Designing Ideals – with Fabrizio Buonomassa Chief Product Designer of Bulgari Watches at LVMH Watch Week 2023

We catch up with Fabrizio Buonomassa, and get his low-down of the new ladies novelties from Bulgari launched at LVMH Watch Week 2023.

Welcome to Singapore for the LVMH Watch Week 2023 Fabrizio! What has your experience been of coming to Singapore for this event?

Fabrizio Buonomassa, Chief Product Designer of Bulgari Watches.

I think it’s amazing after four years to be back in Singapore. For me, I am very happy about that. It is important to be here in person after two years of Zoom calls. I know that Singapore has historically been one of the most important markets in the world, especially considering the evolution of watchmaking in the last 20 years. My last trip here was in 2018 – somewhat a long time ago – I’m very happy to be here again.

The CEO’s of the LVMH Watch brands – (left to right) Antoine Pin (Bulgari), Julien Tornare (Zentih), Ricardo Guadalupe (Hublot) Frédéric Arnault (TAG Heuer).

For the first event in 2023, we decided to focus on the feminine side of Bulgari watchmaking, namely, the jewellery watches. The most important novelties here include the new evolution of the Serpenti Tubogas – for the first time, coming with a diamond setting on the bracelet. So it’s the beginning of a big chapter in jewellery watches, signalled by this new Turbogas.

Since we’re on the subject of the watches, would you like to take me on a quick tour of what is in the offering for LVMH 2023?

Bulgari Serpenti Tubogas Infinity

Yes. We introduce the new Bulgari Serpenti Tubogas Infinity. With a brand new bracelet set with diamonds for the first time. So we completely changed the construction of the bracelet – it’s not anymore constructed like the previous Tubogas bracelet. It’s more like a new form.

Each gold element that forms a bracelet link sits free on the titanium module within (that is holding the construction together as its spine). The roll of the gold elements turns around the flexible module, but this time each gold element link is independent of each other. This way, we can remove a link or links; we can change the colours; we can change the stones. It’s more versatile. It’s modular. So we can play with different elements to change the feel and the look.

The other watch that we present is, the evolution in terms of the dial, our cocktail watch called Divas’ Dream, the round shaped watch with the small jewels around. It is a very successful line. We started with the production of this line more than ten years ago. Thanks to Divas’ Dreamtime, with this design, we won our first GPHG award in Geneva with the full diamond and emerald version. So this is a very important line for us. It’s easy to wear, very cute, with the opportunity to play with several elements on the bezel, the dial, the stones around the watch and even the patterns. So, here, we have two different executions – One with the malachite and the stones and the other one with diamonds and ruby.

Bulgari Divas’ Dream Amethyst & Tourmaline

The other watches that we present are an evolution of our Mosaica concept. It’s a pattern with the petals, the same triangular element even on the dial – for the first time with brilliant cut diamonds with different colours on the dial, case and bracelet.

Divas’ Dream Mosaica Pink
Divas’ Dream Mosaica Blue

What is special about the connection between jewellery watches and Bulgari?

Firstly, Bulgari is unique in that we are able to produce the watch movement in Switzerland; and the jewellery part of the watch in Italy. We have a jewellery atelier in Rome. We also have one of the biggest jewellery production sites in the north of Italy, one of the biggest in Europe.

Secondly, the aesthetics. Look at this Divas’ Dream watch. It’s absolutely unique in the blend between the geometry of the watch design, and the different cuts, colours and shapes of stones. It’s absolutely Bulgari . The way it plays with materials, in a simple yet sophisticated way. It all comes off as a seemingly simple, elegant yet beautiful product. However, this is very difficult to achieve because, as you can see, the bezel moves with the wearer’s hands, it’s not rigid. This bezel took a long time in the design process and manufacturing execution – but we’re very happy about the result because when you put it on the wrist, it’s absolutely unique. It’s easy to wear, it’s colourful, it’s joyful! (Find out more about all the Bulgari novelties via link below)

Bulgari at LVMH Watch Week 2023

Tell us more about the research and development that goes into these watches.

We have to do a lot of research when it comes to the precious stones. In the Divas’ Dream, for example, in terms of shape, size, quality, grades, colours, in order to find the right combination between all these.

But honestly, the Serpenti Tubogas is one of the most difficult bracelets that we have done. It took two and a half years of development to find the right thickness to the links, to find the right size of stones. Each link is different in terms of size because the neck is very wide and the tail is very narrow. So we have a lot of different links. In addition, it takes a lot of work to ensure that the presentation of the whole design as it is worn on the wrist moves like the body of a snake. It adds another layer of complexity. For the jewellery watches, the most difficult part sometimes, let me say, more than often, is to find the right colour and stones that we have in mind, with the right quality.

You speak a lot about Italy as the centre of your inspiration. Tell us more about this and its influence.

It's difficult to say because now it's part of my DNA. I’m Italian, I think that I design Italian things. Bulgari is an Italian brand that comes from Rome. So it has a very unique aesthetic sense, a very unique sense for proportions. We have a very unique idea of colour. I think you can see this kind of approach reflected in our watches and in our products.

What has been your most proud achievement at Bulgari to date?

I think the Serpenti Tubogas and the Octo Finissimo. Serpenti is the biggest franchise of the company and everything that happened in the company, in terms of watches, started and evolved around Serpenti from 2010 onwards. Another phase of growth came with the Octo Finissimo which recently everyone knows a lot about!

When you hold and wear these watches, there could be no doubt that these are Bulgari watches! You speak about designing the watch as a whole object - as opposed to the watch head and a bracelet or strap as separate elements.

Bulgari Octo Finissimo Ultra - the thinnest watch in the world at 1.8mm

Yes it is all about integration, or if you are not able to have integration, disassembly. I don’t like anything in between….for me that is a bit strange.

The idea of matching different materials, different shapes, different colours, different stones in a unique way - is absolutely Bulgari. I love these watches because they are a combination of geometry and gemstones.

How and why do you decide on a new variation or direction of the line?

Honestly, we try all the time to be inventive. For example we try to reinvent the Octo Finissimo through different materials, different dials, and through different opportunities - the partnership with important architects and designers - (Kazuyo) Sejima, and Tadao Ando, for example. So each time we collaborate with an artist or company to make a new edition, I have to see that the watch evolves in a different way. This is my objective. If we have to make a limited edition, we have to make something that makes sense, that changes the perception of the watch, changes the aesthetics. It is good when this happens because the rules, the geometry of the Octo Finissimo are very strict and very rigid.

How do you select your collaborators?

Actually it is they who make a proposition!! We see if this could be good, exciting, in line with the aesthetic and identity of the family and brand. The problem you have as the maker is that when you are too close, you don’t necessarily end up making a new edition that is exciting. So finding the right partner, the right guest designer, elevates the whole watch.

I do want to ask a retrospective question regarding the 10th Anniversary Sketch edition. How did this come about?

We tried several ideas before and I was dissatisfied with the way things were going. There was a suggestion to use one of the first sketches that we made of the Octo Finissimo. My first instinct was to refuse the idea. But we started to find the sketches; and then made several prototypes. At the end, the idea was very well appreciated. For me, it's wild. The appreciation was amazing. Very important and cultivated collectors have said that they had never seen something like that.

How much does the response from the industry as well as from collectors influence your design?

It does in a very conscious way. A lot of the time. At the beginning of the creative process, the idea is very fragile. That's why often creative people don’t want to talk about ideas at this stage because it's at the beginning and it's very easy to receive the wrong comments that change the mind; to see the things in a different way than originally intended. When the idea has gone through a lot of process, thinking and experimentation, you can show it. But at the beginning, it's riskier.

So at which point would you feel comfortable?

Personally, when we are able to imagine a lineup! I'm interested more in creating a lineup so that the idea works with different executions. For me, this is a good idea. If the idea works just with one execution, it means that it's just one project. These are two different approaches - so it depends on what we are looking for to do
Speaking of the lineup, what is next for the Jewellery Watches and Octo Finissimo?

It's two different paths. For the jewellery watches the challenge is combining a lot of different knowhow, different craftsmen, technical and creative aspects. To be able to create a watch which is also an amazing piece of jewellery. Furthermore it has to look and feel good on the wrist. Thereafter we have to think about what happens with use - durability or repairs etc. With these considerations we arrive at the right quality, the right price, the right emotion expressed in the watch. Sometimes, compared to Octo Finissimo, the jewellery watches can be more difficult to do.

You have the might of Bulgari behind you. Surely that helps?

It's a big advantage because sometimes the design can be assessed quickly by the manufacture if it works well or not. They already know how to make it. So we are very lucky because we have the agility of a small independent brand, but with an important great machine behind it.

What have you noticed about men getting into jewellery watches? Will you make men’s jewellery watches?

This is one of the most interesting development trends. There is a lot of feedback for this.

Watch journalist Chuang Peck Ming trying on the Diva’s Dream Mosaica.

To me, it’s more a matter of cultural approach. In Europe there is not so much a preference in men’s watches for this but on the other side of the world yes, there is! Things are more fluid. I noticed during dinners in Asia that gentlemen are comfortable using beautiful pieces - brooches, rings, some necklaces - there is more of a market for these kinds of products in Asia and we have some very important gentlemen clients who want jewellery in watches. We received a lot of requests about Finissimo with baguettes, diamonds, for example. We will see….

If you can reveal what your next ambitions are? You have won so many world records.

My next ambition is jewellery or ladies watches. It is the most difficult part. You need to find an idea. Otherwise you make just another product. I want to make something that is more common, mainstream, but at the same time, absolutely unique! With very important 'qualities’. This is the most difficult thing to do. Every watchmaking brand is looking for the same. If nobody is able to do it, there is a reason - it's extremely difficult to find this magic combination!

Author Gerald Chew with Fabrizio Buonomassa.