Bulgari Octo Finissimo Ultra: Seemingly Both Impossibly Thin And Impossibly Deep
Every so often, something comes along that causes you to look at things with fresh eyes. Even the most jaded and cynical have had experiences causing them to reevaluate something previously held true and have likely accepted that even they can still be surprised. This is a feeling I crave: it is in that exciting moment that the world expands and what I thought possible multiplies.
The simplest way to experience this is to read an amazing book or watch an iconic movie; the act of experiencing that new story can cause a shift in your mind as you are riveted by something unexpected. But as you get older and consume more media, the stories consequently become less and less unique, transformative, or groundbreaking. Your world grows to include more, a side effect of which is that more things seem to fit nicely into that world so experiences are less likely to cause a visceral shift.
Some may dislike this experience because it can be slightly uncomfortable when we are confronted with something we didn’t expect, especially if it challenges our worldviews (hence why religion and politics can be treacherous topics). Yet the world is full of simply interesting, fun, and eye-opening things, especially in science, art, culture, and nature, that you can spend a lifetime discovering and always have more to see.
This is one reason why watchmaking is such a passion of mine: every single year a brand comes out with something that has been in the works behind the scenes for years, yet the public simply sees a parade of the unknown and astonishing works of masters. The longer I am part of the industry the fewer releases I feel are earth shattering as a result of my exposure, but without fail there are still bright points throughout the year.
In March of 2022 Bulgari set yet another world record when it released the Octo Finissimo Ultra, which instantly set the title of world’s thinnest mechanical watch. When I first laid eyes on it, I had one of my earth-shattering moments, surprisingly not because it beat the record for thinnest watch (which I admit I thought was unlikely to be beaten for purely practical reasons). No, this watch blew my mind because it broke the record with flair (and a bit of controversy).
Bulgari Octo Finissimo Ultra
World’s thinnest mechanical watch currently in production, 10 percent thinner than the previous reigning champion by Piaget, made from titanium and tungsten carbide, all developed over three years and setting the eighth record for thinness in as many years is all the information you should need to understand just how incredible this watch is. But it isn’t just the world’s thinnest mechanical watch, it is also a watch that seemingly should have no business sporting this much visual depth and pretending to be a perfectly normal watch from the front.
At only 1.8 mm high, the Octo Finissimo Ultra surpasses the Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept, which came in at an already astonishing two millimeters in height. Bulgari’s Octo Finissimo Ultra uses the same starting strategy as the Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept by ditching a separate case and machining the base plate into the case back. All of the components are then mounted on top of the case back/ base plate, but this is where the two supermodels diverge.
The time is displayed in a deconstructed manor to keep the movement thin with a separate dial for the hours and minutes and displaying the seconds on the face of the seconds (fourth) wheel. The time is set via a ratcheting wheel recessed into the rear of the case, just behind the two time dials.
Winding the watch is achieved via a similar wheel on the opposite side of the case, and each ratcheting mechanism is seen in the dial of the Ultra.
Positioned at 7 o’clock on the dial is the balance, which is supported by a bridge that doubles as a shock absorption system. The mainspring takes up at least a quarter of the entire dial, the largest single element, and is engraved with a QR code that links to digital media relating to your unique watch (more on that later). The rest of the dial consists of functional plates and springs that nest into each other to utilize every millimeter of space.
In the center of the watch is a skeletonized plate that supports a majority of the going train, all heavily chamfered and atypical of the aesthetic of an Octo Finissimo creation. The time dials and mainspring barrel extend just beyond the circular opening of the dial, creating small bulging cutouts reminiscent of a Greubel Forsey dial (a high compliment in my book). The bezel is a simple, flat octagon. All of this combines for a very sharp design with some solid depth thanks to the angular chamfering and skeletonized bridge in the center.
But the minute you rotate the watch a few degrees from head on it is almost as if the illusion breaks and what had depth and texture suddenly presents itself as an image printed on a flat surface, or at least that is how dramatic the shift is. Coming in at 1.8 millimeters, it is hard to understand until you see it rotated and see how the entire piece is almost impossibly thin. The movement is indeed a masterpiece of horological engineering and mechanical creativity, but that almost comes second to the masterclass in forced perspective and creating volume where there is none.
The recessed dials (which are necessary to provide space for the hour and minute hands) right next to aggressively chamfered bridges that expose sets of overlapping gears is a genius combination to create the appearance of depth and volume. Any change in level already makes you assume more height than there really is; the smallest step can cast a shadow that deceives the brain because it makes assumptions about what it is seeing.
That’s why the very long and aggressive chamfers are so crucially important: they take rather thin bridge components and make them feel much deeper than they actually are. When this seemingly thick bridge sits over a set of stacked gears the brain has multiple levels of surfaces and shadows to compare, producing visual depth. Add the recessed dials and contrasting matte and brushed surfaces to that and the eye is constantly refocusing at different depths.
Skeletonization of that center bridge was crucial to the visual aesthetic; if the only depth had come from the recessed dials and the visible area underneath the balance then the impact would be drastically reduced. The cognitive dissonance of seeing so much depth and then rotating the watch slightly and having it all disappear is such an astonishing achievement for the world record-holding thinnest watch.
It also helps that after eight years Bulgari is really finding a groove when it comes to creative engineering to solve problems. Creating two meta-crowns with individual ratchet wheels for winding and setting the time played a crucial part in achieving the thinness. Since no keyless works needed to be incorporated (composed of a fair few layers) and the interaction could be completed coplanar to the movement, it saved on thickness and movement complexity.
This decision also provided two different examples of ratcheting mechanisms that are openly visible on the dial, a bonus for the movement nerds out there. The layout of the plates and bridges is also enjoyable from an organization standpoint, with everything taking up all the space available. The click spring is built right in between a dial and the base plate with a cutout to accommodate the large diameter of the hour subdial. The balance is nested very, very tightly into a recess with the balance bridge shaped to fill a slightly larger recess.
What’s more, that balance bridge has been ingeniously designed to not need a shock absorber system because it is the shock absorber. Designed to flex and react to shocks thanks to very tiny structure cuts, the balance bridge has been turned into a flexure, or compliant mechanism – a component designed to flex with specific degrees of freedom. Doing that allowed for a very flat yet precisely flexible part, which eliminated the requirement for increased thickness.
Bulgari also had one requirement that led to an important decision: the Ultra couldn’t just be another concept watch. At the time Bulgari began development of the Ultra, the Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept was still just a concept watch with no clear destiny for production; this surely was in the back of the minds of people working on the Ultra. So the plan was a bit different from the beginning to ensure that this watch could be worn regularly.
That led to the use of a tungsten carbide base for the movement, which was inserted into a titanium case ring, turning the Ultra into an incredibly hard and rigid body even though it was only 1.8 mm thick (the movement itself is technically 1.5 mm). This is more obvious from the back of the watch, which shows the tungsten carbide slab inserted into the case. From the front, the titanium bezel and crystal press over and around the movement, sealing it in and providing a perfectly clean surface to behold.
A single flaw
With all the incredible engineering put into the Ultra, and the creative and clever design strategies to make this watch so three dimensional even though it is less than the thickness of two micro SD cards, there is a big design flaw that I need to talk about: the QR code. I actually have no problem with the aesthetic of the geometric pattern and the fact that it is functional in a way most engravings are not, which is pretty cool.
But the decision to use the largest single surface on the face of the watch to highlight a QR code that directs to what is effectively the owner’s online manual, certificate of authenticity (COA), and additional NFT (which takes the form of a video) seems like a design mistake. I don’t use the word “mistake” lightly and I know that Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani, Bulgari’s product creation director, is an accomplished industrial designer.
But a QR code is a piece of digital tech that may or may not be permanent (so far hardly anything else digital has been). And even though I understand the need and desire for a more secure digital proof of ownership, it seems unnecessary to feature it as the main design element. What’s more, there was plenty of room on the rear of the watch to implement it and provide all the same benefits to the owner while not publicly displaying an accessible link to the certificate of authenticity (and the already dubious NFT).
The QR code link could suffer from link rot and become inaccessible over time; Bulgari would be required to maintain that link digitally in perpetuity, never breaking it lest the COA and NFT be lost. If Bulgari has any security breaches, that COA and NFT could be corrupted, hacked, or stolen since the link is something anyone seeing the individual watch could scan and visit (no word on whether the link is even password protected).
And we aren’t even getting into the questionable nature of the NFT, which seems to serve no purpose other than to share a cool video (it truly is a cool video) in a way that gets tech investors excited. The digital media related to the QR code doesn’t need to be attached to an NFT to achieve the same purpose, even if Bulgari is using it as a smart contract to add additional security for the COA. Bulgari would need to have a very robust digital program that cannot be corrupted otherwise the first owner could simply transfer the NFT to a different wallet (breaking the link to the physical watch) and causing the QR code to point to a website and a video the next owner doesn’t even own (for a more detailed breakdown of this possible weirdness, read my article on NFTs).
It seems to me that anyone looking to buy this incredible and magnificent watch would be better to request the QR code be moved to the rear of the case and have a custom design added to the mainspring barrel cover that either fits with the rest of the aesthetic or simply matches their own unique personality. I fear the decision to link to an NFT and use the QR code so prominently is a bit of a rash decision to follow trends that doesn’t lend itself to the actual accomplishment of this watch.
That accomplishment should not be understated either: it is truly a masterpiece of horological engineering and a piece of brilliant industrial design. I am in love with 99 percent of the Bulgari Octo Finissimo Ultra and it stands to be one of the most iconic watches in modern watchmaking history.
Regardless of the perceived NFT flaw the rest is perfect, a marvel of engineering and forced perception. I bow to the people at Bulgari for creating such an awesomazing timepiece and it really highlights the brand’s commitment to being a leader of innovative horology.
I have a dream of someday being able to own the much more accessible Octo Finissimo Automatic, but the Ultra is a grail among grails, and I can’t wait to see what follows this stunning accomplishment.
While I wait and dream, let’s break it down!
- Wowza Factor * 9.99 This watch is an almost perfect 10 and it’s really hard to argue that any person wouldn’t be gobsmacked upon seeing the Octo Finissimo Ultra!
- Late Night Lust Appeal * 99.99» 980.567m/s2 I’ve already spent nights dreaming about this watch and know it won’t end any time soon!
- M.G.R. * 72 This is a perfect movement score because I cannot fault a single decision, not to mention it is the perfect synthesis of keeping it simple to make it incredibly complex!
- Added-Functionitis * N/A Who even cares if it has an added function when it is the groundbreaking world’s thinnest mechanical watch. You can skip the Gotta-HAVE-That cream because it transcends all pain and is pure awesomeness!
- Ouch Outline * 12.99 Stepping on a LEGO with socks on! It is almost the most painful thing in the world, but the socks take a tiny bit of the sting away and compares to the minor design flaw on the Ultra. It isn’t enough to keep me from walking across a stadium of LEGOs to get to this piece though!
- Mermaid Moment * Give it a turn! This watch looks amazing, but the full effect isn’t achieved until you rotate it from straight on and see just how impossibly thin it is. It’s enough to have me booking the Plaza for November!
- Awesome Total * 1000 Start with the caliber number (180) and multiply by the number of pieces (10), then divide by the total thickness of the Ultra in millimeters (1.8) and you will find a perfectly precise awesome total!
For more information, please visitwww.bulgari.com/en-us/watches/mens/octo-finissimo-watch-titanium-grey.
Quick Facts Bulgari Octo Finissimo Ultra
Case: 40 x 1.8 mm, titanium
Movement: manually wound Caliber BVL180 (co-developed with Concepto), 50-hour power reserve, 28,800 vph/4 Hz constructed as a monobloc integrated into the case
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Limitation: 10 pieces
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