The world’s thinnest minute repeater is revisited in 2018 in a high-tech carbon case and bracelet. Upholding the record-breaking title of its 2016 titanium predecessor, this carbon model goes one step further in breaking with the aesthetics of traditional luxury minute repeaters proposing an edgy industrial look. Chosen as much for its stealth aesthetics as for its physical properties, the Carbon Thin Ply case offers surprising acoustic properties and weighs even less than the original. Lean as a coin but capable of producing such a rich, warm sound, minimalist styling but bristling with technology, rough on the surface but smooth to the touch, imposing and sculptural but feather-light… this watch challenges just about every expectation of a classic minute repeater with Bvlgari’s hallmark Italian flair.
The genesis of the Octo and Octo Finissimo legions
When Bulgari’s Octo legion first marched on the watchmaking arena in 2012 it conquered the world with its virile octagonal aesthetics and unmistakeable Roman style. As Rome’s most venerated temple of high jewellery – and now watchmaking – Bvlgari has assimilated many aspects of the city’s imperial past into its design vocabulary. The architecture of the Octo collection was taken directly from the Roman Forum, inspired by the coffering used on the ceiling of the 4th-century Basilica of Maxentius. To lighten the weight of the colossal barrel vaults of the Basilica – the largest architectural structure of its day – Roman engineers used weight-saving techniques in the form of coffering, a series of sunken panels decorated with octagonal and circular shapes. This fascinating interplay of geometric shapes was translated into the case of the Octo. In a similar fashion to Rome’s ingenious architects, whittling down the weight of the coffers to the leanest expression possible, Bvlgari’s watchmakers and designers conceived the ultra-slim family of Octo Finissimo watches.
In 2014, the Octo Finissimo family was unleashed in the battlefield of ultra-thin watches, conquering record after world record. Starting with the world’s thinnest tourbillon movement in 2014, followed in 2016 by the world’s thinnest minute repeater and in 2017 by the world’s thinnest automatic movement, Bvlgari was going from superlative to superlative only to crown its victorious trilogy with the 2018 Octo Finissimo Tourbillon, the thinnest automatic tourbillon and thinnest automatic watch to date.
Redefining the Minute Repeater “alla romana”
But let’s rewind to 2016 and the excitement generated when the Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater was unveiled at Bvlgari’s Baselworld stand. The world’s thinnest minute repeater – with a movement measuring just 3.12mm and a case thickness of 6.85mm – the Octo Minute Repeater didn’t just vanquish thinness records; it shattered most of the prevailing conventions of a luxury minute repeater. Instead of the more traditional precious metal cases we are used to seeing, Bvlgari’s chiming watch was housed in a 40mm sand-blasted titanium case giving it an industrial, contemporary feel. Pushing the envelope of audacity one step further, in 2018 Bvlgari unveiled the Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater in a carbon case. You can watch our video with Bvlgari’s managing director Guido Terreni presenting the Baselworld novelties, here.
Speaking to Guido Terreni a year ago for The Jewellery Editor, he explained Bvlgari’s unorthodox approach to the ultra-thin category. “The ultra-thin category is very strange. It is the only sector that produces objects that look dated; the aesthetic codes are from decades ago. It’s like me driving around in my grandfather’s car or wearing his clothes today. We Italians don’t see this as aesthetic progress. We are very sensitive to contemporary aesthetics so we changed the rules of this segment and created a luxury watch that is a reflection of the time we live in.” And when you get your hands on the Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater in carbon, it all starts to make sense.
A carbon case and bracelet forged by Vulcan
My first impression looking at the strange, dark marbled material was that the watch had been sculpted in coal, or in material extracted from a volcano. Dark and gritty like the surface of coal, the material is, in fact, a high-tech laminate composite made from carbon fibres reinforced by an epoxy resin – aka Carbon Thin Ply (CTP). Lightweight but ultra-resilient, CTP is used in the construction of marine masts, satellite decks, drones, F1 bodywork, golf clubs and has made its debut in the luxury sector, namely for Richard Mille watches. (If you are interested in the nitty-gritty of composites, I recommend the NTPT™ website).
What is remarkable though is how the CTP accentuates the angular aspects of the case’s geometry giving the impression that the flanks of the caseband have been hewn into miniature steps. Even the round bezel – which looked smooth in the titanium model – looks as though it has circular steps sculpted into its surface. It is the specific orientation of the carbon fibre that produces these original visual effects. Resulting in irregular grooves and reflections, the case and bracelet take on the look of Damascene steel. Expecting the surface of the watch to have a rough, sandpapery feel, I was surprised by how soft, smooth and cool the carbon actually felt.
Moving beyond the superficial aspect of the material, CTP is also renowned as an excellent transmitter of sound, simply because of its low density that less attenuate the sound, compared to gold for instance. By activating the striking mechanism with the pusher at 9 o’clock, the watch performs its mechanical acoustic miracle. All the more miraculous given the ultra-flat receptacle from which the warm, rich sounds are issuing! And although I was not able to compare its sound to another minute repeater, I was assured that the carbon material makes the chimes louder and clearer – (Editor’s note: having heard the two versions – carbon and titanium – sound is not only louder on the carbon version, but also different, thanks to different vibrating and resonating properties.)
Fully integrated into the 40mm case, the geometric carbon links of the bracelet are surprisingly thin and supple for an elegant fit. Reminiscent of tank treads, each link is individually made and then assembled by hand and the bracelet is secured to the wrist by a triple blade folding clasp in titanium. But there is one more feature of CTP that cannot be overlooked and that is its amazing lightweight properties. The carbon model weighs a full 30 grams less than the titanium model, coming in at a total weight of just 47 grams. Once again, Bvlgari defies your expectations.
If you were just to look at the watch from a distance, your brain would equate the imposing sculptural case with a certain weight. However, when you actually hold the watch and wear it on your wrist, it is as light as silk. And this is my one and only qualm about the watch. I know that many people enjoy lightweight watches (just ask Rafa Nadal!) and that wearing the world’s thinnest minute repeater weighing in at only 47 grams is another claim to fame, but the lack of weight made me nervous and hyper-cautious when wearing the watch. Bvlgari’s press release claiming that the watch “is so light and slim that one easily forget it is even on the wrist” is precisely what I wouldn’t look for in a watch of this category and price. I’m just one of those people who like to feel and acknowledge the presence of my watch, not forget I am wearing one!
A ventilated dial to transmit sound
The dial is also made from a CTP laminate and displays a matte camouflaged surface with darker and lighter patches and the occasional speckle. Given the innate properties of CTP, no two dials/cases/straps will ever be the same, something collectors will no doubt appreciate. Unlike the titanium model, the dial does not reach the confines of the bezel. The octagonal shape of the dial only touches the bezel at its points leaving large gaps that function as air vents to transmit the sound of the chimes.
Even the numeral 12, the hour indices and the circumference of the small seconds counter are cut-out from the dial to emit the sound produced by the hammers and gong-rings, which have been directly fixed to the case. The incisions amplify the resonance inside the ultra-thin case and compensate for the absence of substantial internal value, a precondition in most minute repeaters for effective sound propagation. Keeping with the thematic incisions of the dial, the sand-blasted silver hands are skeletonised.
Calibre BVL 362
Defying expectations once again, the reverse side of the watch reveals a rather traditional looking movement. The thinnest minute repeater movement in the world measuring just 3.12mm thick, it is hard to believe that 362 components have been arranged in this miniature receptacle.
Space-saving and miniaturization are pursued relentlessly and instead of an overcoil, the BVL362 employs a flat spring barrel, the mainspring barrel and crown wheel are suspended, as opposed to being housed under a bridge and the centrifugal strike governor has a tiny wee diameter of just 3.3mm – including its two inertia blocks. A manual-winding movement, it operates at 3Hz (21,600bph) and offers a max power reserve of 42 hours, although due to limited space there is no power reserve indicator. The movement features Côtes de Genève decoration and anglages on the bridges and perlage on the main plate – very pleasant and in line with the overall pedigree of the watch.
This watch manages to defy just about every expectation one might have nurtured about minute repeaters. Above and beyond its record-breaking slimness, Bvlgari’s Octo Finissimo takes the complication into new territory with a brazen, bold look.
I was hesitant to use the expression “infernally beautiful” but that is the effect it had on me. The virile geometric case, the pristine chimes and that handsome Italian design flair are truly seductive. However, my one and only issue with the watch is its ethereal weight. A plus for many, but with such a delicate complication on board, I would love to be able to feel it on my wrist and make sure it comes to no harm!
A limited edition of just 50 pieces, the Octo Finissmo Minute Repeater Carbon retails for USD 160,000. More details on www.bulgari.com.