Italian Watches: The Made in Italy is on the rise.
Locman, U-Boat, Ennebi, Visconti, Dino Zei Watches and the Tuscan legacy.
According to a well-known expression, Italy is a country of saints, poets, sailors, and I'd add watchmakers too, at least by judging what we did and still do to pursue the art of watchmaking. It is no secret we have supported the Swiss watch industry in its hardest times as that's the case with the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso, or led the industry when the Swiss-born Eberhard & Co. Watches was acquired by the Monti family to become an Italian-managed company; last but not least, we made both the Royal Oak and the Nautilus iconic.
After many articles dedicated to Swiss Made watches, the time has come to introduce our audience to Made in Italy, although Italian brands cannot be regarded as 100% Italian made, since they usually adopt Swiss or Japanese sourced mechanical movements, for example. There are plenty of Italian watch brands, offering a wide range of prices and value propositions, including top-end luxury brands that do belong to big Swiss groups today. On the other hand, new and high-quality small-size or mid-size brands emerge. An early indicative shortlist, sorted by decreasing price, might be the following:
While I'm writing this article, new brands keep coming to life. Let's try and list the Italian brands into three main categories: premium luxury, that include Panerai and Bulgari, belonging to the Richemont Group and LVMH, respectively, mid-luxury, and it is worth talking Locman and U-Boat's case studies and mid-low end, that comprises companies like Lorenz or Wyler Vetta, just to name a few. Also, I would add some small brands, that are off the charts, whose yearly production is limited, and build quality very high; I'm referring to boutique brands like Gruppo Ardito Watches, or Ennebi, for example. Let's draw today our attention on three emerging brands from Tuscany, a region that most people, the undersigned included, consider the cradle of Italian watchmaking.
Locman watches was founded in 1986 on the Isle of Elba. The headquarters is based in Marina del Campo, a few steps away from the waterfront.
The brand's offering is broad, their business is solid (the Stealth collection is a top-seller), and has recently added pretty refined limited edition timepieces to their signature Montecristo line-up too: I would mention the Locman Montecristo Double Chronograph, and the Locman Montecristo Moon, equipped with a hand-wound mechanical movement from Lemania (the Lemania 1883) to create a 300-piece collector's ready range of watches (photo: igioielliconti.com).
I would have personally encased that mechanical movement into a more classic watch, nonetheless I reckon that experiment is lovely. With the Locman Montecristo Double Chronograph, the company's watchmakers have developed in-house a double-Chrono complication out of a Valjoux 7750 base caliber. Locman is working hard to become an in-house movement manufacturer, and it's no coincidence it created the SIO, acronym for Scuola Italiana di Orologeria, back in 2006, whose mission is to train new watchmakers and actively support their after-sales network alike. Also, Locman is currently partnering with Ducati Motor, proof positive of how the brand's awareness is growing at a fast pace year after year.
U-Boat was founded 18 years ago by Italo Fontana, whose passion for watchmaking is second to none and deeply rooted in his family: in 1942, his grandfather Ilvo assembled a prototype for the Italian Navy. If you are into big, bold watches, U-Boat is the way to go.
It took some time to me, to be honest, to fully appreciate their style, until they eventually launched the mind-blowing Capsoil collection that has simplified the over-designed style typical to the original collections, whose hallmark is the winding crown with protective device placed on the left-hand side of the case: in a Capsoil, the entire watch is oil-filled, thus turning the glass itslef into a big magnifying lens, that creates a hypnotic effect where numerals and indexes look oversized.
In short, if I had to choose a U-Boat watch myself, no doubt I would go for the U-Boat Capsule 50. Showcasing a 50mm large grade 5 titanium case, the Capsule 50 has no bezel, and a case made of two parts fastened via screws, with the addition of a locking-unlocking system to easily access the three-layered dial via the hesalite crystal. Crafted in 288 pieces and sold out already, it is original and a new take on the World War II professional instrument inspired watch. It is the second in a row of new concepts, that started with the U-Boat Italo Fontana Capsule Titan.
Among the Florentine Italian watch brands, we cannot exclude Anonimo Watches. Anonimo Watches was founded in 1997 by Federico Massacesi, a former manager at Ferragamo, and Dino Zei, ex-military and former CEO of Panerai, before the Vendôme Group, turned into the Richemont Group, then, acquired the Italian brand.
Since their beginnings, Anonimo Watches were synonymous with exquisite craftmanship: they pursued the long-standing Florentine legacy in making instruments for professionals, along with their tradition in manufacturing diving watches. The company is still based in Florence but changed ownership in 2009 with Aldo Magada, former CEO of Zenith, appointed as new CEO.
Ennebi Watches is by far the most alluring brand among those rooted in Florence and Tuscany, as its foundation is strictly connected to this territory since the first half of the 20th century. Alessandro Bettarini and Luciano Nincheri are the men behind this project, whose name, NB, stands for their surnames' initials. Armando, Alessandro's father, was one of the most relevant entrepreneurs of Florence and founded a company whose core business was the production of audio devices (cones) installed atop mobile units to allow technicians hear the noise generated by military aircraft before they eventually crossed the town. Armando Bettarini's company's head office was located close to Ponte Vecchio and succumbed a military bombing during World War II.
His company was also a supplier to Officine Panerai and his son Alessandro, who had started working with his father, began working for Officine Panerai afterward, first as a technician and then he was appointed a technical director. After leaving Panerai, following the acquisition of the Italian brand by the Vendôme Luxury Group, Bettarini and Nincheri decided to join their forces and create Ennebi. Ennebi watches are professional diving watches that build on the great Florentine tradition in making mechanical devices for diving professionals and adopt Swiss automatic ETA movements. Their latest release is the "Seimila Metri Reference 9712", a 49.4mm wide instrument featuring a titanium case and sandwich dial. The sapphire glass, alone, is an outrageous 12mm thick crystal.
The Florentine based brand was founded in 1988 and is widely regarded as a luxury fountain-pen producer: a few years ago it also joined the watch industry by releasing a collection of exquisitely crafted professional divers' watches. For some years now, it has changed ownership, and their offering has changed, to include more classic and accessible, yet less refined, timepieces. In 2016, I had the chance to spend some time with one of their professional divers' watches, the 1000 meter water resistant Visconti W115 Abyssus Full-Dive Inox.
Once again, the Tuscan long-standing experience in making instruments for professionals, whose most eminent representatives were Teseo Tesei and Giovanni Panerai, was an essential part of making that watch so outstanding. Back then, I remember the superb case finish, the big grooved winding crown placed at four o'clock as it usually is with the most refined professional divers' watches and the superior comfort, guaranteed by a high-quality Florentine leather stitched strap.
With the launch of Anonimo watches and models like the Dino Zei San Marco, the Italian colonel reaffirmed himself as a leader in fostering the expertise of the Italian watchmakers. He passed away in 2015, but his legacy lives on thanks to a project that has involved Alessandro Calamai, a former supplier to Panerai and Anonimo. Orologi Dino Zei (Dino Zei Watches) is born and pays tribute to the colonel himself. The new project is led by a team that involves two key figures in the industry, like Massacesi and Ambuchi.
The former is well know; he left his role as Director at Ferragamo to join the ambitious Anonimo watches project, whereas Antonio Ambuchi is a respected designer whose father was once a Panerai technical supplier. Orologi Dino Zei is, once again, the legacy of the enduring Florentine tradition in crafting high-quality watches. The current brand's collections, the Sauro Chrono and the Todaro Submersible, have much of an Anonimo Watches' DNA, and distinctive features like a CNC machined case and a bezel secured via Torx screws, for example.
The Dino Zei Todaro Submersible aesthetically reminds the top-of-the-range Anonimo Dino Zei San Marco, and it is perhaps from that model that Ambuchi drew inspiration. The long-lasting legacy of Tuscan watchmaking lives on thanks to Calamai and its new watchmaking company, named "Dino Zei Italia, Dado Seabull Nautica s.r.l." and based in Viareggio. For more information, please follow Dino Zei Watches.
(Photo credit: courtesy of U-BOAT, Locman, Dino Zei Watches)
Gaetano C @Horbiter®