Bulgari turns 140 this year — but it sure doesn’t look a day older than 100! — and celebrates in style with the launch of three Bulgari Octo Finissimo Sketch limited-edition watches. This includes two automatics, in stainless steel or 18k rose gold, and a chronograph in steel. In this article, we go hands-on with the two new Bulgari Octo Finissimo sketch watches in their three-hand, automatic configuration.

It was in 2022 that the Bulgari Octo Finissimo turned 10 years old, another cause for celebration, bringing the Italian side of this Swiss-Italian brand to the fore. Then, the occasion was marked with a pair of sketch-dial watches featuring some of the collection’s first design drawings by Bulgari’s Product Creation Executive Director, Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani. You are invited to check out Buonamassa’s personal Instagram page, with the caveat that it’s borderline depressing how easily he can sketch watches and cars in one take, as told by his many time-lapse videos.

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This time, the dial displays not sketches related to it, but rather to Bulgari’s in-house movements that live just underneath. It is rare, but happens from time to time that watch brands engineer reversed movements, movements which are installed quite literally upside down in the case, so that their pretty side — the one that falls towards the caseback and has the nicer bridges, plates, balance wheel, rotor, and so on — is always facing the wearer. They engineer clever ways to reverse the location of the hands so that the time remains legible with the flipped movement. One of the finest examples in recent memory is this Montblanc chronograph.

By contrast, what happens with the Bulgari Octo Finissimo Sketch limited edition watches is that a sketch of the movement is printed on the dial side. Naturally, it is penned by Buonamassa, with arrows and brief explanations linked to the more important elements of the BVL138 caliber of Bulgari. It is like a handy and light-hearted guide to the movement you can look at and appreciate through the sapphire crystal caseback. This reminds me of this Ferrari 812 Competizione with the designer Flavio Manzoni’s sketches and explanations similarly added to the paintwork. Whether you like the organized chaos of a quick schizzo (sketch, in Italian) is your call to make, and, of course, more traditionally elegant dial colors and surface treatments remain available for the Octo Finissimo.

The execution is not only fun, but solid, too, and quite challenging to replicate on images. Bulgari’s very own dial manufacture has managed to fine-tune the color and texture of the brass dial to very closely replicate the effect of paper — it genuinely looks as though you snatched one of Buonamassa’s drawings, dexterously cut the paper to size, and just slid it over your existing dial. It doesn’t look cheap, but it sure as heck lacks the polish and luxurious glow especially present on the sunburst-finished, colored dials offered in the same collection.

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Zooming out for a look down at one’s wrist, the latest Bulgari Octo Finissimo Automatic Sketch plays a different game on the eyes, at least it certainly did for me. Having witnessed a solid 99% of self-winding rotors, well, rotate, even looking at these still images my mind is expecting the platinum micro-rotor shown on the dial to make a move at any moment. Maybe there is something to the lines on the sketched-up rotor and the empty space above it that amplifies this effect, but it sure is fun. It is also interesting to note how long one can go scrutinizing and appreciating the details of this dial before realizing that there are absolutely no minute or hour markers on it anywhere — but that isn’t that new for the Octo Finissimo. Just think of the Sejima Limited Edition, a watch that cracked me right up.

On the wrist, the Octo Finissimo does not disappoint: It still looks, wears, and feels like nothing else. It is for this very reason that it is the watch for some and an impossible proposition for others — having reviewed a few over the years (but not yet enough) it does make for a divisive impression not just at first sight, but also in the long run. It is as though Bulgari has quietly worked on the execution of the exterior, as the sunburst brushed effect on the bezel, the sharpness of the extremely complex lug structure, and its varied surface treatments all appear better defined, somehow.

The outstanding thinness does not compromise anything in habillage (the components that wrap the movement). If anything, the Octo Finissimo in stainless steel amazes with some of the more impressive, delicate, and complicated exterior details available at its price point. The bracelet is thin, as you’d expect, but it is also flexible to follow the shape of the wrist and feels robust(-ish) to allow for proper, regular daily wear. There is no micro-adjust, as the clasp and bracelet are too thin to have space for one.

The actual BVL138 movement remains a spectacular achievement in modern watchmaking. It measures just 2.23mm thick, allowing for the Bulgari Octo Finissimo Automatic Sketch watches to be just 6.40mm thick. They used to be thinner, still, at 5.15mm thick, but the added thickness helps provide an impressive 100m water resistance combined with a screw-down crown. Yes, on a 6.40mm thick watch — so now you know why I roll my eyes when luxury watchmakers cheap out on this feature on much thicker watches, even with a claimed 100m water resistance.

The caseback features further inscriptions, in a hand-written font, including “EDIZIONE LIMITATA” and “1884 – 2024.” The rest of the caseback is full of text, too, while the big plates of the movement are rather free from these. The large plates are used to add rigidity to this extremely thin movement — thin and delicate bridges belong to robust, thick movements. Specs include a 60-hour power reserve and a 3Hz operating frequency.

The rose gold version, although much, much more expensive, would be my choice this time. First, the Octo Finissimo is mind-bending in any of its many presentations (my all-time favorite versions are in all-black ceramic with a black ceramic bracelet for their looks as well as comfort), but there is something next level still with an all-gold version. Then there is the dial, which somehow works even better with this rose gold base. This dial is perfectly matched to the color of the exterior, especially when viewed with the naked eye and not through a digital sensor.

The Bulgari Octo Finissimo Sketch edition watches are a playful, yet serious take on the collection. In other words, it is very Bulgari, as the color and printing of both dial versions display a great deal of attention and fine-tuning, while the personal touch of their designer and the fun notion of placing a drawing of a movement on the dial is exactly the sort of stuff you shouldn’t expect to come from just about anyone else this deep into the luxury segment. The Bulgari Octo Finissimo Sketch watch in stainless steel (reference 104163) is priced at $16,200 USD, while the Bulgari Octo Finissimo Sketch watch in 18k rose gold (reference 104165) is priced at $48,800 USD. There is a third, chronograph version as reference 104192 that will be available a bit later. You can learn more at the brand’s website.

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