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Bulgari CEO Jean-Christophe Babin on Thinness, Gold and Gerald Genta

Bulgari’s fifth world record ultra-thin watch, the Octo Finissimo Chronograph GMT Automatic, was one of the highlight debuts at Baselworld 2019. Bulgari CEO Jean-Christophe Babin spoke with International Watch during the watch show to learn more about how his company developed the watch, now the thinnest automatic chronograph available. He discussed much more however, including why Bulgari prefers unusual finishes on its carbon, titanium and gold watches and what he has planned for the next Bulgari tribute to Gerald Genta. You can read our interview below.

Jean-Christophe Babin, Bulgari CEO

What is Bulgari’s primary goal when developing new watches for men?

Bulgari wants to craft the most elegant, contemporary watches for men. This means a watch with a slim fit. As a jeweler, we provide elegance for ladies and we want to do the same for men with men’s watches, and for us, slim fit is the name of the game for elegance.

Bulgari's new Octo Finissimo Chronograph GMT Automatic, far right, is the watchmaker's fifth ultra-thin record-holder.

This led to our Finissimo collection, and to be sure the character is strong, we use the Octo shape. But to be most contemporary, we wanted the thin collection to be monochromatic. You have seen this with our full platinum, full carbon, titanium and the sandblasted gold case, which looks contemporary because it is not as shiny as you’d expect.

Bulgari's 2019 highlights include the all-gold Serpenti Seduttori and the Octo Finissimo.

Our rhodium-sandblasted steel also looks a bit like aluminum. These watches are each one color, in different materials. We now have an assortment of the various colors, which differ by their materials. We essentially developed our own colors with the titanium and the gold.

Why specifically develop the chronograph?

What was missing until now was a thin chronograph. Earlier, our friends at Zenith helped us with Velocissimo, for which we used their El Primero. For us this was a big opportunity to continue to prove our ultimate contemporary elegance.

Bulgari's Octo Finissimo Chronograph GMT

The chronograph market is big, about twenty percent of worldwide watch sales. In certain places like Italy, twenty-five percent of the watches sold are chronographs. In other markets, such as in China, it is more like five percent, in part due to the larger size in thickness of typical chronographs.

Why aim for a world record with the new Octo Finissimo Chronograph GMT Automatic?

The new world record is a nice result. This is a new-generation chronograph that opens a new page for us, and I hope that in fifty years it will be celebrated the same way Zenith is celebrating the El Primero this year. Most of the innovations with the chronograph historically have been focusing on only precision, not as much on elegance. And for us elegance is the name of the game.

It has set a new world record, which I imagine will stimulate competitors to react. This is good because it will cast a new light on the chronograph and contribute to the growth of the chronograph segment. It will create more demand.

What were some of the challenges Bulgari faced while developing the new chronograph?

This was two years in development. Most of the movement is totally new. It looks similar to the automatic, but it is mostly similar just in architecture. The oscillating weight, for instance, is different. On a chronograph obviously you need more power, so on the new watch you have a bigger barrel and a larger mass. Only twenty of the components had previously been developed. We had to create an entirely new set for the rest of the components to make this possible.

The peripheral rotor on the new BVL318 caliber winds the new Bulgari Octo Finissimo Chronograph GMT Automatic.

We are very proud of our team, as it has been quite an undertaking to reinvent the chronograph.

Why also add a GMT indicator?

We saw that adding a GMT was also an elegant choice. It is also consistent with the lifestyle of our clients. We even use a very thin column wheel. To us, the column wheel is like a four-valve engine.

The new watch’s movement is only 3.3mm thick and the total size is 6.9mm thick. The previous record for a manual chronograph was 4.65mm and automatic was 5.15mm for the movement. We needed to design a new generation of chronograph that looks totally different from the chronograph we have been used to since the early 1970s.

The Bulgari Octo Finissimo Chronograph GMT Automatic measures 6.9mm thick, with a 3.3mm caliber inside.

So now we have our Octo Velocissimo and this ultra-thin Octo Finissimo. And the difference in the prices between the ultra-thin Finissimo models is not huge, with $17,600 for the new chronograph and $15,600 for the Automatic ultra thin in ceramic. The difference is not that great, especially considering that the chronograph has twice as many components.

We continue to use a 4 Hz movement and here offer a fifty-five hour power reserve. We use a larger barrel and a larger peripheral mass than we did with the Octo Finissimo tourbillon, which was our first such peripheral mass. These rotors are more efficient, when compared to the micro rotor. And just as importantly, using them frees space in the movement. Aesthetically, it is also better because it offers you a full view of the movement.

Even with its super-thin profile, the BVL 318 caliber offers a healthy fifty-five-hour power reserve.

The only possible disadvantage is its compatibility with smaller watches for ladies. This would not fit in our 37mm Solotempo watches for ladies. On the other hand women wear many of our larger diameter watches.

Could the new carbon hairsprings made by fellow LVMH Company TAG Heuer be useful for Bulgari?

We have never been really obsessed by the materials just for the sake of the materials. For us, we have to judge what the benefits would be. Many of these claims for new materials are marketing claims mostly, and traditional materials have done a very good job for us. We have a very good relationship with Sellita, away from the Swatch Group, for components like these, and as long as their spirals continue to do a good job we will continue using them.

Bulgari's Octo Finissimo Skeleton Ceramic, left, and Automatic Ceramic, new in 2019.

One material however, carbon, does have its advantages, primarily for the monochromatic color, which is a kind of organic black that you cannot get with ceramics. Plus carbon is lightweight, which is absolutely incredible. Without these advantages we would have no use for carbon.

What design elements were considered when creating the new Serpenti Seduttori collection?

Often when you launch a new collection you first need to establish that it is really a Bulgari. With Lucea, for example, if you remove the logo it’s without question a Bulgari watch.

Two examples of Bulgari's new Serpenti Seduttori, in white gold.

The bracelet in the new Serpenti Seduttori is direct from our jewelry. It is modern on one hand because of the construction of the bracelet, but at the same time it looks classical. Seduttori, by the way, means seduction, and this is also the name of a Bulgari jewelry collection.

Bulgari designers adapted existing gold jewelry to create the Serpenti Seduttori bracelet.

This new watch borrows from our jewelry collections with its bracelet and it borrows from our watchmaking with its snakehead. The collection focuses on the seduction of gold. Plus the bracelet is more casually worn when compared to a wraparound strap.

Bulgari Serpenti Seduttori components, showing gold bracelet and watch case.

We see no direct competition between Serpenti Seduttori and Serpenti Tubogas. Tubogas is steel and gold and timeless, whereas Seduttori is gold and meant to be only gold. Plain gold Seduttori starts at $22,800 and a full pave diamond version, in either rose gold or white gold, is approximately $100,000.

How has the Gérald Genta anniversary watch been received?

We made this in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Gerald Genta brand creation. We will start to distribute the watch this May in a few boutiques.

Gérald Genta 50th Anniversary watch

Based on its success we are looking at several other ideas. We love the (Gérald Genta) Arena case, and we may introduce a follow up next year, though not necessarily in a platinum case. But it will continue to express the look of the Arena case.

The Bulgari Gerald Genta 50th Anniversary watch caseback, showing specially decorated rotor.

When you think about the Arena case you see that it looks quite Roman with its columns. It makes sense that Bulgari would pick up the most Roman of the Gérald Genta cases. We hold Evelyn Genta in high regard, and we owe Gérald Genta much for allowing us to speed up our development of high complications.

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