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Watches and Wonders 2022

Jean-Christophe Babin: watch CEO and a social media star

Jean-Christophe Babin is rewriting the future of the watch fair, gave the world its thinnest mechanical watch this year and gets what the digital age is all about

April 08, 2022 05:47 pm | Updated April 09, 2022 08:30 pm IST

Jean-Christophe Babin

Jean-Christophe Babin | Photo Credit: David Atlan

Jean-Christophe Babin’s Instagram account has shiny pictures of pop star Dua Lipa and the luminous actor Zendaya wearing Bulgari jewellery at the Grammys and Oscars, respectively. They are brand ambassadors, after all. But the biggest ambassador of one of the most diversified luxury brands in the LVMH portfolio is Babin himself, Bulgari’s CEO since 2013. With his followers just a few hundred shy of a million on the social media app and #jcbabin crossing 11.1 million views on TikTok, this Italian knows what he is about.

Zendaya at the 2022 Oscars

Zendaya at the 2022 Oscars

“I think I just do my job,” he says on a video call in the middle of Watches and Wonders 2022. “The watch industry is not as big as fashion and many other industries. If in fashion the main speaker of the brand is the designer, in our market it is a mix. There is the designer of course, Fabrizo Buonamassa for the watches at Bulgari, Lucia Silvestri for the jewellery, but the responsibility is often shouldered by the CEO. Some CEOs do it more, some do it less, I try to find the balance.”

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This digital reach was useful when it came to promoting the two new watch fair formats he initiated during the pandemic - LVMH Watch Week and Geneva Watch Days. Babin, 63, had made his opinion clear in the past about the inconvenient timing of the big watch fairs, with SIHH at the end of April and Baselworld at the beginning of May. He considered it too late for clients. So together with other maisons at the LVMH conglomerate — Hublot, TAG Heuer and Zenith — he kicked off the LVMH Watch Week at his Bulgari hotel in Dubai in 2020. That was in January, much before Covid resulted in cancelled events across the world.

Balancing work and fun

Balancing work and fun

Then came Geneva Watch Days in 2021, with a core group of founding brands. “It worked because it’s decentralised, agile, and it is self-managed and the cost is pretty limited compared to traditional watch fairs,” he tells me. Back then he had mentioned to New York Times that the 2019 Baselworld had cost Bulgari 5 million Swiss francs, while Geneva Watch Days worked up to less than a million francs in total for the 17 participating brands. Scheduled for August this year, Geneva Watch Days is bigger, with 30 participating brands. “Like Bulgari, more brands have realised that it makes sense to introduce some watches before the Golden Week (vacation time for the Japanese), before Deepavali, before Thanksgiving, before Christmas, New Year, Chinese New Year. Obviously if we stop presenting novelties in early April, we have 10 months before Christmas and it is a long time,” he explains.

Priyanka Chopra with Babin

Priyanka Chopra with Babin

Priyanka Chopra for India
Babin, who is known to be the life of the party and yet finds time for quiet moments of diving and backpacking, has spent 18 months in India in his youth and is a big fan of biryani. He has often said India is underrated and plans to open their second store here later this year. “India is the next big project after China, where we are strongly established. We will accelerate this year and signed with Priyanka [Chopra] as we needed a very strong face of the brand. There is no one better than Priyanka to express our lifestyle.”

Of course, the market is still buzzing about Bulgari’s announcement last month of the thinnest mechanical watch in the world, the Octo Finissimo Ultra. Marking the 10th anniversary of the Octo collection, it is limited to 10 pieces, and at 1.8 mm is thinner than a 10 cent coin! But what it also has is a QR code on the barrel, a key to the metaverse and your own unique NFT artwork.

What did he make of the metaverse initially, I ask the ever-smiling Babin. “There are two worlds today, the real and the virtual, and there are more bridges between those two worlds. We realised how quickly it was developing and that luxury has to be totally within the metaverse,” he reveals, adding that the brand is still not ready for virtual products in gaming. “Because the quality of gaming is not yet fitting with the superlative quality of a Bulgari necklace or a watch. But this will come.”

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