Since becoming CEO of Bulgari in 2013, Jean Christophe Babin has overseen the brand’s global growth in all sectors, from its core business of jewellery to accessories and, most recently, hospitality. Now as the brand goes from strength to strength and this landmark high jewellery collection is revealed in Venice, we find out what else is on the horizon for the Roman jeweller.
Congratulations on a fantastic collection – it’s a universal collection with many verticals – why did you decide to reveal it in Venice?
Exactly for the fact that it is a universal collection. Venice is a crossroads of the world and a meeting point for Roman art, architecture, and Asian influences because it was a gateway to the Eastern part of the planet and the Middle East. And it gave birth to Byzantine architecture, which you can still admire, as well as Roman influences and oriental ones, so it was the perfect place to launch this collection and the best place to embody the diversity and inclusion that the Romans had thousands of years ago. For 140 years, Bulgari’s goldsmiths have tried their best to fuse different influences to pay tribute to all the other cultures that have made Rome what it is and created a style that is in a school of its own.
In this collection, we have a lot of colours and a lot of different gems combined in unexpected ways. Some designs are very close to Middle Eastern or Turkish Ottoman culture; other pieces are more familiar with Roman traditions. So, it is really a fusion of cultures. Many people often see the Mediterranean region to finish with the South of Italy, but we wanted to take this further, including more expansive areas of the world that are important to the history of Bulgari.
We are here in Venice for the beautiful launch – to what extent is it essential to create experiential moments for your clients?
We want to know the people that come to Bulgari, whether for an event or to our store, to purchase a product, and we want them to feel like they are part of our family. Wherever they come from, what they all have in common is the passion for a certain kind of beauty which is expressed by Bulgari, not only in the art of crafting but the Bulgari way of enjoying and glorifying luxury, which is typically Italian. There is a sense of joy and pleasure in everything we do, including the food we eat! And therefore, to create that feeling, we create a tribe. It’s a tribe where people have a place to go; some come because they want to buy jewellery, and others want to report on the jewellery, but eventually, what’s driving them is that they know they will see something new, unique and something they will enjoy.
This year, for instance, we added a catwalk show to our presentation, as well as a showroom and an extraordinary sensory experience. The latter allowed each guest to take home their digital piece of art based on their emotions and reactions to a series of experiences. Sensors pick up on each guest’s emotions to create a unique collectable piece of digital contemporary art. We want to continue taking our clients through new immersive experiences, relating them to some of the masterpieces we create. It is a stimulating experience, giving our clients something to take away with them, something that is a piece of their personality and emotions.
Another key pillar in the collection is “The Snake”, which celebrates the 75th anniversary of the Serpenti – tell us about that and the importance of the Serpenti at Bulgari.
We are still discovering the Serpenti, and in this collection, there are many iterations of it which are quite different from the ones we have had before. It shows once again that Serpenti is one of the most versatile shapes and animals, especially when adapted to jewellery watches. It’s not easy to play with an elephant or a monkey if you want to create a ring or a necklace, but a snake, just because it wraps around, it has a perfect shape; plus, in all cultures, it is a powerful symbol of power, seduction, and therefore it is universal. This year we have seen the integration of totally new shapes, showing that we are not at a plateau with it; we are, in fact, at the beginning. And this beginning is already a jewellery icon worldwide. It’s a firm emblem worldwide in our bags, watches, and our jewellery collections. So, it’s number one in our verticals; even in our hotels we use the Serpenti to decorate glass panels in the bathroom. The Serpenti is everywhere because it is Bulgari, and it defines who we are.
Let’s talk a little about hospitality, as it is becoming a great pillar for the brand. You recently opened the Tokyo property; tell us about that and what else is in the pipeline in the hospitality sector.
The opening of the Tokyo hotel was stunning because this city is one of the most inspirational Earth in design, but strangely, the hotel offering there was not particularly extraordinary. Therefore, this hotel has been a major event for the city to the point that the Governor of Tokyo came in person and spent hours at the property because, for her, it’s important that her city has the best of the best in terms of hospitality to attract even more visitors. After one month, we had already reached the number one position in Tokyo, which is unheard of in the business to happen that quickly. So, this has confirmed that it was necessary for us to open there, and that the city needed something that was contemporary luxury, with a bespoke format, and there is a huge clientele for this format which is unique to Bulgari.
Next, we will go back home with the upcoming opening of our hotel in Rome. Our hotel in Rome will surely raise further the standard that we have already established in eight cities around the world. And you must remember that this level of success in hospitality for a jewellery brand is unheard of. We have a lot of craftsmanship and interpersonal skills, which we apply to our jewellery and our hotels, and in turn, we use the hospitality in our hotels to make the experience in our jewellery boutiques better and different from other jewellery brands, so one benefits the other. In Rome, we’ll slightly depart from the architectural style that we have in our other hotels, it will still be obviously Bulgari, but we are going larger than life with the hotel in Rome, just because the city itself is larger than life, so we have adapted the concept to be different from all our other properties.
We know the Middle East is an important region for the brand – tell us about Bulgari in the Middle East this year.
Firstly, we are very happy with the Bulgari Resort in Dubai. It is a region where we are very active. Two years ago, we took over direct control of the Saudi business, which is a major market in the region. We are very active in Dubai; we have opened a second store in Dubai Mall. We are currently revamping our store in Mall of the Emirates, and across the region, our stores are either new or revamped. We plan to add another two stores in Saudi Arabia this year so that we have four stores, which is a minimum for Jeddah and Riyadh if you want to cover the market properly. So, this is the part of the region where our level of investment is the highest, and then the most iconic part is the Bulgari Resort in Dubai because everyone knows the “Bulgari Bay” and we have a huge project under construction there with the lighthouse, where we sold the most expensive loft apartment ever in the region. So again, we are expressing the desirability of Bulgari in the Middle East in other ways.
What is a message you would send to your customers in the region?
When I visit the Middle East, I’m always amazed by how close the culture is to Italian culture when it comes to interacting with people. It is sophisticated but also very casual. We feel that the Middle East is very Mediterranean, and I think there is a natural connection between the two, explaining why Bulgari is very relevant there. We try to grab a lot of inspiration from the Middle East because we know that fusing more of the Middle East into our jewellery will resonate better with our clients in the region.