Interview with Bulgari watch design director, Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani

Interview with Bulgari watch design director, Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani

Talking time

Text: Dora Aljoofri-Shrestha

Buro speaks to the creative mind behind Bulgari’s groundbreaking timepieces, and what it takes to develop the record setting Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater

Tell us how your journey at Bulgari began.
I joined Bulgari in 2001, after my career in the automotive industry. I chose Bulgari because I think the brand embodies all the elements of Italian design and culture — everything from the architectural and decorative elements to the shapes, are close to the way I design, grow and imagine products.

Your background is in industrial design. Are there similarities between industrial designing and watch designing? Has it helped you at Bulgari?
I think that an industrial designer has to draw a lot of things. You have to understand the language behind the different categories. If you have to design a car, you need to use a specific language, and specific proportions and shapes. When one designs watches, it's the same. You need to know the right language needed for different categories, and you have to understand the brand very well so that you can convey their DNA in your drawings.

What is Bulgari's watchmaking DNA?
We don't have a Bulgari watchmaking DNA — we have a Bulgari DNA. It is Rome; it is the sense, the aesthetic, and the proportion that we use. Passion is one of the unique elements of the brand. It's that passion to merge Italian design and culture with Swiss watchmaking know-how. This is one of the most iconic elements that you can find in Bulgari products. For us, aesthetics and techniques have the same importance.
Does Rome's rich history give you endless inspiration?
Yes, for sure. In Rome, you can find a lot of different architectural elements and styles, starting from the ancient monuments to the decorative motifs and designs. You have to appreciate these things to be able to discover them and then be able to transform these elements into a product. We don't just take the obvious and translate it into our designs. For example, we won't make a watch that makes you think of the Colosseum just because Bulgari is a Roman brand. We take inspiration from the city and subtly weave that Roman heritage in.

How do you balance the Italian house's rich history and values with modernity and the contemporary needs of today?
As a designer, we have to be open-minded and be aware of our client's needs. We have to investigate trends, and be constantly in-tune with our client's tastes. Our customers are always looking for something unique and Bulgari is a contemporary brand that strives to provide that. Also as an amazing heritage brand, our approach is not to copy and paste from the archives. We find the right signs and look for ways to evolve each product.

Take the Serpenti, for example. It is a brand in a brand that started from the Tubogas, in steel and gold. We have six or seven different executions of the Serpenti. For the first time this year, the Spiga is executed in full black ceramic. Then we have the Serpenti Tubogas and Serpenti Incantati. Just look at how many variations we're able to create under this umbrella that we call Serpenti.

Which one do you find more challenging to design, men's or women's?
It's a completely different approach and two different challenges. On the men's side, we talk about performance, finishing, materials and technical features. On the ladies' side, it's about emotions; we talk about the jewellery side of the brand. They present two different challenges with two completely different difficulties.

You've been designing watches for more than a decade now. What have you noticed the modern man and woman look for in a watch? Is it performance and power, weight and slenderness or the design?
The environment today is completely different from fifteen years ago. Today, our clients are looking for products that respect the rules of the brand. The Serpenti is something that you will never find in other competitors or Swiss watchmaking brands. When you see the Finissimo, it speaks to a man that needs a watch that is formal, yet exudes a contemporary aesthetic and boasts amazing technical features. At Bulgari, we always try to keep up with the times yet still remain very close to our roots. Our clients invest in our products because they are looking for something that speaks of the brand. 

Let's talk about Bulgari's record breaking watch, the Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater.
It's a great achievement. It is this year's star and completely unexpected. I think it was the highlight during the Basel fair; it was something that was extremely unique in terms of design. It's our job to keep evolving our iconic pieces. Our clients need a unique product, and as a designer I have to be innovative, not just in design, shapes or materials, but even in the way the product is used and worn. Take for example the Tourbillon Skeleton and the Minute Repeater — these are complicated timepieces designed to be wearable. It's the thinnest in the world, yet strong enough to be worn everyday. 

The Bulgari Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater

How long did it take you to achieve the Minute Reader?
The Finissimo execution for us was a long journey. To achieve this kind of results, you need five to six years of investment. It's not a product that you can just make in a year.

Given the hyper digital age that we live in now where smart watches seem to be the future of time telling and communication, how does Bulgari see itself fitting in all of this?
The smart watch is a strong trend today. It is not a luxury product nor is it a mechanical watch. I think it is a success and it's a part of this industry, but it is not a major actor. It's currently selling really well, but we will have to see how many will continue to buy the second evolution of the smart watch. As you know, electronic devices need to be updated every six months to a year. A smart watch is an electronic device, and not something that you will want to pass on to someone.

Do you think it's just a trend?
It could be a strong trend in the next few years, but I think the clients that we have are completely different. Smart watch users are looking for a device, not a watch. They need a device that will tell them what they need to do. I don't quite understand why a person has to talk to a watch, or why one would want to read messages or emails on a very small screen.

You have a strong passion for watches. What is it about timepieces that drive such emotion in you?
A watch you wear is very telling of your taste, habits and attitude. I love objects with a story behind it. Our watches are precisely that. Every watch we create has a unique story that tells you about our brand in a different way.

Lastly, what is time to you?
Time is one of the most difficult things to have, and also to utilise. Time is luxury. You may have a lot of money, and may be able to purchase a lot of cars or watches, but you really need the time to appreciate how it's been made.