Possessing an innate sense of how to treat a jewel, Bulgari also understands the importance of anticipating market trends, listening to client demands and evolving in line with these. Hence, in 2016, the Serpenti watches, which have been powered by quartz movements for the past 25 years, addressed the call by women for more mechanical watches with the introduction of the Serpenti Incantati Skeleton Tourbillon, which once again revisits the serpent theme.
“This year has been super-interesting for Serpenti,” says Boscaini. “It has been a really fruitful time for the snake and completely disruptive compared to past evolutions. In jewellery, there was a journey to minimalism – working with the snake head whereas traditionally it had been all about the body. In necklaces, rings and bangles, the head becomes everything. I suppose it is an extreme representation of the dragonhead from the 1960s with an openworked, geometric interpretation. We have also focused on the skin and individual scales. It is so different and unexpected but instantly recognisable. The eyes are especially important – that’s why this is called the Eyes On Me edition.”
But it is with the 2016 Serpenti Incantati (enchanted snake) watch that the greatest surprise was delivered. Another new interpretation of the snake, the head completely disappears and the body becomes everything. As with the original Tubogas, the serpent becomes more abstract, wrapping itself around the dial of a traditional round watchcase, completing the circle by holding its own tail in its mouth – an ancient symbol known as “ouroboros” that represents cyclicality, eternity and constant re-creation of something that cannot be extinguished.
For Babin, the Incantati brings together the two sides of Bulgari. “It is often said that we are about uniting Swiss watchmaking and Italian flair and this watch is the embodiment of that. It is pure horology but, at the same time, represents an obsession for design rarely found in Swiss watchmaking. It is purely Italian. This is the magic of the piece – even the tourbillon becomes a symbol of mastery in design.”
In one more twist, this clever reptilian bezel provides a bejewelled frame for a skeleton-worked, in-house tourbillon calibre. Just 30 examples exist in pink gold and 20 in white gold, all featuring a mainplate and bridges in gold which, along with the steel components, are hand-finished with circular graining and snailing. Dial side, the tourbillon performs a rotation every 60 seconds, adding a beating heart to this fascinating timepiece.
“Developing new iterations is part of our cultural mindset,” says Boscaini. “And while the company is fully focused on the future, we have not always celebrated our past as much as we should. Mr Babin is changing that and we are taking great steps to recover our heritage pieces. The past is such a huge part of the future and it is also the reason why we can continually evolve.”
Babin agrees: “It is not difficult for a company like Bulgari to evolve,” he says. “There is no process. We try to be fluid with new talent, new arts and new architecture. It is part of our culture to put people in a context where development will happen organically.”
As my time with Babin draws to an end, I ask him one final question: Bulgari’s CEO since 2013, had he held the position at the time of the now legendary 2011 Christie’s Elizabeth Taylor sale, would he have increased the budget to allow more of her Bulgari treasures to be bought back for the archives? “Although our history is paramount, I think my answer would have to be ‘no’,” he says thoughtfully. “We bought a few incredibly important pieces during that sale, but I think it is much better to keep the Taylor collection small. It would lose the magic if we had everything. After all, our belief is that a Bulgari jewel only comes alive when it is worn. We have acquired a lot but I am honestly glad that that the majority of pieces remain with people who will love and wear them.”