This month’s LVMH Watch Week saw the introduction of Bulgari’s first all-steel Octo Finissimo. It is the latest tactic by the billion dollar jewelry and watch brand to develop a platform watch that will compete for decades in the market for everyday, but extra special, timepieces.
Having set several attention-grabbing world records for its lightweight and ultra-slim titanium models, Fabrizio Buonamassa, Bulgari’s design director, has made more of a mass appeal watch for 2020 as Matthew Baxter-Priest, editor of Esquire Middle East discovered in this quickfire Q&A.
As a designer, do you find that you notice little elements other people don’t?
I think so. I am obsessed with shapes and details. I always need to touch objects, to feel the weight of the materials. I’ve always been interested in it. I think I started to be a designer when I was about four years old, I used to sketch and was passionate about drawings and the details in the drawings or the quality of the strokes. Details to me are everything. Simple shapes with rich details.
Do you prefer to sketching or drawing?
I prefer to make sketches more than doing drawings, because they are the first time that you get to actually see your ideas. You can make mistakes when you sketch, because the idea is only starting to evolve and take shape.
Do you use certain pens and paper for your sketching?
Yes. I’m obsessed with pens. Fountain pens. Ballpoint pens. The ergonomics of the pen. For me, when I make sketches, the quality of paper, the quality of ink and the quality of the pen are all very important. The paper has to be strong enough with the right texture, otherwise the nib moves too fast or too slow; the ink that comes from Japan is different to the ink that comes from the UK; the gold nib is different from the stainless-steel nib. So I have a lot of pens in my bag. It depends what kind of sketches I have to make.
Do you have any favourites?
I love Lamy. The quality of the ink is great. I love the designs of people like Ross Lovegrove – I have a pen of his where the body is created out of one single piece of aluminum. I love it because it is a commitment to small details that may look simple, but takes years and years of technical development.
Do you ever use a pencil?
No. I used a pencil when I was a child.
What exactly is your job at Bulgari?
I joined Bulgari in 2001 after my previous life in the automotive industry. Today, I manage all the creativities about all the watches you see in our boutiques.
Why did you transition from designing cars to watches?
I have always been fascinated by watches. Because it is something that is always in physical contact with your body. It is an expression of your taste, your power, your soul – it says more about who you are than you realise. Maybe that’s why I love objects. Chairs, watches, sunglasses, shoes – they all have a special link with your body.
When you start sketching a new watch do have a particular place where you start from?
I never start with the dial. I like to start with the case shape, or the dial opening. When I sketch ideas about the Octo, I start from the lugs. I prefer to make sketches in 3D instead of from the front, as you can show more elements. Cars, for example, tend to be designed from the side – because that is where the real emotion comes from. Whereas with watches, people’s interaction comes from the main face.
What inspires your designs?
Bulgari. The brand itself, is one of the biggest inspirations. It’s very important for me to get inspiration outside of the company too, because otherwise your style becomes dusty. You never know when the idea comes but you have to nourish it with a lot of different things: exhibitions, business trips, holidays, emotions. You have to talk with people that come from different cultures, you have to investigate the hidden needs of our clients. In the end it’s like a writer; you can see in a book all the experiences that the writer has.
What makes a design right for the brand?
It’s very important that from 10 metres away you are able to understand that we are talking about a Bulgari watch. When you see our assortment, you cannot make a mistake. Otherwise I missed something, maybe.
Does function, design or material take preference when you design?
I don’t have a preference, but I have an idea. Sometimes that idea comes from wanting to use a specific material – like if I want to use the feature of the material to change the aesthetic of the watch. Constraints are opportunities which often drive the aesthetics.
For example, the Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater is the world’s thinnest, but I had the idea to amplify the sound. Due to its properties, titanium has a different sound than Rose Gold. The issue was polished titanium can look like steel, so I decided to alter the aesthetics without affecting the outcome, so we sandblasted the material giving the watch a completely different aesthetic – more modern and unique from what our competitors were doing.
At the recent LVMH Watch Week in Dubai you unveiled the Octo Finissimo in Steel. When did you start working on that?
Immediately after I finished on the Titanium. I asked my team to build me a prototype in steel with a black dial, so I could experiment with it. The mainstream is very heavily into steel watches, and I wanted to see how we could put our own spin on it. The response from people who would see it on my wrist was very positive – immediately asking if they could have one – but I didn’t think it was ready. I needed time to fully explore the aesthetics, and the understanding of how to use a more common material and the type of finishing needed. We needed to fine tune the combination of material, finishing and the idea at the core of the project. Which I believe we did.