The man they call 'JCB' - Bulgari's CEO

EDGAR chats with one of the top names in the world of horology.

Sudhish Chandran July 12, 2015

Jean-Christophe Babin, the charismatic head of Italian jewellery brand Bulgari, talks changing cultures, taking risks and introduces the Intelligent Watch.

Family matters

When I moved from TAG Heuer to Bulgari in 2013, the first thing I noticed was that the culture was quite different. TAG has somewhat of a Silicon Valley-style culture where the structure is very liner, informal and decisions are made quickly. At Bulgari, is much more emblematic of a traditional family organisation. Since I took over, I have tried to provide more transparency and power to people in all positions. I feel that by offering a clearer strategy, everyone feels that their contribution is important.

I try to make people feel more stimulated, and to not be afraid of taking risks, because I believe that that is key for the success of a company. You have to dare, you have to try new things, because even if it doesn’t work out you will have at least learnt something from the experience.

Any man can wear a blue suit and shoes, but a watch is a way to show your personality.

Safe breaking

Being a jeweller, Bulgari has forever been obsessed with security. It was from that obsession that we came to realise that the ultimate benefit for our consumers in their daily lives is to have the ultimate protection. Now, by that we don’t mean tangible goods like watches and jewellery, instead we wanted to focus on digital data: PIN codes, medical files, professional and personal documents etc.

They are normally a mess to manage, and can be vulnerable to loss or theft. That is why at this year’s Baselworld we introduced our concept Magnesium Diagono watch, that comes with an encryption microchip, and together with a phone App helps store your digital information in an online ‘vault’ that only you can access. It’s not a Smart Watch, it’s an Intelligent Watch. 

Come and stay

Bulgari branded hotels have been hugely successful, so much so that we will soon be adding a property in Dubai to the portfolio. Branching out into luxury hospitality really helps the brand in terms of image, as it creates a full experience with a spa, bar and restaurant all offering a high level of luxury that you would come to expect from Bulgari. Naturally, operating these luxury hotels also helps generate revenue, and opening a property in an exciting place like Dubai is a great way to make a statement. 

Career highs

I am happy to be the CEO, but I don’t think that it defines me. For me, my biggest achievement is having remained a simple and happy person. I take pride in the fact that I am open and not snobbish – which is an accomplishment in itself when you’re working in the luxury jewellery industry!

Show your character

Contemporary watches are one of the things that I think every man should own, as it is the one accessory that really reflects a person’s character. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but the shape, size and brand all give indications as to a piece of your personality. Any man can wear a blue suit and nice pair of shoes, but picking out a watch is a way to show your personality with subtly.

My first watch

I remember when I was 15 years old, my mother gave me a mechanical Timex watch. I was about to go backpacking around Greece, and she was afraid that I would never come back! She made sure the watch had a date function so that I would not forget the day my flight back was departing! I still have that watch somewhere, and it still works.

The big news coming out of Bulgari at this year’s Baselworld was the introduction of the Magnesium Diagono concept watch. Described by Mr Babin as an ‘Intelligent Watch’, it is not only a high-end Swiss-made watch, but also possesses a microchip that, when synchronised to a smartphone application, will help encrypt and store your personal digital information, and a built in sensor will even help unlock your car.

“All the sensitive information stored via the App, is compiled in a digital vault,” explains Babin. “The vault is only accessible using a combination of the watch, the App and an encryption key, and is made secure by using your biometric data.” 

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