updated 27 Aug 2014, 04:20
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Bulgari widens luxe offerings
by Gladys Chung

The chief executive of Bulgari, Mr Jean-Christophe Babin, believes romance is alive and well.

And why not? He is banking on the sales of bridal jewellery at Bulgari to act as a hedge against the volatility of the high-end jewellery market.

"Bridal jewellery is an important business that we want to develop because it is very resilient. People will always need to get married, even when there is a financial crisis," says the 55-year-old Rome-based French-Italian.

"And 95 per cent of the people who get married will buy wedding rings because it corresponds with a very important emotional turning point in their life."

Mr Babin was in town a fortnight ago for the opening of the Italian luxury goods' new 477 sq m duplex store at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands. Its previous boutique, also at The Shoppes, was 360 sq m. The brand's other boutique is located at Takashimaya Department Store.

Mr Babin declined to reveal figures but says that the bridal business is "slowly growing year after year" and is an especially important category in the Asian and United States markets.

Besides expanding its selection of bridal jewellery designs - the brand currently has eight ranges of engagement rings and wedding bands - he intends to take its bespoke ring Design Your Love concept to various markets, including Singapore.

Launched about a year ago in Japan - Bulgari's second largest market after China - as a pilot project, the Design Your Love concept lets customers create their own unique engagement ring.

It has proven to be a hit with the Japanese so far. Prices of the customised rings are comparable with the off-the-shelf ones. The latter start from $4,250 for a 0.2 carat diamond ring.

"We have a big bridal business in Japan and a sizeable part of the business is from the Design Your Love arm," he shares.

When it comes to growing the luxury watch division of the brand, Mr Babin, who was formerly the chief executive of Swiss watchmaker Tag Heuer, takes a different approach from the way he runs the jewellery categories.

To recruit younger consumers, the brand is lowering the price points of its entry-level watches.

While the brand has been largely successful with its relatively affordable and iconic logo Bulgari Bulgari watches (prices start from $6,220 for a steel case and bracelet one), it is now set to tap into the non-logo, accessible luxury watch market.

It recently launched the Lucea range of watches for women. Inspired by the brand's iconic Serpenti bracelets and watches (where prices start from $6,890 for a steel watch), the bracelet of the Lucea watches are made of polished and overlapping "scales".

"The bracelet looks rigid on the wrist, but is surprisingly supple. In terms of engineering, it is a sophisticated construction," says Mr Babin.

"We've decided to be more aggressive on the price and to work on the engineering of the products."

The cost of the Lucea line starts from around $5,350 for a steel case and steel bracelet version to $52,800 for a diamond-encrusted, pink gold case and pink gold bracelet one.

"Now, we want the prices of our watch collections to start between 3,000 euros (S$5,000) and 5,000 euros, rather than between 6,000 euros and 8,000 euros as was the case before.

"We want to engage younger consumers who might only be able to afford to spend 3,000 euros on a watch now, but 10 years down the road, will come back and buy a diamond encrusted one," he says.

A convergence of taste

When asked about the different tastes of Bulgari consumers around the world, Mr Babin reveals that consumer preferences in luxury watches and jewellery are becoming increasingly homogeneous.

"Because of globalisation and the Internet, I don't see a huge difference in bestsellers between the different regions as there is a convergence of taste.

"The B.Zero1 rings are bestsellers in Singapore, and it is the same in Beijing, New York and Paris."

He adds that preferences for best-selling designs also appear and re-appear in different regions.

"Fifteen years ago, steel and gold watches used to be an American specialty. Then it disappeared, and the trend re-appeared in China; and now, it is a global phenomenon."

While its bestsellers may seem to fly off the shelves, even for a brand like Bulgari, having the right location in a mall such as The Shoppes is crucial.

The previous Bulgari boutique in the upscale mall was near the casino.

"Where we were before, most people were more focused on going to the casino, and they occasionally stopped by Bulgari," says Mr Babin.

"In this section where we are now, what the people have in mind is to spend on the luxury brands. That's what I call quality traffic.

"Most of the best brands are in this section, and most of the money is spent within these few hundred metres, so we'd better be there."

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This article was first published on August 1, 2014.
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