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“We could export the Geneva Watch Days concept”

INTERVIEW

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January 2022


“We could export the Geneva Watch Days concept”

Winner of the Aiguille d’Or at the GPHG 2021 with Bulgari’s Octo Finissimo, Jean-Christophe Babin, CEO of the Roman brand, also made his mark during the pandemic through his initiatives, notably the organisation of the Geneva Watch Days. This concept of a decentralised watch festival may expand in the coming years. Interview.

E

uropa Star: How did the pandemic crisis “transform” Bulgari?

Jean-Christophe Babin: The most striking change has certainly been in e-commerce. At the height of the crisis, the expansion of e-commerce enabled us to make up for some of the sales lost when the physical boutiques closed. Our presence in online sales has grown from 8 to 17 markets. Since 2021, we have confirmation that we are back to pre-crisis levels, but e-commerce continues to grow faster. Our capabilities have been greatly increased, particularly in the area of personalised online customer advice. These developments were planned, but over three years. The pandemic accelerated their implementation to nine months.

“These developments were planned, but over three years. The pandemic accelerated their implementation to nine months.”

At the last edition of Geneva Watch Days, Bulgari introduced its new Octo Roma WorldTimer model with a central hours, minutes and seconds display, combined with a double rotating disc on the outer edge: one for the 24 reference cities and the other with a 24-hour graduated scale.
At the last edition of Geneva Watch Days, Bulgari introduced its new Octo Roma WorldTimer model with a central hours, minutes and seconds display, combined with a double rotating disc on the outer edge: one for the 24 reference cities and the other with a 24-hour graduated scale.

You were the initiator of the Geneva Watch Days, a “spontaneous” exhibition during the pandemic. Now that the traditional watchmaking calendar has - more or less - returned, will you continue?

Absolutely! I believe that the way to organise this event is in line with our times: decentralised, self-managed, flexible, affordable, democratic, inclusive – with shared resources and decisions. The brand is registered, under the aegis of a foundation. Not only do we want to continue to organise it, with the support of the Geneva authorities, but we could also export it, as Geneva’s image is strong around the world, and expresses watchmaking excellence. The Geneva Watch Days have become a label in themselves, an event that could very well be organised in Beijing, New York or other major centres in the future.

“The Geneva Watch Days have become a label in themselves, an event that could very well be organised in Beijing, New York or other major centres in the future.”

Jean-Christophe Babin, CEO of Bulgari, at the 2021 edition of the Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG)
Jean-Christophe Babin, CEO of Bulgari, at the 2021 edition of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG)

Jewellery, your historic activity, has recovered from the pandemic more quickly than watchmaking, which is marked by extreme polarisation between brands and the breakthrough of historic models.

As far as we are concerned, both categories have experienced similar growth rates in 2021 compared to 2019. Leather goods have been more heavily penalised as a market segment. Our watchmaking workshops remained open even during the traditional “watchmaking holidays”, the first time this has happened since I joined the brand. This allowed us to make up some of the production delays in the face of higher than expected demand. The big questions are still when the markets will really reopen, and whether e-commerce will continue to grow at full speed, even when the shops are full again.

“The way to organise this event is in line with our times: decentralised, self-managed, flexible, affordable, democratic, inclusive – with shared resources and decisions.”

The GPHG “Aiguille d'Or” 2021, which rewarded the Octo Finissimo Perpetual Calendar model, is a consecration of the saga of ultra-thin timepieces initiated by Bulgari back in 2014 (seven world records).
The GPHG “Aiguille d’Or” 2021, which rewarded the Octo Finissimo Perpetual Calendar model, is a consecration of the saga of ultra-thin timepieces initiated by Bulgari back in 2014 (seven world records).

What’s your prediction?

On the question of e-commerce, it depends very much on the markets. A brand like ours can make 15-16% of sales online in the US but I doubt that this rate will go beyond 3-4% in Italy. There are different cultural sensitivities. In any case, our goal is not to reach a certain percentage but to outgrow our competitors.

“The big questions are still when the markets will really reopen, and whether e-commerce will continue to grow at full speed, even when the shops are full again.”

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