Italian luxury house Bvlgari launches another record breaker at Geneva Watch Days 2020

Bvlgari's group chief executive Jean-Christophe Babin played a key role in organising Geneva Watch Days in August.
Bvlgari's group chief executive Jean-Christophe Babin played a key role in organising Geneva Watch Days in August.PHOTO: BVLGARI

SINGAPORE - Mr Jean-Christophe Babin, group chief executive of Bvlgari, appears on my computer screen with the logo "Geneva Watch Days 2020" boldly emblazoned on a white wall behind him.

It is a Zoom interview and he wants to talk about the new watches the Italian luxury house is rolling out at the unique watch fair which took place late last month - one he played a key role in organising.

Geneva Watch Days 2020 is the first organised watch gathering for the year since Covid-19 caused the cancellation of the world's two biggest annual watch fairs - Hour Universe (formerly known as Baselworld) and Watches & Wonders Geneva in April and May.

Believing that watch brands must be proactive to survive the crisis brought on by the pandemic, Mr Babin rounded up 17 labels - including Breitling, Ulysse Nardin, MB&F and De Bethune - which were keen to hold meetings and show their new offerings in Geneva from Aug 26 to 29.

A decentralised event held at multiple locations, the fair followed mask-wearing and social-distancing guidelines, and was also open to the public.

An estimated 100 retailers, 250 media representatives, mostly from Europe, and nearly 1,000 members of the public reportedly attended the show.

For overseas retailers and watch journalists who could not make it to the event, brands took to Zoom, Google Meet and other platforms to introduce their novelties.

Unsurprisingly, "phygital" - which marries online and offline environments - was the buzzword of the event.

Sitting in a suite at the Ritz-Carlton with a high-tech set-up of cameras, lights and microphones, Mr Babin says he is chuffed with Geneva Watch Days.

"We are proud of ourselves. The weather is beautiful, we do what we want. This is self-managed and it is low-cost. It cost us only five per cent of what it would have cost us in Baselworld or Watches & Wonders," says the Bvlgari head honcho, whose brand reportedly paid five million Swiss francs for its booth at Baselworld last year.

He says it is important to be bullish and not give up on this year despite the pandemic badly affecting the luxury watch sector, which has collapsed as the Chinese, the industry's biggest customers, could not travel or shop.

 

According to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry, the value of Swiss watch exports to the end of July this year was down by 33 per cent year-over-year.

But there is a bright spot: Statistics showed that shopping for luxury items picked up in mainland China in June and July.

The way Mr Babin sees it, the watch industry is now divided into two factions: "the sleeping brands and the bullish brands".

"Obviously, Bvlgari has not only decided to be on the bullish side but also to be its leader," he says.

While he says 2020 will be a negative growth year for the industry, those who are innovating and reinvesting in the market will get their market share for the rest of the year.

 
 

"There is a still a big opportunity because we have Golden Week in Asia, Thanksgiving in America, Christmas and New Year in Europe and Chinese New Year, so there are still four or five good months left."

Bullish brands who continue to innovate and invest in marketing and training will be the winners, he notes. "And those who sleep will lose further."

BVLGARI'S BIG HITS

Bvlgari made a splash at the Geneva Watch Days last month. Its Octo Finissimo model broke yet another record - its sixth - with the Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Chronograph Skeleton Automatic, the thinnest tourbillon chronograph ever made.

The brand also relaunched its Aluminium collection from the 1990s and unveiled a new model - Arena Bi-Retrograde Sport - by Gerald Genta, a brand it owns.

OCTO FINISSIMO TOURBILLON CHRONOGRAPH SKELETON AUTOMATIC


PHOTO: BVLGARI

The Bvlgari Octo Finissimo is at its ultra-thin game again and has broken its sixth record in just as many years.

Housed in a case just 7.4mm thick, it is the world's thinnest tourbillon chronograph.

The skeletonised movement has 388 components but measures only 3.55mm thick.

Despite the razor-thin dimensions, it boasts a column wheel and a vertical clutch, and has a power reserve of 52 hours.

Fashioned from sandblasted Grade 5 titanium, the timepiece has a transparent case back, the better to admire the movement.

Only 50 pieces are available, with price upon request.

BVLGARI ALUMINIUM AND ALUMINIUM CHRONOGRAPH


PHOTO: BVLGARI

The Italian maison also launched three updated models of a watch which was introduced in the late 1990s.

The Bvlgari Aluminium (above) was one of the first luxury watches to pair aluminium cases with rubber straps.

The three new reinterpretations (two time-and-date models and a panda dial chronograph) have cases made of a more durable aluminium alloy and mechanical, instead of quartz, movements.

The Aluminium model - one with a black dial, the other with a white one - is 40mm, with a solid titanium case back and the B77 calibre, which has a 42-hour power reserve.

The Aluminium Chronograph has the same specs, except that its heart is the B130, also with a 42-hour power reserve, but with a three-register chronograph.

Bulgari's design director Fabrizio Buonamassa says the Aluminium is targeted at millennials - hence its relatively affordable price points: from $4,050 for the Aluminium models to $5,840 for the chronograph model.

THE GERALD GENTA ARENA BI-RETROGRADE SPORT


PHOTO: BVLGARI

The late Gerald Genta has designed some of the world's most iconic watches, including the Royal Oak for Audemars Piguet and the Nautilus for Patek Philippe.

The Swiss also designed some funky timepieces under his own brand, which were bought by Bvlgari in 2000.

The Italian luxury house has decided to breathe new life into the Genta legacy with the Arena Bi-Retrograde Sport (above).

With its arena case inspired by the gladiatorial amphitheatres of ancient Rome, the watch has a jumping hour window at 12 o'clock with a minute track along the top half of the dial.

The date track is on the bottom half. It is fitted with the BVL 300 movement, which sees the minute hand snapping back to zero every 60 minutes and the date snapping back every 31 days.

Priced at $20,800, the watch has a titanium case and a display back showcasing the intricacies of the BVL 300.