The horlogerie calendar’s first global gathering of watch professionals, buyers and enthusiasts, the Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, or LVMH, Watch Week 2022 went the online route. The theme for the five-day show that ended on 28 January was loud and clear: celebrating iconic designs and creating new timeless pieces for the future.
Whether it was Hublot’s dynamic innovation, TAG Heuer’s avant-garde spirit, Zenith’s legendary expertise or Bvlgari’s bold sophistication, each of the luxury giant LVMH Group’s four watchmaking maisons presented, to a select audience, timepieces that combine dazzling artistic technique, mechanical mastery and out-of-the-box thinking in micro-engineering.
Also read: Why Bvlgari recreated the ‘mangalsutra’
For instance, Bvlgari, which has been investing heavily in its watch division over the past decade, showcased its expertise in gem setting and artistry in the exquisite 2022 edition of the Serpenti, LVCEA and Octo Roma collections. The new Serpenti line is a set of “secret” watches (they look like extravagant pieces of jewellery with hidden watch faces), celebrating 80 years of the first Bvlgari secret watch. Along with the watches, the brand also offered a new Piccolissimo Calibre BVL 100 mechanical movement, one of the world’s smallest (12mm wide, 2.5mm thick and 1.3g in weight), for the Serpenti collection.
We spoke with Bvlgari’s chief executive Jean-Christophe Babin on Zoom about the watches, the design philosophy, the drivers of the global demand for luxury watches in the pandemic era, and the importance of time. Edited excerpts:
What does time mean to you?
I think time is really the single most precious treasure of assets we have with us, simply because it’s what defines life. But it’s also what terminates life, as there is a countdown; we never know exactly when it’s going to stop. That’s what I think makes time so precious that you cannot even afford to waste a single second.
You have remained close to the iconic designs. What were you thinking while finalising the line-up for this showcase?
We want to establish very timeless icons. And when we already have a design, we don’t want to change it too much because otherwise you lose the iconicity…. The watch industry is one of the key factors of success. The best-selling brands and watches usually rely upon two or three designs, which remain attractive and relevant for generations.
So when we take a decision, it is to evolve design; it’s really about evolution and not revolution. These designs are all bound by a thread, which is the Roman inspiration. You find it in Serpenti because of the Cleopatra gold bracelets that came from Egypt, and then the goldsmiths of Rome decided to replicate them until we decided to turn them into secret watches in the late 1940s. Octo was born out of Pantheon architecture.
So whether you love it or hate it, we try to be uncompromising because true luxury needs to have a lot of character, it needs to be loved for what it is. And yes, it needs to be useful in the long term.
That’s why the new mechanical movement...
It’s the smallest movement of the 21st century. I believe it’s more about the construction, to make a timepiece more ergonomic, more comfortable. This is what makes the final product more desirable. To be successful and valuable in the long term, you need to build preciousness across the board. The wearer should be able to experience amazing craftsmanship, from the design itself to the time setting; it has to be perfect.
That’s why what is beating inside a watch has to be as precious as what is outside.
News reports indicate sales of luxury watches, including Bvlgari’s, have reached pre-pandemic levels. What do you think is driving this global demand?
Luxury started with jewellery, not fashion or wines or spirits. Jewellery, precious stones and metals, have been treasured by mankind for the past 15,000 years. Why? Because they were obviously timeless, rare and very expensive. It’s the only luxury that gives value over time. The same applies to fine jewellery watches. Rarity, exclusivity, over-time value—people celebrate turning points of their life with fine watches and jewellery. Like the mangalsutra. And that’s why these things are so resilient to crisis. If you buy a beautiful bag, a nice pair of shoes…their value will become zero after some years. A piece of jewellery or a watch will have some value even after decades. And people want to have something like that, especially now in these unprecedented times.
Plus, these items are transgenerational. Your daughter in 25 years will probably graciously wear your jewellery. This is why you see major groups getting so interested in acquiring and developing watch and jewellery companies.
There’s a lot of talk around sustainability and watches. Is Bvlgari doing anything?
This question has progressively become a priority in our watch collection development plans, as well as in most of our sourcing decisions (for example, 99% of our gold is recycled), manufacturing, and also in ways of working, like the identification of the environmental impact of our activities and the performance of all our production sites by implementing an ISO 14001 certified environmental management system.
Your favourite watch right now?
Octo Finissimo. I am an executive on the one hand, this is the way you see me this morning. But I love playing sports as well. Anything from mountaineering to scuba diving. To me, this is the ideal watch because it’s light. And it fits with a formal suit and a T-shirt (laughs).
Also read: Bvlgari gives ‘mangalsutra’ a modern twist