How Fendi Is Transforming the Luxury Watch Category

“We will always remain faithful to our DNA,” says CEO of Fendi Timepieces Domenico Oliveri. It’s why there was only one place in the world fitting for the global debut of the brand’s latest timepieces. “It’s not even a question,” explains Fendi CEO Serge Brunschwig. “It’s obvious now.” The answer, unsurprisingly, is Rome. It’s the birthplace of the famed luxury fur house, founded in 1925 by Edoardo and Adele Fendi, and it’s continued to be the home of its sprawling headquarters. And if one thing is clear at the maison, it’s that home is where the heart is.

For Fendi, the city of Rome represents not only its past, but also its present and future. It’s a lasting relationship that Fendi has committed to fully. In 2013, the house announced its plans to restore one of Rome’s most iconic landmarks, the Trevi Fountain. It became the catalyst for a philanthropic effort known as “Fendi for Fountains,” dedicated to restoring and preserving the city’s cultural heritage. In 2016, the brand added fountains del Gianicolo, del Mosè, del Ninfeo del Pincio, and del Peschiera to its list for conservation.

Palazzo della Civilt. Italiana, Fendi headquarters, Rome, Italy.

Given its close ties, in 2015 Fendi chose the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana as the grounds for its new headquarters, further strengthening its connection to Rome. Ninety years after its launch, the house opened its doors to the public to share annual exhibitions and installations, from “Una Nuova Roma. L’Eur e il Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana” in 2015 to “Fendi Studios” in 2017. The brand’s relationship with its city of origin is both strong and undeniable.

Beyond this connection to Rome, it’s innovation that continues to push the brand forward. Until his passing in February, it was a charge led by legendary designer Karl Lagerfeld. “When he arrived in ’65, it was real rock ’n’ roll here,” says Brunschwig. “It was a fur atelier, and Karl cut the fur into really small pieces, and would sew it again,” he continues. “You take something precious, and you twist it and you change it—you rework it, and you take risks.” That, says Brunschwig, is at the heart of the Fendi brand.

It goes without saying, then, that for its launch of the latest Forever Fendi timepieces, invention played an important role. Fendi’s approach to designing timepieces is a key point of difference that sets it apart from other watchmakers. Unlike most, the house takes a jewellery-first approach to its craft. “The fact that we create jewellery which tells the time makes this a bracelet,” says Brunschwig. Its band of interlocking Fendi signature FFs, a design by Lagerfeld, serves as the base, or in the words of Brunschwig, “a fantastic support for a watch.”

Oliveri agrees. “For us, the watch is an accessory that tells time,” he says. “Our customer uses a different combination depending on her mood or outfit.” For the Fendi woman, variety is key. “It’s important to give a wide variety of combinations of materials and colours from the most precious to less precious in order to really fit with the character of our customer,” he says. With Fendi’s Policromia collection, the watches’ dials are designed from precious stones. “They give colour, preciousness, and naturality,” says Oliveri, pointing out a particular watch. “This one is mother of pearl, but you’ll also find malachite and turquoise.” With the Fendi Forever collection, it’s materials like mother of pearl and diamonds that catch the eye.

Speaking of options, this season, Fendi introduced a slimmer version than past iterations. “We did a smaller watch for two reasons,” says Oliveri of the Swiss-made Forever Fendi offering. “First of all, in our collections, this size was missing,” he states. “Secondly, we’ve recognized a trend going in this direction.” Rather than be on trend, Fendi aspires to be ahead of it, to know what its customers want before they even know they want it.

Looking ahead at the future of watchmaking, the brand’s DNA is always in mind. “It’s so rich that you can interpret it in so many different ways, from a more fashion-forward watch to a more classic style,” says Oliveri. It’s how the brand continues to appeal to a wide audience, both young and mature. “They’re different watches, but they all speak the same language,” he says. It’s a message with universal appeal from a brand that seeks to delight its shoppers. “We want to push the boundaries of creativity to surprise our customers,” says Oliveri. As for what’s next? Only time will tell.