The Thinnest Watch Record Served as an Excuse, but Ultimately, It Was about Finding Our Path and Purpose in this Journey: Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani

Bvlgari’s Executive Director of Product Creation Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani Speaks to GMT India about the Brand’s Recent Technical Feats
The Thinnest Watch Record Served as an Excuse, but Ultimately, It Was about Finding Our Path and Purpose in this Journey: Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani
May 17, 2024
The Thinnest Watch Record Served as an Excuse, but Ultimately, It Was about Finding Our Path and Purpose in this Journey: Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani

During the week of W&W 2024, Bvlgari once again asserted its leadership in haute horlogerie with the debut of the Octo Finissimo Ultra COSC. Alongside this milestone, the brand introduced a host of innovations within the Octo Finissimo and Octo Roma collections. 

In a candid conversation with GMT India, Stigliani offered insights into Bvlgari's journey towards creating the thinnest chronometer, reflecting on how this pursuit had shaped the brand's identity as a leading force in the world of watchmaking. He also spoke about the brand’s sustainability practices. Excerpts from the interview:

What led Bvlgari to pursue the creation of the thinnest chronometer in the market? How does this align with the brand’s identity as a watchmaker?

We were conservative with the first Octo Finissimo Ultra, thinking it was enough. After six months, we realised it wasn't. We decided to look at things differently, aiming not just for the thinnest mechanical watch in the market but also for the thinnest chronometer. This is particularly interesting because it's the only ultra-thin watch with a second counter on the display. It will be challenging for anyone else to reach this record. 

However, it was a way to showcase our skills as watchmakers because the record served as an excuse, but ultimately, it was about finding our path and purpose in this journey. Our manufacturer had amazing skills, but there was little interest in ultra-thin watches. So, we explored this field, like a bet, to see what would happen. No one expected Bvlgari, a leading jeweller, to achieve this. Starting with the record helped us find our path, unlike many brands that already had theirs.

Given the brand's rich history in jewellery making, did it initially face challenges to being taken seriously in watchmaking? Has the success of the Octo Finissimo helped overcome this?

Yes, when we started the journey, we began with the tourbillon manual winding. After that came the minute repeater, followed by the manual winding movement, then the automatic one, the chronograph, and the thinnest manual automatic tourbillon. It was a very long journey with many chapters. 

The idea was to showcase the amazing savoir faire from a different point of view. Our goal was to present our vision of a Grand Complication watch as an Italian brand from Rome and in the end, the Octo Finissimo offered a unique way to wear a grand complication. 

This also began at the onset of the economic crisis and as designers, we had to be aware of the changing times. We realised that during an economic crisis, people might not want to flaunt chunky gold watches with diamonds. They would need something different. These considerations led to the creation of the Octo Finissimo as it is today.

Did you have to make any design compromises with the new chronometer?

There's always a compromise. The Octo Finissimo is a technical product, so we were not satisfied with just thinness and achieving the chronometer. At a certain point, we decided to make it in platinum. We completely redesigned the bracelet and the case because changing the material necessitates re-engineering all components due to the watch's thinness. Even changing the dial colour on the Finissimo poses constraints due to the thickness of applied layers. It's like designing an engine for a high-performance car. Similarly, with the Octo Finissimo, every detail—from the bridges to the wheels—is meticulously considered. Even though it lacks a traditional dial, each of the two single dials showcases around 170 movement components. Ultimately, every single element presents its own set of constraints.

What inspired the brand's collaboration with architect Tadao Ando on the Tubogas collection?

I remember when Tadao had the idea to collaborate with Bvlgari on a project inspired by nature. We thought, 'Why not?', and began brainstorming which products would be most compelling for both parties. The Serpenti immediately came to mind because of its strong connection to nature. Tadao envisioned representing the seasons, so we spent some time finding the right perspective and execution. The Serpenti Tubogos, with its curved dial, presented challenges, but Tadao wanted to embody spring, summer, winter, and autumn. 

As we went deeper into nature-themed concepts, we considered natural elements like gemstones and decided to integrate them with the Italian mosaic technique, using leftover but highly valuable precious stones and materials from our jewellery production. When we proposed this mosaic idea to Tadao, he loved it, and we quickly moved into the prototype phase. 

Talking about the Octo Roma watches, what was the inspiration behind moving to the 100% black DLC steel? 

The black watch holds significance in the market for men’s watches. It's essential for formal occasions due to its stealthy and sporty appeal. Depending on the watch's character, it can be either very elegant or robust on the wrist. We chose to implement this with the Octo Roma, as we utilise the Octo Roma design across a wide range, from the entry-level Octo models to the most expensive watches in the Octo collection, often featuring titanium DLC finishing. 

This approach started over 10 years ago with the Octo Striking, which also used the Octo Roma case. This move completes the circle around the Octo Roma as it’s also the first time we introduced a chronograph in the Octo Roma collection, combined with the black coating.

We want to revisit something you mentioned about Serpenti watches, regarding how the brand's mosaic concept aims to minimise wastage. Is this a conscious step towards sustainability for the brand?

The entire group, not just the brand, prioritises sustainability. While we're focusing on watches here, our company also creates perfumes, leather goods, and jewellery. Sustainability is critical across our fashion and leather goods brands. The concept behind this watch is particularly compelling. I must emphasise that sustainability receives significant effort from the entire group.

Producing movements requires specific metal alloys and precise finishes, making it challenging. We focus on details like leather straps, aiming to minimise their use. Our Octo Roma features interchangeability, preferring caoutchouc over alligator or leather straps. While our suppliers adhere to eco-friendly practices with leather, meeting specific manufacturing standards is crucial. We collaborate solely with tested suppliers who meet our strict criteria. For example, we avoid sourcing art stones from uncertified origins due to ethical concerns in extraction processes. Ensuring fair labour practices is our priority, leading us to work only with certified suppliers. 

What is Bvlgari's stance on lab-grown diamonds? 

Honestly, I don't think it's a real diamond. What's fascinating about diamonds is their natural formation over centuries, and artificial diamonds cannot achieve that. Trends come and go, and as a significant player in the jewellery industry, it's challenging to predict if artificial diamonds will become widely adopted.

Lastly, what does the future hold for the brand and the Octo Finissimo?

Now we enter the most challenging phase because Finissimo is now well-known. We have numerous collectors and many requests. However, there are only a limited number of watches we can produce annually. But, we have numerous exciting projects in mind, including crazy collaborations and innovative ideas in the pipeline. The challenge lies in wanting more time to develop all these ideas fully. Sadly, we make watches because we cannot buy time.