“Bernard Arnault challenges us about very specific issues”
Heading the Bulgari brand for the past two years, Antoine Pin is aiming at setting up strategies that will allow the jewelry brand to quickly capture new clients.
By Cristina D’Agostino07 octobre 2021
Managing director for Bulgari watches, Antoine Pin has been developing what he loves most over the past two years: implementing marketing strategies that have the power to quickly enhance the sector he also cherishes the most: watchmaking. With Tag Heuer to Berluti, two brands of the LVMH group, he is used to the first luxury empire’s demands in terms of results required from a manager: to perform quickly to self-finance future strategies. During Bulgari’s watch collection presentation in Geneva, the HEC Paris finance major explains the developments occurring at Bulgari to conquer new audiences.
What is your role at Bulgari?
I am responsible for the watchmaking pole, based in Switzerland. Bulgari’s watchmaking history is rich, the production of the first watches goes back to 1918. At first jewelry-based, they slowly evolved towards pure watchmaking pieces. The heritage is strong. But the acceleration of watchmaking creativity has truly boomed in the 1970s and 1980s with the Bulgari watch in collaboration with Gerald Genta.
What was key to the success of this model back then?
It was a watch that was both of its time and unique. A very simple and daring product. At a time where logos were not important, Bulgari chose to expose it on the bezel. This was surprising. This watch matched the desires of its era. It already showed at its heart Bulgari’s wish to appropriate the craft by identifying it to the roman style. It was also the era of the Carbon Gold watch, a timepiece which the brand loaned to its client while their watch was being repaired. The success was massive, everybody wanted it. It was completely off with the habits back then.
Were you already at Bulgari at the time?
No. I started my career in watchmaking in the 1990s with Tag Heuer. But I very much observed Bulgari’s work. I found astonishing that a jewelry brand would enter the market with a sports watch and instantly acquire market shares. The Diagono collections was a massive success, with a very good price positioning. Thanks to this model, Bulgari produced significant volumes, over 100,000 pieces. It was the most versatile piece ever. With this success, Francesco Trapani, the CEO of Bulgari back then, decided to buy back the Gerald Genta and Daniel Roth brands to create a watchmaking empire. It was the time of great integrations for brands and suppliers.
In the 2000s, did Bulgari have trouble with this strategy?
Integrating an industrial tool is complicated. And Bulgari was allocating significant investments to all its divisions at the time, including in the opening of its first hotels. Don’t forget the 2000s saw the first pandemics and terrorist attacks emerge. The period was complex. And at Bulgari, diversification smothered creativity. Suddenly managing a group of brands for a company that was up until then used to a monobrand strategy was complex. Resources had to be aggregated while unique identities had to be created. Slowly, rationalization happened. Bulgari opened the crafts and broke silos by widening its know-how. In parallel, the Octo Finissimo model was a founding asset of the watchmaker Bulgari, as it integrated all the brand’s areas of watchmaking savoir-faire. It was of course historically born from a drawing by Genta, but it evolved under the hand of Fabrizio Buonamassa, the Bulgari designer. This model symbolizes the co-construction of design and movement.
How does this happen specifically?
The design studio, marketing and research and development work together, starting as of the strategic vision. This way of working marks our difference, and gives a true watchmaker status to Bulgari, as well as of a jeweler.
A slow process while financial results are expected quickly…
To build image and deliver results: that’s the spirit of the LVMH group. A good luxury manager must be capable of handling this tension. It is not a surprise to me, as I have been working in a group for a long time. To deliver results in a short period of time enables to build the longer term and allows to self-finance long term development.
Where do you allocate strategic workforce?
The equation is balanced between four levels of requirement: always put design at the center, have a clear vision on innovation, ensure the product’s reliability and economic efficiency.
Was this fourth dimension not always integrated according to you?
On my side, I want it to be part of the equation. Deliver today to prepare tomorrow. With one main asset: Fabrizio Buonamassa as the guardian of Bulgari’s aesthetics. This culture is about Italian know-how, both long-winded and capable of mastering several crafts. All the great Italian artists were engineers, sculptors and painters at the same time. In Italy, there is a true mastery of design associated with technical constraints. Our watchmaking legitimacy stems from that and relies on three fields: micromechanics, the entry door to any watchmaking consideration, just as chronometry, material physics, energy transmission, chiming watches with an immense expertise related to Gerald Genta and of course to be the jeweler of time.
Will you be investing in industrial tools?
Yes, we are currently investing on developments that will require extremely protected environments. We are working almost on the micron level. For example, the Octo Finissimo dial represents four tenth of a millimeter. Engineering is very important at Bulgari.
You recently reedited an aluminum watch. What are the markets’ feedbacks? Can you share volumes with us?
I cannot share volumes, but I can tell you that demand largely surpasses offer. It is a collection which completes Bulgari’s global offer, as the strong trend is about upgrading. However, this strategy requires time, money, and energy. It can induce a momentary loss of clients without having the time to gain new ones. To counter this effect, we needed an attractive and well-placed model in terms of price to offer quick access to Bulgari watchmaking for another type of clientele. That is the case with the sports model Bulgari Aluminum. It is Swiss made and assembled in our workshops.
What are your upcoming strategic developments?
With our aluminum collections we are about to start capsule collections. The idea is to work with Italianism, modernity, and emotion. This watch is a “feel good watch” that can be worn at any relaxed moment in life. This gives us true creative freedom, always with hyper accessible watches.
What does Bernard Arnault, CEO of the LVMH group, think about this? Are you getting word on his end?
Bernard Arnault is known to let each brand enjoy a great freedom of action. But he challenges us on specific issues.
Can you give us an example?
The Octo Finissimo model for example, which he really appreciates, is a model he does not want to see discounted on the secondary market. The Pre-Owned market is strategic. We will invest in this sector and work in draining the market, valuing offer, and strictly controlling what we deliver to our retailers. It is a sector which fascinates me. It is certainly the most powerful marketing tool when it comes to the valuation of a brand.
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Never in the history of the jewelry house were this many extraordinary precious stones assembled in only one collection, unique in volumes and carats. Let’s decipher the ambitions of the roman jeweler in the post-covid era. Watch the show replay.
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