Bulgari Interview with Jean-Christophe Babin, CEO, Bvlgari group
Bvlgari chose the Pantheon in Rome to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Octo collection, where it also unveiled its eighth record-breaking watch
What’s your summing-up of the Octo’s tenth anniversary?
After observing the first signs five years ago, we can confidently say that the Octo is an icon. It’s even the first icon of the twenty-first century. No other watch has achieved iconic status this fast. Compared with twentieth-century icons that built first and foremost on design, the Octo introduces three other dimensions. Yes, it does have a totally unique design with its 110 angles and its fusion of circle and square, but we’ve added materials and a monochrome scheme. For each of these record-breaking watches, we made the aesthetic choice of a dial, case and bracelet in a single colour, which further adds to the design identity. At the same time, Bulgari has introduced technologies that have revolutionised watch aesthetics, matching the lifestyle of the modern guy and his environment, from his contemporary apartment to the sleek lines of his car. Today’s gentleman finds the same aesthetic qualities in the Octo Finissimo. These three dimensions have accelerated the Octo’s elevation to iconic status.
Pantheon of Rome, Bvlgari celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Octo collection © Brice Lechevalier / WorldTempus
Bvlgari already has an iconic women’s watch with the Serpenti. It’s great that we can confirm a strong watch business, one that’s growing fast, with an iconic watch for men. It’s an extraordinary opportunity that isn’t a guarantee of success but does give Bvlgari a solid base on which to build long-term success, establishing the brand not only as a world leader in jewellery but as a world leader in watchmaking, too.
Pantheon of Rome, Bvlgari celebrates the 10th Anniversary of the Octo Collection - Jean-Christophe Babin, CEO Bvlgari Group © Brice Lechevalier / WorldTempus
You’ve just unveiled the thinnest mechanical watch in the world: the Octo Finissimo Ultra. After three years of research and development, what was the biggest challenge?
The major challenge was to reinvent the mechanical watch a second time! For the Octo Finissimo in 2014, we had to wipe the slate clean. Reducing the size of existing components by 40% didn’t take us anywhere. We had to rethink every part of the mechanism, reinvent every element from A to Z to arrive at an ultra-thin, ultra-elegant watch. Eight years later, again working from a blank slate, we’ve done the same thing with the Ultra, which is both number 8 in the saga (a symbol of eternity and good luck) and number 1 of a new generation. It has a thickness of 1.8 millimetres! Once again we have reinvented the mechanical watch and reduced the number of components further still to just 170. The eight patents reflect the innovation contained within these 1.8 millimetres, such as the space-saving solution of a small horizontal wheel for time-setting instead of a crown, and another on the opposite side of the case for winding. Because it couldn’t add thickness, the folding clasp alone is a micromechanical exploit. We could have contented ourselves with a non-metal strap to stay within the required thickness and get around the fact there is no case middle. Instead, we worked hard to develop one in tungsten carbide that exactly fits the overall aesthetic of the watch and is in continuity with the first seven records. Such a degree of thinness is all the more remarkable knowing that the Ultra is a production model, not a concept watch, whose chronometric precision we guarantee. Adjusting the movement within such small dimensions is an art in itself and in fact takes longer than assembly because, as you can imagine, we never compromise on quality.
Octo Finissimo Ultra © Bulgari
Was it important for the Octo Finissimo Perpetual Calendar to win the Aiguille d’Or at the 2021 GPHG?
It was wonderful for us and a first for a Swiss brand of Italian origin. It was especially important for the teams and vis-à-vis those who still had doubts as to our authenticity as a watchmaker. The Aiguille d’Or is the ultimate distinction and, knowing how much the judges have always appreciated the Octo Finissimo, I think it was awarded not so much for the Perpetual Calendar as for the entire saga.
Octo Finissimo Perpetual Calendar © GPHG
In five years you doubled revenue at Bvlgari. What would you like to see for the brand in the next five years?
The analysts are the ones to answer that! Of course I want Bvlgari to become even more desirable so that this great brand can stand with the leading names in luxury watches, too. We must continue to up our creativity in extraordinary jewellery and become the most desirable jewellery house in the world, as this is our core business, while moving into the top level of most desirable watch brands. A recent analysis by Morgan Stanley shows that Bvlgari is the third most desirable watch brand in China and the first for jewellery.
Jean-Christophe Babin, CEO Bvlgari Group © Gabriel De La Chapelle
This is because the market opened recently to watches, which puts us on an equal footing with other brands. Bvlgari became a truly well-known, international jewellery brand with the B.Zero 1 just 20 years ago, the equivalent of one generation. In the more mature American and European markets, our direct competitors have been active for two or three generations, whereas Bvlgari was known mainly and too specifically for its fragrances, whose extraordinary success took the industry by surprise. We need to make up for this lack of recognition by taking advantage of our fusion of design and technology to create desirability.
Collection Octo Finissimo © Bulgari
What would you say are the opportunities and threats for the Swiss watch industry?
Even though a lot of people didn’t take them seriously when they first came out, we have to face the fact that smartwatches have taken a lot of volume sales from brands in the under CHF 1,500 segment, and remain a threat. On the upside, a smartwatch is an introduction to having something on the wrist for people who wouldn’t have immediately considered wearing a watch. It does some of the groundwork for a luxury watch. A smartwatch isn’t too expensive, it isn’t an obstacle to the purchase of the kind of artisanal Swiss watch that Bvlgari makes. The industry missed the smartwatch boat. It had better not miss out on the Metaverse. Not just in terms of product - we’re already developing 3D watches in our creation phases - but by using the Metaverse and AI to create a more intense experience.
Octo Finissimo Ultra © Bulgari
Take the Octo Finissimo Ultra for example, the first watch to incorporate a three-dimensional QR code in its mechanism. This links to traceability data but also an NFT artwork that is unique and specific to each watch. Some brands are announcing virtual watches with great 3D renderings; Bvlgari is offering an NFT artwork inspired by the watch. Modern art is set to develop in this segment and is entering a new dimension with digital. Brands that take the lead in this field will have an advantage, as the customers who buy luxury watches are also modern art connoisseurs. Through artificial intelligence, static art becomes dynamic and evolutive and this makes all the difference from an emotional point of view, as the sometimes impressive prices confirm.
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.Find out more >
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