He may be best known for his innovative timepieces, but Giuliano Mazzuoli says he's not a watchmaker or even a designer, just a lucky man who is allowed to turn his dreams into reality. Richard Cree reports
Humility is a rare commodity in the watch business. Many brand owners or designers love to boast about how they have changed the world of watches, if not the world at large. Whether it's a complex movement or unusual combinations of materials, there's nothing watch people like more than claiming a first.
One of the more striking brands to emerge in recent years has been the Italian brand Mazzuoli. Its watches come in two collections, Manometro and Contagiri. The former design is based on a pressure gauge, while the latter emulates an old Alfa Romeo rev counter. The apparently simple design of the Contagiri hides some fiendish technical complexity, with the crown replaced by an active bezel that is used to set the time and wind the watch. Which function the bezel performs is dictated by a "gear lever" hidden where a crown would be.
It's impossible not to be impressed by such original thinking. And so it's fair to assume that the man behind this innovation will be full of that industry arrogance. But, as I sit down with Giuliano Mazzuoli for a chat in a smart London hotel, he smiles and grins but doesn't say very much. This is partly because his English is almost as bad as my Italian. But once the three Italians present who speak English start unpicking my questions—a process as complex as his watches—Mazzuoli seems genuinely humble. He recoils at being described as a watchmaker. Indeed, on the subject of his role in the world, he seems perplexed. If not a watchmaker, does he see himself as a designer, an engineer or perhaps an entrepreneur?
"I am none of those," he says. "I am lucky to see my ideas transformed into beautiful objects. I am not a watchmaker—I don't know anything about making watches. I am not a businessman. I don't even see myself as a designer. I haven't designed anything. I have just adapted something that was already there. I am a dreamer and a lucky man."
For all this dreaminess, Mazzuoli has clearly hit on a rich seam of design, transforming everyday objects. His previous achievements include a pen inspired by a coffee pot (the fabulous Moka pen) as well as the watches. So is this transformation studied? Is his decision to re-form everyday items into luxury goods an act of post-surrealist, modernist anarchy? I look at the three Italians eagerly poised to run my questions through the translation mangle and decide not to ask that.
But Mazzuoli doesn't see himself as a revolutionary and he isn't making big claims. His secret, he says, is an ability to capture an idea, or a "dream" as he calls it, without compromise. He says he never asks whether something can be done, only how it can be done.
The Contagiri watch is an example—not just for its clever engineering. The watch is based on an old Alfa Romeo rev counter (Mazzuoli was a racing driver for Alfa and still races a team of Alfa Romeo Giuliettas). Thanks to a conversation with someone at the company, Mazzuoli's watch is officially linked to Alfa's new supercar, the 8C Competizone. The firm is hoping the 8C will boost its credentials and, as logical as the combination seems, it was asking a great deal to expect Alfa to tie its supercar to such a young brand.
Mazzuoli claims luck played its part. "Alfa was seeking to re-launch the brand. It was good timing as we were about to launch the Contagiri. But it took boldness and courage to think it was possible. It took three years of hard work, investment and waiting."
There is a special edition of the Contagiri, limited to 501. Of these, 500 will be offered to those buying the 8C (also limited to 500). The odd one is a special signed by Paul Newman, to be auctioned for one of Newman's charities. The story of Newman's involvement says much about Mazzuoli's approach. Having decided he wanted Newman involved, he sent him an email and within two weeks was flying to New York for coffee. With a mutual love of racing cars, the two got on well. "Paul is a special man and does a lot for charity. I had a dream to meet him and two weeks later we met."
Alongside everyday objects, Mazzuoli draws inspiration from his heritage. His ancestor, Lisandro Mazzuoli, was a clockmaker. And with his sons flanking him, he looks set to establish Mazzuoli as a solid Italian brand. But what will that brand be known for? I ask about future projects and he lists a revolutionary pair of glasses and another watch. Then he looks at his sons and laughs. "Let's get this watch launched first, shall we?" says one. But the dreamer has moved on and it's clear we can expect to enjoy the results of more of his dreams in the future.