05/08/2023
 6 minutes

Interview With U-BOAT Founder Italo Fontana

By Barbara Korp
ONP-372-U-Boat-Interview-2-1

Big and bold: There is no other way to describe the watches from U-BOAT. Italo Fontana, the founder of this Italian watch brand, gets inspiration for his watches from designs made for the Italian Navy in the 1940s. He then adds a large dose of contemporary Italian flair, but turns to movements from Swiss caliber manufacturer ETA. The watches resulting from this combination are unique, robust, easy to read, and attractive in an indescribable way.

The unconventional timepieces have quickly grown in popularity, and many celebrities have been spotted wearing them. Action stars Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Tom Cruise each have at least one U-BOAT watch in their collections. Many musicians, such as James Blunt, Kiss legend Paul Stanley, and Rammstein frontman Till Lindemann, have also fallen for these timepieces. Are you next to fall in love?

Meeting Mr. Italo Fontana
Meeting Mr. Italo Fontana

Watch Talk and an Espresso: How We Met Italo Fontana

During Watches and Wonders, we had the chance to talk (with an espresso in hand, of course) with Italo Fontana, founder and designer of U-BOAT watches, a brand with a really interesting and unique approach to watchmaking.

It’s a pleasure to meet you here at Watches and Wonders 2023 in Geneva. Do you have a favorite model this year?

“This year, one of my favorite watches is the Capsule. First of all, it’s truly a new model. The other novelties are upgraded versions of already existing models. Second, the Capsule is 100% made in Italy, and third, when you see the slit on the side of the watch and have the chance to see the dial from the side, it’s something totally new that I still find impressive.”

The Capsule – from the side (image: U-BOAT)
The Capsule: a long see-through slit runs around the case and offers a side view of the dial (image: U-BOAT)

Let’s look back and talk about the journey of your brand. How would you describe it? Where do you come from, where do you see yourself now, and where do you want to go?

“I started U-BOAT 23 years ago and I’ve always liked to break the rules, to go beyond the boundaries. I was the first one making big wristwatches – and also watches with the push-pieces and crown on the opposite side, contrary to what other brands are doing. All of this simply because I like to go against the rules. As a consequence, I decided to keep this vision of the watch over all these years. I was the first one doing some of these things, and I was also doing them with patented systems and creating new features and styles.

The worn look has been getting more and more attention. I was the first one to introduce watches that looked like they’ve been used, working with vintage-look effects. Many celebrities have been approaching us because we’re doing something different than the competition, and they love what we’re doing.

Right now, we’re still on this journey of doing our own thing and trying out new techniques. For example, we’re the first ones to create a watch with a movement surrounded by an oil bath. This gives the watch a 3D effect, especially with the domed crystal.”

Can you tell us a bit more about the use of oil? Why did you decide to put oil into a watch?

“The inspiration for the watch with oil is something personal that came from the compass on my boat. I really enjoyed seeing the hands of the compass and the numbers seemingly stuck into the glass of the compass. The oil in the watch provides the same vision and effect. Furthermore, if the dial is black, there is a much darker effect because of the oil. So, it allows us to offer dials with a really dark and deep contrast.”

Capsoil – filled with oil
Capsoil: the small air bubble ensures that the oil can expand with temperature fluctuations (image: U-BOAT).

Thank you for that. Back to the present, where do you see your brand today?

“Today, we’re doing something new. We’re producing personalized, bespoke watches. Another flagship is our special editions, where fine watchmaking is combined with fine Tuscan silver manufacturing. For example, there are city editions where you can see famous buildings or places in the cities built into the cases. So far, we’ve done hand engravings of Florence, Rome, and New York. There is a lot of potential in this kind of case manufacturing. You can ask us to do a watch with your family, your parents, your fiancé, even your dog – it’s all possible. This is U-BOAT now.”

A tribute to Rome
A tribute to Rome

Looking to the future, can you anticipate what’s to come?

“Of course, I can’t tell you that now, but I do have some really nice projects in my pocket that I’m working on. They are definitely projects that will have people talking about U-BOAT – you will see.”

Is there a chance that you will produce more watches for women? And would you be happy to see your watches on women more often?

“Yes, I’m working on that. I’m doing my best, but it’s not easy as I’m designing everything myself, and I’m a man through and through. So, for me, it’s not easy to interpret women. But anyway, I’m trying. We do have watches for women. And we also have some watches with a 38-mm diameter. These smaller watches, they preserve the identity of U-BOAT as well, even in a smaller size and for women.”

What does the community of U-BOAT clients mean to you?

“U-BOAT clients are not just numbers for us, they are people. When someone approaches U-BOAT and purchases a U-BOAT watch, they become part of our family, the U-BOAT family. They aren’t just buying a brand, but a product from a brand they enjoy. This unites all of us.”

So we get to join a big Italian family?

“Sure, after the purchase of one of our watches.”

That sounds tempting! Thank you so much for taking the time for this interview!

A Closer Look at U-BOAT Watches

Let’s take a closer look at the watches mentioned above. First, the Capsule: To be honest, it’s difficult to write anything about this watch. Of course, it’s exciting to know that this watch is inspired by bathyspheres from the 1930s. You can’t help but think of the Jules Verne novels when you see this watch. If you do have the chance to see this timepiece in the metal and read the time from the side through the small slit, you’ll instantly be captivated by its magic. That’s a moment you have to experience for yourself.

Capsule – a fascinating timepiece
The Capsule: a fascinating timepiece (image: U-BOAT).

The Capsoil is different from all the other watches in the U-BOAT portfolio. No wonder, since it’s filled with oil! This also affects its design. While its crown is on the left side as usual, it lacks a crown guard. It also lacks a bezel. This has a huge impact on its appearance because the domed sapphire crystal merges into the case, and the dial virtually makes up the entire watch. The oil only further enhances this impression. Moreover, it creates an exciting color effect: the black becomes incredibly intense and appears even darker. At the same time, the lack of a bezel makes the watch look almost delicate. The watch is powered by a quartz movement, because an automatic watch filled with oil would be too big a risk. The most exciting thing about this watch is that no matter what size it is, it looks elegant in its own revolutionary way. Is it a statement or an understatement? In any case, it’s something unique!

Capsoil – ever seen a deeper black dial?
Capsoil: Have you ever seen a deeper black dial? (Image: U-BOAT)

Summary

Even though U-BOAT is already 23 years old, it’s still a young brand – and it will always remain so. The brand’s rebellious character and lust for life give the watches a youthful feel. This is exactly what makes U-BOAT interesting for us watch lovers. Whether it’s an oversized diver or a quartz watch filled with oil, with a U-BOAT, you get a rebel in your collection, and that’s exactly the kind of watch you need to make sure your love of watches never grows old.


About the Author

Barbara Korp

The moment I learned that watches were a lot more than just simple jewelry, I was hooked; I become enamored with the elegance of timekeeping. But there was one small hitch: most models were just too big for me to wear! That didn't discourage me, however. In fact, I developed quite a niche interest.

Read more

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