Talk­ing time: Fabrizio Buonomassa Stigliani

The de­sign di­rec­tor spear­head­ing Bul­gari’s watch de­vel­op­ments is all about the long game

Gulf Business - - FEATURES - Varun God­inho

The de­sign di­rec­tor spear­head­ing Bul­gari’s watch de­vel­op­ments ex­plains why he’s all about the long game

THE BUL­GARI OCTO Finis­simo Tour­bil­lion is a fire­cracker. This sin­gle time­piece dec­i­mated three world records in one deft swoop at Basel­world this year. Upon its re­lease, it si­mul­ta­ne­ously be­came the world’s thinnest au­to­matic watch, the world’s thinnest au­to­matic tour­bil­lon and the world’s thinnest tour­bil­lon.

Take note: It took on more than wor­thy ad­ver­saries in Pi­aget and Audemars Piguet to break those records. Pi­aget pre­vi­ously held the world record for the world’s thinnest au­to­matic watch, which it set with the Alti­plano Au­to­matic in 2017 and Audemars Piguet pre­vi­ously held the record for the world’s thinnest au­to­matic tour­bil­lion, a record it set 32 years ago.

“Be­fore the Bul­gari Finis­simo, this seg­ment of ul­tra-thin watches was a lit­tle bit of a sleep­ing beauty. But af­ter Bul­gari and af­ter the Finis­simo, many pres­ti­gious brands have re­vis­ited this cat­e­gory and in­tro­duced con­cept watches. It shows that Bul­gari is a trend­set­ter,” says Fabrizio Buonomassa Stigliani, di­rec­tor of the watch de­sign cen­tre at Bul­gari’s Swiss watch­mak­ing head­quar­ters in Neucha­tel.

Buonomassa, who we meet dur­ing his re­cent visit to Dubai, is play­ing the long game. He is the man turn­ing the in­cred­i­bly thin wheels be­hind the scenes as the over­all de­sign chief for all Bul­gari watches. He’s not only sketch­ing the de­sign of the watch that will ap­pear on your wrist this time next year, but also imag­in­ing the watch that will show up on your wrist half-a-decade from now.

“Some­times the time taken for watches to go to the mar­ket are the same as cars or even longer,” says the man who was re­spon­si­ble for de­sign­ing the in­te­ri­ors of the Alfa Romeo and Lan­cia, be­fore join­ing Bul­gari in 2000.

“The Minute re­peater, for ex­am­ple, took six years to de­sign.”

As ring­mas­ter, Buonomassa also needs to make the dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion to pull the plug

The dig­i­tal big­gest watch. threat Gianni in Bul­gari the 1970 too ks was the the dig­i­tal mod­ule, made it in a yel­low gold case and made 100 wrist­watches for our VIP clients as a gift. By mak­ing the first lux­ury dig­i­tal watch, he was trans­form­ing a con­straint into an op­por­tu­nity.

on cer­tain watches while they are still in the R&D stage it­self.

“Some­times we spend six to seven years de­vel­op­ing the move­ment of a grand com­pli­ca­tion and then we think to our­selves, ‘come on guys who cares about this now?’ This is the risk we have to take. With a grand com­pli­ca­tion, you know when you be­gin, but you never know when you will fin­ish. Some­times you have com­po­nents that don’t work, you have things you have to change and some­times you just lose the mo­men­tum. It’s some­thing that doesn’t hap­pen of­ten with us, but it does hap­pen.”

This year Bul­gari marks the 100th an­niver­sary of its watch­mak­ing divi­sion. A cen­tury of ex­pe­ri­ence has taught it to turn threats into op­por­tu­nity, which is ex­actly what it did in 1975 with the dig­i­tal watch that be­gan to threaten the ex­is­tence of me­chan­i­cal and quartz time­pieces.

“The big­gest threat in the 1970s was the dig­i­tal watch. Gianni Bul­gari took the dig­i­tal mod­ule, made it in a yel­low gold case and made 100 wrist­watches for our VIP clients as a gift. By mak­ing the first lux­ury dig­i­tal watch, he was trans­form­ing a con­straint into an op­por­tu­nity,” says Buonomassa. Those 100 watches ended up be­ing Bul­gari’s first real col­lec­tion of watches, but it wasn’t un­til around the time that Buonomassa came on board in 2000 that Bul­gari be­gan to pay far more at­ten­tion to its watches.

It pur­chased the epony­mous watch­maker Ger­ald Genta – the man be­hind iconic de­signs like the Royal Oak and Nau­tilus – in 2000, along with move­ment spe­cial­ist Daniel Roth. These ac­qui­si­tions set Bul­gari on the path to self-re­liance, tech­ni­cal in­de­pen­dence and rapid in­no­va­tion. But the big mo­ment was Buonomassa fi­nally de­camp­ing from Rome to Neucha­tel in 2011, where Bul­gari’s own man­u­fac­ture was set up.

“Thanks to our man­u­fac­ture we pro­duce move­ments, cases and di­als. We are able to cre­ate tour­bil­lons, minute re­peaters, chime watches, skele­ton tour­bil­lons, and so on. Our fo­cus is to show our po­ten­tial, our skills as a watch­maker. We in­vest a lot in our man­u­fac­ture, and the Finis­simo is one of the most com­pli­cated watches man­u­fac­tured to­day. We are able to si­mul­ta­ne­ously man­age the de­vel­op­ment of many grand com­pli­ca­tion watches thanks to our man­u­fac­ture. We are able to imag­ine the evo­lu­tion of the Finis­simo, which is a great as­set to us.”

Bul­gari re­leased ex­cel­lent ren­di­tions of women’s watches like the Lvcea and Ser­penti at Basel­world this year, and as well as the record-break­ing Finis­simo Tour­bil­lon, an­other time­piece that was very well re­ceived was the Octo Finis­simo Minute Re­peater in Car­bon.

“It’s not just a watch, but a new way to wear a grand com­pli­ca­tion watch. When we com­bine the minute re­peater and the car­bon fi­bre ma­te­rial, it’s some­thing ab­so­lutely un­ex­pected. It was the same for the minute re­peater in ti­ta­nium and it was the same for the minute re­peater au­to­matic watch too. This is the Bul­gari way.”

Buonomassa’s de­signs are re­ceiv­ing rave re­views on the global stage. The Octo Finis­simo Au­to­matic bagged the over­all best men’s watch prize and the Tour­bil­lion and Es­cape­ment prize was awarded to the Octo Finis­simo Tour­bil­lion Skele­ton at the Grand Prix d’Hor­logerie de Genève (GPHG) – the Os­cars of the watch­mak­ing world. The Finis­simo Au­to­matic bagged the Red Dot Best of the Best award last year.

Win­ning the for­mer prize shows that Bul­gari’s tech­ni­cal watch­mak­ing prow­ess is at its peak right now, while win­ning the lat­ter award means – in the words of Buonomassa – that “it has be­come a de­sign icon be­yond the world of watches”.

Of all the ter­ri­to­ries around the world where Bul­gari’s watches are re­tailed, Dubai re­mains a vi­tal mar­ket, mainly due to its geo­graphic lo­ca­tion and af­flu­ent con­sumer de­mo­graphic.

“Asian clients buy watches in Via Con­dotti, Mid­dle Eastern clients buy watches in New York or Lon­don. To­day, we are one world and one mar­ket. Dubai is one of the most pres­ti­gious mar­kets for Bul­gari. It’s also one of the most im­por­tant mar­kets for Bul­gari be­cause it’s in the mid­dle of the world.”

Bul­gari is silently stag­ing a horo­log­i­cal revo­lu­tion. The ef­fort­lessly el­e­gant brand is dis­rup­tive, though not de­struc­tive. While sev­eral other Swiss watch­mak­ers have al­lowed their R&D de­part­ments to slip into snooze mode, Bul­gari’s elite crack team led by Buonomassa is go­ing in for the kill – one watch­mak­ing record at a time.

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