At a certain point, as I am riding a white Ducati Supersport 950S around the winding roads of the Alpine hills that skirt Geneva, taking in the snowy caps in the distance and the perfect chocolate-box scenery, I do have to remind myself that I am at work.
Because up ahead is Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani, creative director of Bulgari watches, also on a Ducati (a red Multistrada), my host for the day, on the occasion of the launch of a new Bulgari and Ducati collaboration.
The Bulgari Aluminium is a sports watch with great heritage. Buonamassa Stigliani, a tall, bearded, 51-year-old Italian who makes even a motorbike look like an elegant accessory, explains: ‘The watch was born in the middle of the ’90s. The idea was to have an ultralight watch, and inspiration comes from the Audi spaceframe chassis. It was exotic – the first aluminium car chassis; and remember, aluminium at the time was super, super high-tech. Today, of course, we use aluminium more than in the past – our laptop, for example, may well be made of aluminium. But while we might say it’s now fairly common, it remains one of the most noble alloys – and in unicolour it is 100 per cent recyclable.’
The Audi reference should come as no surprise, as Buonamassa Stigliani was a car designer before he moved over to working on a much smaller canvas in the form of watchmaking. But this automotive background – given that those who design cars tend to be so much less visible than their luxury goods equivalents – might account for his very non-egotistical decision to revive this ’90s watch without feeling the need to stamp his own personality all over it. Which, incidentally, was absolutely the right call, as what we’re dealing with here is a genuine horological classic. And he clearly loves it: ‘The watch is absolutely amazing. Even in terms of style; this was the first watch to combine aluminium and rubber,’ he enthuses.
‘It’s impossible to find a watch with these kinds of features on the market at this price point, because it’s very affordable,’ explains Buonamassa Stigliani. ‘You have aluminium, titanium and rubber and the watch is ultralight on the wrist. The colour scheme is unique. The design is unique. That’s why immediately after we reproduced the [Bulgari] Aluminium, we gained the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie in Geneva in the “Iconic” segment.’
The original ’90s model ran its course and was out of production for a long while, but then, a few years ago, the brand had the idea to make a new version. Buonamassa Stigliani was consulted, and his response was forthright: ‘I said no, no guys, I don’t want to touch it – change it – because the watch is almost perfect. Everybody knows the watch. I don’t want to change it just to put my signature on it. We just have to use one aspect of alternative technology – because you have to imagine that in the ’90s the technical drawing was made by hand. Now we have the computer-aided design, so we redesigned the watch from scratch using CAD, to look just like the original.’
So did he really not alter anything in its appearance? ‘We just made a fine tuning of the proportions. And we used the most incredible aluminium alloy for the aluminium for the case, the best quality possible. But I don’t want to touch the watch. And even for the indexes, we replicated exactly the same finishing with exactly the same thickness of the indexes to three layers of rubber, because the idea was to have exactly the same watch.’
However, whereas the ’90s version came in four different sizes, with the smaller two using quartz movements, the new 21st-century model was to be in only the largest of these – 44mm, and only with a mechanical movement.
And so around three years ago, the Bulgari Aluminium resurfaced with a white dial in two 40mm iterations: with a date configuration and also as a chronograph. A black dial has now been added to offer variety, but the real innovation has come through the decision to make this lightweight sports watch the vehicle for a series of special, limited-edition collaborations.
‘The first one was with the Aeronautica Militare, the Italian Air Force, because during the first lockdown in Italy it was very, very hard. Everybody was obliged to stay at home, windows closed, nobody was able to go outside. So at this time the Italian Air Force made a round trip, flying around Italy. Just to give symbolic support for all the people suffering. And this was something that touched all Italians, even Italians beyond the borders. So we said we would love to create a limited edition to celebrate this event with just a small Italian tricolour green, white and red flag on the dial.’
It was an immediate success, with the 100-piece collection selling out, and it gave Bulgari the idea of using this relatively affordable iconic timepiece to engage with different communities, people who may not be in the market for a typical Bulgari example of high-watchmaking, but will appreciate the expertise and heritage of the brand applied to something a little more relatable. A collaboration with American musician, DJ, and record producer and executive Steve Aoki followed, and there is also a GMT watch inspired by the Italian Navy’s 1931 tall ship the Amerigo Vespucci, which is named after the 15th-century Italian explorer and is used for training.
Which brings us to those Swiss Alpine roads. Because we now have the Bulgari Aluminium Chronograph Ducati Special Edition. As a biker, and an Italian, Buonamassa Stigliani is clearly delighted with the project. It came about because after a discussion in which Bulgari decided that it wanted to partner with another famous Italian brand, Buonamassa Stigliani sent a WhatsApp message to his friend Andrea Ferraresi, design director at Ducati, and immediately got a positive response. A year later and there is a new special-edition timepiece. ‘We’re super happy because here are two very well-known Italian brands that represent Italian design and Italian know-how around the world,’ says Buonamassa Stigliani. ‘And funnily enough, one of Bulgari’s first limited editions with the original aluminium watch in the ’90s was a chronograph with a red dial, and it was sold out immediately. So I said I would love to talk about doing this again for the revival. And for Ducati this was perfect: the red and black colour combination that they use on the bikes. The design process was absolutely seamless.’
As well as the colour palette, Buonamassa Stigliani also borrowed the motorcycle manufacturer’s numerical font for the number indexes at 10, 11 and 12 o’clock to mimic the look of a rev counter dial. ‘It’s like a Ducati dashboard. I would have liked to have used the same graphics as their motorcycle rev counter but they go up to 15 or 16, and so we were not able to do this because 12 is our limit. But 10, 11 and 12 are like the maximum revs on a watch dial, so it works.’ He added a Ducati logo on the back of the aluminium case and specially designed packaging, too.
The result is pretty special – tough, lightweight and distinctive. It looks great, of course, with leathers and a bike, but even in a less active context with more everyday outfits it works well. While always still suggesting the siren call of the road.
The Bulgari Aluminium Chronograph Ducati Special Edition, £3,930, limited to 1,000 pieces; bulgari.com; ducati.com