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For Bulgari, Rome remains the capital of the world
Point of View

For Bulgari, Rome remains the capital of the world

Tuesday, 06 March 2018
By Flavia Giovannelli
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Flavia Giovannelli

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5 min read

Bulgari, which accounts for over half of growth at LVMH’s Watches and Jewellery business group, is in fine form, giving Chief Executive Jean-Christophe Babin plenty to smile about. Interview.

Bulgari, a global luxury brand

Jean-Christophe Babin: “Results for 2017 show that every sector is contributing to overall double-digit growth. We can thank our well-balanced business model for this. We’re active in watches, jewellery, accessories, leather goods, fragrances and hotels and resorts across all five continents. Whereas in the 2000s we might have been at risk of overstretching, this now puts us in a strong position as it means we can deal with luxury customers’ sudden shifts in behaviour, and the kind of volatile exchange rates we’ve been seeing in recent months. Investments are highly diversified within the group. Another reason for our growth is Bulgari’s positioning compared with the competition. We are the creative, energetic challenger more than the classic, status-symbol brand, and so we haven’t suffered as much from the downturn in watch sales. The reason is simple: a Bulgari customer buys a ring or a watch for their own enjoyment, not necessarily as a business gift.”

Jean-Christophe Babin, CEO of Bulgari
Jean-Christophe Babin, CEO of Bulgari
Keeping up with the client

“Customers who come into our stores can be as knowledgeable as our sales staff, if not more. They’re especially well-informed on prices, and in real time. Another thing we’re observing is speed of reaction. All it takes is a sudden event, whether positive or negative, for shopping tourism to feel the repercussions. We saw this after Brexit was announced, when the Pound Sterling fell 10%. The number of tourists travelling to London increased almost instantly and by the same amount. These were people who had been planning to visit another European capital and switched destinations so they could take advantage of this sudden opportunity. It’s true also whenever the social or political climate comes under pressure, as in Barcelona recently. The market is constantly reacting and it’s important to be able to keep pace.”

Bulgari's identity is defined by its DNA.
Jean-Christophe Babin
Design rooted in history

“I think the brand’s strong Roman identity counts for a lot in our success. Bulgari is the only legitimate luxury player to have its origins in this ancient city, whose history provides no end of artistic and cultural inspiration. Rome is Classical Antiquity, the Renaissance, the Dolce Vita. Our values are another key to our success. Bulgari is associated with geometric designs, being bold and energetic, a love of life and a certain exuberance. Once the creative foundations have been laid, it’s simply a question of translating them coherently. For example, the Serpenti collection is about the snake, a symbol of seduction in ancient mythology, while Diva is inspired by the mosaics at the Baths of Caracalla in Rome. All that remains then is to deliver a coherent message across all our divisions. Let’s take another example: at the entrance to every one of our hotels, you’ll see the famous eight-point star signifying Roma Caput Mundi or Rome, Capital of the World… all roads lead to Rome. You’ll see the same star at the very first Bulgari store, on Via Condotti, which opened in the 1920s. In a word, Bulgari’s identity is defined by its DNA.”

Serpenti Spiga © Bulgari
Serpenti Spiga © Bulgari
The importance of expertise

“Bulgari also stands out for keeping competence centres in locations that are noted for excellence in that field. Bulgari Time was set up in 1980 in the heartland of Swiss watchmaking, on four sites, to have command of the entire production process. Fragrances are also developed in Switzerland, which has strong skills in this area too. The two companies employ nearly 500 staff, a considerable number compared with the 800 or so people employed in Italy. For leather goods we have a company in Florence, one of the most prestigious locations for leather. Similarly, we choose not to have a single artistic direction across the brand but instead let each discipline bring out its individual creativity and skills. In watches, for example, design matters but the engine must comply with Swiss standards of precision and expertise. The jewellery market is doing well, as you know. We opened our manufacturing facility in Valenza, in the Piedmont, a year ago. Currently 600 people work there and we have plans to hire 200 more between now and 2020.”

Making of the Octo Roma
Making of the Octo Roma
Future ambitions

“Strategy must be different for jewellery and watches. Jewellery still has strong growth potential, and development has to be global to reach new customers around the world. The watch industry, on the other hand, is far more mature, with established names. The objective here is to increase our market share. How? Through a subtle blend of Italian design and traditional Swiss expertise: bello e ben fatto. We didn’t wait for smartwatches to come on the scene to find our strong point. There needs to be a simple and universal message, and I think the reference to Rome is perfect for that. As I often say in my talks, Bulgari is the best ambassador there is for joie de vivre.”

Baselworld

“The benefit of fairs is that they focus a lot of media attention. From a sales point of view, they’re of relative importance. Having said that, any alternative has yet to prove its worth.”

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