Shanghai is an amazing city, one that has undergone enormous changes over the years. It seems like every time I visit the city, it is unlike it was before. However, today’s Shanghai is still, in many ways, like the city has always been: vibrant, colorful, cosmopolitan. So, what better place to represent what Bulgari is calling its Rinascimento (Italian for “renaissance”) where the brand can reinforce its tradition while pushing ever forward in creativity, design and innovation.
Bulgari has been known as a jeweler for most of its history, but it’s been in the last decade or so where the watches have become ever more important. They have always been important from a design standpoint, but recently, with the Octo and the Octo Finissimo timepieces, Bulgari has upped its game and become a true player in the watchmaking industry.
“This was the right time to announce Bulgari’s renaissance with four years of LVCEA and six years of Octo and eight years of the new Serpenti, it is proving us right that daring within the major codes of the brand can really renew the way clients are looking at Swiss watchmaking,” says Jean-Christophe Babin, CEO, Bulgari. “We couldn’t have claimed ‘renaissance’ earlier, but now that we are measuring these three collections as successes, we can clarify our vision and make it more explicit. We have an obsession to combine high watchmaking with strong design. Before now it would have been arrogant and premature to announce this. Now, it is logical to introduce the Renaissance, combining art and design with a focus on technology, and not only for men but also for women.”
“For Bulgari and watches, there was foundation work that had to be done, and we are now where we want to be,” explains Guido Terreni, Manager Director of Bulgari Watches. “We are willing to push further what is usually conventionally seen as a watch, and to apply art to what you wear. It’s an artistic expression on your wrist.”
Saying it and doing it are two different things, but Bulgari is definitely putting its money where its mouth is. The Finissimo timepieces have been winning awards and setting records, and customers are taking notice.
“There is still a lot of work to spread the word of what we have done,” admits Terreni. “We need to help people understand. You cannot go faster than the music.”
The highlight piece from the Shanghai event is a very complicated watch, the Octo Grand Sonnerie Perpetual Calendar, but there are other spectacular pieces as well, including the Octo Finissimo Skeleton with blue hands and counters, two new Diva’s Dream Roman Nights models, a Lucea in red, a new Serpenti cuff in Malachite and an incredible Octo Monete, a unique piece that can be worn as a wristwatch or a pocket watch, and features a cover adorned with an ancient Roman coin. This cover opens to reveal a skeleton tourbillon movement in an 18-karat rose gold case set with baguette diamonds.
The spirit of these watches is definitely infused by a lust for life, a liberal amount of dolce vita. “Watches are a pleasure by themselves,” says Terreni. “When you buy a timepiece, you buy something that is very intimate. You are wearing it against your skin. To enjoy the pleasures of life is about experiencing life in an artistic way. Our watches are not stiff nor do they adhere to any dogma. We are breaking the rules and bringing high watchmaking into the modern day.”
The Gala Dinner
The Bulgari gala dinner in the Chamber of Commerce Shanghai building, built in 1916 and restored by Bulgari as an event space, started like just about any other:
Beautiful venue; welcome speech from Jean-Christophe Babin;
speech by the head of the Italian consulate in China; delicious Italian food from the Michelin-star restaurant located in the hotel.
Then, things got interesting. After dinner, Chinese singer Maria Ma took to the stage, singing Italian opera and Chinese love songs, then halfway through her final number, she pulled Babin and Terreni up on stage to sing with her. And they did so with huge smiles on their faces. The crowd of journalists and collectors loved every minute of it.
It was a spontaneous and absolutely genuine moment that, upon reflection, wouldn’t and couldn’t have happened with any other brand in the watch industry. Which underscored the difference and the sense of dolce vita that infuses the Bulgari brand. Seeing Babin and Terreni, joined by Bulgari’s head of China Kolia Neveux, singing “O Sole Mio” on the stage with a famous Chinese opera singer captured the essence of the brand. Excellence, beauty and a real lust for life.