Watchmaking is a trade that draws artisans and enthusiasts from around the globe, though as an industry it has taken root in only a relative handful of nations. Switzerland, of course, is widely recognized as the world leader in the horological arts, but nations including Japan and Germany have also made a name for themselves on the world watchmaking stage. As watch connoisseurship grows in the 21st century, former watchmaking powers like Great Britain, the United States, and France have started increasing their footprint in the industry. Italy, another country historically renowned for its meticulous craftsmanship and bold, stylish design language, has exerted its own small but impactful influence on the world of watches: it’s the birthplace of Panerai, for example, a brand that essentially opened the door for old-school military tool watches to enter the rarefied air of luxury. It’s also the ancestral home of Bulgari, which, despite being more famous for its jewelry, has earned awestruck respect in the watch world for its record-breaking, boundary-pushing ultra-thin complications. Even Italy’s world-famous luxury sports-car marques — Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati — have exerted a muse-like influence on watchmakers worldwide, in both design and technology, often through direct partnerships.
Watches actually made in Italy, however, are relatively few — Panerai and Bulgari are far too rooted in Switzerland nowadays to be considered for this list — but each company in the small fraternity that makes Italian watches has a distinctive identity and an intriguing story. Read on to discover our list of Italian watch brands, which ranges from affordable and versatile to artisanal and exclusive.
Headquarters: Isle of Elba, Italy
Founders: Fulvio Locci, Marco Mantovani
Notable models: Amo, Montecristo, Mare, 1960 Lady
History buffs know the Island of Elba, east of Corsica in the Tuscan archipelago of the Tyrrhenian Sea, as the site of Napoleon Bonaparte’s first exile in the 1800s. It is also the birthplace of Locman, which started out in 1986 making leather goods, including straps for wristwatches. Named for its founders, Fulvio LOCci and Marco MANtovani, the company started making its own watches in 1996, after several years of assembling watches for other brands. Many early Locman models sprang from partnerships with Italy’s Navy and Air Force and eventually also from a collaboration with Italian carmaker Fiat, which inspired a 500-piece limited edition in 2007. Locman gained international notice shortly thereafter, finding its way to the wrists of Hollywood luminaries like Sylvester Stallone (who had famously also put Panerai on the map), Sharon Stone, and David Beckham. Today, Locman watches are still produced at the brand’s HQ on the Isle of Elba and distributed in Europe, the U.S., the Middle East, and Japan. Cases and other components are made in Italy, while movements, both quartz and mechanical, are sourced from Japan. The leading model collections include the sport-luxury Montecristo (including Chronograph, Skeleton, and Moon-Phase versions), the elegant, vintage-styled 1960 Lady, and the nautical-inspired Mare.
Headquarters: Florence, Italy
Founders: Luigi Poli, Dante del Vecchio
Notable models: Roma 60s Sport, Roma 60s Chrono, Opera
First and foremost a manufacturer of high-end luxury fountain pens, Visconti was established in 1988 by friends and pen enthusiasts Luigi Polli and Dante del Vecchio. Throughout the ‘90s the company was a pioneer in the writing instrument field, developing innovations like the double reservoir filling system to prevent ink leakage. In 2013, following in the footsteps of legendary German pen maker Montblanc, the growing luxury company delved into watchmaking, naming its first timepiece, the Classic, after its first collection of luxury pens. Visconti watches are designed and assembled in Florence with Swiss-made movements; the company has acquired facilities once operated by Panerai and Anonimo, both Florentine brands that have since migrated their watchmaking to Switzerland. Visconti has been boldly experimental in several areas, using materials like bronze, “aged” steel, iridescent metals, and even cooled lava from Mount Etna in its watch cases. The straps, as one might expect, are all made from high-quality Italian leather. Leading the Visconti collection are models like the 1960s-inspired Roma, in both a sporty three-hand edition and a more elegant bicompax chronograph, and the Opera, the company’s haute horlogerie family designed to evoke the atmosphere of Milan's Teatro alla Scala, with a complex multi-level dial and a triple-time-zone GMT function.
Headquarters: Milan, Lombardy,, Italy
Founders: Giovanni Moro, Simone Nunziato
Notable models: U1 Classic, U2 Classic
The youngest brand on this list, Unimatic is the joint brainchild of Milanese natives Giovanni Moro and Simone Nunziato, who met at the Polytechnic University of Milan while studying industrial design. In 2015, they launched their independent company with the Modello Uno U1-A, a rugged, 1950s-style dive watch with a minimalistic Bauhaus aesthetic, water-resistant to 300 meters and housing an automatic NH35A Caliber from Japan’s Seiko. The Modello Due (“two”) and Modello Tre (“three”) followed in short order after that initial, successful launch, the former representing the indie brand’s take on a traditional field watch, the latter grafting the Uno’s design onto a bicompax chronograph. Unimatic’s founders showed their pop-culturally playful side with the launch of a limited edition whose dial depicted the cartoon character Spongebob Squarepants in celebration of his 20th anniversary. Unimatic watches are made in a workshop in Milan and still use either a Seiko movement or a Swiss-made Sellita; making the company distinctive among microbrands is its “Made to Order” collection, which enables customers to work with a master engraver to create a truly personalized timepiece.
Headquarters: Tavarnelle val de Pesa, Tuscany, Italy
Founders: Giuliano Mazzuoli
Notable models: Manometro, Contagiri, Transmissione Meccanica, Carrara
Giuliano Mazzuoli comes from a multigenerational Tuscan family of design professionals. In 1970, he took over the eponymous family business that his father founded in 1949, which at the time was devoted to printed materials and graphic design for products like stationery. He branched out into luxury pens in 2000, making a name for himself in that field, and eventually found the inspiration for his first wristwatch in an unusual place: the Manometro, launched in 2004, adopted the distinctive look of a pressure gauge. Its quirky design became a cult classic among watch aficionados, who began taking notice of the inventive Mazzuoli. Next out of the gate was the Contagiri, which took its look from the tachymeter on an Alfa Romeo dashboard and displayed the time with a single retrograde hand. Mazzuoli stuck with the motoring theme for his next creation, the Transmissione Meccanica, inspired by a car’s transmission, and followed that up with a wildly unconventional timepiece that paid tribute to Italian antiquity. The Carrara's outer case is hand-crafted from a block of Carrara marble from the Apuan Alps near Mazzuoli’s workshop, which bonds with an inner steel ring to render it less susceptible to breakage. The movements are made by ETA in Switzerland, and many models are Swiss Made by definition, but the brand maintains a steadfast pride in its Italian-ness, no more so than the Manometro Italia introduced In 2020 (pictured above), with an epoxy-resin coated steel case in the colors of Italy’s flag.
OFFICINA DEL TEMPO
Headquarters: Rome, Italy
Founders: Giorgio and Roberto Emili
Notable models: Super Power, Racing, Wall Street, Competition
With the foundation of Officina del Tempo in 2000, at the dawn of a new millennium whose early years would bring great prosperity to the watch industry, Giorgio Emili and his younger brother Roberto set out to make “high value” Italian-made fashion watches with a “unique style.” Now offered at 100 points of sale in Italy as well as in 20 other countries, Officina del Tempo watches are designed at the company’s facility in Rome, Italy and contain movements, mostly quartz, sourced from Miyota in Japan and Ronda in Switzerland. Officina del Tempo’s wide assortment of product families includes robust, motorsport-inspired chronographs, as in the Super Power, Racing, and Competition lines; dressy gents models (including dress chronographs with automatic movements) in the Business and Wall Street collections; and bejeweled ladies’ models in the Vanity collection, to name a few. Officina del Tempo is also heavily involved in partnerships and promotions in areas including motorsports and golf.
Headquarters: Rome, Italy
Founder: Riccardo Zannetti
Notable models: Gladiator, Regent, Scuba Art, Magnificum
Largely unknown outside of Italy, Zannetti is one of the oldest brands in the country and boasts a history of exclusivity and artisanship that few of its peers can equal. The first Zannetti to make timepieces, mostly on special order by prominent clients from aristocratic Roman families, was Carmine Zannetti in the early 1900s. His son Mario continued the tradition after World War II, and the current incarnation of the family business was established by Mario’s son, Riccardo Zannetti, in the 1980s. Riccardo, who plied his trade previously for international luxury brands like Missoni and Bulgari, has kept the company’s focus on quality over quantity — only about 1,000 pieces made per year, most with eye-poppingly artistic dials. Each watch dial starts out as a hand-sketched design before coming to 3D life through the artisanal processes of engraving, micro-painting, stone-setting, and meticulous Champlevé enameling. Behind the dials are mechanical movements sourced from Switzerland, powering an impressive array of functions throughout the line, including chronographs and five-minute repeaters. The Scuba Art collection of dive watches is particularly noteworthy, pairing Zannetti’s signature dial art with a professional-grade 300-meter water resistant case equipped with a helium-release valve. As one would expect, Zannetti watches are highly customizable and accordingly, prices are on request.
Headquarters: Milan, Italy
Founder: Innocente Binda
Notable models: Time Only, Chrono Gent, Multifunction, Dual Time
Breil Watch Company, founded in 1939 and named after a municipality in Switzerland, is the company upon which today’s Milan-based Binda Group of luxury companies was built. Founder Innocente Binda was a master of promotional stunts, at one point dropping watches from the Eiffel Tower to prove their durability. Specializing in “glamour watches” with “a strong Italian character” (aka fashion watches), Breil in its long history has introduced many models and collections targeted at both men and women; among the most notable have been the Manta in 1978, the Milano in 2001, the Infinity in 2012 and the Gent in 2014. Breil was an early adopter of “unisex” watch marketing campaigns, often placing masculine models on the wrists of celebrity actresses like Monica Bellucci, Charlize Theron, and Jessica Alba in a series of 1990s ads with the “Take anything but my Breil” tagline. Then as now, Breil watches are primarily in steel cases, with Swiss-made quartz and mechanical movements; dials are analog, with classically traditional yet modern time displays, as opposed to some of the more avant-garde or retro-look options on this list. Breil also offers a variety of app-connected smartwatches in its men’s line, whose digital faces can be customized to several familiar Breil dial configurations. A true, well-rounded Italian luxury accessory company, Breil also makes a full line of jewelry for both men and women.
Headquarters: Lucca, Tuscany, Italy
Founder: Italo Fontana
Notable models: Classico, Darkmoon, Chimera
A spiritual descendant of Panerai in its robustly militaristic, nautical aesthetic, U-Boat launched its first watches in 2000. The company’s identity has its roots in the Italian Navy watches designed (but never actually manufactured) by founder Italo Fontana’s grandfather, Ilvo Fontana, in 1942. U-Boat watches are remarkable for their big, left-side-mounted locking crowns; large, imposing cases and wide, legible dials; and rugged, vintage-effect leather straps. Fontana designs and builds the watches at the company’s headquarters in the Tuscan town of Lucca, working with a variety of case materials and finishes including bronze, titanium, carbon, tungsten, and untreated silver. U-Boat watches are nearly all geared toward military diving, with impressive water resistance and rotating dive-scale bezels. While the cases and straps are all proudly made in Italy by local craftspeople, the movements are Swiss, and mostly automatic mechanicals. Styles range from the jewelry-bedecked Lady collection; to the masculine and dressy Darkmoon, with eye-catching gradient dial colors; to the robustly sport-oriented Classico; to the bold and brassy Chimera, with its specialized, patent-pending crown-cap security system.
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Calamai and Anonimo probably the best Italian microbrands today
Memphis Belle should also be on the list. Top notch technical specs military watches, with multiple patents under their belt, assignef to numerous military/law enforcement units in Italy and beyond.
Hi Teddy, as an Italian thanks for the list, I was wondering is Wiler Wetta also Italian? And I know tastes are tastes but I find many of these models a bit tacky :)