This year, Geneva Watch Days returned for its second edition. With key industry brands coming together to present their latest novelties, the annual event saw local and international watchmakers, press, collectors and VIPs discovering the latest products in an entirely new format. One of the founding brands of the event is Bulgari. The Italian jewellery and watchmaker returned for the second year to present the latest novelties in the watchmaking sector of the Maison.
Bringing the latest timepieces to life is Bulgari Watch designer and Director of the Bulgari Watches Design Center Fabrizo Buonamassa Stigliani. Born in Naples, Stigliani went on to study Industrial Design at the Institute for Industrial Arts of Rome. During that time he explored the cultural roots of Italian Design and learned how to look beyond the aesthetics of individual objects, such as a car, a watch or a chair, in order to consider the project in its entirety, appreciating the value of the single parts which together form the final piece. He began his career working in car design before fulfilling his lifelong passion for watches in 2001 when he joined the Bulgari Design Center in Rome. A short time later Paolo Bulgari, CEO and creative driver of the brand invited Fabrizio to Rome to join the watch design team. Fabrizio transferred his eye for car design to watches and in 2007 he became Director of the Bulgari Watches Design Center, where his mission is to constantly reinterpret Bulgari’s rich stylistic and cultural heritage in a contemporary language in tune with the brand’s DNA. As the latest novelties are presented in Geneva, we find out more about the creations and the importance of intimate watch fairs moving forward.
Tell us about the recent edition of Geneva Watch Days and how it served you as a brand in showcasing the latest novelties?
We launched this event in 2020 to compensate for the cancellation of the historical institutional watch events due to the COVID-19. It went very well, even if there was no vaccine at that time. This year, the situation has been different: the attendance has been very consistent with roughly 350 retailers and 300+ media guests physically attending. Furthermore, we met with another 240 media and 50 clients through Zoom meetings with HD video cameras enhancing the beauty of the novelties to unprecedented levels. I can say that all the brands, retailers and media publications have been extremely positive: they all appreciate the format and its spirit. The GWD events are easy going and very cool, we want to keep it that way. In addition, I confirm that it will continue and dates for the 2022 edition in early September have already been announced.
We saw some very interesting new launches – What for you is the standout piece we should be talking about this year?
The new launches were an open invitation to travel. In particular the new Octo Roma WorldTimer. We gave this watch the Bulgari touch! Rather than displaying the usual classical 24 cities (for the 24 time zones), we selected locations where Bulgari has, or will have, a hotel, like Rome for instance. And since we all dream of sun and glamour, we picked St-Barths, the Maldives and Cape Verde as other locations! The case follows the same design as the original Octo Roma which is as you know the counterpart of the Octo Finissimo. Meanwhile, the latter houses the ultra-thin, world record-breaking complicated movement. The thicker Roma execution aims to offer useful functions for daily wear. This model has been conceived in order to be user-friendly when you travel.
Bulgari continues to break records with its watchmaking – how important is it to you as a designer to always be pushing the boundaries in innovation?
It is important especially for us. We are an Italian jeweller producing our watches in Switzerland, and we are still new in the watchmaking industry. These elements provide us lots of freedom to create and innovate, to avoid often being conformist as this industry is. Look at the past ten years: Bulgari has modified its strategy to reach a position within the elite of watchmaking. Our seven Octo Finissimo world records mirror this evolution which is not limited to that collection. We cover a very wide spectrum of products: typology, complications, chiming watches, jewelled watches, new materials with the BB Aluminium, etc. Bulgari’s Watch division plays in all the compartments today and delivers a strong perceived value.
Tell us about the inspiration behind the latest women’s watches and how they bring together Bulgari’s DNA with innovation and modern timekeeping?
The new Divina Mosaica Minute Repeater – along with its Divina sisters – go back in time to the splendour of the Roman Empire. Rome is Bulgari’s constant source of inspiration, and in particular the Baths of Caracalla and its fan-paved floors. The Divina models combine elegance, craftsmanship and history. Its refined shapes open up all manner of possibilities, including high jewellery and horological complications. For the first time, the fan motif is not only reflected in the shapes of the watch but also on its dial, for an overall effect that is still very contemporary.
As a designer, it is interesting to work for a brand with such an important and rich story behind it, even if sometimes you might have several constraints, but those constraints become the most important challenge to overcome. Rome with its history, architecture, monuments and its special light represent a strong source of inspiration. The proportions found in Roman architecture embody a magnificence that we often try to transfer and convey in our products, like in this case too.
With the Divina watches we see again gemstones, something that is of course closely associated with the brand – how do you manage to find the correct balance between high jewellery craftsmanship and watchmaking and ensure it continues to be relevant for today’s customer?
Bulgari has to create women’s watches that reiterate the brand’s image. But we see also that female clients are sensitive to the combination of jewellery and watch complications, especially the chiming mechanism or the tourbillon. Both are playful and can be very feminine. The Divina Mosaica Minute Repeater diamond set is quintessential since it reunites our most edgy expertise: high jewellery and hyper-complication.
How do you go about selecting the gemstones used in Bulgari’s timepieces and what is a stone you love to work with?
Expert knowledge of gems and cuts is fundamental in developing high jewellery watches. The in-house buyers and gemmologists continually comb the international gem markets in search of the best quality stones. Bulgari loves to shift the lines and overturn established conventions. Our jewellery expertise enables us to constantly innovate in the field of watchmaking, in terms of design and above all, through surprising associations between different and new materials. For future collections, we will keep being faithful to this typical feature of the Italian design culture which is also at the basis of the Bulgari design. There is not a special stone to me, what is extremely important is that the design of every precious watch must enhance the quality and uniqueness of the stones and craftsmanship.
Tell us about the Mikey Mouse Gerald Genta watch and how this partnership came about?
In recent years there has been a great demand for this watch. Since we are the owners of the brand, we decided to relaunch a Disney Mickey Mouse Arena retrograde for all of those who were asking for this product. And this is just the start. The brand is aimed at watch collectors and enthusiasts so our strategy and approach with Gerald Genta is to remain exclusive.
How important is it to you to have an element of Italian design and craftsmanship in all that you do?
My mission is to constantly reinterpret Bulgari’s Italian rich stylistic and cultural heritage in a contemporary language, in tune with the brand’s DNA. Through our pillar collections – such as Octo, Serpenti and Aluminium – we have exactly the same approach in terms of design: a special way of playing with common materials, the unique and very Italian way of “making a virtue out of necessity” and a different way to wear a watch. All these elements represent the roots of the Italian design culture and are crucial to me.
Tell us about your design process – how does it start and how do you go from the initial idea to the physical product?
The main challenge is to translate the most iconic Bulgari elements and codes into authentic masterpieces, fusing Swiss watchmaking know-how with Italian creativity. I do not have a specific wearer in mind: when I think about the customers who will use our watches, I try to anticipate their hidden needs as well as their refined taste and desire for things created with passion, which are often also the most beautiful and long-lasting. In addition to this, I constantly try to imagine how they will use the products. A watch designed for a man is strictly related to the movement and the concept of performance. Ladies watches are tied to emotions and to the pleasure of wearing the object. It is true that today women are becoming much more interested in mechanical watches and certain complications are becoming more and more in demand.
When are you at your most creative state of mind?
I do not have a particular moment of the day. My creative process starts when I am attracted by something I see: an object, a detail, a special light, a particular shape, etc. it can even happen during a meeting: I have an idea and I start to translate it onto paper.
The past 18 months have been difficult for all, and the business of watches is all about emotions – how have you managed to keep in touch with clients and keep the emotion alive during this time?
We experienced a serious slowdown of sales in most markets and 2020 was the worst year of the last two decades including the 2008 financial crisis. On a positive note, this challenging situation has forced us to reconsider our ways of doing business, from the acceleration of our e-commerce platforms worldwide, to the development of new ways to secure business continuity and sales, like the development of the Geneva Watch Days event format. On my side, I never stop creating, sketching and keeping in touch with colleagues, clients and media through Zoom meetings. I tried to transfer to them my passion for the brand and the beautiful products we create.
What is the biggest challenge you believe the watchmaking industry is facing today?
To launch our products digitally and physically and to re-scale where possible, events at a local level. All companies had to quickly adapt to this new way of working and the process is still ongoing.
As we see many smaller and virtual shows and events taking place – what in your opinion, is the future of large trade shows and events?
The online presentations and exhibitions are at the time being, the only way to connect to our communities, be it clients, retailers or media. We are all happy since it allows us to maintain the relationship and technology allows us to present products in a very appealing way. That said, we miss the physical encounters during exhibitions and on the markets, for sure. That is why our 2020 initiatives have been extremely well perceived by the community. It showed that despite the pandemic, there are means to organise something in a different way. The formats were not comparable to the classical fairs due to the circumstances: we had to reinvent it and it demonstrated that our proposal was matching the expectations and the reality of the market, especially for the Geneva Watch Days as it was a “phygital” event. This format; very light, self-managed and flexible, was a “première” in the watch industry. And considering its impact, it will probably not be the last.
Live meetings are mandatory but we, as companies, have to adapt. I don’t think we will revert to back to formats that we had before COVID-19, with big yearly fairs and gatherings. Even if gatherings are necessary for the community, what will change is the scale, the way they are organised, by combining them with digital channels and tools that complement physical activations. This is what we have been doing at Bulgari and it works very well. Our motto is; globally digital followed by local presentations.
Who or what is your biggest source of inspiration?
Inspiration can be found anywhere. Clearly, the city of Rome with its architecture, monuments and its special light is always a very strong source of inspiration.
What is the professional motto that you live by?
The key issue when designing a product, it is to understand the design and aesthetic language behind it, the usage possibilities, the materials and its history. In a few words, the “culture of the project”: once you understand this, you can draw create anything.
What is a message that you would send to your fans and clients in the Middle East?
I am lucky because my work and my passion for design coincide. I try to create projects and designs that show a different aspect of the same brand each time.