Bulgari adds another ultra-thin watchmaking record to its growing list of achievements, as it creates the world’s thinnest automatic chronograph
By Chris Hall
Thanks to the competing efforts of just a couple of the watch world’s top tier brands – really it’s just Piaget, Bulgari and occasionally the likes of Jaeger-LeCoultre and Audemars Piguet – we are living in a golden age for ultra-thin watchmaking. If it thrills you to see something that’s already difficult done with added constraints (like blindfolded waterskiing, or chess-boxing, perhaps) then this really should tick your boxes. In addition to making the thinnest minute repeater, the thinnest tourbillon watch and the thinnest automatic watch, Bulgari now can say it makes the thinnest chronograph watch – and by some margin.
The previous holder of that title is a fine piece of watchmaking in itself; the Piaget Altiplano Chronograph, which made its debut back in 2014. That watch measures 8.24mm thick, which is definitely pretty impressive for a chronograph – the need to mount the chronograph works on top of the main gear trains will always remain and account for a significant percentage of the movement’s, and by extension the watch’s thickness overall. But get this: the Bulgari Octo Finissimo chronograph comes in at just 6.9mm thick and it’s an automatic where the Piaget is hand-wound. That’s a major step.
Making that possible is a new movement – calibre BVL 318 – that uses a solid platinum peripheral rotor so as not to add any thickness to the movement. It doesn’t add much in the way of width either, which is something to watch out for – if you can’t get thicker, often a watch has to get wider. But the Octo Finissimo Chronograph is 42mm across, compared to 40mm for the Octo Finissimo Automatic. Hardly a deal-breaker, especially when what really matters is not pure dimensions but how a watch wears, and as anyone who’s ever held a Finissimo knows, they wear like silk.
Calibre BVl 318 boasts the same 55 hour power reserve as the rest of the Finissimo family (ok, it’s actually 52 for the Tourbillon), and beats at 4Hz. It measures just 3.3mm from top to bottom. To put that in perspective, stack four credit cards (we recommend Amex platinum but any will do…) on top of each other and that’s how thick we’re talking. In other words, not very. The previous record-holding automatic chronograph movement is the nigh-on-ancient Frederic Piguet Calibre 1185 which is a whopping 5.5mm thick; Piaget’s calibre 883P, without an automatic rotor, comes in at 4.95mm.
One thing the Bulgari does have in common with the Piaget is that it adds a GMT function – the subdial at 9 o’clock is a 12-hour second timezone display rather than, as you might assume at first glance, an hours totaliser for the chronograph. Whether you feel this improves or detracts from the watch is entirely subjective – I feel adding another practical complication is a boon, and rare are the times where I want to seriously time something longer than half an hour with my watch. The dial, as you can see from the assembly photos better than the finished watch, is in-keeping with the ultra-thin ethos: there is no differentiating depth between subdials and the main dial, and the markers and text are all printed rather than applied.
The overall effect of that, combined with Bulgari’s now-signature use of sandblasted matt finishes for its Finissimo cases and bracelets (here it’s titanium) is another pretty low-key watch. The dial is necessarily fairly busy, but by keeping it all in one plane, creative director Fabrizio Buonamassa has continued to let the Finissimo’s intricate facets do the talking. The chronograph pushers are disguised as crown guards and there’s a single pusher at 9 o’clock to adjust the GMT. The bracelet still slinks through your fingertips with a pleasing softness. Can you tell I’m a fan?
The watch has a retail price of £15,200.