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Jean-Christophe Babin Celebrates 40 Years Of BVLGARI-BVLGARI Watch

Jean-Christophe Babin Celebrates 40 Years Of BVLGARI-BVLGARI Watch ABTW Interviews

On the occasion of the 40th Anniversary of the BVLGARI-BVLGARI watch, aBlogtoWatch sat down to chat with Bulgari CEO Jean-Christophe Babin to discuss what’s next for the LVMH-owned Italian Jeweler. Opening a successful heritage exhibition at New York’s Fifth Avenue Store, the watch industry veteran spoke about the collection’s history, the brand’s “Italian Genius” inspiration, and even offered some insider insight into what we can expect the next big collection focus for Bulgari watches will be.

Jean-Christophe Babin Celebrates 40 Years Of BVLGARI-BVLGARI Watch ABTW Interviews

aBlogtoWatch: Very excited about the 40th Anniversary of the BVLGARI-BVLGARI celebration, and congratulations on a very successful exhibition opening event here at the Fifth Avenue store. Could you share some stories of how Bulgari entered into watches; and also how the BVLGARI-BVLGARI 40th Anniversary milestone fits into that larger picture?

Jean-Christophe Babin: Well, to begin with, the BVLGARI-BVLGARI collection was actually not our first entry into watches. Bulgari began in the early 20th century with watches when we first crafted jewelry watches. Bulgari has a long tradition of jewelry watches (so ladies’ watches) which went on through the mid-’70s, never manufacturing any watches for men, but really focusing on ladies and the design element, using often very prestigious movements. In those times, there were very few manufacturers doing small mechanical movements, but those we used included movements from Vacheron Constantin and Jaeger-LeCoultre, to name a few.

Jean-Christophe Babin Celebrates 40 Years Of BVLGARI-BVLGARI Watch ABTW Interviews

The big change with “BB” (BVLGARI-BVLGARI) or Bulgari Roma, which was the first one, was that we finally added to the jewelry segment the first men’s product stream, “a daily-watch segment.” Bulgari Roma was really the first men’s watch which then gave birth to the ladies’ versions – but what is important for us here is the opening of Bulgari watches to the “daily men’s watch” market. BVLGARI-BVLGARI (aBlogtoWatch hands-on article here) was meant to be a very versatile product where you could dress it up or dress it down.

Jean-Christophe Babin Celebrates 40 Years Of BVLGARI-BVLGARI Watch ABTW Interviews

The first BVLGARI ROMA c.1975 created as a gift token for the brand’s top 100 clients

So, actually, the idea of that watch and the way it developed was very funny. The idea was originally to do a holiday gift to all the jewelry customers. You see, you couldn’t gift them jewelry because they were actually purchasing jewelry, so they thought it would be very nice to have limited edition watches for all the loyal jewelry customers, and it was born as the Bulgari Roma. It was in the vision of the old Roman coins where the old Roman emperor used to engrave his name on the edge of the coins. So, for this, we made it a tribute back to the ancient city where we have our heritage as a brand. This was so successful that we felt that it could be more than just a gift, more than just a tribute, but something more commercial. This evolved to the BVLGARI-BVLGARI collection that is one of our most successful collections today.

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Jean-Christophe Babin Celebrates 40 Years Of BVLGARI-BVLGARI Watch ABTW Interviews

The 40th Anniversary Limited Edition Bulgari Roma Finissimo Tourbillon housing the world’s thinest tourbillon movement, at 2.55mm thick.

aBlogtoWatch: There are a number of key similarities and differences between the new limited edition Bulgari Roma collection out this year for the anniversary and the BVLGARI-BVLGARI. What is there to be seen in order to appreciate these two separate collections?

Jean-Christophe Babin: People are fascinated by the history of a bold design, and the version this year is exactly that. In the new design of the Bulgari Roma Finissimo Tourbillon, we have maintained the vertical edges of the case that are a traditional element of the original. Also, you still have the engraving, but it’s delivered in a much thinner way, adding an “elegant” dimension that was not the primary word used to characterize the original one. But even if consumers don’t know the history, I think they will still be very attracted to it because it’s a unique piece, and especially if you know what is behind it. It is, first and foremost, though, a very beautiful piece.

Jean-Christophe Babin Celebrates 40 Years Of BVLGARI-BVLGARI Watch ABTW Interviews

The 40th Anniversary Bulgari Roma Finissimo Petite Seconde in Yellow Gold. Limited to 100 pieces.

aBlogtoWatch: Since your coming to the brand, we have seen a lot of exciting things in the watch sector at Bulgari with bringing the manufacturing in-house and especially with integrating some of the best in movements and design productions, all under the Bulgari umbrella. What, in your mind, is the next challenge when it comes to developing the watch division of Bulgari?

Jean-Christophe Babin: I think that for a brand with such a strong design identity, the challenge is to keep our uniqueness in that aspect. And I think we have been successful over the years probably because we came onto the market with our unique designs bringing something very new to the Swiss market and the industry. This is directly related to the fact that we are Roman, and BB and Bulgari Roma are probably the best expressions of that. But if you think of all of our designs, they really all have that unique expression that can only be explained if you know Roma. So, the foremost challenge is to keep this uniqueness, and more than ever, to express in our products what we convey in our advertising campaign regarding our heritage. That is the “Italian Genius” concept and its duality, embodied, of course, by Leonardo Da Vinci.

Jean-Christophe Babin Celebrates 40 Years Of BVLGARI-BVLGARI Watch ABTW Interviews

A design engineer sketch of the 40th Anniversary Bulgari ROMA Finissimo Petite Seconde

The idea is that he was, on the one hand, uniquely skilled in design, and on the other hand, he was also a very skilled artist who engineered everything. This duality is conveyed in our creativity through our men’s watches, obviously, with amazing watches and movements, but also in ladies’ watches as a jeweler – from the most familiar, such as LVCEA, to the most extraordinary and complicated watches, like Il Giardino Nocturni that are so much more than just a tourbillon. So we really want to express our duality in those fields in basically three blocks – the men’s watches, the ladies watches, and the jeweled watches.

Jean-Christophe Babin Celebrates 40 Years Of BVLGARI-BVLGARI Watch ABTW Interviews

Bulgari Roma Finissimo Ultra-Thin with a 2.23 mm thick, hand-wound in-house movement

The men’s watches in particular, although now with many dimensions, going forward, will be more and more expressed by one major design which is the OCTO design. In the past few years, we have presented OCTOs with very complex movements (such as the Finissimo Tourbillon movement); this year we are adding a new bi-retrograde movement, and then as we move on, we will see more and more complications and grande complications nested within the amazing OCTO design.

Jean-Christophe Babin Celebrates 40 Years Of BVLGARI-BVLGARI Watch ABTW Interviews

The Bulgari OCTO bi-retro

We believe the OCTO is really an icon in design, and we need to prove this. You cannot just pretend that something is iconic, you have to actually deserve it and work for it. We believe that it has all the roots to become iconic, and for that reason, a lot of new developments in complex watches will be born directly into OCTO cases. The details will, of course, vary and will have to be custom-fit to the movement shape and thickness, but the overall shape is something that is iconic.

Jean-Christophe Babin Celebrates 40 Years Of BVLGARI-BVLGARI Watch ABTW Interviews

The ultra-thin Bulgari OCTO Finissimo Tourbillon

aBlogtoWatchSpeaking of ultra-thin, Bulgari is currently credited with pioneering a lot of the current achievements in the race for ultra-thin. Where do you see the next step in the development of this movement going? Perhaps smaller or designed for women?

Jean-Christophe Babin: Well, the movement is wider because of the platinum, but I don’t see this as a problem, with the trend of ladies now wearing bigger watches, and I can easily imagine that as a possibility. In fact, I even have some designs in mind for some OCTO-based Finissimo development for ladies watches or even BB-based, which can be very elegant but which, compared to Divina, for example, are wider by definition.

aBlogtoWatch:  Well, we are excited to see what is coming up next for Bulgari, and congratulations on the anniversary!

The Bulgari Roma 40th Anniversary Limited Edition Collection ranges from $13,400 to $119,000 (Bulgari Roma Finissimo in steel is ref. 102357, $13,400; Bulgari Roma Finissimo in pink gold is ref. 102358, $24,900; Bulgari Roma Finissimo Limited Edition of 100 pieces in yellow gold ref. 102359, $27,200; Bulgari Roma Finissimo Tourbillon in Pink Gold ref. 102362, $119,000). bulgari.com

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  • SuperStrapper

    I love the Genta and Roth Bvlgari watch lines, but I never have and never will appreciate those Bvlgari watches with the bezels that looks like they should be casebacks. Can’t stand that heavy logo engraving on the bezel, especially when the dial says THE EXACT SAME THING.

  • The blue-dialed Bulgari Octo is a drop-dead gorgeous watch – to me it represents a move away from the obnoxiousness of the BB line.

  • Ryan B.

    The Octo is an amazing design for a case, perhaps one of the best I’ve ever seen.

  • Dinkee, H. O.

    Absolutely ADORE the fact that there are enormous BVLGARI lifestyle markings on the bezels of those watches! Absolutely crucial that nobody misses what sort of watch one is wearing. You’d have to have a real amphibian brain not to realize how important that is.

    If I might make a suggestion: they need a much larger precious stone in the crown of the OCTO.

    The HO.

    • Marius

      You might not like the BVLGARI markings on the bezel, but I am sure that you love the 1975 watch Bulgari gave as a gift to its most valuable clients. Don`t you just love that quartz powered, gold plated high-end watch, supplied with a nylon strap? Come to think of it, what is Hodinkee waiting for, shouldn`t they also have a limited edition Bulgari watch made for them, maybe with the marking HVDINKEE on a wooden bezel?

      • Dinkee, H. O.

        It drips with wonderful arrogant irony, does it not? It makes me squeal with delight even thinking of such a thing on my full 5 1/4 inch wrist! You, sir, truly understand the watch-lifestyle connection!

    • loydb

      ^This. I’ve never understood the urge to flaunt the brand name as big as possible. I’d feel like a billboard.

  • DanW94

    I might be in the minority but I like the BB line. At least there’s some historical context to the engraving. That Octo tourbillon is a heck of a good looking watch.

  • Ulysses31

    This company needs a bit of design advice. With few exceptions, not much of their output looks “high end”.

  • Timestandsstill

    The Octo Blue rocks! It’s on the top of my list for next watch. I’ll have to see one in the metal first, which I plan to do in the next couple weeks. The bracelet is very distinctive but a little aggressive and I think I like the blue strap better. I too love the Bulgari Roth and Genta lines. Bulgari doesn’t get much love from the WIS cognoscenti but they are now making some really good watches IMO, and even if they partly bought into the club they chose some good DNA to acquire.

  • Thanks – I did not know the history of the BB (from giveaway digital quartz to overpriced luxury mechanical).

    Reading Mr. Babin’s comments on Italian Genius you’d almost think that he and the late great Gerald Genta would also be Italian geniuses – but no they are/were just lowly, uninspired folk from France and Switzerland. You know, like the Swiss who actually design the movements, make the watches, etc. How sad, how cold, how dull. Such a shame that these Italian “masterpieces” all have “Swiss Made” on their dials.

    I’m not saying they are bad watches (even if the BB is not to my taste) but the overbearing attempt at origin/heritage is off-putting to me.

    • Boogur T. Wang

      And you, Mr. Carson, are quite the diplomat.

  • SuperStrapper

    I still love those old genta retro weirdos. Would own/10. There was some great stuff right at the time when bvlgari was acquiring them and Roth. There were some cobranded pieces that were nice.

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