Talking Time: Fabrizio Buonomassa Stigliani, Bulgari
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Dubai is one of the ‘most prestigious markets’ for Bulgari

Dubai is one of the ‘most prestigious markets’ for Bulgari

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

Fabrizio Buonomassa Stigliani, Bulgari

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.

Read: Interview: Stefano Gaudioso Tramonte, Corneliani 

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 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.”

Read: In focus: Bovet Edouard bovet Tourbillon 

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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