On Time: Bulgari Sets a Watch Record for Thinnest Self-Winding Watch
BASEL, Switzerland — You can’t be too rich or too thin, and Bulgari clearly has the rich part down, as evidenced by glimmering signature pieces like its Serpenti Secret high jewelry watch for women, a diamond-encrusted snake in 18-karat white gold that sinfully envelops the wrist like the serpent in the Garden of Eden (priced only upon request).
And now, with its men’s watch line, the venerable Roman maison is making impressive strides on the “thin” front.
At a star-studded news conference at the Baselworld watch fair that featured the Spanish model Jon Kortajarena and Kris Wu (China’s answer to Justin Bieber), Bulgari unveiled the Octo Finissimo Automatic, the brand’s latest work of wrist sculpture, which sets a record for the thinnest self-winding mechanical watch on the market. The case is a mere 5.15 millimeters thick (the movement itself is cut even thinner, at 2.23 millimeters).
“It’s really like a coin,” said Jean-Christophe Babin, the chief executive of Bulgari.
Indeed, Bulgari has made a statement in the world of haute horology by sending its premium men’s line on a crash diet. It’s one way to stand out in a crowded field.
“When you are a jeweler like Bulgari, you are really having to think about which way are you relevant to men,” Mr. Babin said. “As a jeweler, you defer to ladies by creating the ultimate elegance with metals, with stones. When you apply elegance to men, it’s all about slimness, the slim fit, which is a mark of Italian design.”
Like the sprinter Usain Bolt, Bulgari does not seem content to tally records in a single category.
In 2014, the company released the Octo Finissimo Tourbillon, billed as the thinnest tourbillon watch ever with a movement that is 1.95 millimeters (a tourbillon, a prized watch complication, is a tiny rotating cage that helps fight the effects of gravity on a mechanical watch movement). Last year, Bulgari followed up with the Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater, with a movement that measured a record 3.12 millimeters.
Both of those were manual-winding watches; the Automatic is self-winding.
The Automatic is notable not just for its technical achievement, but for its price, which at $13,900 is more for the BMW crowd than for Bentley types. Compared to Bulgari’s exquisite Tourbillon, which costs $122,000, and its minute repeater, which costs $155,000, the Automatic is competitive with rugged Rolex sports watches like the new Sea-Dweller ($11,350) and Yacht-Master II ($18,750), which also debuted at Baselworld.
Then again, none of this would matter if the Automatic were not also attractive and practical as a daily timekeeper. Taking its cues from the world of sporty tool watches rather than the realm of glimmery high-end jewelry, the watch succeeds on both fronts.
In terms of design, in fact, the Automatic is the opposite of bling. Rendered in an understated gray, with a seeming kaleidoscope of angles that, like an Escher print, calls to mind a depth despite its flatness, the Automatic channels a spirit of futuristic minimalism. With its subtle octagonal framing of the dial, it vaguely suggests an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak beamed in from the 23rd century.
Moreover, thanks to a case fashioned from sandblasted titanium, the watch is both lightweight and tough, a legitimate daily driver that promises to find an appeal beyond hedge fund managers and gulf-state oil princelings.
It is, in other words, a watch aimed at “the heart of the market,” Mr. Babin said. “It is a volume outlook.”
As absurd as it sounds, think of it as a Bulgari for the masses — well, the relative masses.
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