PARIS — Bulgari wants to introduce its signature Serpenti watch to the Millennial set.
This story first appeared in the March 23, 2017 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The Roman jewelry and watch brand is launching a new Serpenti model that is fully customizable, swapping out its signature coiled tubogas straps — inspired by gas carrier pipes used from the Twenties — for interchangeable leather straps.
The quartz ladies’ watch is available with a choice of 13 colored detachable straps, 12 dials and four cases for a total of 312 possible options — which, additionally, can be personally engraved.
The timepieces are being unveiled at the Baselworld watch and jewelry fair with the hashtag #TwistYourTime and will go on sale in May. Customers will be able to “compose” their personal Serpenti using a dedicated app installed on a tablet, available in a select number of brand boutiques.
“It’s very much like a car configurator,” Jean-Christophe Babin, chief executive officer of Bulgari, said in an exclusive interview. “It’s a watch configurator, and you really create your own watch which is available to use a little bit later.”
The executive noted that although it originated as a high-jewelry watch in the late Forties, the Serpenti was reborn in 2010 as a steel watch costing less than 5,000 euros, or $6,635 at average exchange rates for the period, making it accessible to a larger public for the first time.
“Bulgari is pretty atypical as our key pillars — Octo, Serpenti, Lucea — have been introduced in the past six years, which is unique. If you look at the other watch brands, they are making most of their sales on designs which are born decades ago,” he said.
In recent years, Bulgari introduced a new material – ceramic – with the launch of the Serpenti Spiga collection. This year’s new-look Serpenti watch follows in the footsteps of Bulgari’s Serpenti Seduttori jewelry range, which contrary to previous iterations put the focus on the head of the snake.
The women’s watch is part of a global push to court Millennials, which kicked off in January with the introduction of the Octo Roma men’s watch, designed as a more wearable version of Bulgari’s Octo range. In parallel, the brand presented a handbag aimed at younger customers, Divas’ Dream, as part of its fall accessories line.
“[The Serpenti watch launch] is clearly targeting also a younger group, a bit like Divas’ Dream does in leather goods, by the style and also by the price,” said Babin. “We have worked to offer also very attractive prices, especially for special materials like gold and diamonds.”
The timepiece will retail from $3,850 for the steel version without diamonds to $9,700 for the gold version with diamonds.
The double wrap-around straps come in calfskin or Karung, a leather derived from a non-venomous water snake commonly known as elephant trunk snake. Each watch will be sold with two straps in the client’s choice of colors, though a wide range of additional shades will be available in Bulgari boutiques.
The 27-mm. case, slightly smaller than on a traditional Serpenti watch, is available in steel or pink gold, with or without diamonds. The dials come in black, red, green or white in lacquered, mother-of-pearl or sunburst guilloche finishes, depending on the versions.
Babin was confident that the watch would appeal to Millennials, despite competition from connected watches and smartphones, which have replaced wristwatches for many younger customers.
“We have strong expectations, as Serpenti is already our first watch collection. It’s also the first jewelry collection and the first bag collection,” he said, noting that the watch will be launched with a campaign featuring Lily Aldridge, the face of Bulgari’s jewelry and watch collections.
“We like to posses beautiful craftsmanship. Yes, functionally speaking, the phone should be enough, but eventually the pleasure of wearing something nice, timeless, trendy which additionally gives you time, is something that we see is confirmed generation after generation,” Babin said.
“If you look at research across the globe, craftsmanship and authenticity — especially for Millennials — are even stronger expectations than for my generation, just because we are in a world where you have far more choice, where everything is industrial, and therefore what’s manual, what’s unique, what’s really crafted with know-how, is becoming more and more valued,” he remarked.
Not that Bulgari has shied away from the connected watch trend. In 2015, the brand introduced the Diagono Magnesium watch, developed with Swiss encryption specialist Wisekey, designed to operate with the Bulgari Vault application on the owner’s smartphone to unlock personal data.
Next up is a connected handbag, Babin said. “We are introducing soon a microchip which will allow the bag to interface directly with your mobile,” he revealed. “So we are moving forward in digital but finding the Bulgari way, meaning consistent with luxury, consistent with timelessness and consistent with services.”