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The secrets of Bulgari watch design
Point of View

The secrets of Bulgari watch design

Friday, 12 December 2014
By Louis Nardin
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Louis Nardin
Journalist and consultant

“Audacity, more audacity, always audacity.”

Georges Jacques Danton

“A quality watch is a concentration of creativity, rare technical and scientific skills, and age-old gestures. It appeals to the desire for uniqueness and distinction; it is a badge of knowledge, power and taste. A watch has many stories to tell; the details and secrets provide the relish”.

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3 min read

The illustrious jeweller has developed a distinctive style for its watch collections. Rooted in pure lines and a rationalistic approach, it is no less joyful and convivial, like the Italians themselves.

The design of a Bulgari watch doesn’t lend itself easily to words; it is meant to be savoured. Defining a style that has made its mark ever since the Bvlgari Bvlgari made its debut in 1977 is therefore a delicate task, to say the least. Fortunately, Fabrizio Buonamassa, who heads the watch design department, is able to explain the finer points of this house style, namely a studied blend of rational thinking, pure forms, consideration for the manufacturing process, a contemporary spirit and a dash of Italian irony.

“At Bulgari, watch design is governed by the same principles as Italian industrial design. Form follows function, with no decorative elements. In this respect, we can compare it to Germany’s Bauhaus movement. Precision and rationality are two of the cardinal values that help shape each of our watch designs. Every aspect must be useful, functional and as simple as possible. Architecture provides endless inspiration. Playing around with volumes and solid shapes generates new forms. When we apply this to watchmaking, we work within the framework imposed by the manufacturing process. More specifically, we stay true to the raw shapes of the pieces as they come out of production. The “gas pipe” Tubogas bracelet is one example. Its form is virtually unchanged after manufacturing.”

Bulgari Commedia dell'Arte - Brighella
Contemporary by essence

Of course, Fabrizio Buonamassa looks to Bulgari’s identity for inspiration, including its expertise in coloured stones and its heritage as a jeweller. But that is as far as it goes. “Vintage is hugely popular today, but it doesn’t interest us. On the contrary, a Bulgari watch must fit with its era. It must satisfy customers’ needs and reflect the brand’s tastes. Our watches are therefore contemporary by essence. My role as a designer isn’t just about sketching products; I have to feel what it is the public wants and needs, even when this isn’t immediately evident. This can be a different way to use an object, as with the Bvlgari Catene and its chain bracelet. Or a new way to wear a watch.” Mixing and matching eras shouldn’t be ruled out either; on the contrary. The Commedia Dell’Arte, for example, unveiled in 2013, encloses a traditional cloisonné enamel dial in a technically sophisticated, futuristic case.

Achieving precision in the watch's exterior is equally as demanding in terms of expertise as the making of a grande complication.
Fabrizio Buonamassa

Technique is often pushed to its furthest limits in order to achieve the ideal design, as Fabrizio Buonamassa explains: “Bulgari has a thirst for challenge. We spare no effort in fashioning parts until we obtain the degree of subtlety and the style we require. Achieving precision in the watch’s exterior is equally as demanding in terms of expertise as the making of a grande complication. The Bvlgari Octo Finissimo Tourbillon is a case in point, with its 1.95mm-high calibre.” For the designer, however, the emotion that radiates from a Bulgari watch also springs from the touch of irony that he is quick to defend: “Italian culture is discernable in every watch. We like to strip away the extraneous, but always with a smile and conviviality. In a word, we’re serious with humour. This is what makes Italian charm, and what our watches must project so as to spark that unique emotion behind each acquisition of a luxury product.”

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