August 28, 2020
by Bilal Khan
In just six years, Bulgari has taken the Octo Finissimo collection from an alluring new series to an absolute phenom that has made breaking records look like a fun hobby. At last count, the Octo Finissimo broke records for thinnest automatic watch, thinnest tourbillon (automatic or manual), thinnest minute repeater, and, at last year’s Baselworld (pour one out), the Octo Finissimo Chronograph GMT officially became the world’s thinnest mechanical chronograph at just 6.9mm-thin. Now, debuting at Geneva Watch Days, Bulgari dropped yet another record-breaker with the Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Chronograph Skeleton Automatic.
Sure, “thinnest tourbillon chronograph” isn’t a very crowded field, but many of the big names have one or more in their roster, and their specs add some context to how impressive the Bulgari’s 3.5mm-thick caliber BVL 388 in a wafer-thin 7.4mm-thick case really is. Vacheron Constantin’s new Traditionnelle Tourbillon Chronograph that was released in April for Watches & Wonders measures 11.7mm-thick. The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Tourbillon Chronograph Openworked clocks in at 13.2mm-thick. There are others I can cite here, but they all are in this thickness range, which isn’t even close to the 7.4mm that Bulgari has achieved.
The 42mm-wide, 7.4mm-thick sandblasted titanium case is water-resistant to 30M and is pure Octo Finissimo, with its architectural design and angles. If you look on the side of the case you’ll notice two pushers, which is curious because, on top of everything else, this is actually a monopusher chronograph. The gripped pusher at 2 o’clock activates, stops, and resets the chronograph, while the smooth 4 o’clock pusher serves the novel purpose of switching the crown’s functionality between hand-winding and time setting.
The new caliber BVL 388 is an ultra-thin skeletonized automatic movement that foregoes the traditional oscillating or micro-rotor for a peripheral rotor, which was also utilized in 2018’s BVL 288 for the Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Automatic. Unlike the BVL 288, however, the BVL 388 is not a flying tourbillon. The chronograph mechanism is also new and not much is borrowed from the BVL 318 found in last year’s Octo Finissimo Chronograph GMT. Featuring a horizontal clutch and column wheel, the BVL 388 also takes some truly creative steps to assure its slim profile. Notably, the clutch lever by the column wheel is incorporated around the tourbillon itself rather than the mechanism being built above it, which would naturally add thickness.
The BVL 388 operates at 21,600 vph and has a 52-hour power reserve. By rethinking the typical layered approach to building a movement, Bulgari has created another technical masterpiece that doesn’t need to rely on breaking any records to impress.
While the caseback view of the movement is an absolute stunner, the dial is where the “skeletonized” part of the watch comes into play. The dial arrangement plays with symmetry with the running seconds and chronograph sub-dials at 3 and 9 o’clock, the tourbillon at 6 o’clock, and a view of the mainspring barrel at 12 o’clock. Everything plays into the matte-gray monochromatic color scheme, and it is amusing to see skeletonization of something that has already been pared down so much. Other than a small bit right under the running seconds subdial, there is no real estate that could afford to be seen through completely.
I know a lot of people clamor for an Octo Finissimo in a smaller case size than 42mm, but thinness and a smaller footprint seems quite a bit to ask, at least from the very special pieces like the Tourbillon Chronograph. It took two years to design the caliber BVL 388, resulting in a remarkable movement that measures 38.2mm-wide and 3.5mm-thick. When considering this, it’s unreasonable and unrealistic to expect a 40mm case. Maybe with the time-only variants, though?
The Bulgari Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Chronograph Skeleton Automatic is a work of horological ingenuity and art, and as such it’s not a mass-production piece. There is only one variant, coming on the sandblasted titanium bracelet with folding clasp, and it will be limited to 50 pieces with a price of $142,000. You can learn more at bulgari.com.