There are few who would argue the far-reaching influence of Roman architecture and design. Vespasia’s Colosseum, Agrippa’s Pantheon, the Markets of Trajan, and the Baths of Caracalla, not counting the numerous amphitheatres, temples, aqueducts, columns, obelisks, arches - the list of Roman wonders is endless. So it is only natural that the city finds deep expression in jeweller and watchmaker Bulgari’s designs. Greek silversmith Sotirio Bulgari founded his eponymous company in Rome in 1884, and while the brand grew over centuries, the one constant in its offerings has been the ethos of Italian design and craftsmanship, perfectly personified in collections like the Serpenti, the Monete, and Divas’ Dream. In this incredibly rich legacy, the newly redesigned Octo Roma now finds an important place. Bulgari Octo Roma Chronograph Ref. 103471 The overarching Octo collection is a proven architectural tribute that the Maison created first in 2012.The ‘octagon’ sheds light on the commonality of the shape seen in Rome’s most important architectural sites like the Catholic church, the Pantheon, the works of Leonardo da Vinci, and the 4th-century-built vaults of the Basilica of Maxentius. On the pole position of this collection is the Octo Finissimo, a sub-line of watches that gained larger than life significance thanks to its several records for thinness and complications. By comparison, the Octo Roma, first launched in 2017, almost seemed demure. That was until March this year, when Bulgari unveiled the updated Octo Roma design with a focus on details and style. This included three automatic versions, two chronographs, and four tourbillons. For our September-October 2023 digital cover, we focus on the Octo Roma Chronograph Ref. 103471. It marks the first time a chronograph has joined the Octo Roma line.
The debut of the Bulgari Octo Roma Chronograph
The round-but-not-so-round case of the new Bulgari Octo Roma Chronograph
The modernity of the 42mm stainless-steel model starts with its distinctive round-but-not-round case. This is thanks to a satin, radial-brushed bezel and a contrasting polished lower octagonal bezel, both of which are part of a larger octagonal case. It is important to note here that these design updates replace the more pronounced, starker case of the earlier models. Both the octagon and circle work in harmony to create a sort of optical play that makes you wonder what the actual shape of the case is, and beyond that, a striking interplay of textures, and light and shadow. The knurled screw-down crown featuring a ceramic insert is also integrated beautifully into the side of the case, making it appear more streamlined, safeguarded by discreet crown protectors that have vertical brushing. With all these in place, the case measures 12.4mm in thickness.
A closer look at the 3D Clous de Paris motif dial
The next significant update is in the dial. While the previous models all featured flat dials, the new Octo Roma iterations flaunt the 3D Clous de Paris motif - the pattern of pyramid-shaped elevations is a popular one, achieved via embossing. Overall, the dials appear octogonal, thanks to the shape of the lower bezel, and are offered in colours of blue (Ref. 103829) and black, as seen here. More design updates come via the applied bar hour markers and an Arabic hour marker at 12 o’clock, all filled with Super-LumiNova®. The tricompax layout of the chronograph sees the small seconds at 3 o’clock, the 12-hour counter at 6 o’clock, and the 30-minute counter at 9 o’clock, with all three counters delicately snailed. The complication is activated by pushers above and below the crown, whose design, Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani, Bulgari Product Creation Executive Director, says took some doing. The pushers are at 45-degrees, positioned at the edge of a side of the octagon. Faceted and polished, interestingly, they stand out against the vertical brushing of the case, but at the same time have also integrated seamlessly into the case. A date aperture pops between 4 and 5 o’clock, and a seconds track further enhances the octagonal shape. And even with all these elements in place, this dial is readable, and the timing mechanism easy to track and register.
The knurled screw-down crown and its protectors
Its history and roots aside, the new Octo Roma watches come with a seriously stylish edge. At very first glance one can glean that there is a new sleekness, a softer touch that gives the watches a chic modernity thanks in large part to the new details and finishes. And it only helps that the watches tap into the zeitgeist of integrated steel sports timepieces. Stigliani says that the new design was in the works for three years, so that the brand could come up with elements, shapes, and mechanics that truly elevated the existing models.
The Bulgari Octo Roma Chronograph is a seriously stylish watch
Which brings us to the bracelet. The bracelet is the only element where a part of the older, existing models have been allowed to remain. Similar to the Finissimo bracelet though not as wide, it is set between faceted, mirror- and vertical-polished lugs, which in turn are shorter than what was seen in earlier Octo Roma models. The brushed and polished finishes are strong on the bracelet as well, and the many links assure that it drapes comfortably on the wrist, and is secured with a folding clasp.
The bracelet features strong finishing
Driving the watch is the in-house automatic Calibre BVL 399 beating at the frequency of 28,800 vph and offering 42-hours of power reserve. The calibre is based on the in-house BVL 191 base with a Dubois-Dépraz module. It is decorated with a Côtes de Genève motif on its oscillating weight and bridges, clearly visible to all thanks to the exhibition caseback. The models are resistant to water up to 100 metres; in the previous models, it was up to 30 or 50 metres.
The in-house automatic Calibre BVL 399
Another exciting new feature about these models is the interchangeability function of its straps. Not requiring any additional tool, all one needs to do is press a button that is integrated into the caseback, and off come the bracelets, which can be replaced with rubber straps, also featuring the Clous de Paris motif. The timepiece is offered with a stainless-steel bracelet and a rubber strap matching the dial colour, while additional straps in rubber and alligator leather can be purchased separately.
The interchangeable stainless-steel bracelet with fold clasp, and the rubber strap with a pin buckle
The Octo Roma Chronograph is a chic, sporty timepiece, and its legibility is something a true watch aficionado would admire. But above all, it celebrates the power of details, and how seemingly small interventions can have a big impact.