Bulgari Octo Tourbillon Sapphire
It is rare today – dare we say near impossible – to find a time-only tourbillon watch where curious eyes aren’t immediately drawn towards the tourbillon on the dial. The tourbillon’s charming, spinning motion often doubles as an endless vortex that devours all attention from other parts of the watch. It would be quite a feat for someone to come up with a time-only watch where the tourbillon complements rather than dominates. Well, that is exactly what Bulgari has managed to do for Baselworld this year with the new Octo Tourbillon Sapphire. We were surprised (and a little scared) at how much we actually liked this novelty from the Italian luxury maison. Read on to find out why as we bring you technical details of the Octo Tourbillon Sapphire before comparing it to two similar watches from competing brands.
The case, dial and hands
Have a good look at the case of Octo Tourbillon Sapphire and you will realise that it is unlike any you’ve seen before. The new case, which measures a modern 44 mm in diameter and 12.5 mm in thickness, was first unveiled in the Octo Roma line. It features noticeably softer edges than those seen in the Octo Finissimo line. In spite of its size, the watch wears well on an average wrist thanks to its short lugs. But what really makes the case stand out is the way it is constructed; while the bezel and the bottom are rendered in black Diamond Like Carbon (DLC )-coated titanium, the middle is actually crafted in sapphire crystal. Oddly enough, sandwiching sapphire crystal in between metal works really well in terms of aesthetics! This is the perfect sapphire crystal case watch for those normally repulsed by sapphire crystal case watches, if you get what we mean. It hasn’t got so much sapphire crystal that it looks cheap and tacky, but has just enough to be avant-garde and sophisticated.
The party doesn’t stop at the case, as the dial is just as, if not more thrilling. Now, there is technically no dial proper as what we see on the watch front is actually all part of the movement, save the hands. But take a glance at it and your attention will inevitably be drawn towards the 11 pillars of green that radiate from the centre of the watch to its periphery. These pillars are actually black DLC-coated movement bridges adorned with ITR2 – a single composite material laden with carbon nanotube particles – and Superluminova. Apart from adding to the aesthetics of the watch, they also moonlight as highly visible hour indices that irradiate like glow sticks under low- or no-light conditions.
(Note: the same ITR2/Superluminova bars also decorate the sapphire crystal case band, resulting in a rather ethereal spectacle in low-light).
With such a bold ‘dial’ design, the presence of a flying tourbillon at the 6 o’clock position almost becomes an afterthought. Make no mistake though, the graceful dance of its black-polished cage still contributes substantially to the visual impact of an already stunning dial. It’s funny to say but the flying tourbillon is one of only a handful of parts in the Octo Tourbillon Sapphire that resembles traditional watchmaking. In a way, that contrast is very comforting, as though the watch is declaring: “I may look like a watch from the space age, but at heart I am still traditional and very much mechanical”. We like the choice of hands on the Octo Tourbillon Sapphire as well. Bulgari has wisely utilised skeletonised, lume-tipped arrow hands to indicate the hours and minutes. The large hands match the boldness and ambition of the new Octo while the fact that they are hollowed means that they won’t obstruct the splendour behind.
The Octo Tourbillon Sapphire is powered by the 20-jewel, in-house manufactured Calibre BVL 2o6 which has a flying tourbillon regulator that makes a full rotation once every minute. The manual winding movement has a power reserve of 64 hours (there is a luminous power reserve indicator at the back) while operating at a stately 3 Hz beat rate. It features a clever development relating to its time-setting functions: pressing the crown displays a red dot in a tiny aperture at 3 o’clock (front-side), thereby signalling that the time may be set by simply turning the crown. Once the operation is complete, another press causes the dot to vanish and locks the time-setting mechanism – in this position, you can turn the crown to wind the mainspring instead. According to Bulgari, this system was devised to circumnavigate the need of pulling out the crown for time-setting. Indeed, doing so, especially without care, introduces stress to and sometimes even damages the movement. In our opinion, this is a practical, not to mention appropriate innovation to have on a modern piece like the Octo Tourbillon Sapphire.
The Calibre BVL 206, which can be seen through a sapphire case back (and well, through the front too), is skeletonised and resembles a spider web. The movement is given a non-traditional sandblasted finish to achieve a contemporary look that is definitely befitting of a watch of the Octo Tourbillon Sapphire’s stance. In short, the Calibre BVL 206 features attractive design and finish (though not exactly to haute horlogerie finishing standards), as well as a sensible innovation that potentially mitigates the risk of permanent movement damage caused by careless handling of the crown.
The competitive landscape
The Bulgari Octo Tourbillon Sapphire crafted in black DLC-coated titanium and sapphire crystal is priced at CHF65,000. Pardon us for saying this but based on today’s pricing standards, the watch does appear to be priced fairly. CHF65,000 is no small sum for a non-precious metal watch, but bear in mind that the Octo Tourbillon Sapphire comes with a case that is relatively difficult to manufacture, a flying tourbillon, a fully skeletenoised movement and the novelty of its time-setting innovation, among other things. That said, how does it compare to it’s counterparts from competing brands?
Our first contender is the Ulysse Nardin Executive Skeleton Tourbillon from 2016. As you can probably guess from the name, the Executive Skeleton Tourbillon has a skeletonised movement, as well as a flying tourbillon. It too is crafted in titanium and handwound. Where the Executive Skeleton Tourbillon stands out is in its impressive 170 hour power reserve and its silicium escapement wheel and balance spring. The design language it speaks is very similar indeed to the Octo Tourbillon Sapphire’s: uninhibited, bold and very contemporary. However, with regards to execution, we’d give the Bulgari an edge for its devastatingly effective use of sapphire crystal and Superluminova. The finishing on both watches are similar in style, but again we feel that Bulgari has a slight edge here simply because more challenging techniques have been employed on its movement (eg. black polishing on the tourbillon cage). Why then should one take heed of the Ulysse Nardin Executive Skeleton Tourbillon? Remember that everything is relative – and relative to its price tag of CHF38,000, the Executive Skeleton Tourbillon offers bloody great value. It’s virtually impossible to say that one watch is better than the other. Both of these specimens offer great features at their respective price points and really, you can’t go wrong with either if you’re in the market for a skeletonised time-only tourbillon watch.
The next contender we have lined up is also from 2016, manually-wound and – surprise, surprise – has a skeletonised movement with a flying tourbillon. The Angelus U20 Ultra-Skeleton Tourbillon takes transparency to a whole new level with the use of skeletonised blued titanium bridges and its sapphire crystal mainplate. The outcome of this combination is a movement that appears to be suspended in thin air – quite a surreal sight. The U20 does without a bezel and opts for a box-style sapphire crystal instead, a design that maximises the visual impact of – for lack of a better word, and dial -the watch front. To further accentuate the airiness of the watch, the case is made of lightweight carbon fibre and titanium with a sapphire crystal back. The flying tourbillon, which literally looks like it’s flying, is beautifully finished with a cage that is chamfered and mirror polished. The bridges have a satisfying satin finish that really synergises with the overall vibe of the watch. It’s again impossible to objectively say which is better, the Bulgari or the Angelus. The design of both watches are spot on while their level of finishing is comparable (perhaps in favour of the Angelus). To make it even tougher, both watches are similarly priced, the Angelus being just CHF1,200 more expensive at CHF66,200. In the end, it all comes down to design preference. He who prefers a minimalistic, bare-bones look should consider the U20 Ultra-Skeleton Tourbillon while he who delights in spectacular light play should look towards the Octo Tourbillon Sapphire.
The Bulgari Octo Tourbillon Sapphire is genuinely endearing, with just enough sapphire crystal to do the job but not so much that it looks desperate. Its potent use of Superluminova highlights the beauty the skeletonised movement as well as the crystal case middle. Coupled with a rather sensible price tag, the Octo Tourbillon Sapphire is a clear winner in our eyes.