‘WhoAreU’ interview: Jean-Christophe Babin, Bulgari Group’s CEO

Temps de lecture : 6 minutes

My name is Amandine, I am 11 years old. I am keen on watchmaking and, since the age of 7, when asked what job I want to do, I answer “watchmaker-designer at Bulgari”…

By Amandine, the youngest Swiss Watch Passport columnist
Portrait Amandine | Insta SWP | Insta JSH® | Insta Amandine | Facebook | Twitter | Linkedin

Who are you at the office?

At the office, I’m a bit like a conductor. I’m not a specialist in watchmaking or jewellery, from a purely technical point of view… I know these things, of course, because I’ve been working in it for 22 years. But I’m more like a conductor who has to combine talents, like a violinist, a pianist, a saxophonist, who has to motivate them in a certain interpretation, with a specific tempo, and who has to make sure that the result is the most beautiful possible. So that’s my number one job in the office, to be the “Bulgari conductor“.

And in real life?

Well, I’m a little bit like the conductor of a large family because I have six children. Some of them are grown up, so there’s not much to orchestrate. But still, there’s a family orchestration to be done anyway and fortunately I’m not alone for that. So, in real life, I try to balance a very intense professional life, because as you can imagine, between watches, jewellery, leather goods, perfumes, hotels? But I still try to take a lot of free time to be with my children. You see, I was in New York for a week with two of my daughters and before that I spent a week at sea side with one of my sons, my wife and my youngest daughter. So I try to have a lot of time for my family.

How did you enter the watchmaking industry?

Actually, I fell into watchmaking because of my passion for cars! I was working in Germany in a chemical company and one day I got an offer for a brand called TAG Heuer which was, and still is, known for its involvement in Formula 1. Which has always been one of my passions. And as I also liked watches, but was not yet passionate about them, I said to myself: TAG Heuer is great! I changed sectors, which is always interesting intellectually, I went to Switzerland, which is a country that also attracted me, and I got closer to Formula 1… no longer as a spectator but as a player, since TAG Heuer was the timekeeper of Formula 1 and also the sponsor of McLaren, which at the time was one of the leading teams in this sport.

During the Geneva Watch Days, top selfie with the CEO of the Bulgari Group, Jean-Chistophe Babin and Amandine who, since she was a little girl, was dreaming of becoming a watchmaker and a watch designer at Bulgari...

Do you remember your first watch?

I remember it very well, I must have been 16 years old and it was my first journey alone, to Greece. My mum accompanied me to Orly airport (it’s in Paris) and seeing that I didn’t have a watch, she got panicked and ran to a tobacco shop to buy a steel Kelton. These were very popular watches in the 1970s. She gave it to me and said, “Here, this will help you remember your return date… but don’t forget to wind it every day!” And it worked because I came back from Greece two weeks later to meet my mum in France.

And which watch has the most sentimental value for you today?

As far as I’m concerned, there would be two.
One is from my first experience with TAG Heuer, the Monaco V4. Because, in a way, it was an extraordinary adventure… extraordinarily difficult on the one hand, but magnificent on the other because we managed to create the impossible: a watch that is driven by belts, so something that expressed the TAG Heuer automotive DNA better than any other piece.

@TAG Heuer, Monaco V4, a technical feat

Jean-Chistophe Babin: “At Bulgari, of course, the Octo Finisimo and especially the Ultra, because beyond its thinness which was a new world record, it is the first mechanical watch that also allows you to enter the Metaverse and the world of NFTs thanks to the QR Code on the barrel. A major innovation of which I am very proud.

The Manufacture BVL180 caliber, 28'800 vibrations per hour (4 Hz) and 50 hours of power reserve, developed by Concepto. It is located in the Octo Finissimo Ultra with a surprising total thickness of 1.80 mm

Are you making watches for young people?

We don’t make watches for very young people, like Flik Flak for example. On the other hand, if we define “young” as 16, 18, 20 years old, then I think that models like the Formula One are perfectly adapted. For example, one of my sons who is 15 wears one… well it’s true that he is quite privileged with a watchmaker dad, so a more immediate interest… I would say that typically the Bulgari Aluminium is a watch a bit like Tintin, from 7 to 77 years old, since it suits very well to someone young as well as to a person of my age. And for women, I think that a watch like the Bulgari Bulgari would suit you very well for example.
So you see, there are watches whose style goes very well with the lifestyle and the look of someone of fifteen or twenty. Of course, parents are asked to be a bit generous because at 15 you don’t usually work yet… Fortunately, these kind of generous parents exist liking to share beautiful things with their children!

What would you say to a teenager under 15 to get her/him interested in mechanical watchmaking rather than her/his Apple Watch?

First of all, I would say that he is right because the Apple Watch is just a part of the Natel on the wrist (editor’s note: Natel is a Swiss name for a mobile phone). So the interest remains rather limited, especially as you can see much better on the Natel screen than on the screen of a connected watch. Whereas a mechanical watch leads you into a totally different world of craftsmanship, mechanics… and therefore has a more interesting and intellectually stimulating content than micro-chips which are something a bit more abstract and virtual for someone very young who is not yet an engineer.

Lisa, Best K-Po winner of the Video Music Awards 2022

And what are your brand’s assets to seduce him/her?

To seduce the very young? First of all, you have to communicate through channels that speak to young people like TikTok for example. But that’s one of the ways to talk to them. You also need to have ambassadors who are not only known by people aged 30 and over, but also by people aged 15. Like Lisa who won the Best K-pop 2022 or Zendaya who is also very young. Finally, it is important to have products that speak to young people. For example, our perfumes. In the Omnia range, we have certain fragrances that are really made for a clientele of 14 to 20 year olds, with juices that are fairly soft and sweet and that appeal to the younger generation.

By the way, are you more of a TikTok, Instagram or LinkedIn person?

As far as I’m concerned, I’m more on Instagram… and LinkedIn because I know that on Linkedin I’m going to reach people who have a certain income that will allow them to be interested in my watches and my jewellery. I follow TikTok a bit less because it requires a bit more work as it’s very videoy. And as I don’t have much time, I prefer to delegate TikTok to the corporate part of Bulgari where we have very young specialists who do it very well.

Jean-Chistophe Babin's Linkedin profile

There is a lot of talk about sustainability, what does that mean to you?

Durability is first and foremost something that is essential in a high-end, expensive product. I’m always a bit shocked when I see, for example, mobile phones that are practically disposable after two or three years, even though they cost over 1,000 Swiss francs. It’s a bit disturbing! But we are lucky enough to work in a sector where the materials, whether gold, precious stones or diamonds, are unalterable… or eternal because they cannot corrode… And they are also recyclable. An old gold watch, for example, can be melted down to make a new watch.

So in our products there is sustainability and also the concept of a circular economy because, if I look at our watches or our jewellery, 100% of the gold is recycled. We draw very few new resources from nature and at the same time what we produce lasts for generations because it is unalterable and the stones are very very hard. Diamonds, but also sapphires and emeralds. Sustainability is therefore an organic part of our products, which does not prevent us from placing these products in an environment that is also sustainable. For example, our packaging. There is no more plastic in the packaging of Bulgari watches and jewellery.

We are the only luxury brand to have eliminated plastic from its packaging.

Which advice would you give me to be able to live my passion and work in the watch industry?

My first tip would be to continue your normal studies at school and at the gymnasium. Watchmaking is indeed a sector of activity like any other, which means that you need to have a general knowledge that schools in Switzerland teach very well to all students. So my first piece of advice is to continue your studies like any other girl of your age (editor’s note: Amandine is 11 years old). And at the same time, continue to take an interest in watchmaking, which is a fascinating hobby. And if at the age of 20-22, it’s confirmed, then go into watchmaking! In the meantime, intensify your hobby but concentrate on your studies independently of watchmaking.

Is there a message you would like to pass on?

… Watchmaking is a very, very beautiful profession. The craft, in general, is something extremely gratifying because in the end it is what I often call “the intelligent hands”. The combination of the mind and the hand. And what is extraordinary about a watch or a necklace is that, in the end, most of the added value comes from the hands and the brain and not necessarily from machines and computers. So that’s something that seems fundamental to me, and Switzerland in particular is probably the only Western country where craftsmanship and manual work are so highly valued. So I think that it is an opportunity for those who love watchmaking to be born in Switzerland and to study there, because it is a country where the handicraft and manual part is as much valued as the more classic university professions.

Can we take a selfie for my album?

Absolutely 😊

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