arrive at the boutique in absolutely pristine condition.

20016648.jpg?ixlib=rails-1.1.0&auto=form
In my previous experiences with repeaters, I've done what I think most watch lovers would do when entrusted with a six-figure high complication that, company insurance be damned, you badly do not want to mar in the slightest just as a point of professional pride: walked around as if I had a Ming porcelain strapped to my wrist. You can't help but be painfully aware of the elevated nature of what you're wearing and that cuts a bit into the extent to which you can enjoy the experience, rather than just appreciate it. This is not to say that ownership is necessary to appreciation – it's not – but anxiety is a potent anaphrodisiac, and one is almost glad to see the watch go back.

20016714.jpg?ixlib=rails-1.1.0&auto=form
This may be a $160,000 watch but it wears like a $160 watch – and I mean that as a compliment. Probably someone from Bulgari reading that sentence will feel their hackles rise but the thing about an inexpensive watch, is that it is possible to enjoy it without any of the usual cognitive and conceptual miasma of quote fine unquote watchmaking intruding. Fine dining nowadays, for all that the informal fine dining destination restaurant is becoming its own kind of cliché, has realized that pomp and circumstance do not necessarily make for a pleasurable meal, and just so, the palpable burden of centuries of tradition radiating from the classic implementations of the minute repeater can make wearing one enough of a chore to drain the joy out of the experience.

First of all, this is an extremely comfortable watch to wear. Some of that has to do with the incredible light weight of the Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater Carbon overall – between the CTP case and the titanium bracelet, it seems to float on the wrist with no more sense of mass than a Swatch Skin; this is very disorienting at first, and then positively liberating. The narrowness of the bracelet links means that the watch molds itself to your wrist very naturally and as with a Leica M3 camera, or a bespoke shotgun from Purdey, or your favorite set of golf clubs, it becomes an extension of your body, rather than a foreign object affixed to it. (This is not just a matter of mass; even relatively small watches can be persistently bothersome to wear if the weight distribution is off, or the lug design prevents the strap or bracelet from doing its job of being both secure and comfortable.) This sense of airy freedom, in combination with the matte black geometry of the case, and incredible thinness of both the case and the bracelet, means that you move about your day with a sense of ease very foreign to the usual experience of sporting a high complication. 

20016623.jpg?ixlib=rails-1.1.0&auto=form
It's also a damned fun watch to show to other watch enthusiasts. The unusual case material and design, the record-breaking dimensions, and the completely classic watchmaking in the movement make it a very visually and sonically stimulating timepiece, and a fantastic conversation piece as well. Unless your interlocutor is one of the lucky, and relatively few, people who've had a chance to see an Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater Carbon in the ... well, in the carbon, they will never, even if they have much experience of repeaters, seen anything like it before, and it challenges conventional expectations enough to be both provocative, and fascinating.

Final Thoughts

 

20016595.jpg?ixlib=rails-1.1.0&auto=form

With the Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater Carbon, Bulgari has done something no one else has quite managed to do before. Repeaters in carbon fiber cases are certainly rare enough; this is the only one with such an incredibly flat movement, and it is not, unlike so many carbon fiber-cased watches, using the material in a misplaced bid for machismo, or in an attempt to wring some plausible degree of cool out of a materials and design cliché.

Instead, Bulgari is doing something with this watch that would not be possible or plausible from the older companies more traditionally associated with repeaters. A classic movement like the BVL 362, if it came from Patek, or Vacheron, or Audemars Piguet, would undoubtedly find itself in a very traditionally styled case. Even from Bulgari, the Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater Carbon is a shocking watch – Bulgari may not have as its stock in trade, the sort of tradition-bound Swiss idioms that confine the Big Three and their ilk to a fairly specific design vocabulary, but it does have its own expected repertoire of forms and approaches: bold, gold, organic forms combined with sharp geometry à la Serpenti, and so on. 

20016588-2.jpg?ixlib=rails-1.1.0&auto=fo
But with the Octo Finissimo line, and with the Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater Carbon in particular, Bulgari has not only broken away from centuries-old conventions with respect to classic complication design. It has broken away from its own established design language as well, and, perhaps most significantly and importantly, abandoned the humorless and sometimes suffocating notion of what is and is not luxury, for the sake of bringing together some very disparate elements and attempting to create an entirely new kind of alchemy, both for themselves and for fine watchmaking as a whole.

What Bulgari has achieved with the Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater Carbon is something much rarer than luxury watchmaking – they have succeeded in making an interesting watch, and one that slyly subverts everything we usually assume is necessarily true about fine watchmaking. It will not be everyone's cup of tea, but for the genuinely knowledgeable and open minded watch enthusiast – and this is irrespective of whether or not your budget allows you to think of owning one; God knows mine doesn't – the Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater Carbon is one of the most genuinely original and truly thought provoking watches ever to come down the pike.

The Bulgari Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater Carbon retails for $160,000 and is a limited edition of just 50 pieces.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

×