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Bulgari - Interview with Jean-Christophe Babin

Bulgari Interview with Jean-Christophe Babin

We met Bulgari's CEO in Capri, on the occasion of the unveiling of the High Jewellery Cinemagia collection.

Is Bulgari among the watch brands that is managing to stay competitive, despite a downturn in the market?
Yes and no. Yes, because Bulgari is clearly gaining market share, and no because we are currently in the process of closing down practically half our distribution network. We’re going to focus on the 300 points of sale that generate 80% of our turnover. This process began last summer, when we had 600 points of sale, and will continue into next year. It will mean taking back stock, and we will see lower revenues. This rescaling will also mean taking jewellery out of our retailer network, and selling it exclusively in our own boutiques, of which we have 300, with the usual adaptations depending on the markets. The remaining retailers in our network are by definition highly committed, and they have a different approach from those we are in the process of separating from. At the end of the day this will enable us to make up ground more efficiently. In terms of sales to end clients, our growth remains at a higher level than that of watch exports.

Interview de Jean-Christophe Babin

Octo Finissimo Ceramic © Bulgari

Do you know if the Octo Finissimo appeals to a particular kind of man ?
Looking at sales of the Octo family in terms of volume, it’s quite interesting because they are fairly well balanced across the three lines – Finissimo, Originale and Roma – which correspond broadly to three different types of clientele. The Originale appeals to people who like watches with a very strong identity, while the Roma is easier to wear and more affordable, which brings in a younger demographic. The Finissimo is particularly attractive to the type of connoisseur who already owns several watches and wants to add a very different kind of watch to their collection, with its own personality. The Finissimo is clearly the star of the show, but there’s definitely a bandwagon effect. The three ranges are highly complementary, and they’re growing at a similar rate.

Interview de Jean-Christophe Babin

Octo Finissimo Chronograph GMT Automatic © Bulgari

Was there anything you weren’t expecting, when you launched it in 2012?
It’s a collection we developed quickly and intensively, but it’s built to last, so that we can give clients an interesting choice. I wasn’t prepared for the Finissimo to be so highly regarded by connoisseurs, whether clients or specialised journalists; I underestimated its aesthetic potential. At the end of the day, with far more modest means than the launch of the Lucea collection, this collection has become a major part of our portfolio, at the same level as Lucea, just behind Serpenti. And in men’s watches, it’s the clear front-runner. It’s an incredible success.

2019 is a good year for Serpenti, with the creation of the Seduttori family. Are you hoping to reach new female clients?
Yes, absolutely. On the one hand, Bulgari didn’t offer enough gold watches, and the ones we had were too expensive, because of the triple-wrap Serpenti bracelet. In the Lucea line, half of the watches we sell are gold, but with a leather strap. What we were missing was a more affordable full gold watch, and we have that now. Also, the Serpenti Seduttori is also designed to be easier to wear, with a less polarising bracelet than the Serpenti. Its design is still inspired by Serpenti, but it’s more subtle. This is a watch that can be worn every day. Finally, its price positioning is very competitive compared with other major luxury brands in the gold bracelet segment.

Interview de Jean-Christophe Babin

Serpenti Seduttori, yellow gold © Bulgari

Is the women’s watch market undergoing the same re-evaluation as the men’s watch market ?
De facto yes, because it is part of the watch market as a whole, but I keep coming back to it because it remains under-exploited compared with the men’s market, and under-exploited in terms of creativity. You see this clearly, for example, at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève, where three-quarters of categories are for men’s watches. And yet, clearly, women’s watches ought to occupy the lion’s share of the market, and it represents just 35%. There are very few women’s watches that are designed specifically for women, and yet the few that are are extremely successful, here at Bulgari of course, but also Cartier and Chopard.  But where women’s watches are derived from a men’s model, they tend to be less successful. And that’s not taking into account that, for a women, there is less of an emotional attachment. Swiss watchmakers should take far more interest in women, and in creating watches for women, instead of making smaller women’s versions of men’s watches. There’s no reason why the market should be so strongly skewed towards men.

Interview de Jean-Christophe Babin

Serpenti Incantati © Bulgari

As far as jewellery watches are concerned, how is Bulgari positioned to differentiate itself from other major jewellery firms?
It’s pretty simple, because Bulgari was historically a jeweller. Our creations are split into three categories: Le Magnifiche is made up of extraordinary high jewellery pieces, which we exhibit for example here in Capri; in parallel, every year we follow a major theme, such as Cinemagia in 2019, which was unveiled for the first time at our event in Capri; and finally, our third creative pillar comprises the collections that we call our signs: Diva, Fiorever, Serpenti, etc. Our jewellery watches follow the same logic, because we also develop one-of-a-kind pieces such as the baguette sapphire cuff with a secret watch, or the watch using the two-thousand-year-old Constantine coin, which are exactly like Le Magnifiche. And naturally, we also produce our iconic signs like Diva and Serpenti as jewellery watches, with a major focus on Fiorever coming in the near future. 

Interview de Jean-Christophe Babin

Serpenti Misteriosi Intrecciati © Bulgari

Have you been pleased with the reactions to this segment?
In Capri, where we unveiled our latest high jewellery pieces for our best clients, the first piece that was sold happened to be a jewellery watch: a Serpenti cuff with secret watch. It’s very rewarding to be recognised in this segment for your watchmaking savoir-faire, when it is in a setting created by a genuine jeweller.

The LVMH group has announced that its 2020 watch fair will take place in your Bulgari hotel in Dubai. What was behind this choice – both the place and the idea to bring together Bulgari, Hublot, TAG and Zenith?
As Stéphane Bianchi and I announced, the timetable of the two watch fairs in 2020, with Geneva at the end of April and Baselworld at the beginning of May, is not at all convenient. They are far too late for our clients. Just think – half the year is already gone! That’s why we decided to fill the gap that has now been opened up in January with our pre-Basel show, which we used to organise in Geneva, in parallel with the SIHH. This event, which brings together the four LVMH maisons, will give our partners the opportunity to plan their year optimally, while the media can discover a whole raft of new products. Having said that, the four brands will also be at Baselworld in May, as I mentioned.

The brand

Bulgari has its own clear definition of excellence, which involves the perfect balance between design, added-value, quality of its products and its worldwide service. In the case of Bulgari watches, it all started with the Bulgari Bulgari watch that led to the creation of Bulgari Time in Switzerland in 1982.

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