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Bulgari’s Incredibly Unique Octo Roma Is Winning The Hearts Of Australian Watch Lovers

Bulgari's flagship men's luxury sports watch has never been better.

Bulgari’s Incredibly Unique Octo Roma Is Winning The Hearts Of Australian Watch Lovers

This article was produced in partnership with Bulgari.

The luxury watch category is one of the most hotly contested in all of watchmaking – and in 2023, there’s no shortage of stylish watches from a diverse range of brands, all very keen to see their watches on our wrists. The Bulgari Octo Roma, however, is a cut above the rest…

It used to be the case that watches produced by luxury fashion brands weren’t much chop. To be extremely cynical, they existed to give blokes who were accompanying their partners shopping for handbags or jewellery something so they didn’t feel left out during a big blow-out shopping spree.

That’s not really the case any more, though. Many of the world’s top luxury houses have invested big-time in their watchmaking capabilities, building factories in Switzerland and experimenting with unique materials, forms and designs. Indeed, because they’re not stuffy Swiss watch brands, they’re not constrained by traditional design codes or concepts – as outsiders, they can be more creative; more innovative.

When it comes to fine timepieces, Bulgari has more credibility than most luxury maisons. The famous Italian jeweller has actually been making timepieces for almost a century but started really taking watchmaking seriously in the 80s, when they opened their own manufacture in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. Then, in the 00s, they acquired Daniel Roth and Gérald Genta, Swiss leaders in high-end watchmaking, bringing the knowledge and capabilities of those brands in-house. They’ve been steadily acquiring more watchmakers and building more facilities ever since.

That is all to say that Bulgari got in early when it comes to proper watchmaking and that they know what they’re doing. They’re no horological dilettantes.

A close-up of the tastefully finished in-house BVL 191 ‘Solotempo’ movement that powers the Octo Roma. Image: DMARGE

Indeed, Bulgari stands out as one of the most accomplished watch producers on the planet, responsible for breaking and holding a number of watchmaking records, such as the world’s thinnest minute repeater, perpetual calendar and mechanical chronograph.

They’ve also consistently pushed the envelope when it comes to using novel materials in luxury watches: they were one of the first watchmakers to use aluminium and rubber for luxury watches, and have also innovated with materials like tantalum, forged carbon and marble for watch cases.

Okay, Jamie, but what’s the point of all this? Well, it’s to demonstrate how Bulgari isn’t making fashion watches out here: they’re a proper watchmaker that can more than hold its own against the dedicated watch brands of Switzerland and beyond.

This leads us to the Octo Roma: their flagship most versatile men’s luxury watch, which received a major update at the start of this year that’s really improved its value proposition. Not only is it sportier than ever before, but it’s also better looking and more practical – and a very strong candidate in the sub-$15,000 luxury watch space.

I had the chance to test-drive the new Octo Roma for a week, both on a rubber strap and on a metal bracelet, and I was thoroughly impressed by this new take on the Octo formula.

RELATED: Bulgari’s New Ambassador Lorenzo Viotti Is Almost As Handsome As Their Octo Roma Collection

At only 9.15mm thick, the Octo Roma is one of the slimmest watches in its segment. Image: DMARGE

Bulgari Octo Roma quick facts

REFERENCE(S): 103739 (blue, as tested) + 103738 (white) and 103740 (anthracite)
MATERIAL: Stainless Steel
MOVEMENT: Manufacture Calibre BVL 191 ‘Solotempo’
SIZE: 41mm diameter, 9.15mm thick, 42.5mm lug-to-lug distance
PRICE: $11,400 AUD

The Octo Roma, which was first launched in 2004, has become Bulgari’s most iconic watch collection and has undergone many subtle updates and tweaks over the last two decades. 2023’s update is one of the most substantive in the Octo Roma’s history and brings a new sporty dimension to the timepiece.

The first obvious change is that now the Octo Roma features a Clous de Paris dial. Also called a hobnail dial, this texture is a hallmark of Swiss haute horlogerie that perfectly matches the octagonal case of the Octo Roma, which was inspired by the architecture of Bulgari’s home city of Rome.

Another big update is that it’s now water-resistant to 100m, making it more practical than ever before. Despite this, it’s only 9.15mm thick, largely thanks to the slim form factor of its in-house BVL 191 ‘Solotempo’ movement.

That sporty character is reinforced by another new feature of the Octo Roma: it now comes with a complementary rubber strap as well as a steel bracelet. A new quick-change strap system makes it a cinch for the wearer to swap out the steel for the rubber without the use of tools (and the fact you get two straps for the price of one is nice). The texture of the strap, too, matches the Octo Roma’s beautiful new Clous de Paris dial.

Swapping out straps on the Octo Roma. You simply depress the button and slide the strap/bracelet out. The bracelet is secured via two metal tabs. Image: Jamie Weiss / DMARGE

The standard Octo Roma Automatic is available in blue, white or anthracite dials (we’re particular fans of the latter) with the blue coming with a matching blue rubber strap and the other two with a black strap. It was the blue model I ended up wearing for the week, as I reckon it’s the one most Aussies will gravitate towards.

What’s it like to wear?

It’s really nice! Not only is the Bulgari Octo Roma an exceptionally comfortable watch, it’s also really eye-catching. Pictures don’t really do it justice: the combination of brushed and polished surfaces on both its case and bracelet are really appealing. The bracelet absolutely pops in the sunshine, and the sunray brushing on the bezel is particularly well-executed.

That said, the Octo Roma spent more time on its rubber strap than on its bracelet while I had it for the week, as it really adds to its sporting character. It’s a cracking rubber strap – not all rubber straps are made equal – and it’s also much lighter than the steel bracelet.

At 41mm it’s not exactly a small watch (and I have pretty big wrists anyway) but it wears smaller than it might appear. That’s partly to do with the fact that both the bracelet and strap extend at a 45-degree angle from the Octo Roma’s case, reducing its overall form factor somewhat. The bracelet also has very small links, which really hug the wrist.

The super-angular bracelet features a butterfly clasp and a tasteful combination of brushed and polished surfaces. Image: Jamie Weiss / DMARGE

My only real criticism of the Octo Roma is that the date window is fairly deeply recessed, making it slightly less legible at certain angles. Not that the Octo Roma isn’t legible; far from it: I was impressed by how bright its lume shone, as well as how clearly the applied minute track stands out against the hobnail dial. Its seconds hand is also delightfully smooth, really adding to its luxurious feel.

Overall, the impression I got from the Bulgari Octo Roma was one of rock-solid quality. It feels and looks robust, while also giving off an unmistakable air of luxury. It’s sumptious but not ostentatious.

The competition

The obvious comparison to make with the Bulgari Octo Roma is with the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, as it too has an octagonal design as well as a hobnail dial. However, they’re quite different watches: the Octo Roma features a much more angular case design, and the Royal Oak has an integrated bracelet, for example. Perhaps more pertinently, a stainless steel Royal Oak costs three times as much as an Octo Roma…

The Piaget Polo also springs to mind as a natural competitor to the Octo Roma, as it features a similar mix of square and circle design elements, as well as a pretty nice rubber strap option. The Piaget has a more beautiful movement and a slightly longer power reserve, but doesn’t have a quick-change strap system like the Bulgari does, isn’t as thin and again, is also significantly more expensive.

Really, the Bulgari Octo Roma eludes easy comparison. It’s sporty yet refined, dramatic yet dressy, understated but undeniably luxurious… More to the point, it’s got all the features and refinement that real watch fans demand, as well as a unique air of Italian confidence.

I preferred wearing it on the rubber strap over the bracelet, but both are great – and the Octo Roma’s quick-change system makes it easy to swap out one for the other on the fly. Image: Jamie Weiss / DMARGE

It’s the perfect watch for the man who’s looking for an alternative to more mainstream luxury sports watches but also wants something with a bit of style and brand cache.

The hardest choice to make is whether you’d want a time-only model or if you want to go sportier still and get the chronograph version of this watch…

NAME:Bulgari Octo Roma Automatic
CASE MATERIAL:Stainless Steel
MOVEMENT: Manufacture Calibre BVL 191 ‘Solotempo’
WATER RESISTANCE:10 bar (100m)
SIZE:41mm diameter, 9.15mm thick
PRICE:$11,400 AUD