Glass speaks to Fabrizio Buonamassa – watch design director at Bulgari

GLASS meets up with Fabrizio Buonamassa – watch design director at Bulgari and finds out more about his career.

You previously worked at Fiat, which is a very different company from Bulgari. What was your work at Fiat and what have you found are the major differences and similarities about working with cars and watches?
They are two completely different worlds but watches and cars have a lot of elements in common. Both are generated with design ideas, concept ideas, both have an engine and they focus on performance as well as being an extension of the taste of the owner. But they are completely different in terms of dimensions, scale, industrial scale, investment proportions and, for sure, use.

A car is something that you need for your everyday life while luxury products, luxury watches, jewellery watches are something that you are choosing to buy for your pleasure. You are obliged to buy common cars, but sports cars and luxury cars are more similar to watches in a way. The client for these two products is the same. I am an industrial designer, so to me it is important to be able to design everything: watches, cars, planes, trains, jewellery, sunglasses, shoes.

To me it is all the same. Of course the environment is different and the way you have to use the object, and the technology behind these different brands. But if a designer is able to understand a brand, the heritage behind the brand and the consumers of the brand, he will be able to succeed.

Bulgari 1Fabrizio Buonamassa watch design director at Bulgari

Did you know much about watches before you joined Bulgari?
I joined Bulgari because it is part of the Italian design culture and heritage. When you see the Octo, the Diagono, the Lucea, (all Bulgari watches), it is a part of Italy. I love watches, otherwise I wouldn’t have spent 15 years in this industry, and I choose Bulgari because it is a part of this approach; it isn’t just about function, it is absolutely about beauty. You can see our watches are unique, and when you look at them you can see our approach.

Our products are completely different from other brands and other competitors, even because Bulgari is the only brand that follows the Italian design approach as well as using very high manufacturing skills; so when you see our Serpenti secret watch, for example, you can see the body of the snake comes from Italy, from our atelier, and the head of the snake comes from Switzerland. Only Bulgari is able to do something like this; it is not just Italian design, but it is even Swiss made by hand.

Bulgari Watch 5Design stages for a Bulgari watch

Why do you think it is that people love such incredibly complex watches when essentially they do the same thing as a very simple watch, tell you the date and the time?
This is a factor of the market. Today we have a lot of clients that are collectors and they love having unique pieces. They like complicated watches, not just unique pieces. If you imagine that our minute repeater – we were able to produce the thinnest minute repeater in the world – we can only produce 50 pieces, because we already have to produce pieces for other watches such as over 30 pieces for the Carillon Tourbillon, and another 20 for the Tourbillon Skeleton. So these kind of watches are sort of exotic. Exactly the same concept as exotic cars, the one-of-a-kind cars. We have collectors that want only unique pieces.

Bulgari Watch 2Elizabeth Taylor wearing Bulgari jewellery

You mentioned creating the world’s thinnest minute repeater watch. What did it mean to you that a jewellery brand like Bulgari was able to do this?
Bulgari is the only brand able to merge incredible Swiss craftsmanship with unique Italian design, so we decided to go ahead with this project because we think that the formal watch is a strong trend. You have to well connect the design of the object with the economic situation. Today we have a strong trend for formal watches because some clients don’t want to show their wealth, so they want to have an amazing object with unique skills in terms of movement and design, but sometimes they want to hide it under their shirt.

That is why today there is a very strong trend for small watches for ladies and tuxedo, or formal, watches for men. It isn’t a common product these days but we decided to go into this trend. When we see our competitors, they make round watches with very thin bezels and wide dials; we break the rules. We broke the rules in the 1980s with the aluminium collection, we broke the rules with the first porcelain collection, with the first steel collection. It is a part of our DNA to break rules and we decided to try to mix the ingredients and the market loved this approach.

The Finissimo minute repeater is sold out. It is an important asset for us and we want to continue in this kind of project. We decided to do it in titanium because these kinds of chiming watches need space to make sound. We do not have space in the thinnest case in the world so we decided to use different materials that could resonate the sound in the absence of space.

Bulgari Watch 3Bulgari watches

Do you have a family watch that has been passed down through your family?
Yes, I have some family watches that were passed on to me from my father. I love watches; it is an opportunity for me to wear different watches for different moments of the year. I am a designer so I love using different objects from different points of view, different shapes, different features, different materials. I don’t have one watch, I have many, I love them, this is my problem maybe (laughs). As a designer I am never satisfied. Each time I feel like the best watch will be the next one. It isn’t easy.

Bulgari Watch 4Bulgari Serpenti design

Which watch has the most sentimental value for you?
I have been working at Bulgari for 15 years. Since 2007 I have been the director of the watches design centre; it is difficult for me to pick just one. I love the Lucea because it is one of the most difficult watches you can imagine to design and to be mainstream and at the same time to be part of the brand. The iconic design of Bulgari is not easy to convey with a mainstream concept so the idea was to have a round watch without the logo for a daily use, but also it had to be a jewellery piece.

You have to convey the brand value to something that is very easy to wear and at the same time you have to wear a very iconic bracelet or detail that talks to you about the brand. Octo is important because it is an evolution of our male watches in terms of the manufacturing behind it, with the Finissimo concept, with the all the effort and investment needed to achieve these results; it’s also very special for me. Today we talk about the Serpenti, the Tubogas, they are all so different, all our sketches and products are our babies. It is difficult to pick the best one.

by Sara Hesikova

Taken from the Glass Archive – Issue 28 – Sacrifice