Watches & Jewellery

“High jewelry holds a refinement and an ever-sought-after investment value”

Bulgari launched its new Eden High Jewellery collection in the heart of the French capital on 7 June. In his interview, Jean-Christophe Babin explains why the demand for exceptional pieces remains strong and states that the increase in sales over one year is in double digits

Actress Anne Hathaway and Jean-Christophe Babin, CEO of Bulgari at the BVLGARI EDEN THE GARDEN OF WONDERS gala in Paris (Photo by Daniele Venturelli/Getty Images for Bulgari)

Bulgari unveiled in June its latest high jewelry collection Eden the Garden of Wonders, in its boutique Place Vendome, “at the heart of the jewelry capital of the world”, as reminded by Jean-Christophe Babin, head of the Italian crown jewel in the hands of the biggest French luxury group LVMH. An event which continued after dark at the Italian Ambassy where clients, press, influencers, and movie stars were invited to a gala dinner. The American actress Anna Hathaway and the Indian actress Priyanka Chopra as well as the singer and K-pop dancer originally from Thailand, Lisa, had travelled for the occasion, creating the social media craze much-wanted by the brand. The media exposure necessary to entertaining a desirability was needed to counter a tense geopolitical context. Yet, according to Jean-Christophe Babin, the demand remains strong for exceptional pieces and the sale progression over a year, in high jewelry, is reaching a two-digit percentage. For Luxury Tribune, he deciphers the macro-economic context and explains the phenomenon.   

Obviously, the Italian jeweler Bulgari is striking a great coup today, when considering the service inside and out of the Parisian boutique…

Actress and brand ambassador Zendaya wears Serpenti Ocean Treasure, two snakes that merge into one, creating the platinum and diamond necklace with a twisting movement that holds an exceptional 61.30-carat Sri Lankan sapphire in a drop shape (DR)

We wanted to be the clear equals of the greatest Place Vendome French jewelers. We are a Roman jeweler, but from global inspiration. It is all about timing first and foremost: between the opening of this flagship last year, the opening of the Bulgari hotel in Paris a few months ago, and today the presentation of our high jewelry pieces, the most significant to ever be developed. For our clients, it is a triple discovery. This triangle offers a complete immersive experience into the brand.

This is a very large, opulent collection, with over 140 creations. Are current times still favorable to sales? Can you explain this strategic choice? 

Every year, Bulgari gains ever more success in jewelry. This gave us the will to dare further, to go beyond in expressing the Bulgari signature, through the usual polychromic aspect of our adornments and a creative part which I would qualify as dichromic, associating diamonds and a precious stone such rubies, emeralds, sapphires, or other very rare gems. But it is true that the collection also counts this year pieces entirely diamond set, as we also wish to affirm our savoir-faire on that level.

Some pieces totalized over hundreds of carats. Have you sought to increase this investment aspect?

Of course, by taking the Eden Garden theme, the emerald holds a significant place. It is the stone which Bulgari used many times in its history. It is today the most desired precious stone.

The most valued as well…

The Tribute to Paris necklace took 2,000 hours to make and features a 35.53 carat oval Colombian emerald (DR)

It is first a question of quality. But it is true that the carat price of the emerald is much superior to the diamond or to many other stones. What we want is to offer our clients stones and extraordinary creations.  Our sales reach 500,000 euros as well as 5 million. What matters is for the clients to feel they have beautiful artisanship in their hands, whichever price they pay, and this begins with a 2000-euro B.zero1 ring. Of course, the weight of the stone added to the creativity of the House enables to maintain and even increase the jewel’s value with time.

What is the collection’s total value?

Over hundreds of millions of euros, in insurance value, below the commercial value. It is indeed the biggest collection to have ever been showcased.

This year, the watchmaking offer has also generated extraordinary iterations, allowing to complete high jewelry in a brand-new way. Is this also a new strategy?

Presented in a set with the matching necklace, the Emerald Venus cuff watch celebrates Bulgari's long-standing passion for green emeralds, here with a total of 47 carats and baguette diamonds (DR)

Yes, we had started it a few years back, but this year we tried to anticipate further our watchmaking offer, which takes longer than jewelry to create, in order to offer these exceptional creations. We are launching the conceptual part of our high jewelry creations in advance compared to ten years ago, as to allow our watchmaking division to piggy-back it. We begin our creations 18 months prior to launching.

Is there an increasing demand from clients regarding these watchmaking pieces of high jewelry?

Yes, for sure. It is proportionate to the high jewelry demand, and I would add with an extremely high potential. Today, we could sell double if we had the human resources to create them.

Is there a niche to occupy?

To a jeweler, creating jeweled watches seems obvious. But we are no longer in the concept of old-fashioned adornments, we seek to create watchmaking jewels according to the year’s theme, to maintain unicity.

L'actrice indienne Priyanka Chopra au gala BVLGARI EDEN THE GARDEN OF WONDERS (Photo par Daniele Venturelli/Getty Images for Bvlgari)

Who are the clients that buy your high jewelry pieces?

Since Chinese clients cannot come to the launch, due to pandemic restrictions, the collection will go to them. In Shanghai, as in Beijing, it has been a week (end of May) since we were able to reopen our boutiques. But clients remain careful. In any positive case, the entire mall must close again, with clients inside! Only after a few hours, when all have been tested, can they go back home. Therefore, there remains a setback when it comes to shopping in department stores in the country. After China, the US, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Japan will receive a travelling collection.

Are you not worried about the potential impact of current crises, such as the Ukraine invasion, the pandemic in China?

Of course, we wish a return to normal for these regions. However, if we observe the latest figures of big groups, the 2021 results have been better than those of 2019. Therefore, there is a resilience and an appetite for luxury which is stronger than ever. And I would not be surprised to notice that the results of 2022’s first semester, which are to be published during the summer, will be good. The Russian-Ukrainian conflict is of course unbalancing, and impacts the Russian market, but what we notice is our high jewelry sales to date based on the Magnifica collection from last year up until the launch of this new collection today, are strongly increasing, and we qualify this of high double digit. To the point where the generated turnover without specific events, with a collection which has simply travelled, is strongly increasing. This shows that appetite is there, that the collection is right, that the brand is coherent and that the stones are exceptional. Beyond high jewelry, watchmaking, jewelry and accessories, the clients are ready to pay more to ensure the object’s authenticity, quality, and timelessness.

But your clients are also those who lost in stocks, specifically in tech value…

Lucia Silvestri, Artistic Director of Bulgari and Lisa aka Lalisa Manoban at the BVLGARI EDEN THE GARDEN OF WONDERS gala in Paris (Photo by Marc Piasecki/Getty Images for Bvlgari)

About the stock market, we have a short-term memory. We are indeed a bit below the peak, but the stocks remain 2.5 times higher than those recorded five years ago. Someone who had great wealth six months ago in the stock options has a bit less, indeed, but remains 2.5 times higher than five years ago. This means that, concerning luxury, the potential resources are high. Stock instability generates liquidity, which is invested in values that are strong, such as high jewelry.

So how can you explain the bad performance of the famous hope diamond which was supposed to beat auction records, and which was sold below estimates?

I think that today, people seek less show-off and spectacular, and further beauty, unicity, a guarantee of the brand in terms of ethics and transparency. The 200-carat diamond must be properly showcased, to make it a work of art, beyond stones. People no longer look for the record, they look for the exceptional. And the latter is reached through aesthetics and stone quality rather than by its carats. I am therefore not surprised that very big stones no longer find takers.

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