We get to know the man behind one of the most successful jewellery brands, Jean-Christophe Babin as he shares exciting new ventures for the house.
President and CEO of TAG Heuer for 13 years before arriving at Bulgari in 2013, CEO Babin brought plenty of watch brand leadership with him. He nevertheless had to adjust to the complexity of the Bulgari brand as it comprises five different businesses, jewellery, watchmaking, fragrances and cosmetics, accessories, and luxury hotels.
Following the Festa celebrations, and after the closing of the Baselworld 2017 show, Jean-Christophe invites us into the world of Bulgari, unveiling the Roman house’s latest creations, while focusing on two symbolic collections, Serpenti and Octo. Here, he speaks about Bulgari’s take on being based in Italy, their communication strategy, and their main goals for being number one in the industry.
The Festa collection celebrates joy and energy, can you share with us your favourite piece among the collection, and why?
From a design point of view, I may surprise you as I love the Octo design, which is a blue and white necklace. This balloon cut helped us revisit a cabochon cut from the past, which eventually led us to arrive at a new cut of cabochon, which will probably take us further in the years to come. With this balloon cabochon, we have created a new aesthetic that is probably very contemporary and will add a lot to the cabochon cut.
Tell us, where is Bulgari today?
The beauty of the Festa collection is that it took us back to basics, the celebration of childhood and the countryside. It may seem unexpected, but when you look closer, it is somewhat quite logical. For instance, when you look at the Olive and Ice Cream Necklace you may find it surprising, but Bulgari’s perspective to the reshaping of colourful gems and the way to glorify them, I think is a major creative step.
We had a glimpse at the timepieces for men, and our favourite would be the one and only Monete watch-piece that was sold instantly. What is the future of your watchmaking for both men and women?
Yes, our Monete design is a combination of the Octo shape designed with the artistic coins of yore from the 3rd century A.D. The movement is extremely sophisticated, and it presents our history. In terms of our watchmaking for the future, if it is for men, for sure it will be very much written throughout the Octo design, as the more we create the more we find that it can express itself in a very elegant and contemporary way. As for women, obviously the journey has been extraordinary with Serpenti and with Lucea which we hope to continue. Serpenti was born into its new expression in 2010, while Lucea was created in 2014, so both are considered quite young. So, I think that our future will be very much about those two lines.
This year is obviously a strong year for Bulgari, because on all fronts you presented very successful lines, especially with accessories. What is coming down the line for Bulgari next?
What is key for the brand is continuity and reinvention, and we will of course continue with that in mind. You need to be current, which we achieved through the balloon cabochon, which is a reinvention of the cabochon, together with the Serpenti which we reinvented without replacing any of the designs. Therefore, the future for us is not to only introduce new codes, but to occasionally further elaborate on existing lines. I think very much of what you see today is current and has a lot of edge, however the key is to find the right way to elaborate them in a very daring way, including the codes, like what we are trying to do with the balloon cut, which is the very first step in a long journey that is only just starting. So, everything you see today, who knows what it will give birth to, but for sure it will be very much about colours, daringness and about breaking new grounds. Like when we introduced Ice Cream, it was very inspiring and it shows that with whatever objects there are surrounding us, if you are creative then you can turn anything into a timeless piece of jewellery. This brings an era of a new beginning, where the source of inspiration will be much more open than ever before.
We know that your focus is to be in places where the craftsmanship is most trusted and known, but why did you choose to be located in Valenza specifically?
A simple reason is that we used to be there, just in a different location nearby, so if we moved elsewhere we would have probably lost fifty percent of our people, and not to mention that craftsmen are difficult to find alone. Also, the region itself being in Italy is the most famous place for the art of goldsmithing and jewellery making, and would naturally attract people rather than a region where there is no traditional history in terms of goldsmithing.
You mentioned earlier about being ‘Made in Italy’, these days, how relevant do you find that?
You are right, the world today is globalising, we tend to grow and adapt to new technologies and different social networks, so since everything is converging and at the same time people more than ever are being racial about their own roots, identity and the authenticity, so this applies to us humans and it can be extreme when it comes to political movements. However, nowadays more than ever people are not only demanding on the quality of luxury goods, but also the integrity. The authenticity and way you craft your goods, together with where you craft them is an important argument, so in that context ‘Made in Italy’ means a lot because of its links to arts, manufacture, and architecture.
In 2017, what are the main messages that you are aiming to share?
Across the board with our watches, jewellery, and accessories, I think people will be surprised by the boldness. Bulgari strictly has been a brand that is full of volumes and daringness, and you will see with everything that is being launched this year that we are blowing up the dimensions. We truly standout not as just great jewellers, but as magnificent jewellers who are constantly sourcing inspiration from all around world.
Your aim is to be number one, so what are the main pillar steps you are working on to achieve this goal?
I think the road map is not necessarily important than to focus on ourselves! Out of our expertise, DNA, and global inspiration, what can we push further to make better? We can be more desirable and irresistible, so that naturally sets the road we follow, where we plan the dreams and desire for our customer. In all, at Bulgari we focus on how to create more to this dream of desire, but not only with the product and the communication in mind, but also the way we dress millennials, the passion we create to other generations to buy creative products with a lot of value. Again, we try to focus on being more edgy without falling into fashion.
With that said, there are so many brands that are falling into the trap of really satisfying and attracting millennials, but at the same time they are forgetting about the original loyal customers. How thin is the line on really satisfying both?
In terms of retail, one needs to be very welcoming and nurturing on the inside and to create traffic on the outside. So here at Bulgari we try to use different windows with purpose, which is different than the rest. Likewise, if you look at the communication process, digitally and socially we try to find where is the edge between speaking about Bella Hadid versus Suki Waterhouse. It is all very much subjective, really it is about testing, surveying, measuring, and you must be open-minded to find the balance. We are trying to pioneer, and this is our way to try to tackle this challenge.
Shifting to our favourite line the Serpenti, what can we look forward to seeing this year?
This line is still very new for clients, which makes the creativity process boundless. We will add new collections to the Serpenti in another expression, while at the same time we will try to intensify the credibility.
In your own terms, who would say is the Serpenti woman?
For sure she is a bold and independent woman who is self-standing, as the sign itself is very polarising and the symbol conveys civilisation and culture. It is a personal statement for someone who understands its sign.
What are the challenges you face at Bulgari today?
Most importantly it is to balance the paradox between innovation on one side and timelessness on the other. In the jewellery business, we need to keep in mind the craftiness of the jewel and not only the price, because people tend to cherish the timelessness of the piece rather than the durability. So again, you need to find the balance between something that is nurturing, but to be creative enough without deceiving it, and enough for people to be fascinated by the sign. We are always aware to serve in between the timelessness dimension and innovation dimension which are somehow opposite, to avoid falling into repetition of something and not shifting towards fashion, which will probably damage the brand.
What is the lesson that you always convey to your team?
Very simple, never give up!
Words: Lara Mansour Sawaya