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Published in Verve Magazine, September 2015

Bold design, irony, marriage of materials and at the core of it all – authenticity, they let us in on the fashion house’s creative sensibility…

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The Bulgari booth at Baselworld 2015 is abuzz with conversations, flutes of champagne or cups with a caffeine kick (depending on your preference) and alive with sparkle and pizzazz. The spectacular neckpiece from the Diva collection that heralds you into the boudoir of timelessness, the displays of watches that suggest tradition, technique, innovation and that sure-fire bold touch which is all-Italian. The Octo Finissimo with its size-zero figure to the Serpenti with emerald eyes that conceals secrets and time. It is no wonder Elizabeth Taylor’s personal collection of Bulgari jewels rocked the screen in Cleopatra.

The Bulgari hospitality is warm, and the passion of the makers floods through with the top notes of its designs. As Fabrizio Buonamassa, the director of the Bulgari Watches Design Center (who moved from Fiat to Bulgari following his love for watches) says, “Bulgari’s style is pure in terms of shape and sometimes opulent in terms of attention to detail.”

We notice how the brand — despite possibly attempting to rein in their desire to build a wide range of pieces — has enough to keep the most diverse customer satisfied. Is it any wonder that they have the pride of place at Baselworld — the moment you enter the fair, on your left is the sprawling ‘serpentine’ domain. How do they maintain a sense of aesthetic continuance through varied complications and bejewelled designs? Buonamassa explains: “Bulgari is a world of science and inspirations. You need to find the right language for the right products or you create strange objects! Women are all about emotions, and it is about finding the right shape and proportion while being consistent with the Bulgari values and rules. With men you are looking for performance, movement, engine, finishing…technical elements.”

While we may not be certain we want to be pigeonholed into these categories — the Saphir Ultranero and the Diagono Magnesium, for instance, could be as fascinating to us as the Diva collection or the Giardini Nocturna — it would make sense for the design team to focus on what is a large target audience for their aesthetic sensibility and happy marriage of materials. Buonamassa agrees — pointing to a strong trend of ladies’ complication watches being merged with jewellery. “Bulgari is a part of the Italian design culture. Italian design is unique because it is not merely ‘form follow function’. It is about the ‘ironic’ — it plays with colours and materials in a different way, to give the object a second life. Only Bulgari is able to use tubogas for a watch and make this iconic in the luxury market. We play with constrains and often these very constrains become the turning point of the project and drive the aesthetics.”

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And how do you keep it relevant? “I manage the science of the company and imagine how I can transform this science into contemporary products and not just copy-paste from the archives. My approach is contemporary with respect for the roots and the evolution of the science.”

The gregarious Guido Terreni, managing director of Bulgari Horlogerie, drives home the fact that Bulgari, as a brand, is built on authenticity. “It’s about being true to your brand and your client. You can’t play around with your personality, and that’s exactly the same with a brand. The watches that are successful are successful for decades. Too much new stuff leads to confusion.”

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Terreni warms to the topic as he talks passionately about the various hallmarks of the Bulgari timepieces. “Serpenti is in the DNA of the brand since the past 70 years. Bulgari Bulgari, Diva, Lvcea are….” Iconic? “Iconic is an abused word. Everything is iconic in every brand. But Serpenti is truly iconic. When you are authentic and true to yourself, you are credible. And to be credible in luxury, you have to be credible in terms of style and craftsmanship, both. That’s why we have developed the know-how internally to address the competence of watchmaking. After all, the ladies are buying competence!”

With a diverse portfolio of luxury products, Bulgari has still made a mark with their watches, particularly their latest edition — the distinctive ‘vault-like’ smart watch (which moves beyond calculating calories burnt to storing valuable data). Terreni believes it’s a part of the core differentiation of the brand. “We have the technique at the service of the aesthetic and vice-versa. We are the only brand that thinks about technique and design simultaneously, we are not selling to watch freaks; we are selling to people who know what luxury is about and can recognise the authenticity of an idea and the craftsmanship in the watch. I love the idea generation, to see the design grow, to see the prototype become true…but this would be nothing if I don’t receive an emotion in return. Your emotion is the true reward of all this work. I don’t look for  ‘I like’, or ‘I don’t like’; I look for ‘Wow’.”