#1 in a series of interviews with interesting people by Australian artist, Timothy John.
I have often said, the best thing about me is my friends, and for my first interview of this series, I must confess, I have chosen a friend, designer and bon viveur, Alessandro Baldieri.
TJ: So, Alessandro, firstly, thank you for taking the time to hold my hand through my first interview, be gentle with me ok?
AB: OK Tim, you are in safe hands, and it is a pleasure to talk with you.
TJ: For those who are not familiar with you or your work, maybe you could give a little back ground, you were born and raised in Italy , and spent time in the U.S. right?
AB: Yes, that is correct, I was born and raised in Rome (the second oldest of 7 children) until age 14, then we moved to the U.S. and I went on to study at the College of Design in California. From there I began my journey, designing homes and interiors for movie stars, and corporate high flyers, you know the types Tim, the “beautiful people” …(Cue Beachboys “California Girls”)
TJ: Ah yes, the beautiful people, it’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it right?
AB: Right, and I had a ball, it was a great lifestyle, but then I left the U.S. and headed over to London, where I continued designing interior spaces. That was in about 1999 – 2000, during which time I had the urge to explore new ventures and live a dream of mine to design and create wrist watches.
TJ: I must say, I am amazed at your work ethic, you are always on the go, always something to do, something new to explore, is that a characteristic of your upbringing?
AB: Yes, of course, in Rome I never dared asking my Father for money, because although we were not poor, raising 7 children is a financial drain, so at the age of 13 every Saturday and Sunday I was awake at 4 am to work in a bakery, this allowed me to have my own money, and gave me a sense of achievement and as you say, a strong work ethic.
TJ: So, you moved with your family to the U.S. when you were around 14? Studying hard, playing tennis and discovering girls.
AB: You have done your homework Tim. Yes, I was being coached in tennis and I enjoyed it, I think I stuck at tennis for about a year, and then, as you say, I discovered partying and girls!
TJ: But you did go to school, right?
AB: Yes, of course, along with my family ethic for hard work, education was of much importance. I left school at 18, and by chance I stumbled into my first business opportunity.
After visiting a friend of mine who was a chef, and who needed his knives sharpened, I found out there was no mobile knife sharpening companies, that were offering this service to restaurants.
TJ: I feel a “light bulb” moment coming on.
AB: You got it, overnight I purchased a mobile knife sharpening machine and visited 15 to 20 restaurants a day, I charged $2.00 a knife, and I made a lot of money. I ended up selling the business to my friend the chef, who was depressed and disillusioned with cooking, I sold it to him for $1.00, after all if it wasn’t for him, I would never have done it, and earned my pot of gold!
What goes around comes around and he deserved some good fortune… besides, I had bigger plans and dreams to follow.
TJ: So, that is when you started designing watches?
AB: Tim, no, not so fast, I was looking to invest in properties, houses mainly, renovating and reselling them at profit, using the money I had earned from the knife sharpening business as seed capital. Thankfully the property developments I did were successful, and I was making more money than ever before, my houses were selling fast because of my eye for new design, which buyers and real estate people seemed to love.
Next thing I know, people were asking me to design their houses, so, now I was buying and fixing up my own investment properties while designing and decorating others homes as well. At that time, I thought I should take an architectural and interior design course in L.A. which I did, but in my heart I thought I was wasting time, learning things I already knew and doing things even the lecturers had not achieved. So I left for London, but I kept exploring interior design activities thru 2000 till 2009.
TJ: So when did you discover this passion to design watches?
AB: All my life I had loved watches, and I guess subconsciously I had been holding this desire to create something for myself, and of course for others. In 2006 I designed my first watch, as a personal challenge, but I was moving between the interior design work and these watch design ideas, I was not focused on either one, so in 2009 I made the decision to concentrate on the design and production of my watches and brand development. So, that is what I did.
TJ: Thank goodness you did. I know your watches, very well, and I am fortunate enough to own a few.
AB: Yes I know you have and I am honored, because I also know the company my watches are in, being a part of your larger collection.
TJ: Speaking of collections, are you a collector of luxury timepieces?
AB: Yes, In the past I always collected and had particular interest in Audemars Piguet and Chopard watches, but today I only wear AB Watches.
TJ: As you know I do have quite a few watches, and I must say my Alessandro Baldieri creations always get great comments. Do you think your background in the interior and architectural design formed your vision for your watches?
AB: Yes, most definitely, that’s exactly the point, I design from an architectural point of view.
TJ: I can really see the architectural feel in the curved caseback of your MAGNUM M-48 series, also your beautiful curved lugs and I must say that particular model is the most comfortable watch I own. You have involvement in several brands, of course there is Alessandro Baldieri Watches, but you also have ITAnano Watches and Trifoglio Watches, can you tell me the difference between the brands, and what you feel is the underlying philosophy of each brand?
AB: Sure, yes I do have involvement in the 3 brands you mention and they exist for their own reasons.
Because I like to ‘play’ with technology I created Trifoglio Italia developing the finest Italian leather bags using the best Florentine leather makers. Through creative discussion with my partner Jessie Yeo in Singapore, we thought, why not develop a Trifoglio watch that can marry with the leather goods, so we developed the watches on a military theme for the urban lifestyle.
The ITAnano brand was created because of a different challenge. We aimed to create a fashion watch at a very affordable price, this set me looking into carbon technology along with monocoque and mineral fibre technology, resulting in watches that are great looking, using production techniques that make them affordable to anyone. The motto of ITAnano, ”EVERYONE HAS TO LOOK GOOD”
TJ: Your Alessandro Baldieri brand has created some of my favourite pieces, watches with interesting coatings and treatments, that change the colour of the cases. I am thinking in particular of the MAGNUM M-48 models, that have coloured steel finishes, dark grey, coffee, chocolate, they look fantastic, how did that come about?
AB: Well, this is the point I was talking about, I like to experiment with technology and not be afraid to try new ideas, I spend time and money formulating my blends etc. and sometimes the Gods are with us, and remarkable things happen, for example, the chocolate PVD MAGNUM came about by mistake from the wrong mixture, I fell in love with it when I saw it, and kept it, and of course the formula that created it.
TJ: The whole carbon thing is very interesting to me, I have a few friends of mine creating sculpture from carbon fiber, can you tell me about that process, how you decide what finish, what materials you will use. I am also really interested in your creative process, can you tell me a little about that?
How you get the design from your head to hand, to the market place?
AB: The carbon watches I create are inspired by the material itself, extra light materials, that can withstand physical punishment and hard everyday use. I liked the challenge to create carbon pieces at an affordable price and aim at the people who like extreme sports – a fearless person with an unbreakable watch, that was the inspiration. When I design that’s when my mind switches on, as soon as that the pencil gets going, strange but true, my best creations came from this way of work, no schedules, no pressure, just inspiration.
TJ: Well, as an artist myself, I can relate to that. Inspiration, perspiration and determination, are the key to any creative pursuit, and on that note, I would like to thank you for your time (no pun intended), I am sure we will meet in an airport lounge somewhere in the world, sometime soon. Thanks, Ale.
AB: Thank you Tim, it has been a pleasure.
If you would like to know more about Alessandro Baldieri visit: alessandrobaldieri.com
About Timothy John
Australian contemporary visual artist, Timothy John has been exhibiting professionally since 1979. Timothy has shown in some of Australia’s finest commercial galleries, with the occasional ‘sojourn’ onto the international scene. ‘Discovered’ by leading Australian art entrepreneur, collector and gallerist, Kim Bonython, in the late 70’s, John has gone on to be a respected member of the Australian art scene, with contributions on a local and national level. You can visit Tim’s website here or his blog here.