In the watch world, there are plenty of things enthusiasts can agree on. A Rolex is always a great — and also a safe — purchase. The Seiko 5 is perfect if you’re getting into mechanical watches for the first time. Old chronographs are cool. And, finally: Gérald Genta is a god.
Few people in the industry are as celebrated as Genta. Christie’s of New York called his work “the Fabergé of watches.” Disparaging it would be akin to shitting on Georgette Giugiaro’s cars or Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture. You may not personally resonate with any of their work, but you couldn’t rightfully deny that they were game-changing with a straight face.
Genta had an impressive impact on watches. The dude designed the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, the IWC Ingenieur and the Patek Philippe Nautilus — the holy trinity of funky-yet-tasteful watches that reigned supreme over the avant-garde-leaning 1970s watch industry.
But it was one of his last designs, the Bulgari Octo, that played with shape in a way that is both admirable and flummoxing.
While most of Genta’s designs were sold to brands, the story of the Octo is a little bit different. Genta started his own independent brand in 1969, working simultaneously with several other brands; it operated independently until it and all of Genta’s designs began being sold under the Bulgari name in 2011. The Octo, which was released under the Gérald Genta name in the early aughts with complex movements like retrogrades and tourbillons, moved over to Bulgari and adopted the Bulgari styling and in-house, automatic movement in 2012.
But the Octo’s case remained unchanged, and it’s undoubtedly the standout feature on the watch. When I first tried it on, I thought it too big, too bulky and too complex. I likened it to a brash fashion watch you’d find on Alibaba when I wore it with my everyday casual attire. But there’s a lot going on. Once you stop to analyze it, you start to appreciate the Octo’s loudness.
The Octo is a watch so full of contradictions it fucks with your head just a bit.
From top to bottom, the case is essentially a circular bezel, atop an octagon, atop another octagon that, because of its thick lugs, almost looks like a square. Because of its blocky shape, this 41mm watch appears a lot bigger than it is, and while all that layering would suggest the Octo is as thick as a Dagwood sandwich, it’s actually a considerably slim 10.55mm. More impressive is that this layer dial isn’t layered at all — it’s all one piece of stainless steel. On the case alone there are 110 facets. It’s incredibly complex, yet all the edges seem to bleed together in a subtle way.
But my big aha! moment came when I paired the Octo with a plain black suit. It slid neatly and comfortably under a shirt cuff, and when poking out ever so slightly from my suit jacket it made a subtle statement. It totally works as an unorthodox dress watch. The finishing on the case and the supple alligator strap exude classiness, but the audacious case shape flies in the face of the restrained circular and rectangular cases we’re used to. Yet it doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb.
To be quite honest, I’m still not sure what to think, because when I put it on with my regular clothing I go back to thinking it’s far too big and brash for my tastes. And that’s fine. The Octo is a watch so full of contradictions that it screws with your head just a bit. Is it brash or is it elegant? Thick or thin? But even if my taste in watches is decidedly conservative, I have to applaud the Octo for being truly unique. We may laud Genta’s iconic designs, like the Nautilus or Royal Oak, for being avant-garde, but they’ve become widely accepted as game-changers. The Octo is still on the fringe just enough to be confoundingly bold.