VALENZA, Italy — Those lamenting the sale of Italian brands to foreign groups were silenced on Friday at the official opening of the new Bulgari manufacturing plant and offices in Valenza, the historic jewelry hub located between Milan, Turin and Genoa.
“This investment in Italy, with such an advanced project proves three clichés wrong,” said Minister of Economic Development Carlo Calenda after the formal ribbon-cutting ceremony to a packed room of authorities, including the president of the region and the mayor of Valenza, as well as Toni Belloni, group managing director of parent company LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the press and selected clients. “International investments do help Made in Italy, especially if they keep evolving production, making it more competitive to grow globally — and not the contrary,” said Calenda.
When Bulgari was acquired by LVMH in 2011, Italian media worried about a possible decamping of talent and creativity outside the country. “Until five or six years ago, people were saying manufacturing was dead, but this plant shows this is not true and emphasizes how it’s actually returned to being even more central, it paves the way to prosperity and is the foundation for welfare, whenever culture and craftsmanship are strengthened by innovation,” continued Calenda.
Referring to the third cliché of projects being stalled in Italy, locked in a gridlock of bureaucratic red tape, Calenda said Bulgari’s manufacturing plant was set up “in record time,” crediting local administrators as well. The first discussions over the project were started three years ago, but construction took 17 months. “Everything is very symbolic and important today and conveys an optimistic yet realistic message,” he concluded, adding that last year Italy registered “record exports” of 417 billion euros, or $459 billion at average exchange, which were “drivers of development, showing what Italian and international entrepreneurs can do.”
To be sure, the upbeat mood was reflected in the words of Bulgari’s chief executive officer Jean-Christophe Babin, who billed the day as one of “celebrations,” feting “the goldsmith art, the most antique in the world; craftsmanship, the expert hands,” that contributed to Bulgari’s history of more than 130 years; Made in Italy, pointing to Bulgari’s silk production in Como, leather goods in Tuscany and perfumes in Lodi, and the family “that made the brand one of the most admired and desired in the world.” The day also paid tribute to tradition, as the plant incorporates the Cascina dell’orefice, the first goldsmith site in the Piedmont region, dating back to the 19th century and set up by Francesco Caramora.
Babin proudly noted that the plant will create 300 new jobs by 2020, additional to the existing 400 in the location. Bulgari also created its own Jewelry Academy, which is free, on the site, which already counts 40 students. The goal is to enroll 100 students per year.
Vice president Nicola Bulgari was touched by the event. “I wish my father Giorgio and my grandfather Sotirio, so brave in coming to Italy from Greece, were here to see this day. They worked so hard to build the brand and they would be impressed,” said Bulgari. “This is a jolt for a country that needs to be stimulated.” Asked on the sidelines of the event about the decision to sell to LVMH, Bulgari admitted at first it had not been an easy one. “We realized that by joining forces with LVMH we would have jumped to the next level and allowed the brand to live on,” said Bulgari, whose brother Paolo is also still part of the company.
In an interview from a spacious office in the new Glass House overlooking the green hills surrounding the plant, Babin spoke of the need to create “a beautiful working space because we sell dreams and art.” The 151,200-square-foot site combines activities shared in two previous production plants, in Valenza and Solonghello, and introduces new “production islands” which allow 18 to 20 artisans to be skilled in every phase of production.
“This adds empowerment and autonomy to the islands. This multidiscipline also brings more flexibility,” explained Babin, who highlighted the need to have “happy employees in a location they enjoy and a good quality of life.” There is a canteen, and a number of areas where people can meet and socialize pepper the site, which is extremely luminous and sleek, yet welcoming. More than half of the employees are women, underscored Babin. The production building is reminiscent of the structure of a Roman Domus, built on three floors and marked by a 6,480-square-foot inner courtyard. Babin declined to provide details about the investment in the plant, saying it totaled “some tens of millions of euros.”
With a low environmental impact, the plant, designed by architectural firm Open Project, is expected to achieve LEED certification by the end of the year. It produces Bulgari staples such as the B.Zero1, Serpenti, Diva, Parentesi and Bulgari-Bulgari designs retailing up to 50,000 euros, or $53,651 at current exchange.
The Academy inside the location will also help avoid impoverishing the web of local artisans in the surrounding area, noted Babin. “There’s been this obsession with universities that drove away from manual jobs, and there is the need now for companies to create their own academic structures, and to promote the beauty of manual jobs, to show that this can be a pleasant and creative job,” observed Babin.
Bulgari’s haute joiallerie remains in Rome, where 60 artisans create 400 to 500 unique pieces, priced from 100,000 euros, or $107,303, to 10 million euros, or $10.7 million, and “where creativity evolves as they work,” said Babin. He revealed that the Rome atelier will be extended in the July-September period and increase its production by 50 percent.
Bulgari has ambitions to grow further, aiming at becoming “the first” jewelry company (analysts, he said, point to Cartier as the first and Tiffany & Co. as the third). Asked about the strength of this industry, he said “it’s the most antique art in the world, harking back to 6,000 years ago, in all civilizations, marked by the rarity and fascination with gold and stones. This has never changed and never will. It’s connected to the most important moments of our lives.”