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Watches

Young Gun

Words by Rob Chilton

Dario Spallone started his watch brand as a hobby when he was 19. Now 25, he tells EDGAR how youth, confidence and attention to detail have made D1 Milano a huge global success.

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Polycarbon - 40.5 mm PCBJ01

Although he was born in the 1990s, Dario Spallone has an old head on his young shoulders and a penchant for design from decades past. The Italian entrepreneur who wears jeans, t-shirt and Converse sneakers started his D1 Milano watch brand as a 19-year-old in 2013.

Assisted by Milan’s Chamber of Commerce, it was a hobby project for Spallone, his sister and their two friends. But success came quickly and revenues have tripled every year since then. Inspired by styles from the 1970s – and the work of legendary watch designer Gerald Genta in particular – D1 Milano watches look beautifully simple and are reminiscent of Audemars Piguet’s iconic Royal Oak.

“I love 1970s watches with their strong geometric forms and classic design,” Spallone tells EDGAR. “I thought, why not take that idea and make it younger and more hip? The business boomed, but it’s still a hobby today. Work has to be fun, I think that’s really key.”

After rapid success in Milan, Spallone was hungry for global expansion and in 2015 his eye was drawn to Dubai. “The Middle East is the perfect strategic hub between Asia and Europe,” he explains. “The Dubai market is quite open which means you can put yourself in the game here. “Plus,” he smiles, “I love the energy of the city – and I wanted to see the world.”

However, Spallone’s arrival in Dubai didn’t exactly go like clockwork. “I didn’t sleep in 2015,” he laughs. “We came to Dubai and started from zero so it wasn’t easy. I spent the first year here working on my own and it was very hard. My girlfriend hated me that year.” Spallone trawled the city, presenting his brand to retailers. “Everyone loved the product, however the problem I had was that the Dubai market needs time to digest new brands. But I was really persistent and as soon as they accepted it, the brand flew.” The turning point was signing a deal with Harvey Nichols. “The adrenaline rush was nice,” he recalls. “You work towards a big objective but then, when you reach it, you think, what’s next?”

Bloomingdale’s came calling, after which Spallone opened D1 Milano kiosks in Abu Dhabi, City Walk, The Galleria Mall in Dubai, with another coming this summer in Sharjah. What attracts people to D1 Milano watches? “Details,” says Spallone. “People in this region love details, just like they do in Italy. Also, the brand is authentically Italian – 95 per cent of our team in Dubai and Hong Kong are Italian. People expect good quality and craftsmanship from Italian brands.

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D1 Milano employs just 12 full-time people in Dubai and Hong Kong, where the watches are made. The black 40.5mm polycarbon monochrome watch (above left) is a consistent best-seller. “It’s very bold, totally black and very captivating,” says Spallone. “It’s simple, but it has character, which is an oxymoron. It looks good in photos, but when it’s on the wrist it stops people – they look at it and ask about it.”

When asked to identify a crucial component in his success, Spallone pauses before saying, “Confidence. I think my age is unimportant,” he shrugs. “It’s more to do with how you think. Our team is young and fun but it’s mature. We have a good mix of young people and experienced management who came from very successful fashion and watchmaking brands. But we are all passionate about the product so I think there’s a coherence. We know how to get things done.”

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