Italian designer Giuliano Mazzuoli caused quite a stir in the watch world when he launched the distinctive, pressure gauge-inspired Manometro back in 2005. The brand has, however, kept a relatively low profile of late - until this year's Baselworld when the truly radical Trasmissione Meccanica was unveiled.
Giuliano Mazzuoli isn't your average watch company boss. Spreadsheets and expensive suits clearly aren't his thing, and I've always thought he would rather be dressed in his overalls and tinkering around under the bonnet of one of his beloved classic Alfa Romeo sports cars - of which he has seven - than devising cunning marketing methods to boost sales of his highly distinctive watches.
That's not to
say he's not passionate about the horological side of his business.
I know he is. What I mean is that he's more interested in the
object, how it looks and the way it functions, than in how many
people actually buy it. Anyone who has attended the Baselworld
watch show will probably have seen the stands of watch brands who
claim to be offering something 'new' when all that has really
happened is that the colour of a dial has been changed or the
choice of case materials has been extended. Giuliano Mazzuoli, the
man and the brand, have been absent from Basel in recent years
because, in his words: "Well we didn't have anything to say,
really. Nothing had happened."
Mazzuoli, who will be 66 this year, entered the watch game late in life. Until 1993, he was mainly concerned with the family publishing business, which he took over from his father in the early-1970s, a printing firm which produced advertising catalogues about furniture and interiors. But he has always had a flair for industrial design and, 19 years ago, he devised a rather clever agenda (long before the Filofax was ousted by the Smart Phone), which attracted something of a cult following due to its brightly coloured cover options and practical layout.
In 2001, he followed this up with his range of 'Officina' writing instruments, pens that took their design inspiration from a box of old tools once used in Mazzuoli's grandfather's bicycle repair shop. This idea of adapting the appearance of everyday objects to create other objects then led to the now celebrated Moka pen, based on one of Italy's most distinctive appliances - the Bialetti stove top coffee maker.
It was the philosophy of marrying familiar shapes with unfamiliar objects that led to the first Giuliano Mazzuoli wristwatch, the Manometro - the Italian word for pressure gauge. "I made the first one for fun, really, after looking at one of the pressure gauges on a machine in the printing works. It was never intended to be commercialised, but people liked it and said I should make more and sell them. So that's how it started."
The first, steel-cased watches went on sale seven years ago and have proved popular with people who appreciate the combination of avant garde design and a somewhat vintage look - the versions with ivory-coloured dials are especially appealing - and examples of the watch have been spotted on the wrists of everyone from Fiat Group heir and style hound Lapo Elkann to the Prince of Naples.
EXPANDING THE THEME
At first, Mazzuoli did nothing more ambitious than offer variations on the theme, such as a chronograph model and a choice of case materials, including titanium, carbon fibre, luxurious rose gold or various combinations of the three. There was also the 'Millesimato', a word usually applied to a wine made from the grapes of a single year's harvesting. In the case of the Manometro, it refers to the fact that one example of the watch was made per day during a 12-month period, with each one being numbered by hand on the ivory-coloured dial.
In 2008, however, Mazzuoli became somewhat more ambitious and announced plans for a watch called the Contagiri which was based on the rev counter of the then-new Alfa Romeo supercar, the 8C Competizione, of which he owns the 46th off the line (corresponding with the year of his birth).
Drawing inspiration from the dashboard tachometer of Giuliano Mazzuoli's cars, the long-awaited 44mm-diameter Contagiri has no winding crown and functions are, instead, via the bezel.
A clever design, the Contagiri's tachometer-inspired dial places the numbers one to 12 in a 270° arc starting with one at the usual eight o'clock position. The retrograde hour hand is complemented by a digital minute indicator and the watch is wound and set by turning the bezel in one of two different adjustment modes which are indicated in a window in the lower half of the dial.
The problem was, however, that the company which Mazzuoli had commissioned to produce the complex mechanism required to make the watch work let him down badly, causing production to be delayed by more than two years while a more competent firm was found. As a result, first deliveries were not made until last year.
A life-long motoring enthusiast, it is little surprise that so many of Mazzuoli's designs have their origins in the paraphernalia surrounding his vintage Alfa Romeos.
Just 1,000 examples of the 8C Competizione version of the watch will be produced in total, on the basis that half will have numbers corresponding to the limited edition plaques attached to the 500 8C coupes being produced while the other half will correspond to the number of convertible, or 'spider' cars. Buyers of the cars get first refusal on the relevant numbered watch, but if they aren't interested it goes on open sale.
So far, around 300 Contagiris have found buyers across both the available models --the limited edition 8C Competizione and the 'standard' version which is available in steel or DLC.
THE LATEST MODELS
Clearly unfazed by the uphill struggle required to get the Contagiri right, Mazzuoli returned to Baselworld in March with two new watch designs, both of which are ambitious in their own right.
The first is a version of the Manometro featuring a case that measures a mere 27mm in diameter. "It is not intended to be a watch for women," Mazzuoli told QP. "It is very much a man's watch that was inspired by the very small watches I used to see on drivers' wrists back in the 1960s. I thought it would be a cool thing to do, to revive that look and put the watch on a nice leather strap".
Launched at Baselworld 2012, the latest of Giuliano Mazzuoli's timepieces is the Trasmissione Meccanica, which again has its roots in motor mechanics - the grooves in the gearbox translating to the watch case while components of the clutch can be seen in the dial design.
Far more radical, however, is Mazzuoli's other unveiling - the Trasmissione Meccanica, which is said to have been born from the workings of a classic car gearbox. And it really is different, with a fabulous, chunky, 43mm case, which has a toothed edge reminiscent of a bevelled gear while the dial looks just like a clutch plate. Function-wise, there's nothing flashy about the watch at all - it is a simple, time-only job powered by an ETA 2824. The dial, however, is a truly lovely piece of engineering composed from no fewer than 17 different parts.
"Like all of the instruments I've created, I didn't invent anything with the Tramission Meccanica," says Mazzuoli, "I'm just inspired by objects that are part of my every day life, especially those associated with my passion for the automotive world - and I've taken apart and rebuilt my race cars many times.
"It's from that experience that the Trasmission Meccanica was born, where the teeth in the gear box became the case and the parts of the clutch became the dial. It's a watch that has a true workshop feel and the ambition of being something a little more than just an instrument to measure time".
But hold back, petrolheads - the last we heard was that the working prototypes shown at Baselworld have been returned to the manufacture for 'tweaking' prior to the model going into full production. Hopefully, however, the Transmission Meccanica won't prove to be another Contagiri-like false start - not least because it's far and away the most interesting and inspired three-hander we're likely to see all year.
Further information: www.giulianomazzuoli.com
Available in the UK from www.agfineproducts.com