Ten Years Of Giuliano Mazzuoli: An Independent Made In Italy
It hardly seems like ten years ago when I think back to that day I boarded a plane headed for Florence. I was heading toward slightly unknown territory as I had never met an independent Italian watchmaker before.
As it turned out, Guiliano Mazzuoli wasn’t really a watchmaker, but rather a designer. And he and his sons, who work with him in the family business, warmly did everything they could to make me feel at home, even though I was one of only a handful of non-Italian guests at the launch of Mazzuoli’s very first wristwatch in Florence’s historic Palazzo Vecchio.
That wristwatch, the Manometro, which represented Mazzuoli’s entrance into the world of timepieces, has meanwhile become somewhat of an underground hit.
Let’s take a look back over the last decade to explore why this might be so.
Mazzuoli comes from a long line of talented Tuscan designers. His father founded the current family business in 1949, and Giuliano took over this workshop himself in the 1970s.
Today Giuliano continues to work in the selfsame atelier in the Tuscan hills, located in the village of Tavarnelle, just outside of Florence, with his two sons Emiliano and Tomasso. This picturesque area is in the Chianti region of Italy.
“I looked at details of my father’s objects and found emotions in them,” he explains.
The family business had always been creative, but it didn’t necessarily always focus on the same objects that Mazzuoli puts in the limelight today.
The family began with graphic artistry and printing, which is part of the reason Mazzuoli had his first big success in 1993 with a day planner, an innovative agenda that included space for a weekly overview different from other products offered at the time.
Calling his new creation 3.6.5. – which signified the fact that it was only valid for 365 days before it needed to be renewed – Mazzuoli made a name for himself with this popular line.
It was so popular, in fact, that New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) chose to personalize the line for its own store. But Mazzuoli knew he could make more out of other objects of daily use and tapped his creative instinct to let himself “encounter” them.
An extended look at a toolbox, for example, inspired him to a line of pens. Combined with his already-successful stationery, he called a new line to life in 2000: Officina, Writing Instruments. Officina is the Italian word for workshop.
The line comprises a ballpoint pen, roller ball, fountain pen, and graphite pencil each available in six different styles and different finishes such as chrome, brushed chrome, polished black resin, matte black resin, and two different combinations of chrome and black resin. Each of the six styles are named for mechanical tools: Maschio (tap), Puntino (marker point), Madrevite (thread), Micrometro (micrometer), Alesatore (reamer), and Fresa Cilindrica (end mill).
But it didn’t stop there: his subconscious was soon active again, and one day while talking on the telephone he began to doodle a pen shaped in the form of a very famous espresso pot in Italy designed by Alfonso Bialetti in 1930.
The Moka writing instrument was born, Mazzuoli’s second line of pens.
Since then, Mazzuoli has focused on taking everyday objects and transforming them into something different, albeit something that’s functional. This is an approach that is all his own, and has helped him make his mark as a designer. “I don’t design; I merely encounter my creations,” he says.
At this point he consciously decided that the time was ripe to design a watch. So he did what any good designer would do: he learned about the subject.
He bought special interest magazines and literature and began to learn about watches. But he decided that looking at pictures of watches already in existence would in no way inspire him, so he threw all the magazines out again.
And he waited for his own inspiration to come, inspiration that as usual would appear from the routine of everyday life. And soon enough there it was, this time in the shape of a pressure gauge. His new watch was named for this measuring instrument and was simply dubbed Manometro, the Italian word for “pressure gauge.”
Manometro became somewhat of an underground phenomenon pretty quickly.
That was certainly at least partly due to the fact that Mazzuoli in good Italian tradition has a great deal of friends and acquaintances among the country’s rich and famous, friends who admired the man and his work.
Some of Mazzuoli’s influential friends fell in love with the watch right from the start, bought their own, and have been wearing it ever since (that also went for a few watch journalists and horological influencers as well).
There is a good reason Manometro has become so popular: it is of unique design. And it really does look like a pressure gauge. Its obvious, large dimensions, unusual and insistent design, and incredible legibility have made it quite a popular model.
The dial design not only displays characteristics of a pressure gauge, but also some characteristics typical of all Mazzuoli’s creations, such as the stubbornly uniform Arabic numerals gracing the perimeter of the dial.
In general, this watch attained its popularity thanks to good design, executed with quality materials. Powered by the industry’s most reliable workhorse, the ETA 2824-2, the Manometro has definitely become a cult hit.
One of Mazzuoli’s famous friends is Lapo Elkann (who attended the introduction party in Florence as well), member of the noble and famous Agnelli family, heir to the Fiat dynasty, entrepreneur, art collector, and fashion icon in Italy. He was one of the first to wear Manometro and bring it to attention in Italy.
Mazzuoli was approached by his friend Elkann to see what he might think of designing a watch in homage to Alfa Romeo. At the time, Alfa Romeo was one of the few luxury car brands without a watch licensing contract.
Mazzuoli had always been a huge Alfa Romeo fan, even to the point of racing them as a young man in an amateur class, to the great chagrin of his mother. So the idea was not a stretch.
Mazzuoli’s Alfa Romeo-inspired Contagiri was not a licensed product, but rather an homage. Mazzuoli took his inspiration for the watch’s look from both the revving of an Alfa engine ready to roar and the tachymeter instrumentation found in the automobile’s dashboard.
Mazzuoli introduced the Contagiri in 2010 at a car owners’ meet in Florence that he organized: the first meeting of the Gran Turismo Alfa Romeo 8C automobile, a car limited to just 500 examples (Mazzuoli owns one).
Contagiri is the Italian world for “tachometer,” and thus it stands to reason that the display comprises a single retrograde hand. For Mazzuoli, it is an expression of the motor’s performance, “a symbol of sporting performance,” he says.
Protected by three international patents, over the last five years the 44 x 13.30 mm timepiece has been released in several limited editions in stainless steel, pink gold, and titanium.
Trasmissione Meccanica and Carrara
The year 2013 saw the release of a further automobile-inspired timepiece, and one that is highly unusual in appearance: the Trasmissione Meccanica (Italian for “mechanical transmission”), which, like the Manometro, is available in chronograph and non-chronograph versions.
“What is more beautiful than mechanics?” Mazzzoli asked upon the launch of this unique timepiece.
But just one year later, Mazzuoli answered his own question when he became inspired by a truly Italian product, one that has been in use from antiquity into the modern day, by ancient Romans equally as much as modern purveyors of good taste: Carrara marble.
“People always ask me if the place where I am from contributes to giving me creative inspiration,” the designer says of the watch whose case is made by hand in Italy by master marble workers.
“One day, I thought that I could use a material that did not come from technology for a watch, but from nature. It’s a material that was used by Michelangelo.”
The marble case housing a Swiss automatic movement is from the quarry in the Apuan Alps about 100 kilometers outside of Florence where the Romans extracted marble to shape some of the most impressive buildings of ancient Rome, including the Pantheon.
“They say that Michelangelo went to the marble cave to pick the right block of marble to use for his David,” Mazzuoli continued. “I did the same. In my mind I saw a case that was primarily white, but it had to have the characteristic gray veins typical of the most beautiful and prestigious marble of Carrara. I found it and when I finished the watch I felt the emotion I was looking for, and the line could not have another name.”
Smooth-to-the-touch, the Carrara measures 44.5 mm in diameter; fans of the Italian designer will recognize the shape from his Manometro, though unlike the asymmetrical position on the Manometro, the Carrara’s crown is positioned at the usual 3 o’clock location, providing a more classic feel despite the decidedly nontraditional material use. It comes on a Tuscan calfskin leather strap inserted directly into the case.
As simple as this case may appear, rest assured it is very difficult to make well, which is an element that characterizes all of Mazzuoli’s products. “In Italy, we are masters at working marble,” Mazzuoli reminded me.
Inside the marble, there is an inner case made of stainless steel that holds the crystal, case back, and strap. When bonded with the marble it strengthens the structure and makes the brittle natural material far less susceptible to breakage.
“The complication is in manufacturing the marble ring; by itself it has a high probability of fracturing,” Mazzuoli continues. “In addition, the measurement tolerances are zero.” While small tolerances are the norm in all kinds of manufacturing processes involving metal, particularly wristwatches, “marble cannot withstand the pressure necessary to work it,” he reported.
During the manufacturing phase, the metal case and the marble are bonded together with epoxy glues that make the two parts one. “It’s a strong structure,” he guaranteed.
“From the tests we did, we ascertained that the consequences are felt more by the movement than the case should it fall,” Mazzuoli replied in answer to my query regarding the vulnerability of the brittle material.
“More serious falls might cause marks on the case, but not fractures. Some of my friends who learned of my idea for this watch asked if the watch was going to be heavy. Impulsively, we think of ‘heavy marble,’ but that is because in our culture marble is linked to large volumes. However, the specific weight of marble is about equal to aluminum.”
The Carrara time-only model retails for $4,900, while the Carrara Chronograph’s retail price is $7,900.
A decade of Mazzuoli wristwatches
Celebrating ten years of his wristwatches since the Manometro’s arrival, Mazzuoli now releases a special limited edition Manometro limited to just 120 pieces. As always with the Tuscan designer, this number represents something: 12 months of the year times ten.
As always with his products, this timepiece also exudes a special type of simplicity that leaves us only with the essential: we can chiefly only discern that this is a special Manometro thanks to the designer’s engraved signature just below the crown, the special engraving on the stainless steel case back, and the dial boasting hand-numbering up to 120.
For more information, please visit www.mazzuoli.it
Quick Facts Manometro 10 Years
Case: 45.2 x 14.8 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Caliber ETA 2824/2
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Limitation: 120 pieces