Terra Cielo Mare Takes its Time Building the World’s Best Watches

While many companies look to the past for inspiration, few take the time to truly understand it and embed it within their DNA as deeply as Terra Cielo Mare (Earth, Air, Water) Watches have done. When TCM was founded in 1999, it chose its name to invoke the three domains in which enlisted men and women in the army, air force and navy have made Italian history. These men and women risked everything to help build the Italy we all know today, often relying on well designed watches to help them achieve their goals. With each watch series TCM creates, they hope to not only commemorate the accomplishments and sacrifices of these individuals, but also recapture the beauty of the watches they routinely used as essential tools. Instruments built for durability and legibility, the brand’s proud Italian identity is found in every limited edition watch they produce, paired with the precision of Swiss mechanics and movements to make these items some of the purest watch designs of the 21st century.

TCM has earned worldwide critical acclaim, even having their Orienteering Watch worn by Brad Pitt in a feature film. TCM builds their watches around an active lifestyle just as their spiritual ancestors were, and as each watch pays tribute to a thoroughly researched historical figure or event, many feature a militaristic aesthetic that demands readability and precision from the craft. We were lucky to have a chance to sit down with Luca Fontana the brand’s owner, to ask a few questions that get at the heart of what makes their designs so unique and sought after.

 

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How has Terra Cielo Mare distinguished itself over the years in the crowded field of watch design, especially against much larger companies such as Hamilton and IWC that cater to a similar crowd of watch enthusiasts?

Undoubtedly in a landscape so crowded with brands and models, standing out is not easy.
Our decision, in fact, was not so much to study the work of others and try to propose an alternative, but rather to focus our research more closely on our history and our identity.
The bulk of our target market is made up of a niche of collectors, who do not intend to give up, but rather to pursue. Our goal is to maintain a product that is authentic, innovative, and always faithful to its identity. All our research and our efforts are consistent with a coherent goal that is, for us, the fundamental value.

Can you talk a bit about the manufacturing process the watches go through? What are the general steps taken in the factory that brings the watch from a set of parts to a finished piece?

Our manufacturing is key to the integration of precision and craftsmanship. Our production process starts with machines that work with numerical control, then passes through to the manual work phases. This work requires absolute attention to accuracy, since the craftsmen handle not just exclusively aesthetic pieces of the build, but also the engineering side of the process, as works of micromechanics go through tolerance passes and different quality controls before going out on the market. Our watches are designed and built in Italy and then fitted with Swiss movements, which TCM has developed in partnership with the manufacturing company Concepto of La Chaux de Fonds, which creates movements tailored for us. Our watches are then finalized by GTF, a family business that produces boxes and bracelets for the Swiss luxury watchmaker.

What is the process like for choosing historic events or people that have made an impact on Italian history? Can you elaborate on the research process that so deeply influences the watch design?

We are a very small in number and consist of passionate people very accustomed to frequent discussions of the events and historical figures who inspire our watches at all times. So we could say that our job is a non-process: when we realize that a topic ignites a particularly passionate discussion amongst ourselves, we try to explore the possibilities to conceive of a clock around its history. Instead of focusing on marketing or current trends, what is crucial for us is to make the watch appeals first and foremost to ourselves. This makes us, in some ways, the anti-marketing team. We are confronted frequently with those who share our passions, for example with the gentlemen of the Museum of Flight / Ali Historical Association, the brains behind the magazine Military History, with collectors of memorabilia and passionate scholars of Italian history. From 2015 we also have the brand ambassador, the young promises of mountaineering, explorers, parachutists and professional divers. These people help us by testing the watches and give us vital information to refine them technically.

Many of your watches set themselves apart with unique elements (such as a torpedo-shaped crown assembly). Can you talk a bit about the process behind these parts, as it seems like no other company in the world approaches watches in this fashion?

All our watches evoke a story or a definite imagery, as we like to choose topics rich in content to influence our design, and we do extensive technical research to implement these bespoke features. For example, we were the first to draw the crown torpedo-shaped (in our watch Tazzoli) or have it load from the line in The Sorci Verdi, a watch that out of faithfulness to the original part, we designed uncrowned. Thanks to the generations that make up our watchmaking team/family, we often can do implementations that would be impossible for other brands. For example, we will have a new watch presented in Basel in April the dial of which was incorporates part of an actual German flak missile. We took it apart and reused it within the watch. Clearly a watch like this comes in a limited edition (we only had a single flak missile), but it is a case in point of how the content drives even the most virtuous and unusual aspects of our watches.

When working on your highly limited series watches (i.e. 1/1 editions), how do you determine what to further specialize in the original design? Are the 1/1 watches requested specifically by customers, or are they developed off of designs that were particularly good/popular?

In 2015 we implemented a custom section on our site in which we offer for version 1:1 clocks. It is milestone for the company; allow us to create a unique version of a design through a specified change of certain parts. It is mostly a form of homage to a production line that has been particularly successful, such as for the Claw Abyss, but also came about because through our collaborations we find the inspiration to make even more special pieces. For example, we are now working with a famous Italian mountaineering group, Spiders of Lecco, to create a watch dedicated to their businesses that will have very specific characteristics. Other times we work custom versions on request, as was the case with our Chrono the festival, created for the famous race of vintage cars La Festa Mille Miglia in Japan, for which we have been official timekeeper.

Are there any things TCM has in store for the future you can tell us about?

At Baselworld we will present our 2016 collection, of which we are very satisfied. In the near future we plan to work closely with our brand ambassadors to continue improving the technical features of our watches and further meet the specific needs of these modern explorers. For the rest we will continue on our way, we will dive more and more into our niche, letting our production remain stable at under the thousand pieces a year. We hope to bring our brand to more fairs than just BaselWorld, expanding to not just other watch fairs, but also maybe even military or historical collectibles fairs.

 

Nathaniel Barlam

Amid the unrest of earning his Bachelor’s degree in Architecture from RISD, Nathaniel manages to find the time to read, write, hang out with friends, play drums, and listen to music. Nathaniel has learned a lot about architecture firsthand thanks to opportunities to live and work in Rome and Brooklyn during the past year. Coming from a family with strong roots in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Nathaniel has always maintained a strong love for NYC especially, and after his studies finish up in Providence he may move there for a while. He hasn't decided yet. You can connect with him via Linkedin or by visiting his Portfolio page.