Bulgari’s Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani says he loves objects with a ‘very unique soul’. In a long-awaited conversation, he lets the rake into his creative process.

This interview was meant to take place more than two years ago. Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani, the Bulgari Product Creation Executive Director, and I had been in talks to feature him in The Rake because, frankly, his omission from the magazine in years gone by was scandalous considering he is the most stylish man in the Swiss watch industry (a crowd in need of some Neapolitan swagger). So we were ready to go, and then something happened that kept everyone apart for 24 months. Now, on attempt number two, we managed to speak. In a way I am delighted it didn’t happen in 2020, as Fabrizio has, since then, managed to push new boundaries and realise further his unnerving genius and innovative brilliance, crowned by the release of the Octo Finissimo Ultra, the thinnest watch ever made.

It became clear that his well-deserved garlands are modestly held. We discussed the value of teamwork in the watch industry, the effect it has on his personal attitudes, and sartorial perfection.

“A designer is a person who sometimes has a good idea or makes good sketches, but it is not a one-man show.”

I do not have the receipt for my creative process — it is the most difficult thing to explain. Ninety-nine per cent of my ideas come out of an emotion. You have two kinds of designers for my point of view. The first has a very emotional approach, you have an emotion from seeing a landscape, a particular object, smell, music, and you start to make sketches as your brain starts processing ideas. The second kind has more or less an analytic approach, so, ‘I have a brief, this is the needs of the market, this is the task’, and they start, like a puzzle, to put all the elements together. My approach is both, 70:30 respectively.

We create objects that people actually use, so it is useful to have information about the market and the needs of the client when you design something. It is also important to understand the needs of the market for which there is no data, and draws on your imagination to forecast where things will move around the world.

My greatest passion in life is to make sketches. When I have an idea in my brain, I start to make sketches, and this is a pure instinctive approach. I started to make sketches and I discovered comic books, and the amazing ability to tell stories through drawings. I never read the text, just the drawings and colours. My brain works for images and the emotions, but often the emotions come from the images. After that, my greatest passion is transportation designs, cars, motorcycles.

I started my career at the Fiat Group, and I started to design cars, thanks to my father, who worked for Hertz at the time. Now I make objects, watches, sunglasses, jewellery for Bulgari, but to be honest it is just an excuse to make another sketch.

I love objects with a very unique soul. Which is why I love strange objects, cars, watches. I am not obsessive about the price of the product but the soul. The most important thing is to be innovative, not just different. We see gentlemen who look different but not elegant, as he is fitting different elements together to be unique but it doesn’t make him elegant. The message behind the object is also crucial. If the message is interesting, one small innovation can make a huge difference if the message is clear.

Bulgari is a brand with watch masters and designers that work together from the beginning. That’s why we have a perpetual calendar with a very unique dial, because at the beginning the watch master asked me what movement I wanted to have. I said we should have huge date counters, so I suggested adding a retrograde function, and they made it.

A designer is a person who sometimes has a good idea or makes good sketches, but it is not a one-man show. If you don’t have the marketing teams, business development teams, the master watchmakers in the workshop, a sketch is just a sketch.

Bulgari is different because it plays with geometrical elements, plays with the roots of Italian design culture, it plays with the shapes and materials to create new aesthetics, and we have to thank Gianni Bulgari, as it is thanks to him that we have these aesthetics. All of our competitors come from Paris, but it is very important for us that our aesthetic is Roman and we are perceived as a brand that has come from Rome. It is part of the Italian design history.

Some of Fabrizio’s sketches that led to the creation of the world’s thinnest watch, the Bulgari Octo Finissimo Ultra.
Fabrizio sketches in his office at the Bulgari headquarters in Neuchâtel, Switzerland.

I am not obsessed with putting my signature or stamp on every product we make. If you play with an iconic design, 99 per cent of the time it will go wrong. You just need to improve the quality sometimes, as after decades, technologies improve and materials improve but I don’t want to touch the aesthetics. Shapes become old but the ideas are forever.

“Elegance is not something that must be strange or so evident; elegance is perfection of the understated.”

The mathematical approach to watchmaking is all about aesthetics. In Italy we call it aesthetica di meccanica. For us an engine has its own aesthetics that comes from performance, sound, shape. Watch movements are just like engines.

The Octo Finissimo must be a modern complication that you have to wear every day. Hence the robust design, the bracelet, and, yes, it was all stemming from the Octo, which we designed 10 years ago. But in the end the approach was different; it has to be an ultra-thin watch that we wear every day.

After the Finissimo, many important and prestigious brands started making ultra-thin watches. What you don’t want is people to not copy you. My tutor at university taught me that if people are looking at what you’re doing and emulate it, then that’s a very good sign.

I love all the most iconic Italian industrial designers, like Castiglioni, but the list is very long, and I love some designers from Germany, the U.S., Sweden. It is difficult to pick one master. I try to pick and choose different elements from different designers and different brands.

It is hard for me to name masters when it comes to industrial icons, it is easy for me to talk about masters when it comes to elegance. Italian actors like Marcello Mastroianni, Vittorio Gassman, Totò. Everyone knows Gianni Agnelli, but for him it was much more about extravagance. Pure elegance for me is not something that must be strange or so evident; elegance is perfection of the understated. I am obsessed with fabrics and details. I always wear jackets with certain proportions, always with patch-pockets. I came from Naples and I grew up with the images of my uncles, who were known in Naples for being so elegant.

Clothes should have perfect proportions but also be comfortable. I have jackets that I made 20 years ago. I still wear them, and the jacket and elements within grow old with you. This is what is so wonderful about tailoring.