Italian luxury brand Bulgari is a relative newcomer to watchmaking—it launched its first collection only in 1977. It opened its watchmaking subsidiary, Bulgari Haute Horlogerie, in 1980 in Switzerland. Guido Terreni, who has been with the label for 15 years, is the company’s managing director. Until 20 years ago, Bulgari relied on suppliers to make even basic movements, but these days it makes minute repeaters [the parts in a mechanical watch that chime the time] and other mechanisms in-house. Terreni spoke exclusively to Fortune India about how it all happened. Edited excerpts:
Be it the world’s thinnest minute repeaters or titanium cases, one wouldn’t expect such products from a jewellery maker. How did Bulgari get so serious about horology?
Record breaking was not the goal, it was a consequence. In early 2011, we wanted to extend our men’s line to thin watches but finding the right movement was a barrier. We wanted to develop a petite seconde [a small dial to indicate seconds] and double it with a version on a tourbillon [a case to hold an escapement, the mechanism which provides periodic energy impulses to a balance wheel]. So the natural evolution was towards the minute repeater, the most difficult and sophisticated mechanism to make.
How many stores does Bulgari have worldwide? And how many in India, China, and Hong Kong?
We have 540 stores worldwide of which 15 are in India, about 20 are in Hong Kong, and over 40 are in China. They sell jewellery and watches.
What is Bulgari’s DNA?
Our DNA is a blend of Italian values harking back to Roman antiquity and modern Swiss expertise. We are unique because there are no ‘hard’ luxury brands based in Rome, and the watch industry is rooted in either Genevan or Parisian cultural values.
There was a time when Bulgari watches were not taken seriously. How did you evolve past that?
We entered watchmaking in 1975 when the industry was in the middle of the quartz crisis. All you needed then was a nice design to be successful. Since then the customer has evolved. If you want prestige, you need to be credible, which is why we acquired and developed the best skills in movements, cases, and dials, thus elevating the brand.
How were successful watch brands such as Daniel Roth and Gerald Genta integrated into Bulgari?
The vertical integration started in 2000, and by 2005 we internalised dials and bracelets. In 2007, we went ahead with cases and started developing our in-house calibre.
How do you balance a jewellery-driven product history and the leaps made by technology?
We have the know-how but not the 200 years of history. Nobody can deny the quality and the technological edge we have developed internally, though not all watch aficionados can acknowledge this. Those who can, enjoy a brand like us.
What is your take on Smartwatches?
I don’t believe that functional aspects or value for money are reasons to be in the luxury watch business. Quartz watches are 10 times cheaper and more accurate than mechanical ones, but they do not have ‘soul’. Smartwatches will have a market but they won’t interfere with watches that cost more than $5,000 [Rs 3,40,181], which account for 85%-90% of the value of this industry.