The sheer scale of the presentation of the new Bulgari Octo in Rome earlier this year gave an indication of the importance that Bulgari attaches to the piece. Journalists and customers alike were treated to separate presentations at the Complesso Monumentale Santo Spirito in Sassia, an ancient hospital a stone’s throw from the Vatican City that was established in the 12th century by Pope Innocent III.
The historic monument was undoubtedly chosen as the main venue for the day’s proceedings due to its magnificent octagonal courtyard. Indeed the octagon, and its historical and spiritual significance, was the recurring theme throughout the day as Bulgari stressed the importance of its new design theme as “the geometry of perfection”.
This was followed the same evening by a spectactular al fresco dining and entertainment experience in the shadow of Rome’s Olympic stadium. The evening was kicked off by Bulgari’s new CEO, Mr Michael Burke, who had only been in the job for 88 days, which unintentionally continued the “8” theme. Mr Burke is the first CEO of Bulgari who does not come from the Bulgari family.
Think octagons and Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak model might spring to mind. The latest incarnation of the watch with the octagonal bezel, in celebration of its 40th anniversary, has a very classic design in a modest 41mm case. Bulgari’s new Octo has the same dimensions and its own interpretation of a classic design, but here it is the case that is octagonal, while the bezel is round.
Both the case and the dial for the new Octo model (in addition to the BVL 193 calibre movement) are produced in-house by Bulgari. In contrast to the simplicity of the round bezel, the case, which measures 41.5 x by 10.55mm, comprises no less than 110 facets, all hand-finished with polished and satin-brushed surfaces, to create a series of octagons. The outer shape of the case is octagonal and a separate raised octagonal profile creates two additional octagon forms either side of the circular bezel, elegantly framing the piece’s black lacquer dial. The Octo thus vaunts Bulgari’s in-house design expertise and capabilities just as much as its watchmaking prowess.
The two Octo models presented at launch were in stainless steel or red gold, both on a black alligator leather strap. There is already a considerable price difference between the steel and gold models, which makes one wonder whether an Octo with a gold bracelet is a viable option.
The BVL 193 calibre found inside the Octo is an 11½ line self-winding movement that operates at 28,800 beats per hour and, thanks to twin barrels, offers a power reserve of 50 hours. Its fine decoration includes a circular-grained mainplate, snailed bridges with Côtes de Genève motif with chamfered and polished edges, polished pivots and satin-finished wheels, as well as tone-on-tone diamond-polished jewel surrounds.
Is this new design part of a trend towards the more classical? At the launch event in Rome, Europa Star put the question to Mr Francesco Trapani, President of LVMH Watches & Jewellery, and asked about future developments at Bulgari.
Europa Star: With the launch of the Octo it seems like we are seeing the continuation of a trend that we saw at the SIHH and BaselWorld earlier this year. A trend towards smaller and simpler designs. Is that something that you have been consciously working on?
Francesco Trapani: Partially yes. If you look at the market, there are two trends. There is one towards watches that are a bit smaller, simpler, more classic. But at the same time you see the great success of companies that are doing exactly the opposite. If I look at my portfolio, in the first half of this year Zenith was performing very well and Hublot also, and they are doing exactly the opposite. Zenith is very classic and very minimal, while Hublot is very flashy, very big, very aggressive. Both are doing extremely well. If you look at Bulgari, we are not comparable with Hublot in terms of style. We are a bit more simple than before but we still try to say something design-wise. Our objective is not just to offer our customers Swiss Made manufacture watches but also bring something with a strong character in terms of image and design. I think that this product is a perfect example, because it has all the technical characteristics of a sophisticated Swiss watch but at the same time has a strong design. This is why we are saying that this is going to be the ambassador for the brand as far as gents’ watches are concerned.
ES: Do you see this watch doing well in any particular market or is it intended more for global appeal?
FT: Bulgari is a global company because we do not depend on a single ethnic group. In Asia we are very strong among Chinese, Koreans and Japanese. We are strong in Europe, we have a good footprint in the Middle East and the US is also an important market. So to be successful we need to have products that can be successful all over the world. We think that the Octo, although it is quite a westernised product, will also appeal to the Asian market.
ES: Are you looking to expand your distribution and if so, where?
FT: Latin America is a very interesting market because on the one hand people are very interested in luxury products. But on the other hand, it is still relatively small for a number of reasons, one of which is that the customs duties are very high. Having said that, Bulgari is now looking at Latin America in a different way. We have recently opened a wholly-owned subsidiary in Brazil, which will open a first directly operated store in São Paulo. We think that this move is important both to develop the local market and as a means of communication to people who travel, for example existing Brazilian customers from Miami, New York, Paris or even Italy.
We are also looking to expand a little in India. Everybody is talking about India but as a matter of fact it is quite a small market for luxury products. There are two categories that could be successful in India: perfumes and watches. So Bulgari will do a bit more than we have in the past but I wouldn’t say that it is a strategic market. Brazil, on the other hand, is going to be an important market in around three years from now in our expectation.
ES: How will the new Octo fit into the existing collection, particularly with regard to the high-end Daniel Roth pieces?
FT: If you look at the assortment of products, we have three main pillars. The first is Octo, which has the two new references we have launched with the new design, plus a few older ones with some small complications but these will evolve to be fully consistent with the new design. In addition, next year and the year after you will see new additions. There will be colours, bracelets and movements.
The second pillar is the logo family, the Bulgari Bulgari and Diagono collections. These are by far the largest contributor in terms of sales.
The third pillar is the Daniel Roth line that is and will remain focussed on grand complications.
ES: Will your in-house movement be used primarily in the Octo?
FT: No, production of our in-house movement, which is still limited series, will start to increase over the second half of the year and will then increase considerably next year. Little by little, it will then equip the very large majority of our gents’ watches and also some of our ladies’ watches.
ES: What is the split between ladies’ watches and gents’ watches in terms of sales?
FT: Today we do 60 per cent ladies’ watches and 40 per cent gents’ watches. This percentage should not change much over the next three years because we have a lot of things in the pipeline for both ladies’ and gents’ watches. We want to grow in a balanced way.
Source: Europa Star October - November 2012 Magazine Issue