Excellence and Emotion in Exclusive Timepieces 

Zannetti is an artisanal luxury watch designer and producer that can trace its roots back to the early 1900s, when its founder, Carmine Zannetti, began crafting unique handmade legacy timepieces and jewellery for elite families throughout Rome. After a long pause in operations made necessary by the outbreak of both World Wars, Zannetti’s son Mario took over the family business in order to carry on its unique tradition and legacy. Throughout the years, the brand has made a name for itself by proudly adhering to the extraordinary techniques and artistic designs that have been characteristic of Zannetti since its founding.

Today, the brand is in the skilled hands of third generation watchmaker Riccardo Zannetti, the latest in a family of artists and designers. Educated in the prestigious laboratory that has spawned creatives that have gone on to famed Italian brands including Bvlgari and Missoni, Riccardo started working as a watchmaker for important global brands in the 1980’s. By 1996, he had already amassed his own following through a network of Italian and international clientèle, and today Riccardo lives in Rome with his wife and their sons who are both part of the family business and are also artisans.

Tharawat Magazine sat down with Riccardo Zannetti to look at the state of the luxury industry, and how a family-owned traditional artisanal watchmaker business navigates change.

Zannetti craftsmanship, courtesy of Zannetti
Zannetti craftsmanship, courtesy of Zannetti

How does the family firm operate currently?

Although Zannetti holds a global distribution presence, each creation starts in Rome with a handmade drawing. From this, details are studied, a prototype is made, and then, if the idea is well-received, a small production line starts off. Even these numbered pieces are always unique, they all bear different design elements, therefore, remain exclusive. Also, even if the designs were identical, the handmade miniatures, enamelling can’t be recreated the same way; these always depend on the artisanal expression of the moment. We have around three to four thousand designs, and these can be further elaborated into thirty, forty or even fifty variations. Our strategy requires a great deal of patience and passion and despite the fact that our message is complex, we have followers all over the world.

We are not interested in the masses, or in someone who wants to buy a Zannetti watch, because of the brand. We cater for a more sensitive and sophisticated clientèle, who understands the amount of effort that goes into one unique piece of a handmade watch, the memories, and the emotions that come with such a legacy item.

The word Zannetti is still perceived as a family business, or does it stand on its own as a brand behind your products?

In small parts, we are recognised as a family business, but mainly, for our products. We have grown and evolved so much in the last few years, and anyone who buys a Zannetti cares about the handmade product and the quality-price ratio. Without mentioning a brand name, if another watchmaker produced and offered something similar to that we do, it could cost ten times more of our prices. On the other hand, we are comfortable with our pricing to the extent that we can always have a conversation with our future client and help them own their timeless Zannetti piece.

The Luxury Industry has been changing rapidly, how do you see the luxury megatrends and how do you respond to these?

What’s behind today’s luxury brand crisis, is that in the past, these major brands were used to large production numbers. Only lately did they become more aware of the importance of quality and exclusivity with regards to their products. We have been laying a huge emphasis on these aspects since 1986-7. Plenty of brands disappeared already, and maybe it is a bit late also for those that have only now started taking some steps toward the values of artisanal craftsmanship. We believe that to create and build a product together with our client or with the distributor is something exceptional, it means to evolve, and it is definitely not about counting numbers.

Zannetti craftsmanship, courtesy of Zannetti
Zannetti craftsmanship, courtesy of Zannetti

Also, in such a critical moment of history, we need to let the younger generation dream and give them something meaningful to hold onto. Otherwise, they are lost. What is more meaningful than offering the magical field of craftsmanship? A craftsman creating books, furniture, watches.

How can you combine innovation and tradition in a world that has been experiencing fast-paced technological changes? How can you revive artisanal tradition and still innovate for a future that is more welcoming for the next-generation?

I believe that large companies and all the industry players should give more space and opportunities to artisanship. It is obvious, that a brand that produces watches in big quantities in China will not see value in this, however, there would need to be a balance, a major cultural shift in perspective.

The same goes for magazines, if I am in different cities and see the same stories everywhere, there is no further excitement for me in there.

In addition, luxury needs to be something rare.

Exactly, and the prices need to follow suit too. If one buys a unique watch from us, as we can’t recreate the same tomorrow or maybe never again, consequently, the price tag will be higher. It is an exclusive item that can be looked at each and every day and perhaps passed on to the next generation.

This is what real luxury means. Everywhere in the world, there are watches that are being made, some unique for their enamelling, gems, or other parts. What we offer is handmade fine unique craftsmanship in each and every area of the watch. The creation, the artisanal production process, and the delivery are all very emotional phases for our clients and also for us, it is an emotional journey. This is something one can cherish. What’s good is that there are options out there for everyone to choose from, our pieces are not for everyone.

Zannetti craftsmanship, courtesy of Zannetti
Zannetti craftsmanship, courtesy of Zannetti

One can definitely feel the passion behind what you stand for.

Indeed, and I hope that my son or a junior craftsman will feel the same passion for what we do. It is about feeling the pain, the sweat, and effort that goes into the creation of an artisanal product, and then enjoying the reward. This should be the magic of life.

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Do you think we will see this trend unfolding also in other industries?

Absolutely. Even in our industry, whenever we exhibit at large international fairs, all the biggest brands come to see us. They are curious. Some of them already started making engravings in their watch cases, creating micromosaics, and enamellings. These brands discovered that their clients also want to see more craftsmanship.

Chinese and American clients especially have an affinity to understand our principles, they usually buy two or three watches. There, one can feel that we are on the right track. But for us, this is just the beginning of the journey. I am not interested in producing thousands of pieces, it does not make any sense, this would simply take away the salt of life.

Is it important for you to stay and operate as a family business?

Yes, otherwise, I would not enjoy it anymore. I would have already had a chance to develop the business in a different way, but that would have been the case of taking back a toy from a child. It would not make any sense to me.

When I was a lot younger, I had a business partner who completely blocked me. He was not a particularly bright individual, only focused on the numbers. Obviously, numbers are important, however, only to invest more into what you do, find new talents, etc. Our collaboration only lasted for six months, but during this period, I lost all my energy and wish to work or to create.

Riccardo Zannetti, courtesy of Zannett
Riccardo Zannetti, courtesy of Zannett

What are your short- and long-term priorities with Zannetti when it comes to growth and design?

The priority is to find gifted and sensitive craftsmen in Italy who look for an opportunity to express themselves through their artistic work, and are open to conversations with us. We then discuss the importance of their role, processes, and work together in order to help unleash their creativity and bring their best to the artisanal work.

We also need to convince the end client; the distributor, negotiator or the agent, that our products are exceptional and bring emotions, so we also need individuals, already have someone like this, that could evoke these emotions in our prospective clients. Then, the world opens for us.

There are also Zannetti pieces that get auctioned for triple of their original price. This is also our reality. We make a difference. We want to create and transmit our culture, especially to the youth, so that they commit to exploring new cultures, how they work with bronze and other materials. Whenever I travel to China, Africa, Israel, or other places, I want to discover local art, and artists. Seeing only Zara, Fendi, Gucci, Louis Vuitton is boring!

Whenever there is a possibility, I opt for craftsmanship. E.g. when I prepare a catalogue, I always entrust an artisan with the work. This is luxury, the real definition of luxury. Luxury is not the ten-carat huge gem. Luxury is to create a great book or a unique watch. Sometimes I get close to a stunning piece and even want to keep it for myself.

With my sons, we always seek new ways, new designs, and introducing new materials; wood, pearls, bronze, all of this is highly enjoyable. The beauty of life is to conquer it day-by-day.