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Jean Christophe-Babin: “A watch purchase is difficult without trying it for real”

Beran Toksoz
April 22, 2024
5 min

The models that tend to spark the most conversa­tion today are increasing­ly those that were designed and developed in the past. I was curious what your thoughts were on that?
I think paying tribute to the past occasionally is important, and it also makes for a better understand­ing, overall. Saying that, making the past the present due to a lack of cre­ativity for the future should be con­sidered a danger. Watchmaking evolves thanks to vision and to evo­lution, not only thanks to replicating the past. 

Can we talk about the new Octo Roma models?

Ultra-thin watches are a market, but it is a niche market. We have focused a lot on Finissimo, and I think quite successfully – not only because of the records, but because with that sequence of innovation we have established a very strong iden­tity. It was time to really leverage what Finissimo created.
To position Octo as a much more mainstream collection, not only an extreme col­lection – because with Finissimo it’s the most extreme execution, but it is so thin that you hardly see anything. We wanted to broaden the appeal, to reach more clients with an easy, versatile watch that they can wear whatever the occasion.

Sketch of Bulgari's 2023 Octo Roma Striking Papillon Tourbillon by product creation executive direction Fabrizio Buonamassa

How many watches do you think a man should own in his life, on average?

Believe it or not, most people mak­ing between €80,000-200,000 per year have only one watch, or even zero luxury watches! Having a luxury watch is not very common and bear in mind that with 22 mil­lion Swiss watches exported, four million are selling for above €5,000. It is not so usual to have a luxury watch and even peo­ple who can afford a luxury watch can have maximum three in their lifetime. That’s why it’s important for a watch to be not only extreme like Finissimo, to be extraordi­nary with grand complications, but to also be versatile and time­less because most of the clients will buy one every ten years or 15 years.
Octo Roma is very easy – you can be at a board meeting, you can then go and play tennis with your rubber strap, then when you get back home you can change your strap with the chic alligator strap. That ‘one watch fits all’ attitude is a requirement for 90 per cent of the luxury watch market. Then you have another ten per cent who are more passion­ate about the watches. People who like to be the first one when there is a new record set; collectors who go really for the most complicated watches in limited numbers. And watch brands can hardly rely on those two targets alone.

Is there anything you think is still missing among your watch collections?

When you think about Bulgari watches, we are the brand which is not only most integrated when it comes to manufacturing, but also the only one which covers the entire market. We have egular women’s watches such as Bulgari Bulgari, Lucia, Serpenti. There are regu­lar men’s watches such as Roma but we can also talk about Bulgari Aluminium or Bulgari Bulgari. Then we have entry-level jew­ellery watches, we have everything from entry-level complications to haute horlogerie, and then there’s our rare jewellery watches. You will not find any other com­pany that has so many areas covered.

Bulgari advertising campaign from 1965-1975 from the Maison's historical archive

How important is it for Bulgari to be active on so­cial media platforms?
It’s crucial. Social media can be used to show potential clients a lot of backstage insights and increase their understanding and education on watches. And also, watches are not exactly the first luxury category that comes to mind. When you think about luxury, first you think about fashion, and maybe fragrances and cosmetics. Even jewellery comes before watches.
That’s why it’s really important to have collective moments like we had just now in Geneva. Digital enables us to con­vey events to the rest of the world who can’t come to Geneva. And e-commerce increases the market, because it offers you the possibility to buy something exactly when you want it. That said, a watch purchase is difficult without trying it for real. So, it tends to be a purchase made mostly in-store.

Bulgari has a strong rela­tionship with the art world. Do you have a personal in­terest in that?

We’re not only close to the art world, but we fund a lot of projects that, for instance, restore antique monuments and statues to their former glory. The most recent one is Torlonia Imperial marbles, which have already been exhibited in Rome and Milan and next year will be shown outside the country. As a national treasure the Italian gov­ernment is very reluctant to let the marbles tour, but they will.

Bulgari also hosts a prize every two years awarding young artists in any new innovative field, like digital art, video installations and sculp­tures. Our clients, most often, are wealthy people indulging with art, so it makes sense to collabo­rate with artists. We have recently been working extensively with [Turkish-American new media artist] Refik Anadol because he perfectly understood the Bulgari spirit.

There are Bulgari resorts and hotels around the world – which for you is the most unique?

It is a difficult choice, but probably Bali. The location is totally isolated from the rest of the islands – it is at the southern tip of the island cliff hanging above the sea. You even have to go down to the beach with a lift. There are dramatic and beau­tiful views all around, but if you are not careful you have monkeys com­ing in the rooms and stealing the bananas. It is definitely a unique, multi-sensory experience.

In terms of hobbies at home, I heard you collect small-scale cars…

Some large scale as well! I don’t care so much about the brand itself, but I do care for the refinement of the details. I love them, but we are a bit short on space and my wife keeps seeing them everywhere she goes!