Bulgari The Breakout of the Century
In less than 10 years, the Bulgari Octo has shattered everything — records, styles, limits and the company's watch sales along the way. An eight-sided watch has, in eight years, become an eternal icon. Here is the incontrovertible proof, in three parts.
No one saw it coming, even though all the puzzle pieces were there.LVMH purchased Bulgari, the world’s third largest jewellery house (behind Cartier and Tiffany & Co.), for 3.7 billion euros in June 2011. In March 2012, the Octo was reintroduced to Bulgari’s current collection. At the same time, the brand announced their intention to integrate all its horological competences within a dedicated manufacture facility in Neuchâtel, giving Bulgari complete independence in product development.
February 2013: Jean-Christophe Babin, former CEO of TAG Heuer, took over the reins at Bulgari. Then, between 2014 and 2018, Bulgari broke four world records in succession — thinnest manual-winding tourbillon, thinnest automatic tourbillon, thinnest minute repeater and thinnest automatic time-only watch. In April 2019, Bulgari attained its fifth world record with the Octo Finissimo Chronograph GMT Automatic, the thinnest chronograph in the world, measuring only 6.9mm thick.
In between collecting world records, Bulgari also picked up its fair share of industry awards, such as the Prix de la Montre Homme and the Prix du Tourbillon et de l’Échappement at the 2017 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève. To give you an idea of the Bulgari Octo’s impact, the awarded watches had been presented at Baselworld just six months before…
Octo Finissimo Automatic, Prix de la Montre Homme, GPHG 2017 © Bulgari
Today, the Bulgari Octo has acquired unquestionable horological legitimacy not only through these awards, but also through the complications and mechanical features it has incorporated: tourbillon, chronograph, minute repeater, GMT indication and skeletonisation, among many others. However, the Octo collection remains deliberately limited, with only 6 large families (the five complications named above, plus the time-only model), a move that favours clarity… and rarity.
Today, Bulgari fully deserves its integrated manufacture designation. Just like the Octo collection itself, Bulgari was able to go full speed in this area, thanks to its strong capital. The brand had already seen its revenues increase by 150 per cent between 1997 and 2003. Its acquisition by LVMH 8 years after that only confirmed an already exceptional financial base, backed by a group that today generates nearly 50 billion euros in revenue (with an estimated value of over 200 billion euros). This gives them a certain freedom to act.
The integration can be said to have begun back in 2000, when Bulgari absorbed the brands (and above all the skills) of Daniel Roth SA and Gérald Genta SA, famed Swiss watch manufacturers. Gradually, other successive takeovers of suppliers producing all watch components (including cases) enabled Bulgari to present their first mechanical movement in 2010, designed, produced and assembled completely in-house. Today, most operations are centralised on a single site in Neuchâtel, with specialised satellite facilities in the Vallée de Joux and Saignelégier.
Octo Finissimo Chronograph GMT Automatic © Bulgari
But technical integration is not everything. Bulgari is also an in-house team. First of all, the highly experienced Jean-Christophe Babin sits at the head of the company, as CEO. There is also proprietorship of the original Octo design, a unique form created in the 1940s, long before the octagonal trend (led by the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak) emerged in the 1970s.
Finally, Bulgari relies only on its own in-house designers, without, as is often the case, calling on external design studios or agencies. Fabrizio Buonamassa is Bulgari's Creative Director, who initiated the revival of the Octo in 2005 with Gérald Genta (who passed away in 2011). It was also Buonamassa who took the collection in the direction of the extra-thin Finissimo, and who has become the watchmaking standard-bearer of the house thanks to his technical and stylistic approach.
Fabrizio Buonamassa © Bulgari
If the Octo has won so many awards in less than 10 years, it is because of its strong identity. Bulgari has never adopted a middle position, trying to build that illusory bridge between tradition and modernity. The Octo, with the Finissimo as its flagship variant, is radically contemporary and disruptive. It brings equilibrium to the cliché of the obsolete extra-flat classic watch, by incorporating ultra-modern materials (carbon, titanium, ceramic), materials whose physical properties allowed new watchmaking records of thinness to be set. The Octo appeals to millennials and to discerning collectors. It can be worn with jeans or on a red carpet. It is a 21st-century timepiece. What's more, it looks like no other. For the Octo, there is no “inspiration”, no archival models to hold it back, no heritage (let alone a museum) design. The Octo looks far ahead — so far ahead that no one else can stand out against it.
Octo Finissimo Skeleton black ceramic © Bulgari
Bulgari has its own clear definition of excellence, which involves the perfect balance between design, added-value, quality of its products and its worldwide service. In the case of Bulgari watches, it all started with the Bulgari Bulgari watch that led to the creation of Bulgari Time in Switzerland in 1982.Find out more >
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