The Bulgari Effect
Watchonista spoke with Bulgari’s Antoine Pin about how the brand has led the industry away from bulky watches toward a lighter, more versatile approach to making and marketing timepieces.
It is safe to say that Bulgari is not content to rest on its laurels. Ever since the Octo Finissimo launched in 2014, it has been setting world records for thinness. And at Watches & Wonders 2021, Bulgari broke its seventh world record with the Octo Finissimo Perpetual Calendar, the most streamlined QP watch on the market, with a total thickness of 5.80mm.
Other manufactures have followed suit. Think of the time-only Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept, a mere 2.0mm in height, and the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin, just 6.30mm and holder of the previous record for the thinnest perpetual calendar. But Bulgari has certainly been a leader in the trend toward more slender and refined silhouettes.
We spoke to Antoine Pin, Managing Director of the Bulgari Watch Division, about the “Bulgari Effect” and how a little healthy competition is a good thing.
The Past is Future
The Octo Finissimo Tourbillon from 2014 set a world record for the thinnest hand-wound flying tourbillon movement in the world. Two years later, the Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater got even slimmer thanks to its 3.12mm thick movement. Then, in 2017, the Octo Finissimo Automatic became the skinniest self-winding watch with a total thickness of only 5.15mm. You get the idea.
So, at Watches & Wonders 2021, Bulgari did what the watch industry has come to expect of the brand and broke its seventh world record with the Octo Finissimo Perpetual Calendar, the most streamlined QP watch on the market, with a total thickness of 5.80mm.
And while Antoine Pin is proud of all the game-changing innovations the Finissimo has introduced, he told Watchonista, “There’s more to watches than setting records.”
Pin likens Bulgari’s recent watchmaking journey to a long mountain trek. “You have a series of summits, and when you reach each one, you discover a different path,” he remarked. And the one thing that the Bulgari team has learned is they are more driven by creating watches that they like. “It doesn’t have to be a series of world records. You just open the door and see what’s next,” Pin added.
Every Bulgari watch release requires years of research and development between concept and creation. Right now, there are several models in the works. But, sometimes, innovation for one watch leads the watchmakers back to the drawing board for another. “[The Octo Finissimo Perpetual Calendar] ended up being more complex than the original,” explained Pin. “For example, we exchanged the micro rotor so we could enjoy a higher level of power.”
When it comes to case sizes, there will always be a pendulum swing between smaller diameters (the average case size for a watch in the 1940s was around 32mm) and the massive 41mm timepieces from the 2000s. But Bulgari’s commitment to micromechanics is founded on efficiency as well as aesthetics.
With each record set, said Pin: “We’ve developed our expertise and the quality of our pieces. That’s what drives us to do it. Every time we achieve something new, we also master other skills.” For example, Bulgari is using new alloys to fine-tune and adjust earlier Finissimo models.
“Our focus is not only on future development but the past as well,” added Pin. “We will apply this innovation to the previous caliber.”
Laws of Attraction
Breaking records also makes the news, attracting a new audience to Bulgari’s novelties.
“I can tell you now that we are working on three other Finissimo calibers,” said Pin. “We are also working on other micromechanics.”
According to Pin, the “Bulgari Effect” is also designed to attract new watchmakers. And really, who wouldn’t want to join a brand that’s pushing the envelope? Even other haute horology brands have been energized by Bulgari’s prize-winning efforts. That makes Pin happy.
“This is not a lone wolf story,” Pin explained. “Look at what’s happened at the Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Genève in the last two years. The last two Aiguille D'Ors were given to thinner watches. After the era of big bulky watches, we started a trend for thinness.”
Changing the design language of the traditional perpetual calendar was another great opportunity for the Bulgari team to flex their creative muscles. “We are on a constant quest for aesthetics but also functionality,” Pin continued. “How do we address the question of thinness and readability and detail?”
Additionally, to elevate the look of this super slim watch, the case is finished either with an unusual, sandblasted finish (for the titanium) or a more traditional polished and satin-finish (for the platinum). Moreover, to optimize the dial real estate, it is the only perpetual calendar with an analog, retrograde date indicator with a slim pointer to mark the passing days. Bulgari also chose to leave off the moonphase indicator. All these small improvements allowed for an increased 50-hour power reserve.
“It’s functional without information overkill,” noted Pin.
A Fair Futurism
Bulgari has also been shaping the way fairs such as Watches & Wonders operate since before the pandemic shook the industry’s foundations, advocating for a closer connection between industry and community. And recent world events have strengthened the lines of communication between the brands, buyers, retailers, and the press even more.
“We learn so much from these moments,” commented Pin. “Who could have imagined a year ago that we’d be able to do these presentations. Now we are all experts.” Like many in the industry, the digital watch fair has helped better connect enthusiasts who previously couldn’t travel to Switzerland to experience the watches.
But Pin realizes that these presentations cannot be only digital, at least to some degree. “Our products are sensual,” he said, noting that it’s difficult to convey how light the watches feel over Zoom. “At 74 grams for titanium and 95 grams for platinum, you forget it’s on your wrist. We hope we can organize a physical presence in Geneva in September. It will be different, but we will be keeping our fingers crossed.”
The time has also come to change the timing of the fairs. “We feel that the once-a-year meeting is not the solution,” Pin continued. And just as Bulgari strives to trim the fat from its watches, Pin believes it is time for the fairs to become better at conveying information: “If we cut the pie in slices, and just introduce pieces that are strong and relevant, it’s more efficient. We can also take advantage of this digital moment. Zoom is available all year round.”
Curating new releases and creating a mix of in-person and virtual presentations is also a response to modern environmental concerns and issues of sustainability. “Watches are also sustainable. They are made [to last] for 100 years,” said Pin. “The perpetual calendar in particular. It’s a poetic function, more philosophical. It highlights the relationship between man to time. I know some people buy them as investments, but watches are made to be worn. To me, we bring something beyond luxury.”
(Images © Bvlgari, Photography by Watchonista)