Design is an essential element in determining the character of a watch. Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani, Creative Director of Bulgari, the hand behind the success of the Roman maison’s creations, knows this well. We retrace with him his story and the genesis of the Octo Finissimo for Pisa Orologeria.
I was born with a pencil in my hand. I never thought of doing anything else. Beyond being able to draw, the main challenge of a designer is to be able to imagine objects that don’t exist and to be able to draw anything, compatible with the studies he has done. He is not an engineer, he is not an architect. But he must be able to imagine a product in its entirety, whether it is a chair, a telephone, a pen, a watch or a car. As for watches, I’ve always liked them. And to design them you need a great passion. Unlike an industry like the automotive industry, which today has such an important social impact that it has led to the creation of automotive design schools all over the world, very few, proportionally, study to become a watch designer. It is a very different, much smaller world. Not only in the size of objects but also in the size of companies.
What are your cultural reference points, sources of inspiration, stories and characters that you think have defined your style?
Industrial Design remains one of my reference points. As we know it today, Industrial Design was born with the Industrial Revolution and was basically a discipline created to ‘dress’ products made by industry. The Italians managed over the years to develop this discipline by combining it with Aesthetics and elevating it to an art form.
In addition to their innate sense of proportion and taste for beauty, Italian designers have also been able to innovate, creating new types of products and ‘educating’ consumers to use them in a different way. In this way, they have given objects a second life, as in the case of Bulgari’s Tubogas bracelet, which was an object inspired by an everyday object. As Achille Castiglioni said, ‘objects must keep us company’ and, I would add, even more so objects that accompany us for a lifetime, representing unique moments.
Innovation, a sense of proportion and the use of constraint as a typological and aesthetic element around which the whole project revolves have always been typical elements of Italian Design.
Bulgari is a full part of this tradition through the use of unique proportions, often unusual materials such as porcelain for the Chandra jewellery collection, aluminium and rubber in the Aluminium watch and the use of steel in jewellery. All this is part of the tradition and DNA of the brand and it is my task to evolve these concepts while respecting the typical elements of the brand.
What is your creative process? Do you follow a fixed pattern or do you approach each project differently?
The fundamental aspect when designing a product is to understand the design and aesthetic language that represents it, the way it is used, the materials and the history it carries with it, in a nutshell the ‘Culture of Design’, once this is understood you can design cars, watches, jewellery or anything else.
Of course, the target audience is very important when thinking about a product and should always be kept in mind as the main reference.
As for inspiration, this can be found anywhere. Clearly the city of Rome – with its architecture, its monuments and its special light – represents a great source of inspiration for me. The proportions found in Roman architecture embody a magnificence that we often try to transfer and convey in our products.
Often, the inspiration comes from the brand itself: Bulgari’s history is so rich that it is an inspiration in itself.
It is interesting for a designer to work in a brand with such an important history behind it: sometimes it puts constraints on you, but the constraint is also the biggest challenge.
Do you work with paper and pencil, old-fashioned, or digitally?
I work mainly with pen and paper. I have a real passion for pens, I have lots of them, fountain pens and ballpoint pens. Everywhere: in the office, in my jacket, at home. The one I choose to use from time to time depends on the type of sketch I have to make. If it is a sketch, the study of some ideas, I use a biro. For a precision drawing, I prefer one of my fountain pens. Sometimes I also use digital technology but paper and pen remain my passion.
What are the challenges in designing a watch?
Each product or collection has its own peculiarities but a creative in my position is constantly thinking about the products he has to design trying to innovate the typical signs of the brand and making products that do not yet exist today. Understanding the needs and hidden needs of customers by trying to imagine how they will use the products we are designing now. Ettore Sottsass said that one of the most complicated things for a designer is to understand who will use his product: after so many years, this is still one of the most important questions.
Technique and aesthetics: the watch encapsulates, more than other objects, these two elements. How much does one influence the other and in what way?
Like Italian design, Bulgari design is characterised precisely by an approach to functionality in which it is not the form that simply follows the function: it is the constraint that generates an aesthetic. In the Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater, we had the creative idea of having a titanium dial open with numerous engravings at the hour markers and the small seconds counter that would respond to a certain aesthetic but at the same time would also be functional, in order to allow the sound to propagate as best as possible and to make the most of the 6.85 millimetres of the case. The result is surprising. Choices that have helped to give the timepiece an appearance that is not only highly contemporary but also one of apparent normality, almost as if it were a ‘common’ time-only watch. An expression of a hidden luxury that can also be worn every day, in everyday life.
Bulgari is a brand with a long history and established aesthetic canons. How do you find the balance between the character of a brand and the personality of the designer?
In my daily work I feel free, because with experience I can perceive the aesthetics of the company, I know its history and signs. I am the kind of designer who builds the object together with his team. I am in the office, discussing with my collaborators the evolution of one product rather than another.
I try to stimulate them on themes that are close to the brand from a formal, aesthetic and product type point of view. A company like Bulgari, with various types of products, must have a well-defined aesthetic and stylistic identity. But in general, I have no stylistic guidelines. I think of Bulgari products in my head, I have the aesthetic criteria of the brand and I am aligned with my taste. A designer must possess the aesthetic sensibility that his company needs.
What is the genesis of the Octo Finissimo collection and what challenges did you face?
The challenge was first to make an Octo that was 5 millimetres thick and then a movement that was 1.95 in the case of the tourbillon, 2.23 in the case of the small seconds.
It is a type of approach to an object that I would almost describe as ‘military’ or Formula One, because they are two worlds in which decorum has no place: there must only be what works, perfectly.
A function that surpasses all concepts of aesthetics and, because Octo has facetted, even wafer-thin applied indices.
Octo Finissimo Pisa: how did you approach this collaboration and how does it differ from the others?
This collaboration stems from an excellent relationship with Orologeria Pisa, a brand that has been carrying on a long history of human and professional value for three generations.
From the very beginning, we wanted to follow an aesthetic path that would link our iconic Octo Finissimo watch to the history of Orologeria Pisa and the entrepreneurial value of the Pisa family.
The story of this family – originally from a small town in Emilia-Romagna – began in the heart of Milan, where in the early decades of the 20th century, Divino Pisa, the second of the 13 Pisa brothers, turned his passion for watches into a real profession. In the Lombard capital, Divino began working as a watchmaking technician and in the early 1930s founded the first Italian watchmaking school.
And it is precisely in the wake of this tradition that the decision was made to produce a brass dial for the Octo watch for the first time: the desire was to tell the story of Milanese ingenuity through a material such as brass which is proposed, in this case, with a deliberately rough finish. No logo, neither that of Pisa nor that of Bulgari, adorns the dial, which is designed to highlight finish and material, rather than the brands behind the collaboration. The watch remains an ‘anonymous’ object, thus once again alluding to the world of ‘making’ and objects born of ingenuity.
Finally, the small seconds counter is inspired by the dial of the terrestrial magnetism watch created by Divino Pisa in 1957, which was exhibited in the following years among the works of the Museum of Science and Technology in Milan, thus paying full homage to the founder of the Pisa brand.