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Interview: Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani, Director of Bulgari Watches Design Centre

"I am not an artist who makes a sketch and puts the piece of paper in a frame in a museum."

What could an industrial designer possibly bring to a watch and jewellery maker? Plenty, apparently, if Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani is anything to go by. Having launched his career at the Fiat Style Centre in Turin, Fabrizio eventually went from cars to timepieces. His lifelong passion for watches led him to send some of his sketches to the Bulgari Design Centre where he ultimately landed a job in 2001.

He explains: “The shape of a vehicle must suggest its use, its performance, and in some cases a dream; watches have the same goals but with the added, perhaps harder, challenge of fitting all this in a space 40mm across.”

Such challenges motivate Fabrizio. “Constraints become the turning point and drive the aesthetics,” he reveals. “I’m an industrial designer so I look for constraints to develop the creativity. I am not an artist who makes some sketches on a piece of paper and puts the paper in a frame in a museum. I have to produce objects that someone can use.”

What is your personal design philosophy and how did you adapt that to Bulgari’s aesthetics and heritage?
"Every designer has a personal sense of proportions, preferred shapes and forms when he makes sketches. My taste is close to the Bulgari aesthetics and DNA. So this is my way to imagine its products — with a very pure shape and geometrical elements, without any decorative parts, because I want to make something that makes sense today and in the next few years. My obsession is to create timeless products, respect the brand and be innovative."

What were your design objectives and direction for 2016?
"We are talking about a unique brand that is able to manage Italian design content, culture and Swiss know-how. And we have to convey these values each time. It’s not easy, but it’s important because our clients need products that express the brand in a clear way, because they invest money in them and want to pass them on as a family heirloom. But I don’t like to just copy and paste from the archives. I love to make them contemporary for the needs of our clients."

Which of the novelties were you most proud of this year?
"For men’s watches, it would be the Octo Finissimo Skeleton and the Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater. The latter has a full titanium case and dial, and very well appreciated for the performance, look and material. It’s the thinnest minute repeater in the world; we love to break the rules in this formal segment. Our idea behind these complication watches is that they must be wearable—something that is thin but strong enough so you can wear it everyday if you want."

And for the ladies?
"I love the Serpenti Incantati with the bejewelled bracelet and with the tourbillon. It’s a new execution of the Serpenti. I love it because it’s a different way to wear the Serpenti. For the first time, the Serpenti winds around the case and not around your wrist."

How did this idea evolve?
"The idea came from the jewellery department: To have this brooch that makes a spiral with geometrical elements and two big diamonds – the drop and the emerald shape. And when I saw this I said, “Wow, we have a new product.” My job is to mix the science of the brand to generate new aesthetics. And I discovered we had a new category—for the first time, we could join the mechanical side and the jewellery side of the brand."

What were some of your greatest challenges when designing this year’s novelties?
"Each year is a challenge. It’s a challenge to have a ceramic case for the Serpenti Spiga. It’s a challenge to have the thinnest minute repeater in the world. It’s a challenge to have a skeleton Finissimo execution. But you have to find the right challenge that speaks to your clients about the brand."

Give us an example.
"So as I said, us Italian designers, we love to play with constraints. The constraint here is the thinnest minute repeater in the world. It’s a nightmare because I need the space around the movement to amplify the sound. But the watch has to be slim. So how can I transform this constraint? Well, we chose titanium because titanium is the perfect material to achieve the results we wanted. How do I introduce a new aesthetic for the iconic “12”? I used the font as a hole in the dial, together with the hour markers, so you can hear the sound as best as possible. So you can say the constraint becomes the turning point and drives the aesthetics."

What trends are you predicting in watch design?
"We have a lot of trends—small watches for ladies, high jewellery watches with complications. You can see big and slim watches for men, and for sure, smart watches as well. Today, it’s a very different environment from the beginning of the century. The economic situation is different and today our clients need something that makes sense with the roots of the brand that they choose."

Ex Managing Editor

Like most people these days, Melissa tells the time with her phone. She considers serious timepieces works of art and thinks the perpetual calendar is the handiest complication to date (pun not intended). She's also a Grammar Nazi but promises not to judge if you can't tell the difference between "guilloche" and "guillotine".