Pieces of Eight: Bulgari Octo
By Tracey Llewellyn
It has been one heck of a year for Bulgari - joining the portfolio of luxury giant LVMH, seeing the appointment of its first non-family CEO, buying back some of its most iconic pieces at Christie's Elizabeth Taylor auction and, most recently, reshaping its men's watch collection. QP looks at the new Bulgari Octo.
When Gérald Genta died in August 2011, a tidal wave of interest flowed through the watch world for the designer that created classics including, among many others, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, Patek Philippe Nautilus, Vacheron Constantin Overseas and IWC Ingenieur. Already recognised as a genius, Genta's death pushed him into icon territory and for that reason alone, surely it would be crazy to remove Genta's name from the dial of a watch instantly recognisable as one of his legendary designs? Yet that is exactly what LVMH's latest watch acquisition has done with the introduction of the new Bulgari Octo.
With the new signature Octo watch Bulgari has taken the most distinguishing element of the Genta original - the case - and fused it with a typical Bulgari dial.
This eagerly anticipated launch is the reason that the international press was gathered at Complesso Monumentale Santo Spirito in Sassio in Rome, Bulgari's home city, on 13 July this year. The venue - whose roots date back to AD 727 - was chosen not only for its natural beauty but also because of the octagonal shape of the Tiburio located in the Monumental Complex, which is where Bulgari chose to display the new collection.
Michael Burke was appointed Bulgari CEO in February this year, the first ever non-family member to take this position (vacated when Francesco Trapani became Head of Watches and Jewellery at LVMH as part of the Bulgari acquisition) and bringing with him 25 years of LVMH experience at both Dior and Fendi. He explains his decision to take on the role at Bulgari as being threefold: "First of all it is Bulgari - who would say no? Secondly, it is LVMH - a company renowned for helping family-owned businesses to achieve their full potential without destroying the heart of the brands. Thirdly, the position is in Rome, a country I have called home for the past eight years and a place that I appreciate more and more as I mature.
In the new Octo, circle meets square in perfect balance, creating a shape that has been a powerful symbol in architecture, folklore and mysticism since ancient times.
"Perfection for a Roman is all about balance. Between ancient and modern, straight and curved - where the extremes meet, this is where you find perfection. And this is what we have strived to achieve with the new Octo." The piece is certainly stripped back. Along with the Genta name, all other dial adornments have also been done away with. Gone are the retrograde hands and multiple subdials of the über-complicated originals and in their place is a refined, sophisticated elegance featuring just a simple hours, minutes and seconds display with date window at 3 o'clock, the complex case shape belying the conventional set-up of the dial.
The case of the Octo remains - obviously - eight-sided as Genta originally designed it, the octagon being rich in meaning across many cultures. In engineering terms it is known as the geometry of perfection, it is where the curved meets the straight, the circle meets the square and is the traditional pinnacle of structural strength and natural elegance. In Eastern philosophy the circle historically represents heaven and the square earth, with the octagon being the perfect balance between the two and where the eight pillars of personality meet.
Assembly of both case and movement plus case polishing are all carried outin-house.
Doubtless, the octagonal theme that was established in the 1970s and is emphasised in this new incarnation will ensure that the watch is popular in the mighty Chinese market, but beyond that its appeal is potentially universal. At 41.5mm in diameter and 10.55mm thick, the in-house produced case is smaller and thinner than its 43mm predecessor and is made up of three parts - the middle, the bezel and the screw-down back - comprising 110 hand-finished facets with new, more streamlined, lugs and a black ceramic crown with functional octagonal grip. The polished black lacquer dial features applied indexes, which are faceted to match the look of the case, and the signature Bulgari '6' and '12' numerals.
Under the bonnet
Inside the case is the new in-house automatic Bulgari movement Calibre BVL 193 beating at 4Hz and providing a 50-hour power reserve. The finishing of the movement components is as expected of Bulgari, including circular grained mainplate, polished pivots and satin-brushed driving wheels.
The hand-finished Octo movement, the BVL 193 features 28 jewels, beats at 28,800 VPH (4Hz) and has a 50-hour power reserve.
So here it is, the new ambassador for Bulgari horology, available in two versions - steel case on alligator strap (£6,350) and the gorgeous pink gold model (£18,600). Still very much from the Genta stable, Bulgari has stripped away any excesses and in so doing imparted an elegance that will make it a future classic. Managing Director of Bulgari's Watch Business Unit, Guido Terreni, summarises: "The new Octo is a foundation on which all Bulgari men's watches will be built. We believe that beauty enhances life and we want to create the most beautiful timepieces in the world - this is our first step."
There is no doubt that the model is a real looker, but with a price that pushes it into the realms of other Genta-designed legends, who does Terreni think will buy it? His answer is assured: "It is not for everyone and is certainly not for those who follow the stream, it is rather for those who are able to make a personal choice and stand up to its charisma."
Further information: www.bulgari.com