March 19, 2015 / 12:31 PM / 5 years ago

UPDATE 1-INTERVIEW-Bulgari confident of double-digit growth this year

(Adds details, background)

By Astrid Wendlandt

BASEL, March 19 (Reuters) - Bulgari is confident of double-digit sales growth in 2015 on a like-for-like basis, the head of luxury group LVMH’s biggest watch and jewellery business said on Thursday.

“We had a very good beginning of the year, so all else remaining equal, we think that we will do better this year than in 2014 with a double digit growth rate,” Chief Executive Jean-Christophe Babin told Reuters in an interview at the Baselworld watch and jewellery fair.

Bulgari, for which singer and ex-French first lady Carla Bruni Sarkozy is brand ambassador, is the world’s third largest watch and jewellery brand behind Richemont’s Cartier and Tiffany with sales estimated between 1.5 and 2 billion euros.

Babin said Bulgari, which dominates LVMH’s watch and jewellery business in terms of sales, was one of the fastest growing brands in the LVMH stable of more than 60 labels which include jewellers Chaumet and Fred, fashion houses Louis Vuitton and Dior as well as Hennessy cognac and Krug champagne.

LVMH does not publish actual growth rates for individual brands. Babin indicated Bulgari would have around 312 boutiques by the end of 2015, up from 290 at the end of 2013.

He said Bulgari had been enjoying double-digit sales growth in the past few quarters with solid progress in China, the United States and Japan with “a rebound in the demand from Europeans.”

Like many of its rivals such as sister watch brand Tag Heuer, Bulgari this week unveiled a connected watch in an effort to address competition from Apple’s new watch. Many Swiss watch brands are announcing deals with technology companies at Baselworld this week to counter the arrival of Apple in their market.

Babin has been showing retailers the Bulgari Diagono Magn@sium watch, fitted with a microchip and near field communication (NFC) technology which unlocks doors as well as gives access to confidential information contained in the user’s mobile phone such as passwords and credit card details.

The timepiece works with an application called Bulgari Vault on the mobile phone. The round and light black watch, made from magnesium and ceramic, will cost 5,000-6,000 euros with the chip (3,900 euros without) when it hits the shops next year.

Babin said Bulgari had entered into a partnership with IPO-candidate Wisekey, an encryption specialist which has rented bunkers deep in the mountains from the Swiss army to stock data. (Reporting by Astrid Wendlandt; Editing by Blaise Robinson and Vincent Baby)

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