The Bulgari Genius Who Designs the World’s Thinnest Watches
The Bulgari Genius Who Designs the World’s Thinnest Watches

The Octo Finissimo’s nine world records for the thinnest watch collection over the last decade has catapulted Bulgari’s reputation from a just a Roman high-jeweler to the front ranks of global watch brands. Meet Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani, the man who designed these beauties

With the Octo Finissimo Ultra Mark II, which was launched at Watches & Wonders in April this year, Bulgari has reclaimed the world record for the world’s thinnest mechanical watch, which, for a brief period, was snatched away by Richard Mille when it created the 1.75 RM UP-01 Ferrari. The new Finissimo is unbelievably thin at just 1.7 mm. The man who designed this watch as well as eight other world record holding watches in the collection like the famous Finissimo Tourbillon Chronograph Skeleton Automatic (2020), Finissimo Perpetual Calendar (2021), Finissimo Chronograph GMT Automatic (2019), Finissimo Minute Repeater (2016) is Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani, a Naples-born Italian designer, who has led Bulgari’s watch design operations since 2011 as its Product Creation Executive Director.


Image 2 Octo Finissimo Ultra COSC collection thinnest watch.jpg

Octo Finissimo Ultra COSC collection


Trained as an industrial designer, the 52-year-old Stigliani’s passion as a student was automobile design, which he realised with his first job at Fiat in Turin, designing cars and scooters. He joined Bulgari in 2001 and was famously responsible for reinterpreting the famous Bulgari Serpenti in the form of the Serpenti Tubogas in 2009. Two years later he moved to Neuchatel in Switzerland to head Bulgari’s watch design centre, as the brand sought to revitalize itself in the watch arena. Stigliani’s biggest achievement since then has been to transform the Octo (originally created by the legendary Swiss watch designer Gerald Genta whose company Bulgari acquired in 1999) into Bulgari’s signature men’s watch silhouette, through collections such as the Octo Finissimo and Octo Roma. The global fame of the Finissimo and its numerous technological achievements over the last decade have helped catapult Bulgari into one of the world’s leading watch brands. “Octo Finissimo represents the pinnacle of our savoir-faire,” Stigliani had told Man’s World in an earlier interview.


Stigliani’s design chops at Bulgari of course go far beyond the Octo. The Serpenti Cleopatra, the high-jewelry women’s watch, a modern interpretation of the old Bulgari icon, for example, won the Jewelry Watch prize at the Grand Prix D’Hologerie de Geneve, the Oscars for watches, last year. And this year, he returned to Serpenti Tubogas and a favourite collaborator, the Pritzker Prize winning Japanese architect Tadao Ando, to create the striking Tadao Ando x Bulgari Serpenti, a jewelry watch  that  celebrates nature across the four seasons. Stigliani also returned to his car design roots late last year to create the Bulgari X Gran Turismo Limited-Edition Chronograph in association with the company that owns the  Japanese auto-simulation video game Gran Turismo, part of which also included designing the Bulgari Aluminum Vision GT virtual concept car.


Octo Finissimo's first eight world record breaking watches thinnest watch FBS interview

Octo Finissimo's first eight world record breaking watches


Stigliani’s Instagram handle is a cornucopia of treasures for those interested in industrial and product design. It provides a peek into his design process at Bulgari as well as his varied interests outside of watches, including his passion for Japanese designs. His most recent posts include an ode to Pilot Long Murex 1978 fountain pen, the Japanese Pilot fountain pen from the 1970s that he seems to be currently using for his sketches; followed by sketches of the aerodynamic nose of the Japanese Shinkansen bullet trains, whose cabins, according to him, changes shape in relation to the route the train takes. “Impossible for me to resist the attempt to investigate its shapes through quick drawings,” he says. For Stigliani, all his design work still starts with sketches on paper made using his favourite pens. “The products I design,” he has said elsewhere, “are nothing more than an excuse to make another sketch.” And for those obsessed with fountain pens, he uses Pilot Iroshizuku Tsuki-yo ink, according to his Instagram.


In this interview for Man’s World with Rizwan Bachav, Stigliani shares insights into Bulgari's design philosophy, the intricacies of crafting record-setting watches, and the essence of collaboration.


Octo Finissimo Ultra is just 1.7 mm thick FBS interview thinnest watch Bulgari

Octo Finissimo Ultra is just 1.7 mm thick


Man’s World: What is Bulgari's philosophy on watch design and how has it evolved over time? 

Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani: Bulgari's philosophy on watch design revolves around innovation and differentiation. For instance, the Octo Finissimo stands as a testament to this philosophy, being the thinnest watch on the market with a chronometer certification. The company aims to offer a fresh perspective on Grand Complication watches, steering away from conventional norms in the industry. Unlike brands known for their association with sports or racing, Bulgari's focus lies in Italian aesthetics and the essence of Rome. The Octo Finissimo, with its sleek design and contemporary appeal, reflects this distinctive approach.  

When it comes to our women's watches, we approach design with the same level of innovation and creativity. We're not content with simply offering downsized versions of men's watches adorned with gemstones. Instead, we view each piece as a unique expression of femininity and elegance. As a brand rooted in jewelry craftsmanship, we bring a distinctive perspective to women's watch design. Our creations blend horological expertise with artistic flair, resulting in timepieces that are as much a statement of style as they reflect Bulgari's heritage. 

Our commitment to innovation extends beyond design aesthetics to the very materials we use. For instance, our aluminum watch, while highly sophisticated in its construction, remains accessible in terms of pricing—a testament to our dedication to offering exceptional value to our discerning clientele. In essence, our philosophy revolves around storytelling, innovation, and a relentless pursuit of excellence—a philosophy that continues to drive us forward in the ever-evolving world of watchmaking. 


MW: How did Bulgari integrate modernity into the Octo Roma collection while maintaining its architectural essence? 

FBS: The Octo Roma collection seamlessly blends bold modernity with architectural inspiration, offering a fresh take on the iconic Octo design. Despite its architectural roots, the Octo Roma underwent significant evolution, especially with the introduction of the chronograph model. Bulgari invested considerable time and effort in enhancing various aspects of the timepiece, from the movement to the case and even the interchangeable straps. The result is a watch that preserves the collection's iconic design elements while offering enhanced functionality and versatility. 


Tadao Ando x Serpenti Collection thinnest watch FBS interview

Tadao Ando x Serpenti Collection


MW: How did Bulgari utilize black in the design of the Octo Roma watches? 

FBS: Black plays a significant role in enhancing the aesthetic appeal of the Octo Roma watches. It adds a sense of modernity and sophistication to the timepieces, making them versatile and suitable for various occasions. Whether it's a grand complication watch or a simple hour, minute, and second model, black lends a touch of elegance and stealthiness to the design. Bulgari's expertise in using black extends beyond the Octo Roma collection, with various models featuring black DLC coatings and finishes, showcasing the brand's versatility in design. 


MW: The Octo Finissimo Ultra COSC sets a new standard for slimness in mechanical watchmaking. Could you delve into the challenges faced in achieving such a thin profile while ensuring the watch's robustness and reliability? 

FBS: The Octo Finissimo Ultra COSC represents a remarkable evolution in ultra-thin watchmaking, building upon our previous achievement of a 1.8mm thickness—the thinnest in its class at the time. However, as the landscape of horology continued to evolve, with competitors like Richard Mille pushing boundaries, we recognized the imperative to surpass our own record. 

 This endeavor was not without its challenges. Achieving a thickness of 1.7mm required a comprehensive reevaluation of every aspect of the watch's design and construction, from the movement to the finishing touches. 

Our collaboration with watch-masters and engineers led to groundbreaking innovations, such as the inclusion of a second wheel for COSC certification—a feat unmatched by any other ultra-thin watch on the market. Additionally, we meticulously redesigned key components, such as the balance wheel, to ensure optimal performance and reliability. 

Beyond technical considerations, we also focused on enhancing the watch's aesthetic appeal, incorporating elements like a QR code-inspired finish as a nod to our commitment to blending tradition with modernity. In essence, the Octo Finissimo Ultra COSC stands as a testament to Bulgari's unwavering dedication to innovation and excellence in horology, symbolizing a triumph of engineering and craftsmanship.


Sketches shared by Stigliani on his Instagram handle thinnest watch FBS interview bulgari

Sketches shared by Stigliani on his Instagram handle


MW: How did Bulgari navigate the complexities of working with platinum in the Octo Finissimo Ultra Platinum? 

FBS: Bulgari's quest for excellence extends to material selection, prioritizing ingenuity over conventionality. Rather than relying on bespoke alloys, the focus is on harnessing the potential of established metals. The introduction of platinum into the Octo Finissimo Ultra posed a formidable challenge, requiring a delicate balance between slimness and structural integrity. 

In the pursuit of precision, Bulgari draws parallels with Formula One, where every fraction of a second matters. Developing the Octo Finissimo Ultra demanded years of meticulous refinement, especially in perfecting dial finishes and colors. The endeavor wasn't merely aesthetic; it encompassed the intricate mechanics, prompting a redesign of the movement to accommodate the desired enhancements. 

The Octo Finissimo stands as a beacon of Bulgari's horological innovation, heralding a new era in masculine timepieces. Its impact transcended the brand, reshaping industry norms and inspiring collectors worldwide. By reimagining traditional elements like the bracelet, Bulgari achieved a harmonious fusion of tradition and modernity. 

Throughout this journey, we didn't adhere to conventional benchmarks or rely on market research. Our driving force was a simple yet powerful motivation: to create a watch that we ourselves would cherish. 


MW: How did Tadao Ando's collaboration influence the design of the Serpenti Tubogas collection? 

FBS: The collaboration with architect Tadao Ando on the Serpenti Tubogas collection was an exploration of nature's transformative beauty, inspired by the shifting seasons. Initially, the concept stemmed from a request by Tadao himself, following our successful collaboration on two Octo models. His vision was visionary, introducing a captivating narrative that resonated deeply with our design ethos. Tadao envisioned two distinct dials, each with its own unique charm. The first, symbolizing the vastness of space with its 'black hole' motif, offered a striking contrast to the ultra-thin profile of the watch. The second dial captured the essence of a Zen Garden, evoking a sense of serene balance and harmony. 

Tadao's affinity for nature and his reverence for its elements prompted us to embark on a journey to craft dials that would honor his vision. We delved into the realm of precious and semi-precious stones, exploring their inherent beauty and symbolism. The idea was to imbue each dial with a sense of timeless elegance while paying homage to the natural world. Thus, we carefully selected materials like green aventurine, tiger's eye, and mother of pearl, each chosen for its unique color and texture. 

The design process was a collaborative effort, with Tadao's creative genius guiding our exploration of nature-inspired aesthetics. We sought to strike a delicate balance between tradition and innovation, drawing inspiration from both Japanese craftsmanship and Italian design heritage. Our goal was to create dials that not only showcased the beauty of the materials but also celebrated the artistry behind their creation. 

As the project evolved, we encountered challenges that tested our resolve. From sourcing rare stones to perfecting the intricate dial designs, every step required meticulous attention to detail. Yet, it was this pursuit of excellence that fueled our creativity and propelled us toward our shared vision. 

In the end, the Serpenti Tubogas collection emerged as a testament to the power of collaboration and the beauty of nature. Each limited-edition watch captures the essence of a specific season, inviting wearers to embark on a journey through nature's ever-changing landscape. It is a celebration of transformation and renewal, mirrored in every delicate detail of these exquisite timepieces.


The 2024 Octo Roma Auto collection thinnest watch FBS interview Bulgari

The 2024 Octo Roma Auto collection


MW: Fabrizio, what are some of your favorite modern objects outside of watches? 

FBS: Oh, there are so many things I love! I'm passionate about cars, motorcycles, shoes, jackets, cameras, and even ballpoint pens. Honestly, it's hard to choose just one. Each of these objects represents a blend of craftsmanship, design, and functionality that I find truly inspiring. It's like trying to pick a favorite child – impossible! 


MW: Are there any product designers, past or present, that you admire? 

FBS: Certainly! I have a deep appreciation for a multitude of designers across various disciplines. Among Italian architects and designers, Gaetano Pesce and Bruno Munari stand out for their revolutionary contributions. Pesce's daring designs and Munari's emphasis on simplicity have left a lasting impression on me. Additionally, I hold in high regard the work of iconic car designers and coachbuilders such as Marcello Gandini, Scaglione, Sergio Scaglietti, and Pininfarina. Their mastery of form and function in automotive design continues to inspire me. While my admiration extends to many designers, both Italian and international, these individuals have profoundly influenced my perspective on design. 


MW: Do you collect watches, and if so, what are some watches in your collection? 

FBS: I used to collect watches, but not anymore. For me, a watch is more than just a collectible–it's a functional piece of art. While I do have watches from Bulgari and other brands in my collection, I'm more interested in acquiring timepieces that resonate with me on a personal level, whether it's their design, craftsmanship, or unique features. Honestly, I'm not much of a collector. I prefer to use objects rather than let them gather dust on a shelf. Whether it's watches, cameras, or motorcycles, I believe in getting the most out of every item I own. If I find myself not using something, I'll often trade it so that it can find a new home where it will be appreciated and used. 


MW: As a designer, what can we expect to find your wardrobe? 

FBS: Ah, my wardrobe essentials! Well, I have a particular fondness for tailored garments, especially blue jackets. They strike the perfect balance between sporty elegance and attention to detail, which aligns perfectly with my personal style. Of course, I have other jackets and clothing items, but my blue jackets hold a special place in my heart. 

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