Reflecting on the journey of the Octo Finissimo with Fabrizio Buonamassa, Chief Watch Designer of Bulgari

ISOCHRONO met up with Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani, Chief Watch Designer of Bulgari at the recent Geneva Watch Days 2022 to get his thoughts on the latest new releases as well as some reflections on the thus far, 15 year journey, that Bulgari has undertaken to bring the Octo Finissimo collection to life.

Bulgari at Geneva Watch Days 2022.
Bulgari at Geneva Watch Days 2022.

ISOCHRONO: One of the greatest feats of Bulgari has been to convince watch collectors that it is not just a jewelry brand but a legitimate watchmaker of the highest order. What do you think?

Fabrizio Buonamassa: I totally agree because this has been the biggest effort that we have undertaken over the last 15 years. I think that today, especially with the Octo Finissimo collection, we have completely changed the perception of the watch market to the point where we now can interact with very important collectors about watches in a way that wasn’t possible in the past.

The Bulgari Manufacture de Haute Horlogerie in Le Sentier

We started the Octo journey 15 years ago and this was after we discovered the amazing knowhow in our facilities in Le Sentier. Thanks to the heritage of Daniel Roth and Gerald Genta, brands that we acquired in 2000, we decided to use this foundation to develop our own path.

The Bulgari Daniel Roth Carillon Tourbillon – on the bench of a master watchmaker being tuned.
This Bulgari Daniel Roth Carillon Tourbillon is undergoing checks and final assembly at the Le Sentier facility where all the haute horlogerie pieces of the brand are created.

Yes, it’s amazing what you’ve done with famed watch designer Gerald Genta’s Octo case.

The most incredible thing we discovered is how versatile the eight sided Octo case shape is. Gerald Genta’s original design was very unique as it had a square case with a round bezel, and each time when we change the material and finishing of an Octo case, we can get a totally different watch. The versatility of the design was for us the biggest surprise

Because we were completely free to imagine our own way, we started to talk about how the new Octo Finissimo would take a totally different approach, in comparison with other ultra thin watches that were mostly round in shape. I think this is the most important part of the story because when you are obsessed with copying others, you are always behind, and this is not interesting for the watch collector.

So the idea was to create a new way to wear an ultra thin watch, with a metal integrated bracelet that would be done in a very contemporary and modern way. That’s what I think is the secret behind what the Octo Finissimo has become today. The other point is that the accompanying movement and the overall aesthetics were also brand new. Unlike other situations when a watch brand brings out a beautiful watch with a very old movement, or sometimes an ugly watch with a very beautiful movement. With the Octo however, every element, from external design to internal mechanics, would be new and would both be at the same high level in terms of aesthetics and performance.

Was there doubt in the beginning whether the concept of the Octo Finissimo would work?

For sure, the approach was new at the time and we didn’t know how people would react to the reimagined Octo case. I mean, on the surface, it’s difficult to imagine how such an architectural case, with many facets and angles, and with a very strong design, could be made easy to wear in an ultra thin watch. But we knew it was possible and we decided to follow our instinct.

Bulgari Octo Finissimo Tourbillon

I felt that you went to the top of the mountain in terms of watchmaking, with the world’s thinnest tourbillon in the Octo Finissimo Tourbillon in 2014 (5.0mm thick), then two years later in 2016 with the world’s thinnest minute repeater in the Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater (6.85mm thick).

The Bulgari Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater features a titanium case and cut outs in the dial (visible above) for sound projection.

Case-back view of the Bulgari Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater

Yes, people were impressed but they were still not totally convinced. The first reaction was “Yes, but they are only able to make 30 pieces!” The second time with the minute repeater, it was, “Yes, so they’re able to make 30 more pieces!” Our big milestone however was the Octo Finissimo Automatic in Titanium in 2017.

Why was this so? Because at the beginning we created the aesthetic of the ultra thin watch with the Octo Finissimo Tourbillon, second we created the minute repeater in titanium, and third, we finally introduced a watch that everyone could wear with the same amazing aesthetics.

How has the Octo journey been over the years?

It’s been a nonstop effort to push it through. I think ultimately, we have had to trust the process, find the idea, then make the watches and keep going even if people are not convinced. We’ve spent 10 years already and we’ve finally gotten to the 10th anniversary of the Octo Finissimo today.

Most of the signficant milestones in the Octo Finissimo collection, with all the major complications covered, including Perpetual Calendar, Tourbillon, Chronograph, Minute Repeater and GMT.

Now we are at the stage where we are talking about the watch becoming, possibly, a new watchmaking icon, and mind you, this is from the opinion of experienced collectors, and even among new, younger collectors. Ultimately, I think if the project was not important for us, for sure it would not be important to the watch collector, and that is key.

You mentioned a few times how Bulgari watches have found appeal among younger watch collectors.

Certainly, I think the appeal is in the sporty design, compared to other ultra thin watches that are more formal. For these clients, it is a watch they discover, and a watch that begins their journey as a watch collector. In the future, it will become part of their heritage as a collector. In fact, I’ve met quite a few young watch collectors who tell me that they have more than one Octo Finissimo in their collections.

One of the releases for Geneva Watch Days – the Octo Finissimo in full yellow gold with brown sunray-finish dial.

From your point of view you’ve seen a lot of positive response over the years for the Octo Finissimo. I myself have seen the Octo Finissimo appearing on the wrists of watch collectors around me in Singapore. It’s amazing to me how you have managed to change the perception of the market from Bulgari being just a jeweler to also a legitimate watchmaker.

For us, this was a big step because Bulgari is one of the most important jewelers in the world. When we presented the Octo Finissimo Automatic, we immediately started to receive comments about it being a new “icon”, and how it was the most incredible watch released in the last 50 years. This is fine. These are points of view afterall. But when very important collectors who are known for the acquisition of the finest watches ever made, both vintage and contemporary, start having the same opinion, or when they start to say that they have to buy an Octo Finissimo for their collections, then it means something.

What then would you say to people who are not convinced about the Octo Finissimo yet?

Of course, it’s likely that they are not convinced because it is an uncommon design. To this I will tell them, “Just try one on.”

I have had many clients who have told me that they like the look of the watch but that it is not for them. When this happens, I take the watch off my wrist and ask them to try it on and the response is always one of amazement.

A view of the Octo Finissimo in full yellow gold with bracelet, which is extremely pliable and thin for comfort on the wrist.

I think perhaps in pictures, the Octo Finissimo looks bigger than in reality, and thus cannot convey the feeling when you put the watch on the wrist with the amazingly smooth bracelet. One common response from clients is how nice the feeling is in having a watch like this under their shirt cuff. It’s definitely something that is very rare among watches on an integrated bracelet, and the realisation of this fact can only come when the watch is on the wrist.

Furthermore, on the wrist the client is able to feel how super comfortable and super well done the bracelet is in terms of the smoothness of the surfaces. Even myself, honestly I don’t like watches on a bracelet as I prefer leather straps generally because you can play with different colours and textures of the leather.

The Octo Finissimo bracelet however, is something else, and I actually prefer it over the leather strap. In fact most clients who get it on the leather strap return to buy the bracelet from the boutique. Today 80% of the clients who buy an Octo Finissimo do so with the bracelet and that says something about how good it is.

I think one of the things that not many people are aware of as well is how well engineered your movements are, in terms of rigidity, quality and reliability.

We spent many years developing our movements and let me say, we are at the second stage of the Octo Finissimo, it’s still a young baby to us, but today, we have started to pay more attention to refine the overall quality of the product.

When we say quality, I think we are beyond talking about the movement, to us, it’s more about the finishing and the details. This extends to how we think about polishing the case, the ergonomics when wearing the watch, the thickness of the leather strap, etc.

Octo Finissimo Skeleton 8 Days

In the Octo Finissimo Skeleton 8 Days for example, we have completely redesigned the movement. We moved from satin soleil finishing because it’s so reflective that it’s difficult to read the time previously to this, where we use applied indexes that stand out against the skeleton movement. Also another detail that you will notice is that we have taken the first link that comes from the metal bracelet and attached it to an alligator strap. I love this configuration because I think it’s very elegant and sporty at the same time, and furthermore, when you put it on the wrist, it is super comfortable and very light weight.

The Octo Finissimo Skeleton 8 Days comes with applied indices that make reading the time much easier than previous open-worked watches.

This Octo Finissimo Skeleton 8 Days for me is currently the best Octo Finissimo that we’ve ever made, in terms of design and in terms of the performance of the movement. Overall we are satisfied with where we are. But as this watch shows, our focus is on improving all the individual elements, from the performance of the movement, to the quality of the finishing, and to a more comfortable feel of the bracelet and buckle on the wrist.

Overall, it is a difficult thing to do, because we have started to get a lot of requests from clients with interesting ideas, and we also have problems with capacity because of the demand for the watches from the market.

What are the coming goals of Bulgari as a watchmaker?

The direction is always to improve every single design detail of the Octo Finissimo.

When we wanted to create the Octo Finissimo S, the idea was to have a similar watch to the original Octo Finissimo in Titanium, but a little bit thicker (6.4mm vs 5.15mm) so that it could have 100 metres of water resistance (versus 30 metres) along with a screw down crown for more versatile everyday use.

We found out when we did this that the watch market is split into two. On the one hand you have the watch collectors who told us not to touch the original Octo Finissimo in Titanium as they were not interested in water resistance or a screw down crown because they had other watches to wear when swimming. On the other hand, this new Octo Finissimo S, was welcomed enthusiastically by another type of client, and these were newer watch collectors who indeed wanted something more versatile for everyday use, just like our original intention.

Because of this, we realized that trying to make every Octo Finissimo in our collections in the same way, with 100 metres water resistance was not the right approach. Instead, each model has to be done in its own way, exploring the possibilities in terms of materials and finishing.

Octo Finissimo Sejima Limited Edition in full polished stainless steel.

For example, the Octo Finissimo Sejima Limited Edition is made of stainless steel but the finish is executed in an unconventional way. Everything is in full polish, the case, the bracelet, the dial and the hands, and the effect is mesmerizing. It’s still the same Octo Finissimo case shape that we know, but the feeling of this watch is so different.

Designed in collaboration with Kazuyo Sejima, star Japanese architect, with her signature visible on the sapphire glass case-back.

As a watch designer, this is what is interesting to me, creating a different effect from different types of ingredients, and using the same case to show the limits of what it can do.

I believe that the Octo Finissio has the potential to become an icon in watchmaking, what are your thoughts?

Thank you so much. We shall see and we shall hope. As of today, I think that the Octo Finissimo is definitely a trendsetter. We see this because of other prestigious brands going in the direction of integrated bracelet watches in ultra thin execution after it came out. Before Bulgari, the world of ultra thin watches was dominated by brands like Piaget, Vacheron Constantin, Patek Philippe and Jaeger-LeCoultre, but what they mainly offered were watches in a traditional round case with a thin bezel, and usually worn on a black alligator strap. All in all, watches that you would wear a tuxedo with, all very formal and very elegant.

Bulgari Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Chronograph Automatic
The amazing space saving ideas of the Bulgari Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Chronograph Automatic can be seen through the case-back view, particularly of the laterally sliding reset to zero hammer.

The Octo Finissimo changed all that, and showed the world how good a sporty watch could look when done in the ultra thin genre, with a modern and contemporary feel, and furthermore in our technical abilities, as a basis for ultra thin grand complications. Beyond looks however, it’s an amazing pleasure to wear a watch like this everyday.

Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani, Chief Watch Designer of Bulgari