How Bvlgari created the world’s thinnest tourbillon watch

Getting down on one knee to ask competitors for a favor isn’t usually part of a business leader’s job description, but Antoine Pin, chief executive of Bvlgari Watches, says that’s what he nearly did do during the development of the Octo Finissimo Ultra, the brand’s latest record. – revolutionary blockbuster.

During a Zoom chat with The Peak, Pin gave a fun and dramatic response when asked about the biggest challenge he and his team faced when creating the thinnest mechanical watch. in the world with a thickness of just 1.8 mm. (It’s thinner than a 50 cent coin.)

(Related: Bulgari celebrates 10 years of the Octo with the world’s thinnest mechanical watch)

“The most complicated challenge,” he says, “was managing the patent landscape.” The competitive world of fine watchmaking has many innovations which, of course, are protected by patents.

The more complex a watch is and the more innovations it contains, the more likely you are to inadvertently infringe on the intellectual property of others. This happened with the Octo Finissimo Ultra, which itself has eight pending patent applications.

Assembly of the Octo Finissimo Ultra.

Pin recalls, “On December 22 last year, there were 10 of us in a room and there was one last challenge regarding the oscillator. We had two options, and one of them was to go to a competitor, get on our knees and say, ‘Please, can we use this technology that you patented?’

The other option was for the team to “redesign a specific component of the watch’s oscillator”. Luckily for Pin and his knees, this alternative worked. He laughs: “I’m happy. The first option would not have been easy.

Assembly of the Octo Finissimo Ultra.
Assembly of the Octo Finissimo Ultra.

Winning streak

That said, it feels like Bvlgari doesn’t like to take things lightly. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Octo family, which debuted in 2012 with the Octo L’Originale.

With its round bezel and octagonal case, as well as an octagonal structure inspired by the arches of the Pantheon in Rome, this model staged the distinctive look of the collection.

In 2014, Bvlgari launched the ultra-thin Octo Finissimo sub-category with the introduction of the Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Manuel. Housed in a platinum case 40mm in diameter and just 5mm thick, it made headlines as the thinnest tourbillon watch in the world.

This marked the brand’s aggressive entry into the ultra-thin segment of the mechanical watch market. Subsequent versions of Octo Finissimo broke thinness records in different categories every year. These range from the automatic clock to the minute repeater and the perpetual calendar.

The 10th anniversary edition of the Octo Finissimo Automatic.
The 10th anniversary edition of the Octo Finissimo Automatic.

Marking the line’s eighth ultra-thin record in as many years, the Octo Finissimo Ultra is the world’s thinnest mechanical watch. In a press release, Bvlgari Executive Director of Product Creation, Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani, said: “We had to break the rules not only in terms of movement design, but also in terms of case, back, bracelet and folding clasp.

To eliminate as much height as possible, the back also serves as a plate on which are integrated the 170 components of the hand-wound BVL 180 caliber as well as the sub-dials.

For strength, especially crucial in such a thin watch, the case back/main plate features a tungsten carbide element, which has a hardness of nine on the Mohs hardness scale, second only to diamonds.

Additionally, the movement is spread out in the 40mm wide case, rather than stacked, which is also why the Octo Finissimo Ultra has a regulator-style dial with separate hour and minute sub-dials, and a seconds display printed directly on a wheel in the gear train.

The 10th anniversary edition of the Octo Finissimo Chronograph GMT Automatic.
The 10th anniversary edition of the Octo Finissimo Chronograph GMT Automatic.

One of the watch’s unusual features was adopted as an alternative to the traditional winding crown: two “buttons”, which look like gears. Placed horizontally on the back of the case, part of these wheels protrude from each side of the case, that at 8 o’clock for winding, and that at 3 o’clock, fitted with tiny protectors, for setting the time.

An ode to modernity

As if creating the world’s thinnest mechanical watch wasn’t avant-garde enough, Bvlgari has included another never-before-seen feature on the Octo Finissimo Ultra: the large ratchet wheel, which sits next to the sub-dial. hours, is laser engraved with a QR Code.

Each of the 10 pieces in this limited edition will feature a unique QR code that will lead the owner to an exclusive NFT artwork as well as an online space dedicated to the creation of the watch. According to the brand, this whole digital ecosystem will be unveiled when the first Octo Finissimo Ultra hits the market in a few months.

Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani, Executive Director of Product Creation at Bvlgari.
Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani, Executive Director of Product Creation at Bvlgari.

Of the watch’s unusual, metaverse tilt, Pin says, “I love that we’re bringing an extraordinary modernity to watchmaking, a technology that started seven centuries ago. I like this paradox and I think it is important.

For me, it is essential to stick to what we do – to make extraordinary mechanical watches that, with care, can be worn even a hundred years later – and to use new technologies in a way that makes sense for us, our customers and our watchmakers.

Indeed, the idea of ​​engraving the QR code was actually born of reasons related to watchmaking. “I’m going to share a little secret with you,” Pin said, with a smile.

“The first design of the watch was different from what you see now. When we made this watch, we had a few parameters. It had to be user-friendly and shouldn’t feel or feel flimsy. It also had to perform , to be precise, and that it has a good power reserve.

(Related: Bvlgari’s global e-commerce plan puts the ‘b’ in bling)

The initial idea was to have two barrels, one next to the hour counter and the other next to the minute counter, so that the watch would have a good amount of energy. However, this plan changed because the bottom left space was needed for the oscillator.

Finally, to give this slender timepiece a solid 50-hour power reserve, the brand used a larger barrel to accommodate a longer mainspring. This then led to the question of how to decorate the large empty space of the ratchet wheel at the top of the barrel.

Bvlgari MD Antoine Pin watches.
Bvlgari MD Antoine Pin watches.

Enter the QR code idea, courtesy of Buonamassa Stigliani. What’s interesting, says Pin, is that the head of creating the product first came from a design perspective. Having a QR code on the ratchet wheel would mean having little squares within a circle – an interesting contrast to the Octo, which features a circle in the angular shape of an octagon.

Pin says: “It was a great idea for us to use a mechanical watch to offer a strong and meaningful access to modernity. This guy is stunning.

star of the show

Buonamassa Stigliani’s name comes up often in our conversation with Pin. As Chief Designer of Bvlgari Watches, he is the key creative force distilling and updating the Roman brand’s heritage into modern and coveted timepieces.

With the various models in the collection having won more than 60 international awards since its conception, the Octo Finissimo is his most accomplished work to date.

This explains why a pair of 10th anniversary Octo Finissimo special editions, recently unveiled with the Octo Finissimo Ultra, stand out for a very unusual design element: the first pencil sketches made by Buonamassa Stigliani, which will give birth to the collection Octo Finissimo a few years later.

Housed in the signature sandblasted titanium cases of the 40mm range and sporting their distinctive all-grey aesthetic, the two anniversary models are new versions of the Octo Finissimo Automatic (launched in 2017) and the Octo Finissimo Chronograph GMT Automatic (2019).

The Octo Finissimo Ultra is the thinnest mechanical watch in the world.
The Octo Finissimo Ultra is the thinnest mechanical watch in the world.

When asked if the intention behind the anniversary designs was to put Bvlgari’s chief designer front and center, Pin laughed: “Ahh, you ask, is there an ego trip with that ? Well, yes and no. The brief was to celebrate the anniversary, which also marks a birth. And what is the moment of the birth of a watch? It’s the sketch.

“But did we want to highlight Fabrizio in a certain way? Definitively. Besides the fact that these are his drawings, he is extremely talented and proves it all the time. So, when we celebrate the birthday of these watches, we also celebrate their “mom”.

(Related: Highlights from Bulgari at LVMH Watch Week 2022)

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