Italian Watches – Horology’s New Frontier

Inceptum watch

Despite Italy’s centuries-old tradition of precision engineering, Italian watches have received little attention. The “Paese del Sole” has always been overshadowed by the fame of its northern neighbors, the Swiss. But even as the Swiss supremacy in watchmaking begins to fade, the Italians are ascendant . . .

Astrario Dondi 2

Just so you know, Italians created the first complicated timepiece: the Astrarium by Giovanni Da Dondi of Padua. Building on its rich, often forgotten history, the Italian watch industry is starting to reorganize, to put itself on the new frontier of global watchmaking.

Even during the COVID-19, a young and stalwart group of local manufacturers managed to meet and create the first edition of a watchmaking event that showcase the Italian watchmaking renaissance: “Watches of Italy.”

The event was held at the Museo Delle Macchine Agricole “Orsi” in Tortona. It hosted an assorted group of established watch brands, microbrands, startups, artisans, designers and engineers. The event welcomed thousands of attentive and curious enthusiasts who could try and buy the products onsite. 

Here are some of the most promising projects in more detail. 

Italian watches - Calamai on map

Orologi Calamai is a small company based in Florence. They re-propose classic lines from the ’50s, with a strong aeronautical inspiration. The case of the G50 Freccia is made of steel obtained from a turbine of an F104 used by the Italian Air Force. 

Italian watches - Meccaniche Veloci Quattrovalvole Moneymaker

Meccaniche Veloci proposed two of its latest creations with the iconic four-dial design, Quattrovalvole Damascus and MoneyMaker (above). Italian design and Swiss manufacture are the salient features of these timepieces. They feature the innovative MV8802 caliber, enabling independent regulation of the four dials to mark four different time zones. The “big brother” MV8880 replaces one of them with a tourbillon. 

Memphis Belle Black Sea

Memphis Belle presented its version of the Unitas 6497-2 movement, completely re-engineered by integrating details such as the hacking second function, a swan neck regulator, and an innovative balance wheel developed from a study by Albert Einstein.

This caliber was mounted on the Limited Edition Predator Heritage “Black Sea” (above) with a chemically blackened bronze case and artistic dial engraved with the deeds of the Italian Incursori.

Italian watches - M&D perpetual calendar

Marc & Darnó presented various modules featuring poetic astronomical complications, crafted in their workshop nestled in the hills near Asti: moon phases, annual and perpetual calendars that are still made with manual mills and lathes, in line with the great watchmaking tradition of the 19th century. The sidereal perpetual calendar follows the Earth’s revolution around the Sun with millenary precision. 

OISA movement

OISA/Morezzi is a historical brand that reintroduced the 29-50 manufacture caliber, entirely designed and made in Italy in the 1930s, marking the return of the Milanese brand born in the first half of the 20th century, revitalized with great passion and creative enthusiasm by Carlo Ferraris, a descendant of the company’s founder Domenico Morezzi. 

Italian watches - Squale Pepsi

Squale proposed its beautiful vintage-inspired dive watches with advanced features. Among the models on show, there were the Squale 2002, available with the bezel in a new Pepsi variant (above). The T183, a dive watch with a carbon and fiberglass composite case, metal components coated with DLC (diamond-like carbon) coating, and a ceramic bezel.

Italian watches - Bigagli

Eric Bigagli, a watchmaker from Florence, presented his line of handmade watches equipped with ETA 2824-2 movements embedded in concrete steel cases, refined by precious dials made of mosaics of carved hardstone such as mother of pearl, howlite, onyx, tiger’s eye and malachite. Eric is going to launch a new movement sometime next year.

Inceptum movement

Finally, a young and innovative project: Inceptum Duo A, two twenty-something engineers from the University of Brescia, presented their manufacture hand-wound watch that completely redesigned the historic ETA 2801 movement (above and top image). Only the gear wheels are the same, while the plate and bridges now have a vortex design and modern finishes. 

As you can see, in the field of watchmaking, “L’Italia s’è desta” (Italy has woken up). 

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Click here to purchase Franz Rivoira’s comprehensive book The Watch Manual

You can read more of his horological writing at Quora.com

7 comments

  1. Oh good, it’s not a nation of Breil Milano’s, horologically. My understanding is that Italy has incredibly lax nation of manufacture laws, such that “Made in Italy” has lost all credibility and is generally assumed to mean eastern sweatshop junk, at least regarding clothing and shoes outside the highest levels.

    Most of these items can’t be accused of being boring or derivative, is quite a contemporary accomplishment. Most a bit too avant-garde for me, but not in a bad way.

    1. I focused on the most interesting accomplishments – there were a lot of Kickstarter brands as well, but the ones I have reported here are – well – a bit different from the Breils and such. About manufacture origins laws, this is an issue of European law, not Italian’s. In Brussels lots of nations were very effective in lobbying to pursue their interests, with the results that European law about Made in wherever is extremely forgiving.

        1. Well, if you count that there are people making new movements and astronomical complications, I would count them as “interesting”, yes.

  2. Because Italian engineering is such a great idea. Evidenced by the stellar reliability of Fiats, Alfa Romeos, Vespas, Ducatis (all equally terrifying, confounding, and infuriating if you own them more than a few months). Or even Italian fountain pens, which ironically are the brand most prone to leaks and hard starts and issues that the Italians appear to be able to manifest across any sort of product they build. So yea, WATCHES. What we really need from Italy.

    1. It seems that you forgot to talk about master watchmakers like Vincent Calabrese (the Golden Bridge) and Antoine Preziuso (the Tourbillon of Tourbillons) – both Italians who work in Switzerland. Also, Gerald Genta’s family was from Piedmont. And let’s not forget about Giulio Papi of Renaud et Papi.
      Yes, I am pretty sure the world of horology is a bit better with the contribution of Italians and their “issues”.

    2. Yeah but when they run, they’re the best in the world. I don’t know why people compare watches to cars so o considering they couldn’t be more different. Also, Ferrari may have something to say about engineering recently.

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