Interview: Bulgari Adapts To A Changing Climate

Jean Christophe

Jean-Christophe Babin.

Bulgari CEO Jean-Christophe Babin on how the 132-year-old Italian brand is adapting to a changing environment for luxury.

It’s been another difficult year for the luxury industry, with Brexit, the US presidential elections and European terrorism all impacting luxury tourism. According to consultancy Bain, growth in the luxury market has slowed to 4 percent down from 7 percent in pre-credit crunch days.

"Brands can no longer rely on low-hanging fruit," says Claudia D’Arpizio, a Bain partner. "Instead, they really need to implement differentiating strategies to succeed going forward." She adds that luxury consumers are redirecting their spending toward new and more personal high-end experiences.

LVMH-owned Bulgari is as diverse as luxury brands come, with verticals ranging from hotels to perfume to watches to fashion. And according to Jean-Christophe Babin, chief of the Italian-born brand, the constant that links them all together is “the luxury Bulgari experience”.

“It’s something rare and exclusive that generates emotions and awakes desire. The emotional component is based on what the luxury experience is capable of evoking, something unique, not easily available, with strong and distinctive characteristics,” he explains. Babin speaks to Billionaire about recent developments at Bulgari.

How has Bulgari adapted to the changes in the global economy and socio-political security over the last few years?
At Bulgari we have the dimensions of creativity, authenticity and craftsmanship very strongly in our history and expertise, which allows us to grow, even in more uncertain times. Crafting unalterable, precious and rare materials is not a bad idea nor a bad investment for those who love jewellery rather than haute horlogerie.

Many Europe-based luxury companies are battening down the hatches but you recently announced plans to open a large manufacturing base in Piedmont. What is your reasoning behind this?
The new laboratory in Valenza has been designed to be the most cutting-edge jewellery manufacturing space in Europe. We are looking for it to become a centre of excellence in all phases of the production process, from prototype modelling to purely artisanal jewellery creation. An on-site artistic and technical school, the Bulgari Academy, will invest in the future, with training and specialisation activities for a new generation of master goldsmiths and jewellers. By creating new employment opportunities, the school will further encourage an art form that has always represented Italian excellence.

Do you plan to open any more hotels?
Bulgari opened its first hotel in Milan in 2004, and a second in Bali in 2006. The third one was London in 2012. Then a Michelin-starred Italian-style restaurant and lounge bar with terrace in Ginza and a café and chocolate shop in Osaka. We have announced — in 2014 and 2015 — openings in 2017 of Beijing, Shanghai and Dubai Bulgari hotels. Beyond that, we have announced this year the opening of Moscow in 2019. We are working on further projects to gradually build a global network of 15-20 boutique hotels.

Can you talk about your move into the smartwatch industry in partnership with Wisekey?
Our projects started in 2015 at Baselworld with the introduction of our Diagono Magnesium ‘intelligent’ concept watch. The trick is to combine luxury watches with the most advanced technologies and the future possibilities they can offer. The concept watch uses Wisekey’s patented security technology, assymetrical encryption, embedded into a 100 percent Swiss mechanical watch. This is exclusive to Bulgari.

Why have you decided to partner with the Elton John AIDS Foundation events for the next three years? Do you think high-profile events offer better visibility than more traditional forms of marketing?
Intense philanthropy is a key priority for us. We signed this important partnership for the next three years and Bulgari is a proud sponsor of the Elton John AIDS Foundation. It is an organisation that we respect for a high level of integrity and ethics, and its strong commitment to end AIDS in our lifetime. But much has to be done. We are very lucky to work for a brand such as Bulgari because we are always surrounded by beauty and this is an incredible privilege. I feel it is our duty to give back to our community.

The Elton John AIDS Foundation Radical Eye Dinner and Private View was held on World AIDS Day (1 December) For more information about the Elton John AIDS Foundation please click here.

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