Bulgari CEO Jean-Christophe Babin Talks Watches, Fashion, and Breaking Records

Bulgari-CEO Jean-Christophe Babin talked to Rüdiger Bucher, editor-in-chief of WatchTime’s German sister magazine Chronos and International Editorial Director of Ebner Publishing, about The connection between a new world record and fashion.

Jean-Christophe Babin, CEO of Bulgari - seated
Jean-Christophe Babin, CEO of Bulgari

RB: Generally speaking, how does your strategy for men’s watches differ from watches for women?
JCB: We have been creating jewelry watches for women for 101 years. As manufacturers of fine jewelry it was a logical next step for us to offer pieces that also indicate the time. We changed our approach in the mid-1970s when we began noticing bored men alongside the women who visited our boutiques. Nicola Bulgari and his brother Gianni came up with the idea of offering watches to the men, and that resulted in the first Bulgari Roma from 1975. Originally we created them as a gift for men who purchased an expensive piece of jewelry. The watch became so successful, so quickly, that the brothers turned the watch into a commercial model: the famous Bulgari-Bulgari with the double logo engraved in the bezel. In the early 2000s we were even selling more men’s watches than women’s watches. Bulgari – with the “V”-shaped “U” in its logo, its many references to ancient Rome, its architectural design features – is truly one of the few feminine luxury brands that men also find to be very attractive. We can also see this in our fragrances, as men’s cologne makes up about 45 percent of the whole. We knew that men’s watches would remain important for us as long as our design clearly stood apart from the original watch manufacturers.

RB: What role does Bulgari-Bulgari play today?
JCB: It was completely redesigned in 2018, and both the men’s and women’s versions are primarily sold in our boutiques. In traditional jewelry stores we concentrate on the Octo and the women’s models Serpenti and Lucea.

Bulgari-Bulgari mens watches
Bulgari-Bulgari men’s watches

RB: So can we say the the Octo is the most important Bulgari watch for men today?
JCB: Yes. Its design differs completely from the watches offered by watch-only brands. And at the same time, its elegance makes it a perfect match with our jewelry and women’s watches. This was the basis from which the ultra-thin Octo Finissimo came about. It represents the ultimate contemporary elegance for men today. If a man is looking for a slim-fit look, his watch should have a similar aesthetic.

RB: Do you find that the current watch industry is generally more engaged with the idea of fashion?
JCB: No, but the “slim fit” concept, which originated in Italy, just like Bulgari, is very attractive to men today – not least of all because it gives the wearer a youthful look. The Octo Finissimo is the perfect complement to slim-fit clothing. So the Octo Finissimo is ideal for the present day while traditional watches, which are more representative of the 19th century, are becoming more and more distant from our current time. Our monochromatic approach also reflects the time we live in now. All our watches are composed of a single color so they go well with any style of clothing. When we were planning the first Finissimo models a few years ago there were no ultra-thin movements of the right size, so we had to design them ourselves.

RB: And that has led to five world records over the last six years for thin watches.
JCB: Exactly. From the thinnest hand-wound tourbillon in 2014 to the thinnest minute repeater in 2016, and the thinnest automatic watch (at the time) in 2017, and the thinnest tourbillon with self-winding mechanism in 2018. At the same time this was the thinnest tourbillon overall and the thinnest self-winding watch overall ever since – and now we have the thinnest chronograph, which we are introducing this year. It also happens to be our first in-house chronograph movement.

RB: Were you planning to set another world record?
JCB: Our primary goal was to create a truly elegant chronograph. Many of our customers choose not to wear chronographs because they find them to be too bulky, so we set out to build a thin chronograph that fits easily under a man’s shirt cuff. And the 3.3-mm caliber not only offers an additional function with the second time zone, we can integrate more functions in the future. So, just as many people viewed the El Primero from Zenith as the chronograph movement of the 20th century, perhaps our BVL 318 caliber will be seen as the chronograph of the 21st century.

RB: At Baselworld you also presented a Grande Sonnerie with a perpetual calendar.
JCB: It marks a special anniversary. Over the last 25 years we have produced at least one Grande Sonnerie every year, totaling about 100 pieces. I believe that’s a claim that no other watch manufacturer can make.

The new chronograph movement with peripheral oscillating weight
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