Since their first venture into horlogerie in the Forties, Bulgari’s watches have quickly become iconic. From the ubiquitous snake watch, to modern classes like the Bulgari Bulgari, their impact on watchmaking today should not be underestimated. For managing director Guido Terreni, it is all about maintaining a strong identity: “We have been very disciplined in building a strong assortment around a few symbols – Serpenti, Lvcea, Bulgari Bulgari and Octo. These signs are deeply rooted in the brand’s DNA: being extremely strong in personality, distinctive in style and manufactured with the highest possible quality.”
Joining the company in 2000, Terreni is now in charge of the global watch strategy of the brand, a role that encompasses everything from the original concept, the design and the product development, to the industrial aspect, which includes movements, dials, cases and bracelet manufacturing. “I identify the customer we want to appeal to, the design of our timepieces, their development, their manufacturing and their servicing,” Terreni expands.
Overseeing so many different aspects of the business inevitably means every day is different, although leaving time free is also vital. “I do need some time, now and then, to appreciate and enjoy my life. This may come across as a bit self-indulgent, but it is in those moments that we can observe the world in which we live and see what others can’t see. In those moments, it may happen that you are inspired and come up with your best professional intuitions. At the end of the day we are in the luxury business and we aspire to generate emotions that simply can’t be born by rational workaholics.”
It is a job he is passionate about. “Bulgari is a phenomenal brand. It has a great history, an unmatched creative exuberance and is the major Italian player in hard luxury. This distinctive characteristic makes a whole difference to me, as an Italian, and it allows me to contribute in shaping the soul of the brand within the watch business.” In his time at the helm, he’s witnessed seismic worldwide fluctuations which are reflected in changes to customer needs. “We live in a very dynamic era and we have the chance to live through huge changes, both internally and externally,” he says. “During this century, we witnessed a macroeconomic shift of purchasing power from the West to the East. The Chinese – from basically not being on the radar 15 years ago – are now the first customer nationality of the watch industry, and the highest in its average ticket. Furthermore, the sophistication of their taste has evolved in a very short time. It is difficult to cope with such important changes because you need to protect the identity of the brand and, paradoxically, be even more true to yourself if you don’t want to get lost in translation. Internally we build a very compelling watch assortment strongly anchored in the brand values and develop an in-house manufacture at the highest level of competence – able, among other achievements, to create the world records for ultra-thin watches.”
It hasn’t been easy, and challenges have included pinning down the correct vision for the brand, finding the best creative talent and creating a state-of-the-art manufacturer, all tests which have been admirably risen to. The Bulgari philosophy remains clear, and their Italian DNA puts beauty forwards as a central concept. “We bring to watchmaking the Italian sense for aesthetic, which is bold, unconventional and unique, to an industry that is traditionally rooted in Genevan or French cultural points of reference.” The results are clear in the collections – to what extent do families such as Bulgari Bulgari and Serpenti define the brand? “They are the brand,” Terreni says simply. “Serpenti is the most sexy timepiece that you can find. It is sophisticated, truly luxurious and very glamorous. We don’t design ladies watches just by downsizing a men’s watch and adding some diamonds. We address women with strong personalities, who are bold and in charge of their lives. And since Cleopatra, probably the most seductive woman of mankind, the snake has been adorning the arm of ladies and we have been interpreting it since the Forties. But it takes all the Italian design skills and the visionary ability to see what others can’t, looking at a daily object like a gas-pipe and creating a jewel that tells the time.”
“Bulgari Bulgari is another powerful inspiration. It is the first object, ever, that used the family name, the brand logo, as a graphic element. But the inspiration is extremely powerful. Gianni Bulgari in 1975 did as the Roman Emperors used to do on the ancient coins during their ruling time. He placed the family name together with the eternal city on the bezel and created an icon. Again, it’s a question of personality.” Managing these well-known pieces is a huge responsibility, he acknowledges, citing the importance of always putting the brand first and resisting the greed he sees as taking over the luxury business.
The most popular watch collections are the Serpenti Tubogas and the Octo Finissimo Automatic, the latter of which Terreni has a soft spot for. “Ultrathin watches in the industry have always been very traditional, rooted in the Fifties and Sixties aesthetic codes and used only in formal occasions. We want to give to the gentleman of today the ultimate contemporary elegance that can be worn every day. That’s why we chose the Octo case and the titanium material with a bracelet.”
The brand also goes resolutely forwards. “This fever for vintage watches frustrates me,” Terreni admits. “I have no pleasure whatsoever in replicating the past. I refuse to think that before was better and prefer to instead create tomorrow’s vintage.”