How Bulgari Is Embracing Digital to Release Its Latest Collection
“It’s a surreal environment,” Mauro Di Roberto, managing director of Bulgari’s jewelry business unit, says over a Zoom call from Rome. Business and marketing have changed across all sectors, and Bulgari and the business of luxury fashion is no exception. Di Roberto reflected on the inspiration behind Bulgari’s latest launch, a high jewelry collection called Barocko, the app Bulgari launched in lieu of the ability to physically showcase the jewelry and how luxury business is evolving in light of COVID-19.
Q: First off, what is the inspiration behind Barocko?
A: The nickname is basically inspired [by] Baroque, but we wanted to give it an edge of rock. That’s why you have the Barocko rock. Baroque inspiration is Rome, totally Rome. It’s something that we wanted to do for some time. All the monuments, all the art, the architecture that we have in Rome is very much influenced by the Baroque time. It was a great inspiration because whenever you walk around Rome, you basically have continuous ideas on how to transform some art into reality with a jewel.
When you walk around Rome, especially during a lockdown, you see a city that you’ve never experienced, because usually the city, like major cities, [is] full of people, full of traffic. In reality, it was empty, therefore you could appreciate all the monuments, the fountains, the architecture and all the colors.
Are you happy with the collection?
I think this, in my point of view, is probably the most stunning high jewelry collection we’ve done in many years. Very rich, very Baroque, very Rome. You have a different reality of Rome where you have, as I said, the art, the colors. That’s our DNA, and therefore, for us, it came almost naturally, I would say.
It came about through a few years of thinking about it because you get the inspiration, but then you need to work around and understand the timing of how you want to eventually launch it. I think it’s come out to be a great collection. I’m very proud of it.
What does it take to bring such a stunning and, I would imagine, a pretty labor-intensive collection like this together, especially when a pandemic breaks out in the middle of all of this?
Whenever we work on a collection, we start 12 months before. Some of the pieces…would take about 1,200 hours of manufacturing work. It’s very tedious because that’s only when we start the production of it. If we were to also [include] the months of creativity, and approval is about a year, again.
The reality is that nobody was envisioning COVID, by all means. So, I think what was very interesting is the fact that we are verticalizing.
In reality, the interesting part is we were closed for lockdown for about six weeks. After reopening on May 4, it was an important race against time to finish up as many problems as possible. The whole process started in July last year, 2019, and we’re basically in 12 months now.
What was the biggest opportunity to come out of this pandemic for you all?
The pandemic situation, what it did for us, is it made us realize that the passion to make this product—especially [the passion] we have for the brand, especially when it comes to the creativity and the manufacturing, the know-how of our jewelers—is for us a great mission, because they came back from a lockdown very motivated, very happy to be back, obviously, and they really have done a stunning job in the last two months since reopening of coming up with the most beautiful products.
I think the pandemic will have its toll over the next month still, by all means, but I do believe that at least the people that work with us in the jewelry business, and the company in general, have come back to work very motivated, knowing how difficult the next months will be.
At least, from a quality [perspective] of what we know how to do best and its product, we’ve stepped up to the plate. We stepped up one notch. I think we have done a great job in setting our benchmark one step higher. That, for me, is extremely important because it gives me something to look forward to for the next collection for next year.
What was the biggest challenge getting this collection out during the pandemic?
From a manufacturing, creativity point of view, I would think the biggest challenge overall is not to be able to physically present the product to our stakeholders, meaning the press, the clients, because usually we would have a brand event around June. It would be an opportunity for us to be able to present our beauty, our craftsmanship, and magnify it, amplify it and quantify our know-how in high jewelry.
This year was a bit different, obviously, but it also gave us a great learning, which was machines, by all means. There was nobody speaking about jewelry. The digital experience is an extremely important aspect, even in a world, which we think is quite exclusive or very expensive and so on. The reality is that it gave us an opportunity to be able to work on the products digitally.
Yeah, tell me more about the app Bulgari launched for this collection.
We made the app to be able to contact our clients, contact our stakeholders in such a way that they can look at the app, they can look at the collection. Each product, you can look at 360 degrees. It seems almost like you’re touching it. Obviously, if there is a client interested, then we organize in such a way that we will ship the product to the client’s home for the client to try in her environment, if you will.
I think this part has given [us] the opportunity to create a bond with the clientele, with the press, which has never been before…today, that would be a platform that we will use going forward, even when we will have the physical events again because it’s an experience we believe can be quite interesting for the stakeholder: to look at the app, to look at the product, to try the product, eventually to do all kinds of activities.
I think to be able to mix the beauty of architectural Rome in a context of an app, where you show inspiration of the product, you show Rome, you show the videos, I think, it’s a great experience for the clients or for anybody to go through without being physically there. I think this is what, at the end, digital culture has taught us.
I think this is going to be an incredible new way of working, which will complement, of course, the physical need of having clients or having the press to look, to touch and to try jewelry. Because, jewelry, you need to try it, you need to touch it, because it’s something that comes alive. Jewelry is not something static. In order for you to feel that, you need to really wear it or touch it, you know?
I like that idea of jewelry being alive and not a static thing. I’ve been thinking about the fact that a lot of people would wear jewelry like this to a big event. With big in-person events not going on right now, does that change the way you sell a high jewelry collection?
High jewelry is a peculiar situation because obviously fine jewelry is an accessory to a woman’s personality, wearability, dress and so on. To wear high jewelry, you definitely need to have some kind of occasions. Don’t forget though, you have the creative high jewelry. I showed you the Arabesque, which that you need to have [for] a certain event, but also high jewelry where you have the gems playing a big part of the value of the product.
Many times, a client will choose to do a diversification from an investment point of view. I showed you the set with the emerald, where you have eight emeralds of about 120 carats. There could be somebody who may be interested besides the creativity, the design and the wearability opportunities, also doing it from an investment point of view. So, it’s true that in the next few months, culturally, something has changed for now. I don’t know if this will continue. Let’s hope it will not continue going forward. They may change culturally somewhere along the line, but I do believe people, at least us Italians, anyway, I’m sure Americans, from what I know, need to be able to come out and enjoy life again. I think it’s important to take care of ourselves, but it’s also important to be able to give life a certain twist.
I’m not so negative. I think there is different motivation, incentives why people will buy high jewelry. One of them can be the pure appreciation of art, and why not? They may not be able to wear it right away. The other one could be an investment aspect, which you don’t need to wear right away, by all means.
That’s very fair. So how do you think the luxury business is changing in light of COVID?
I think the big change is probably being able to adapt to a [new] reality… the reality is that the platform has changed.
All of a sudden, the physical aspect is not the only way to communicate or to reach clients. The whole platform, digitally, will help us all to, one, understand the world better because more and more, you have new clients, millennials who only speak through digital platforms. Therefore, it’s a way to reach a target that maybe you would not have reached through brick-and-mortar. That’s a great aspect. Two, I think it obligates us all to really learn the digital world much better and improve the way we do things because, all of a sudden, we are exposed to the world.
So, whether we do things correctly or not, the resonance would be quite, quite high. I think that is a challenge for us, but I think it’s also a great opportunity to be able to have ambition, to reach a much bigger number of people…You expose who you are, what you stand for, and I think that allows the brand to be more close to the reality of today. I think it’s an opportunity. It’s a huge opportunity. For us, it’s been a huge opportunity. I just described to you the way it has changed our life. I think it will be a platform which we will start from going forward, even if we’ll have the physical aspect back in place.