Antoine Pin, Bulgari
Antoine Pin, Bulgari assumed the role of Watch Business Unit Managing Director on the 9th September. Angus Davies took the opportunity to ask Mr Pin a series of questions, eager to learn more about this innovative brand, famed for ultra-thin watches and haute joaillerie timepieces.
Bulgari, a subsidiary of luxury giant LVMH, is synonymous with high jewellery, sumptuous leather goods, exquisite fragrances and incredible watches. The company has strong links with the Italian capital, Rome, albeit the brand is much in evidence on some of the world’s most prestigious retail avenues. The luxury brand is a darling of the catwalk and in recent years it has become a hotelier par excellence. Quite simply, Bulgari is a byword for grandeur and magnificence.
However, beyond the glitz and glamour front of house is a firm that has a profound understanding of watchmaking. The company’s Watch Business Unit is based in Neuchâtel, a Swiss canton synonymous with making timepieces.
A few years ago, I spent a couple of days with Bulgari, touring its extensive production facilities dotted around the landlocked nation. I can still recall my amazement at the time as I witnessed an array of components being made in-house. Bracelets, cases, dials and movements are skilfully produced across a number of sites. This level of vertical integration remains very rare. Moreover, I am not alone in my appreciation of Bulgari’s manufacturing prowess. Many watch brands entrust Bulgari with making watch components on their behalf.
Mindful of the time I had previously spent with Bulgari, I relished the prospect of asking Antoine Pin, the brand’s Watch Business Unit Managing Director a few questions.
Interview with Antoine Pin, Bulgari
What makes Bulgari special?
Bvlgari is special because it is an Italian global luxury brand. The company’s approach in all product categories encompasses a Mediterranean soul and spirit, rooted in the firm’s Roman heritage. This influences every single creative action taken by the company.
What did you do before working at Bulgari?
I have a long history working with LVMH. I joined the group as the International Marketing Director of Zenith, then moved to London as Head of LVMH Watch & Jewellery for the UK. From 2010 until 2017, I was based in Asia, first as the General Manager of TAG Heuer for Japan and Korea and thereafter as Bvlgari Regional Managing Director for Greater China and Australia.
I returned to Paris in 2017, where I enjoyed my time as Executive Vice President of Berluti.
Can you outline what your day to day responsibilities are?
My task is simply to handle the watch business which includes overseeing the Watch Branch strategy, product development, production, delivery and supporting our markets. This is a simple overview but necessitates complex execution. In addition, I am responsible for the watch communications strategy and its implementation across all markets. Finally, my objective is to grow Bvlgari’s presence in all markets.
As I understand, Bulgari watches are designed in Italy but made in Switzerland. Does this approach confer any benefits or influence the final product in any way?
Actually, all our watches are designed in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. We integrated the design team into our Neuchâtel facility several years ago. It is important for this department to be close to our suppliers and our watch facilities in Switzerland. That said, there is of course constant collaboration between Neuchâtel and Italy. We work closely on specific projects specially related to Jewellery watches. We adopt a joint approach in such cases because this guarantees consistency.
Image – Neuchâtel facility
A few years ago I toured Bulgari’s extensive production facilities, located in various parts of Switzerland. I was surprised to discover that Bulgari is a genuine example of a vertically integrated company, not only making its own movements, but dials, cases and bracelets. Do you think the watch-buying public are fully aware of this impressive manufacturing capability?
We are among one of the most integrated companies today.
But since Bvlgari is first of all a jeweller and also sells accessories and perfumes and operates hotels & resorts, it may be that our watchmaking capabilities are not fully appreciated. Our multi-category activities are both a strength and a weakness. A weakness because our watchmaking skills are a bit diluted within the company’s global activities portfolio. Conversely, it is a strength since we do not face the constraints of being purely a watch company. Basically, this grants us much freedom in terms of innovation and creativity.
Bulgari has become known for making ultra-thin watches. In recent years the company has released an ultra-thin chronograph and even an ultra-thin minute repeater. Do you plan to offer other complications in the future? What is the most complicated ultra-thin model you have made to date?
All ultra-thin Bvlgari watches are complicated, including the automatic hours/minutes/seconds version, which is literally the ‘simplest’ in terms of functions. Developing and producing an extra-thin movement presents many challenges. We have to meet these challenges and ensure the watch always functions reliably.
But the successful completion of such a watch always proves extremely rewarding. This is because you have to find technical solutions to problems which at first glance seem impossible to solve.
Image – Octo Finissimo Automatic watch in titanium Ref. 102713
Personally, I have always been a little wary of ultra-thin watches as I am sometimes concerned about the torsional rigidity of this genre of watches. However, I noticed that when you released the Octo Finissimo Skeleton in black ceramic you made it a little thicker than the equivalent titanium version. Am I correct to assume this was to enhance the stiffness of the model? How do you ascertain the optimum case thickness for an ultra-thin watch?
It is slightly thicker owing to the nature of the material. When you use titanium or ceramics on an ultra-thin movement, if I may say, you cannot adopt a copy/paste approach. You must consider the properties of each material, its resilience and its specific mechanical characteristics. In terms of the ceramic Finissimo, we have pushed the boundaries in terms of thinness. We are at the extreme frontier without taking the risk of making a breakable watch.
Image – Octo Finissimo Automatic watch in ceramic Ref. 103077
Bulgari does not just make ultra-thin watches. The Serpenti stands out from the crowd and brims with femininity. Could you ever envisage offering this model with complications?
Serpenti is an evergreen collection for Bvlgari. It has been a true icon for decades and continues to be so. In the past, we produced the Serpenti Incantati Tourbillon, which is a classical wristwatch. Considering we have created the coiled Serpenti collections such as Tubogas or Seduttori, anything could happen!
Image – Serpenti Seduttori in 18K rose gold Ref. 103146
At Bvlgari we are always open to explore new ideas and explore new market trends. And this last point is very important, ‘Do our female clients expect a complication?’ In our opinion, the answer is ‘yes’. For example, we offer tourbillons in our round Diva and Lvcea models and they have become top-sellers. We have the Divas’ Dream Finissima Minute Repeater, which is also very popular. So why not imagine a ‘coiled’ Serpenti equipped with a complication?
Image – Divas’ Dream Finissima Minute Repeater Ref. 102839
Earlier this year you unveiled the gorgeous Gerald Genta 50th Anniversary watch, featuring jumping hours, retrograde minutes and a retrograde date. It is one of my favourite watches of 2019. There appears to be only two references within the Gerald Genta collection. Do you envisage releasing further Gerald Genta watches in the near future?
Yes, we will.
Bulgari is part of LVMH, a company which has extensive research and development facilities. Do you share technological developments? For example, I know that your sister company, the TAG Heuer Institute, has done much research with carbon-composite hairsprings which provide significant advantages over using Elinvar type hairsprings. Can we expect to see these hairsprings in Bulgari watches?
We have LVMH Watch Brand meetings on a regular basis. We discuss potential synergies relating to our respective developments and we see how we can collaborate more effectively. Regarding the hairspring, we have nothing to report at the moment.
You joined Bulgari last September, what are you focussing your efforts on now and where can we expect to see advances in the future?
My objectives are clear: improve the way we launch new products, introduce plenty of new references each year, closely monitor the needs of the market, accelerate our rate of growth, albeit it is already very strong, and help drive the new technical developments we have in the pipeline.
During our conversation, Mr Pin proffered some facts about the brand that I already knew such as its ability to make ultra-thin watches and timepieces equipped with various complications. However, Mr Pin also revealed many details which I was previously unaware of.
Prior to our interview, I had wrongly assumed that all watches were designed in Rome, but in fact each timepiece is conceived by the design team in Neuchâtel. Once Mr Pin explained the need for these employees to be close to manufacturing operations and the numerous specialist suppliers in the region, the rationale for Bulgari’s approach seems very logical. Moreover, it is clear that Bulgari works closely with other LVMH brands within Switzerland, identifying potential opportunities to collaborate.
Antoine Pin, Bulgari also revealed that there is demand for ladies’ watches endowed with high complications such as minute repeaters and tourbillons. In addition, he also intimated that further high-end watches will follow. Certainly, the Watch Business Unit Managing Director expends much time listening to sales personnel in various markets and identifying those opportunities which promise potential growth. Indeed, even though Bulgari has enjoyed much success in recent years, Mr Pin seems eager to ‘accelerate’ this rate of growth and continue to build on the brand’s impressive achievements.
Based on our discussions, I suspect Mr Pin and Bulgari will continue their ascent to even greater, dizzying heights. This should prove heart-warming to all horophiles who appreciate watches blessed with good looks, sublime craftsmanship and mechanical virtue. Personally, I look forward to many more repeat performances from this remarkable brand.