Irreverent Italian watchmaker U-Boat is 20 years old this year, but its founder and creative director Italo Fontana is showing no signs of growing up now the company is out of its teenage years.
U-Boat replica is a watch brand infused with the personality of Mr Fontana.
Born in the magical medieval Italian town of Lucca, Tuscany, in 1965, he has a passion for design that he attributes to his grandfather Ilvo, a precision instrument engineer who was commissioned by the Italian Navy in 1942 to develop a watch for its pilots.
That watch was never produced during the war years, but its design was discovered decades later by Italo Fontana and was used as the blueprint for the modern day top quality fake U-Boat U-42 family of limited editions.
Just like the 1942 concept, every oversized U-42 has its crown on the left — a signature choice for the brand — and it uses the same crown locking mechanism and studded bezel as his grandfather’s concept.
“I have always been fascinated by design, I create in total freedom,” says Mr Fontana. “I don’t follow any trends. I try to do what other brands don’t. I have no obligation to create the same over and over again,” he adds.
For a relatively young watch business, founded in 2000, U-Boat has managed to establish both an instantly recognisable look for its AAA perfect replica watches (large, muscular and vintage) and develop a surprisingly broad range of unique styles with knockoff U-Boat watches like its ladies’ Rainbow and oil-filled Capsoil.
That is hard to do while maintaining an identity with cut-through in the hyper-competitive market for independent watchmakers.
The trick is that U-Boat copy is built on a solid foundation with four pillars, defined as:
01. IDENTITY AND UNIQUENESS OF THE DESIGN
Identity is the key word for the U-BOAT brand. The creations have a very distinctive design recognisable even from a distance. In their lines it is possible to recognise Italo’s imprinting, because he personally designs each model.
02. “MADE IN TUSCANY” AND CRAFTSMANSHIP
The basic features identifiable in each U-BOAT collection are craftsmanship and the “Made in Tuscany” factor. Proud of its Swiss movements, each and every watch is created and assembled by artisans based in Lucca headquarters, Tuscany, Italo and U-BOAT’s place of birth and hometown.
03. QUALITY AND MATERIALS
U-BOAT uses modern and unusual techniques and materials. Italo is interested in all materials, from classic steel to titanium, tungsten, carbon, copper, gold, silver and ceramic. He loves exploring new ideas, without being influenced by the market. For example, he has recently been using anatolite, tungsten and uncoated bronze.
Italo Fontana perfectly understands the meaning of innovation, as he constantly creates value for his customers.
The way these pillars support both consistency and innovation is perfectly illustrated in the automatic movement replica watches launched by U-Boat this year. Uniqueness is seen in the multi-coloured mother of pearl dials of the Rainbow collection; rarely used bronze is chosen as a case material for the 2020 Sommerso and uniqueness is delivered in a blood red version of the hypnotic Capsoil watch.
Mr Fontana clearly has a vivid imagination that conjures watch designs that are unafraid to challenge convention.
U-Boat’s Capsoil, first seen in 2019, is a Swiss copy watches that is entirely filled with oil, similar in concept to the artisan watchmaker Ressence, which makes a tiny number of watches priced at around £40,000 each.