Watches: Cool Hands

  • Ken Kessler

During my annual pilgrimage to the Grimoldi store in Milan’s Piazza Duomo last fall, I noticed that its proprietors, brothers Roberto and Cesare Grimoldi, were wearing something, well, different. These retailers, who also happen to be watchmakers, have always displayed their preference for enormous watches—Panerais, Franck Mullers, and the like. But the watches on their wrists were massive. They were also unfamiliar and undeniably funky. Turns out that the brothers were sporting the latest designs of middle brother Giorgio, the family’s aesthete.

In the middle of last year, the Grimoldis produced 1,000 private-label watches marked Commodoro on the dial in an attempt to offer their customers something distinctive. “We produced Giorgio’s Commodoro strictly for sale in our three stores, to have something truly exclusive,” says Roberto. “Before we knew it, we were inundated with requests from watch stores around the world.” When the original pieces sold out, they decided to go into production with a slightly tweaked movement and a new name: Borgonovo.

The creation of Grimoldi watches was, like their retail business, a family affair. Giorgio, a designer, followed the lead of his father, Anselmo, who opened his first store in 1964 after a decade of tutelage under master jewelry designer Romolo Grassi. Giorgio entered the Liceo Artistico at the age of 14 and studied architecture for eight years at Milan’s Politechnico. In 1978, he produced his first one-off jewelry designs for the family’s three Milan stores.

Last year, while on vacation in Mexico, Giorgio was captivated by the shapes of stones in the surf, and translated the forms into the first watch bearing the family name. “My criteria in shaping the Grimoldi watches were the result of my background in architecture, and [years spent] studying design. Then, I considered the functional and technical aspects of the watch itself.”

With input from every family member, Giorgio crafted a timepiece that is suitable for both male and female wrists, achieving the rare balance of being oversized without feeling bulky. With its precisely designed curve, his Borgonovo hugs the wrist without snagging sleeves. The smooth, sleek form allows the wearer to forget its massive proportions: 55 millimeters long (60 millimeters if you follow the curve), 36 millimeters wide (not counting the crown), and 10 millimeters thick.

Eldest brother Roberto’s watchmaking expertise (he trained in Switzerland’s La Chaux-des-Fonds) prompted the selection of the respected, self-winding ETA 2824-2 movement. The calibre was modified specifically for Grimoldi’s use, endowing the watch with both date and hacking seconds, which are tracked by a delightful serpent hand. Hours and minutes are marked by chubby, luminous leaf-shaped hands.

In addition to the bold design, what makes the watches so appealing are the details: the screw-down crown for water-resistance, the custom-made strap with flattened ends that allow it to sit properly under the watch’s case, the dial’s legibility, and the colors—two handsome dial designs are offered in 11 hues with a vast selection of complementary straps. A luxe diamond-bezel version will also be introduced into the U.S. market this summer.


In Europe, Grimoldi’s affordable watches (priced at $1,500 each) have quickly gained cult status. Collectors are buying them in multiples and eagerly anticipate the arrival of a chronograph, a smaller version for the less flamboyant, as well as other variants. The collection is available at London Jewelers in New York, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Tourneau.

Grimoldi, 570.822.1900, www.grimoldiwatches.com

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