BVLGARI

GQ (Australia) - - CONTENTS -

BVLGARI CEO, JEANCHRISTOPHE BABIN, SITS DOWN TO TALK IN­NO­VA­TION, GROWTH AND THE ART OF FINE WATCH­MAK­ING.

Through­out his 12-year ten­ure as CEO of TAG Heuer, JeanChristophe Babin was known to be much like the prod­uct he sold. As with time, he was the man who never stopped. His quest was one of con­tin­ual in­no­va­tion cou­pled with a de­sire to cre­ate pos­i­tive noise and chat­ter at the an­nual Basel­world watch fair – be it through the an­nounce­ment of a new celebrity TAG Heuer am­bas­sador like Leonardo Dicaprio, or herald­ing con­cept watches which, sim­i­lar to the mo­tor­ing and rac­ing industry the brand aligns with, pushed the bound­aries of me­chan­i­cal move­ment to mea­sure even more ac­cu­rate frac­tions of time. Now, two years into his term as the Bulgari CEO, Babin’s agenda is still to drive fur­ther in­no­va­tion, but this time, with an added in­gre­di­ent – the DNA of one of the world’s most glam­orous and ven­er­a­ble lux­ury brands. “First you have to un­der­stand the brand DNA,” says Babin in an ex­clu­sive sit­down with GQ. “You need to get to the fun­da­men­tals of a brand to un­der­stand what kind of in­no­va­tion would make sense.” He ex­plains that Bulgari’s prove­nance in the jew­ellery sec­tor means it’s all about de­sign as ap­plied to ex­tra­or­di­nary gems – a lux­ury good that many as­pire to hold and own. “There is noth­ing more ex­quis­ite and ex­pen­sive at the end of the day than high­end jew­ellery.” Nods to this fo­cus on beau­ti­ful, as­pi­ra­tional de­sign and in­no­va­tion abound in the new ‘Di­agano E Mag­ne­sium’, which has am­plifed the pop­u­lar­ity of the ‘Di­agano’ with the use of key ma­te­ri­als. The case cen­tre con­tains mag­ne­sium with a ce­ramic bezel, boost­ing the re­sis­tance and dura­bil­ity of the lux­u­ri­ous fnish. “It’s a de­sign state­ment in­spired from the past when we had alu­minum,” he says, “but in­te­grat­ing to­tally new ma­te­ri­als, mak­ing it not only more ad­vanced but also more scratch and chem­i­cal re­sis­tant with a bet­terqual­ity fnish.” It also ad­dresses the rise of smart­watches – in a unique, Bulgari way. In­stead of con­nec­tiv­ity to a smart­phone, with­out which smart­watches are a lit­tle dis­ap­point­ing, Babin and his team brain­stormed the idea of a vault where im­por­tant in­for­ma­tion is stored. A col­lab­o­ra­tion was formed with Swiss dig­i­tal se­cure stor­age spe­cial­ist WISEKEY, whereby the watch is em­bed­ded with a chip equipped with NFC (en­crypted near feld com­mu­ni­ca­tion) tech­nol­ogy, and links to the Bulgari Vault app to al­low the safe stor­age of per­sonal dig­i­tal data. The vault is ac­ti­vated by plac­ing the watch near the phone and only the wearer of the watch can store or use the data. And be­cause there’s no real tech­nol­ogy in the watch it­self be­yond the NFC chip, its uses can be up­graded and ex­panded over time. “The watch is for­ever,” chimes Babin. “We up­date the app and in that way we re­tain the in­tegrity and ways of Swiss

manufacturing. It is a world frst. A smart or in­tel­li­gent watch of pre­ci­sion and strik­ing de­sign that al­lows you to en­ter and man­age all your dig­i­tal ecosys­tem, which to­day is of­ten spread across dif­fer­ent con­tain­ers and not nec­es­sar­ily pro­tected.” Babin ac­cepts that suc­cess­fully launch­ing new prod­ucts is only half the equa­tion – he also lists cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence as key, and that doesn’t just mean fur­nish­ing them with fne jewels, but im­mers­ing them in Bulgari’s his­tory and DNA. To that end he called on ar­chi­tect Pe­ter Marino, who re­cently com­pleted Lon­don’s Louis Vuit­ton Mai­son, to work on the in­te­rior de­sign of Bulgari’s flag­ship store in Rome. This in­volved an in­tri­cate com­bi­na­tion of light­ing, soft and hard fnishes, fur­ni­ture and even scent to per­son­ify the brand’s bou­tique ex­pe­ri­ence. “In essence,” says Babin, “the Pe­ter Marino con­cept is to shift the store style from a more Ital­ian style to a specifc Ro­man style. Rome is the city that still in­spires our de­sign­ers more than any other lo­ca­tion and so the de­sign is char­ac­terised with mar­ble, col­umns and par­quet floor­ing.” Marino carved out a mas­cu­line en­vi­ron­ment within what is a tra­di­tion­ally fe­male-ori­ented jew­ellery set­ting, with a ci­gar-smok­ing-room-in­spired area to house the watch col­lec­tion. Ex­pect a man’s den with dark green walls, mar­ble trim and par­quet floors when Syd­ney and Mel­bourne bou­tiques take on the new de­sign con­cept in the near fu­ture. “We wanted to cre­ate a space where men feel more at ease in a pure watch en­vi­ron­ment,” con­tin­ues Babin. “Not with jew­ellery mixed in. I mean we sell tour­bil­lons, minute-re­peaters and very high-end me­chan­i­cal watches. They need a ded­i­cated en­vi­ron­ment and the staff have been trained specif­cally in Switzer­land on the com­pli­ca­tions, so they also carry the ex­per­tise within the bou­tique.” Speak­ing about the Aus­tralian mar­ket – which he suc­cess­fully tar­geted while at TAG – Babin con­frms ex­pan­sion­ist de­sires re­gard­ing Bulgari’s lo­cal pres­ence. “We’re ex­pand­ing very soon in one more city. Once you are in those three ci­ties, the fourth city is on the west side of the coun­try. You can work it out. We’re also in ad­vanced dis­cus­sions with multi-brand watch re­tail­ers as a fur­ther ini­tia­tive to ex­pand past the mono-brand bou­tique.” This would bring the Bulgari dis­tri­bu­tion strat­egy in Aus­trala­sia, par­tic­u­larly for watches, in line with that of global mar­kets. So ex­pect to fnd Bulgari watches at fve or more of the most ex­clu­sive watch re­tail­ers here and in New Zealand in the not too dis­tant fu­ture. When the con­ver­sa­tion turns to other rel­e­vant men’s cat­e­gories, such as push­ing a dis­tinct line of mas­cu­line Bulgari jew­ellery, Babin is less com­mit­tal. “Well to­day, I’m not wear­ing a ring. I’m wear­ing the ‘Di­agano Mag­ne­sium’, of course, with a sil­ver dial. That’s enough jew­ellery for me. That’s not to say never though. Last year we launched a black ce­ramic ring and ini­tially we didn’t think about men, but one year af­ter launch we’ve seen men are buy­ing it. Pen­dants for men are ob­vi­ously a cat­e­gory, but we’ll likely re­alise any sales through a uni­sex of­fer­ing through the ‘Bulgari Bulgari’ range. And what of that other Bulgari sta­ple – a favourite of fnanciers and a cer­tain former Aus­tralian PM? Would we ever see a move to­wards slim­mer styles in line with trends? “Well there is one seg­ment that we are evolv­ing and de­vel­op­ing, and that’s the evening tie,” says Babin. “As dress­ing down dur­ing the day has be­come more glob­ally wide­spread and the neck tie be­comes a less es­sen­tial choice, con­versely dress­ing up at night has be­come pop­u­lar. So we’re in­tro­duc­ing a col­lec­tion of more in­ter­est­ing evening ties. What do I mean by more in­ter­est­ing? Black is nice, but it’s not orig­i­nal. So start­ing with dark colours, in­tro­duc­ing some de­sign el­e­ments that sub­tly rep­re­sent Bulgari and a lit­tle twist of orig­i­nal­ity. This, to us, is akin to the high-end jew­ellery busi­ness. You wear your fnest at night, po­si­tion­ing your­self with a group of con­sumers who like to show the best of them­selves.” And Bulgari, it goes with­out say­ing, is about the best. n

“FOR ME, THE DI­AGANO MAG­NE­SIUM IS THE UL­TI­MATE EL­E­GANCE IN WATCH­MAK­ING. IT’S A PLEA­SURE TO WAKE UP IN THE MORN­ING TO DIS­COVER A NEW FACET OF IT.”

LEFT: THE NEW RO­MAN STYLE CON­CEPT FOR BVLGARI MAISONS DE­SIGNED BY PE­TER MARINO. BE­LOW: THE MEN’S UNI­VERSE AT BVLGARI’S FLAG­SHIP STORE IN ROME.

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