The octagon: ancient yet timeless, simple yet complex, common yet unique. These are some rather impressive attributes not just for a geometric shape but for… well… anything, really. It should be no wonder, then, that one of the most highly praised watch designers of all time, a certain Gerald Genta, also preferred to use this polygon in a fair number of his works. The question that we are looking to answer today is how one of them, the Bulgari Octo Velocissimo – yes, it is one of Genta’s designs and indeed a watch that refers to this iconic shape in its very name – performs and measures up against its tried and proven competition.
Bulgari took over the Gerald Genta and Daniel Roth brands in 2000, and since then has gone on to further develop upon and update some of the key designs of each brand. The Octo is one of Genta’s lesser-known works – but that status, as we shall discover through this closer look, is both rather undeserved and, in a few key ways, beneficial at the same time.
It would be very difficult – and also rather daft – to avoid comparing the Bulgari Octo to its brethren: the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, another famous Genta design, and the quintessential luxury chronograph, the Rolex Daytona. The Bulgari Octo, just like the other two, is not perfect. But, also like them, it is unique, and it even has a few cards up its sleeve that can change the way this game plays out.
We’ll look inside its bowels and discuss its shortcomings soon, but let’s stick with aesthetics for a bit longer, as there is so much to be talked about.
Of the three, the Bulgari Octo is far and away the most complex in its design. On an objective, quantifiable note, I’ll say that it has a total of 110 facets in its case and bezel – which certainly make it a real pain to hand-finish, but a true joy to scrutinize or even simply glance at. On a subjective note, I’ll say that I don’t think I have ever done a review where I have picked up the watch so often while writing the draft. Here, however, there were so many little details which I knew my eyes could sort of see and my mind subconsciously appreciate, but that hardly cuts it for a thorough review that is meant to tell you all you should know about its subject.
If you appreciate good design in cars, consumer products, or architecture, I see very little chance that you won’t find a way to enjoy the Octo. Complexity for complexity’s sake certainly is not always (or in fact scarcely ever) the way to go, but the Bulgari Octo bears the visible marks of a search for aesthetic balance and intelligent proportions.
The most complicated part of the Bulgari Octo Velocissimo’s 41-millimeter-wide case is where the bezel and the lugs meet. From the lowest part of the lugs to the top of the bezel, there are a total of eight layers that flow through a mix of vertical drops, sloping curves, and steep angles. The plain, lightly brushed steel bezel, large, brushed profile elements, and polished lug facets render the Bulgari Octo Velocissimo complex and interesting, but – to my eyes, at least – never desperate for attention.
If I had to describe the Bulgari Octo case in three words, they would be: angles, angles, angles.
In all seriousness, though, the Octo’s design does not struggle with, but instead harnesses the three-dimensional nature of watches. While that may seem blatantly obvious at first, the levels to which this statement apply probably do not become apparent before a fair bit of time and a number of occasions have been dedicated to scrutinizing the case hands-on.
The general details of the Octo’s case are rather straightforward and imply little of its underlying complexity. Although it is a rather conservative 41 millimeters wide, it actually wears considerablylarger, thanks to the blocky case sides and the also nicely integrated, but still rather massive crown and chronograph pushers. It is water resistant to 100 meters – that is the same as the Rolex Daytona but, ironically, it is double of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph’s 50-meter rating. Also, the Royal Oak has both screw-down pushers and crown, while the Bulgari Octo Velocissimo Chronograph has to make do with the latter only.
The 100-meter water resistance rating should give you peace of mind if you take the Bulgari Octo Velocissimo for a swim (on the steel bracelet and not the leather strap, of course), and yet you don’t have to sacrifice the open caseback either. Secured with eight pentagonal screws, the back features an amply sized sapphire window that allows for a close look at the entire width of the Zenith El Primero caliber – but more on that later.
For an element that testifies to just how thoughtfully designed and complex the Bulgari Octo’s case is, please turn your attention to the large, angled, polished facet that can be found on all four lugs. It appears to be a simple cutoff with a shiny finishing on it – in reality, though, there is so much more going on. It is difficult to explain, but the images here should illustrate well enough how this little design treat is special. In essence, a tweak as simple as having the lower two corners aligned but the top two corners on separate planes from one another creates a fascinating additional layer of visual complexity – something the eye imminently captures but the mind cannot immediately separate from the rest of the elements.
Like this facet, the lower, shorter, vertical part of the lug has also been polished, while its side and top are brushed. The flat top of the lug is then followed by a super thin, brushed vertical layer; then by a polished, angled facet; next comes a brushed flat surface; and only after these comes the bezel, which has a flat, polished, octagonal frame and edges, with a brushed top. It sure is a mouthful to describe all this, but to hand-finish, well, that is where the real challenge lies.
Even the chronograph pushers have two polished and beveled edges, while the notched crown is shiny on all its surfaces. A black ceramic cabochon completes the look and breaks the steel’s silver colored dominance. The crown, as I mentioned, has to be screwed down before it can be used to adjust the movement, while the two pushers sit nicely and firmly in the case, with a minimal vertical play to them.
The case’s complicated aesthetics take the eye some time getting used to. I do not remember ever finding it to be overwhelming, not even when I first tried an Octo on a few years ago. The overall impression when looking at the watch from head on is of a timepiece of smart design and fantastic proportions. Nothing is too small or too large anywhere on it – even as obscure little things as the caseback’s sapphire window appears to be beautifully proportionate to all the other components. Everything just looks more like a result of engineering than the outcome of fashion-inspired design (which is subjective – but, subjectively speaking, this attribute is very much to my liking).
I understand that I have been going on about the cool details of the Octo case, and yet I feel there still is so much more that could be said about it. What has to be seen – and probably a hands-on look will help better appreciate this fact – is that while the Bulgari Octo Velocissimo is dripping with confidence and masculinity, thanks to its 41-millimeter diameter, it does not come across as something blingy or as “men’s jewelry that’s trying too hard.”
My genuine appreciation for the Octo’s case (that I am still in the process of further developing, even after a few months of wearing this watch in rotation with a couple others) brings me to the part that I can criticize most harshly: the strap. Despite its very impressive integration between these tricky-looking lugs and protruding case elements, I find that this strap still fails to perfectly complement the case – instead, it sort of dwarves it, aesthetically. In short, to my eyes, the strap appears to be too wide and too thick near where it meets the lugs.
This, as I see it, creates two issues. For one, it makes the case appear to be relatively smaller than it would need to be – even though it actually is pretty much the perfect size, as I mentioned above – and second, it makes the whole thing look more like a watch-equipped leather strap than a strap-equipped watch.
Don’t get me wrong, this Bulgari black alligator strap is super comfortable and of course is of expectedly high quality. The friction-fit folding clasp lacks any pushpieces and is also very nicely executed: the clasp has a very deep sheen to it with sharp, engraved Bulgari branding on the outside, a satin finished area, and Bulgari logo between two polished frames on the inside. Its slim construction further enhances wearing comfort – so if you do like the looks, there should be nothing to hold you back from getting the Bulgari Octo Velocissimo on the strap.
Fortunately, however, there is also an alternative solution to the strap. Bulgari offers this Octo Velocissimo – and all the other, non-high-complication or high-jewelry versions of the Octo – on a steel or two-tone steel and gold bracelet. Now, while the bracelet looks rather wide thanks to its long and thin links near where it meets the lugs, it does a fantastic job at completing the case’s aesthetics. Notably, Bulgari also makes and hand-finishes a lot of their own bracelets, and the one on the Bulgari Octo Velocissimo Chronograph is no exception to that, so you still get a fully in-house case and bracelet – with fantastic finishing all around.
I have no doubt it wasn’t easy to integrate the alligator strap so seamlessly into the case; but that does not save me from looking at the Bulgari Octo Velocissimo and wishing that it was on a slightly less wide and thinner band. On the bracelet – and again, this is a subjective note – I find it to be one of the most balanced, masculine, and unique-looking sports chronographs in steel.
Speaking of chronographs, the movement inside the Bulgari Octo Velocissimo is the BVL 328 – which probably won’t ring a bell for too many out there. When I say Zenith El Primero, though, that is a different story altogether, and you’ll instantly know what I’m talking about. Since both brands are under the LVMH umbrella, Bulgari could base its Octo chronograph on the Zenith El Primero movement – and the full-on 5-Hertz, 36,000-beats-per-hour version, at that.
Despite the Bulgari branded winding rotor’s skeletonized and, again, nicely decorated looks, the El Primero remains instantly recognizable to those who know it. Automatic winding, running seconds, a central seconds, 60-minute and 12-hour displaying chronograph, and a discreet, white-on-black date at 4:30 marks the total list of functions. Bulgari does have its own, so-called Solotempo, “time-only,” fully in-house-made caliber with the BVL 191, but for a chronograph of this caliber (ha!), you are probably better off with something proven and more easily serviceable, such as the El Primero, rather than a fiddly and complex new in-house chronograph.
The BVL 328 marked movement inside the Bulgari Octo Velocissimo provides approximately 50 hours of power reserve and has that usual El Primero quirk that you can set the time in the crown’s first position, and the date when you pull it all the way out to its second setting. You can, of course, hand-wind the movement in the zero setting right after unscrewing the crown. Another, less welcome quirk of the El Primero is still present as well: the lack of hacking seconds. Pusher action is as good as it has always been on the El Primero – a solid click and consistent travel says it all.
We promised we’d compare the Octo to its main rivals, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph and the Rolex Daytona in steel, so we should not omit this when discussing the quality of bracelets and movements either. While we do have the leather strap option Octo in for review this time, we did have several days hands-on time with Octos on the company’s in-house made bracelets – so compare, we can.
The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak bracelet ranks slightly but, for the keen eye, noticeably higher in quality of execution when compared to both the Rolex Oyster and the Octo’s proprietary steel bracelet. By contrast, the Octo and the Royal Oak, thanks to their higher number of wide but thin links, wrap around the wrist with greater ease when compared to the Rolex Oyster – but all three perform exceptionally well when it comes to wearing comfort. At the end of the day, while all three are comfortable and indeed beautifully made, quality of execution remains the Royal Oak bracelet’s forte. Still, it does demand a considerable price premium over the other two contenders – the Royal Oak Chronograph in steel costs twice as much as either of the others… and so the value proposition shifts very fast when you factor that in.
The movement in the presently available steel Royal Oak Chronograph (do not mistake it for the Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph) is the AP Caliber 2385, that actually is based on a Frederic Piguet movement. The 2385 runs at 3 Hertz as opposed to 5Hz in the BVL 328, and offers 40 hours of power reserve, that is ten shorter than that of the AP movement. Last but not least, the Royal Oak Chronograph in steel comes with a solid case back, so while AP’s caliber is undoubtedly more painstakingly finished, you will not be able to appreciate it unless you open the case – which is a bummer, especially when considering the 50-meter water resistance.
Rolex’s 4130 caliber the in Cosmograph Daytona stands out for its new Rolex in-house-tested -2/+2 accuracy rating, which should blow both the El Primero-based Octo and the rather dated 2385 out of the water. The Daytona, as do all Rolexes, comes with a solid caseback as well, so no eye-candy for you here either, unfortunately. Third party sapphire case-back options are available for a few hundred extra dollars, though you do void the warranty by replacing the case-back – something one should always bear in mind.
Okay, with all that noted, a few more notes on basic aesthetics. The Octo’s dial is highly legible, thanks to the contrast between the deep, non-shiny (and yet not matte) black lacquer background and the shiny, polished, applied indices along with the long, skeletonized, faceted hands. Silver-colored hands over black dials is a recipe for disaster in terms of legibility, but the Bulgari Octo Velocissimo shows that it can actually be done right. It is extremely difficult to find a lighting situation where the hands blend into the black of the dial – at least one of their facets almost always finds a way to reflect light back at you, and the ample size difference between the hour and minute hands make it even easier to distinguish them at a glance. I hope Bulgari will soon start to offer a wide range of color options – the Octo is already available with a blue and an off-white colored dial, but I feel the masculine case design could certainly carry the weight of some more fun, colorful dials.
At this point, the Bulgari Octo Velocissimo still is an underdog in the luxury sports chronograph segment. Underdog it is, because it clearly is less “out there” than Royal Oaks and Nautiluses are, while it puts up a more than a respectable fight – even if it is priced at around half of the AP and one fifth of the Nautilus (with the obvious differences in haute horlogerie movement finishing noted, of course). It was designed by the same, renowned “watch architect,” offers fantastic, in-house case finishing (which can be matched to a superb steel bracelet), an unmolested version of one of the most famous mechanical chronograph wrist watch movements of all time, and a price point that is more than competitive when compared to these other two famous Genta designs. Like it or not, the Octo has as much if not more “manufacture pedigree” than other popular luxury steel chronographs in this segment, and it is admittedly trying very hard to convince the watch loving masses about that.
Has it succeeded, though? I think it has – when on the steel bracelet, that is.
Price for the Bulgari Octo Velocissimo in steel on the alligator leather strap is $9,900, while on the steel bracelet it is $11,000.
>Model: Octo Velocissimo
>Price: $9,900 USD as tested, $11,000 on the bracelet
>Size: 41mm wide (wears larger)
>Would reviewer personally wear it: Yes.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: The one that likes to not go for the obvious choice but rather make his own – in this instance when choosing from the packed luxury chronograph segment.
>Best characteristic of watch: Beautifully designed and executed case that has to be seen and worn for a while to be fully appreciated. Tons of fine details inside and out which make it lasting and interesting.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Personally not a fan of the wide and thick leather strap, the steel bracelet makes it pale in comparison.