Exploring Legacy, Innovation, and Vision in the World of High-End Watchmaking and Jewelry

Unveiling Luxury: A Conversation with Jean-Christophe Babin, CEO of Bvlgari

Jean-Christophe Babin. Bulgari CEO

In this exclusive interview, Jean-Christophe Babin, the CEO of Bvlgari, shares his journey and insights into the luxury brand’s remarkable evolution. From his strategic approach in connecting Bvlgari to its rich Roman heritage to fostering collaborations with renowned artists like Tadao Ando, Babin provides an in-depth look at how the brand balances tradition with innovation. He discusses the challenges and rewards of working with unique materials, Bvlgari’s commitment to sustainability and digital advancements, and offers invaluable advice for aspiring leaders in the luxury industry. Join us as we delve into the world of Bvlgari and discover what makes it a beacon of elegance and innovation in the luxury market.

Babin, since becoming CEO of Bvlgari, what are the key accomplishments you’re most proud of in terms of advancing the brand’s legacy?

I believe that explicitly connecting Bvlgari to its 2700 years of artistic and architectural heritage from its native city, Roma, has really been a pivotal engine of superior clients desirability, understanding and respect for the Brand expertise and unique creativity. Internally too its has helped very much the creative teams to dive deep into our Roman unique heritage and extract symbols, specificities, shapes – all emblematic of the Roman unique inclusion and integration capabilities developed over the centuries and which today make Bvlgari not only the mirror of the Eternal City but also Mare Nostrum and the many great civilisations which developed around its shores and eastwards to create an art which has shaped today’s western world as no other western world city or nation has ever accomplished. All Bulgari colleagues are proud to be the ambassadors and subsequent creative and craftsmen influenced by sophisticated arts, but also the embodiment of a unique way of life worshipping beauty, elegance, human genius and the joy of living and crafting the gems of nature. As mentioned many times by Italian political authorities, Bvlgari is the nation’s Embassy of art of living and of creating timeless beauty.

How have your past roles at companies like Procter & Gamble and TAG Heuer shaped your leadership approach at Bvlgari?

My previous roles have given me a wealth of experience in a wide range of sectors, from consumer goods to watchmaking and luxury goods. I started my career at At Procter & Gamble where I acquired knowledge in brand management, marketing strategy and understanding consumer needs, skills that are ultimately invaluable for working in the luxury goods industry in the future. Also I learnt to build competitive advantages on the tiniest details and points of différenciation as often two detergents or shampoos are very similar and hard to differentiate unless leveraged by unexpected although meaningful USPs and executions. Applied to luxury obviously this skill has a much greater leverage.

I would not overlook my years at Boston Consulting Group where as a consultant I learnt to identify business essentials and focus my energy on few but high impact initiatives as the missions were always short and in very complex environments. This allows me today to steer Bulgari simplifying as much as possible and focussing the organization obsessively on few but game changing projects.

I then worked for 13 years at TAG Heuer, a prestigious LVMH watch company. I developed an in-depth understanding of the luxury market, clienteling, quality management and innovation, knowledge that is crucial for working at a brand like Bvlgari later on. Also superstars management with icons like Brad Pitt, Umma Thurman, Maria Sharapiva, Lewis Hamilton, Cameron Diaz, Leonardo di Caprio or Tiger Woods.

These experiences have influenced my approach to leadership at Bvlgari, providing a diverse perspective and a deep understanding of the dynamics of the luxury industry. I try to adapt my leadership to the culture, heritage and objectives of Bvlgari.

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Bvlgari is known for combining classic luxury with innovation. How do you maintain this balance in your strategy?

I think I’ve managed to maintain this balance between classic luxury and innovation thanks to several strategies.

First, preserving the DNA and heritage of the Maison. Bvlgari has a rich history and a well-established brand identity in the luxury industry encapsulated by a Brand Platform which is a kind of internal Bible allowing all teams to work consistently at 360 degrees with relevant creativity and a future always builds on solid foundations from the past.  We are careful to preserve this tradition and reputation while introducing innovative elements. We create timeless masterpieces that are elegant yet inherently contemporary. We enjoy collaborating with artists, since this allows us to blend creativity and values and then bring them together around a collection or a piece.

We aim to continue offering original pieces and records, such as the world’s thinnest watch. We don’t stop and always seek to offer innovations and rare pieces, while preserving quality with COSC certification, for example, even on the most extreme watches such as Octo Finissimo Ultra.

Tadao Ando

What inspired the collaboration with Tadao Ando for the Serpenti collection, and how does it differ from previous collaborations?

The main inspiration for this collaboration is nature and the cycle of life. We wanted to highlight the four seasons to express rebirth and circularity. Both nature and snakes share similarities in the changes they face – the seasons change, and the snake sheds its skin. Like a rebirth.

The new Serpenti collection reflects the changing seasons. Can you discuss the creative process for incorporating these natural themes?

To best reflect the 4 seasons, we chose to incorporate several materials. We wanted to create pieces that come alive with the seasons, and for that, nothing beats a good choice of materials. To represent summer, we chose green aventurine, a nod to a luminous, lush forest. For autumn: the bright colors of this season are represented by the warmth of Tiger’s Eye. To represent the winter season, we decided to inlay white mother-of-pearl, embodying the icy colors of winter. To represent the return of the sun during the spring season, we chose pink mother-of-pearl, symbolizing cherry blossoms.

Tadao Ando emphasizes the integration of architecture with nature. How does this align with Bvlgari’s values and vision?

Tadao Ando’s emphasis on integrating architecture with nature matches Bvlgari’s values and vision in several ways:

First, there’s harmonization with the environment. Tadao Ando designs buildings that blend into their natural surroundings, often with a play of light. In the same way, Bvlgari, as a luxury brand, seeks to integrate itself into the daily lives of its customers, reflecting a harmony between luxury and nature.

There’s a respect for the natural beauty of places and buildings, while playing with nature and light. In the same way, Bvlgari values natural beauty through its creations, using high-quality materials and drawing on the elements of nature to inspire its designs.

The Tadao Ando X Serpenti collection is limited edition. How does Bvlgari determine the exclusivity and number of pieces in such collections?

There are many factors that determine the number of pieces in a collection.

The collaboration with Tadao Ando adds an exclusive, scarce and prestigious spirit. The number of pieces will be determined by the exclusivity we wish to bring to the collection. The scarcity of materials is also a factor in this strategy. Rarity is a strategy for bringing a certain exclusivity to collections. By limiting the number of pieces, it creates greater demand and higher value for the product.

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Working with unique materials like green aventurine and tiger’s eye presents its own challenges. What are the challenges and rewards of using such materials?

Working with unique materials such as green aventurine and tiger’s eye presents both challenges and advantages.

There’s the scarcity of the materials, and it can be difficult to find enough, hence the limited-edition strategy. As these are natural materials, each stone is different in terms of color, shape, fragility… This can amount to a number of problems when using them to create pieces.

There are also many advantages to using these materials. They are prestigious, high-quality stones. These materials are rare, so there is a certain exclusivity, as the products are unique.

The use of natural materials can bring added value to the product. Some customers will feel closer to nature when wearing these unique pieces.

How do you envision Bvlgari adapting to global challenges like sustainability and digital advancements in the luxury market?

When it comes to the durability of our pieces, we are committed to using sustainable and responsible materials. In terms of production, we always try to plan for adequate quantities so as not to overproduce. In terms of digital advances, we are currently working on and using Datamatrix on all our watches. It can be found on the back case of our watches. It provides all the data relating to the watch and invites you on a personal journey into the Bvlgari universe. With images and videos to back it up, it provides a better understanding of the quest for ultimate finesse, special know-how and ingenuity.

In addition, there’s real engagement on social networks, we’re present on all platforms with the aim of sharing inspiring content and telling the story behind the products. This increases consumer engagement and brand awareness.

Having achieved significant success, what advice would you offer to young professionals aiming for leadership roles in the luxury industry?

Here’s some advice I’d give to young adults aspiring to become managers in the luxury goods industry:

First, curiosity. You need to be constantly discovering and learning. You can’t take your knowledge for granted, and you have to push your learning further and further. Knowledge of the privileges life is offering you translating into superior and contagious energy, enthusiasm and optimism. Relationships. Maintain relationships and don’t hesitate to contact people to find out more about their professions and experiences. You need to cultivate the links and networks you build through your experiences.

Accept mistakes. It’s by making mistakes that we learn and improve. Accept constructive feedback. Perseverance and determination. Just because you didn’t succeed once doesn’t mean you won’t succeed the second time. Don’t give up and be determined. Finally, you have to turn towards the customer, always thinking about what he might be thinking, what he might want, to help the brand grow in line with consumer needs.

https://www.bulgari.com