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Bulgari - Interview with Jean-Christophe Babin, CEO of Bulgari

Bulgari Interview with Jean-Christophe Babin, CEO of Bulgari

"This is the dawn of a new era, because trade shows will never be the same again."

What is your assessment of the Geneva Watch Days that you initiated?
I see several dimensions to it. The human factor of this initiative was essential, and it was a great pleasure to meet the entire watchmaking community: retailers, the press and other brands. This multi-brand organization, which is self-managed, and no longer under the leadership of a third-party institution, meant that the show belonged to everyone. Its excellent organization is a great reward because it proves that we were right not to give up on 2020. There are certainly other ways of communicating with retailers, but internally it was a source of enormous motivation, energy and hope, and externally we sent out an extremely strong message that there are brands not prepared to give up and seeking the good of the industry. I'm glad to know that some of them came on the fringes of Geneva Watch Days, and that the world leader presented its new models in the wake of the event, because that is good for the entire watch industry. The priority was to restart this market. As far as Bulgari is concerned, we obtained as much media coverage as we received at our LVMH show in Dubai in January, which was equivalent in value to that of Baselworld 2019, by focusing on the most influential and significant media either in-person or through digital interviews. We literally covered the entire planet during these four days. From a commercial point of view, we were targeting European retailers, who generated an average turnover very comparable to that of Dubai, making it a highly successful operation. Since costs were relatively low, return on investment was excellent. Especially as we presented our new products at the same time by video conference to the rest of our distribution network, who received them in person the following week and ordered right away.

Interview de Jean-Christophe Babin, CEO de Bulgari Group

Jean-Christophe Babin, CEO Bulgari Group © Gabriel de la Chapelle

What exhibition format will you be using next spring?
It's the start of a new era, because trade shows will never be the same again. Everybody now knows that we have managed to stage a very affordable and extremely luxurious event. The Ritz-Carlton plus marquee combination was ideal. It could easily have served as the setting for one of our high jewelry events, which our teams have been holding for 30 years around the world with the same obsession for detail and luxury. For next spring, the FHH has not accepted Bulgari's bid to join Watches & Wonders, so we're going to do without it and undertake an event on the same dates, very similar to what we've just created. It's a much better show format than the historical shows, and which will be superior to them in any case, whatever their evolution due to their governance difficulties. We will set up exactly what we need: a digital approach, open to the public, decentralized, self-managed, with a very high quality/price ratio and likewise favorable return on investment. We will offer this formula as a priority to the LVMH brands with which we have a natural relationship, those of the Geneva Watch Days, and no doubt other fine brands, because I think numbers are also important.

Interview de Jean-Christophe Babin, CEO de Bulgari Group

Jean-Christophe Babin at Geneva Watch Days © Gabriel de la Chapelle

Is it important today to complete your offer with a very accessible watch collection such as Aluminium that you have just unveiled?
I think it's the most important achievement of the year, and we should have thought of it three years ago, when the watch market ran out of steam. One is always smarter with five years’ hindsight rather than two, and the other markets had continued to grow, but the Millennials were missing from the equation.  The Aluminium collection is designed for them and was conceived as "my first Swiss luxury watch", with a pleasing and affordable look. It's like our first car, we always remember it. There is enormous emotional value in that first watch. It will make them part of the Bulgari tribe, but we know that most people who buy Bulgari once will then within 18 months buy a new product: accessory, jewelry, a watch, perfume, a bag or a hotel stay. I hope that other watch brands will follow suit and address the Millennials in a holistic way to create a snowball effect.

Interview de Jean-Christophe Babin, CEO de Bulgari Group

Bulgari Aluminium White Dial © Bulgari

Bulgari also sets a sixth world record with the Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Chronograph Skeleton Automatic; is this one particularly special?
When someone who loves watchmaking, to be offered these complications effectively merged by openworking is extraordinary. It represents the pinnacle of beautiful top-of-the-range mechanical horology. From my point of view, it is the most balanced of all Finissimo models, with a perfect diameter to thickness ratio. Our chronograph is exceptional, and as Bulgari is also one of the leading Swiss tourbillon producers, this world record and this new product is a major step forward in that this extraordinary product will continue to evolve. Ten watches in this 50-piece limited series had already been sold during the first two days of Geneva Watch Days.

Interview de Jean-Christophe Babin, CEO de Bulgari Group

Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Chronograph Skeleton Automatic © Bulgari

How has Bulgari adapted to the complicated situation in the global economy?
Since the Chinese are our largest market, we were affected at the very beginning of the crisis and very quickly took drastic measures: reducing production to avoid building up stocks; stopping expenses that were not essential for operational activity; cutting marketing budgets in order to re-inject them in the second half of the year. When the situation worsened with the closure of shops and factories, we focused on protecting jobs (no layoffs to date), while reflecting on what could be done differently, based on the principle that COVID-19 would be a trend accelerator, particularly in the field of e-commerce. We have thus doubled our geographical e-commerce influence, whereas that was not forecast to happen before the end of 2021, resulting in a month of August at +250%. Shop openings have been postponed to 2021, and a major training program for sales personnel has benefited 2,500 of our 3,000 employees, in order to strengthen their confidence with customers. To try to make up for lost sales, we also studied the relevance of our offer and decided in one month to create the Aluminium collection for Millennials. As we were operating below capacity, everything went very fast and we were very pragmatic in our choices: preserving the Bulgari identity; adapting the Bulgari size and quality to 2020 criteria; maintaining the mechanical movement for the handcrafted factor and authenticity; and designing the movements immediately according to their availability. Finally, we have revised the way we will work in the future, including travelling 70% less in 2021 than in 2019. Digital technology has shown us that some tasks can be replaced by smart working. This tragedy has enabled us to grow and fostered our efforts to remain united, which is very satisfying for me.


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