Keeping the unique spirit alive
BVLGARI´s impressive jewelry-making facility in Valenza is a testimony in stone and glass of its delicate balancing act to respect the past while innovating for the future.
The building integrates the former farmstead of Francesco Caramora, who set up shop there in the early 20th century to establish the region as Italy’s goldsmithing hub. Renamed the Glass House, it now features 14,000 square metres of space for workshops, laboratories, administration and the Bvlgari Academy. This in-house training school lays the foundation for ensuring that high-skilled craftsmanship remains at the centre of the production. Operations Senior Director Nicolò Rapone talks about Bvlgari’s commitment to the craft of ‘oreficeria’ and how the company, that today forms part of the LVMH Group, includes modern technology in its manufacturing process.
Bvlgari is entrenched in a very rich history of tradition and craftsmanship, yet at the same time you are adopting industrial manufacturing processes and serve a global market. How do you combine these two approaches and tackle the challenges of preserving the tradition while encompassing the new?
Bvlgari has always been an innovator and pioneer; it is ingrained in our DNA. It started with the company’s founder Sotirios Voulgaris selling jewelry in St. Moritz and Saint-Tropez, benefitting from a budding tourism industry in the early 20th century. The desire to improve is still an integral part of the company. Every year we collect nearly 1000 suggestions for improvements from our employees. But we don’t just focus on internal processes or the jewelry craft, we also try to learn from other industries. Obviously, we cannot copy manufacturing operations from the automotive industry, but if we investigate and understand their methods and practices, we identify aspects that can be of use for us. 3D printing and CNC machining are two examples of new technologies that support our production process, without giving up on the all-important personal touch of our artisans and master craftsmen.
Can you implement new production methods over the entire product range?
Due to the complexity of the workflow and demands on the logistics side, the use of modern technology is limited to a specific range of jewelry. Taking a handmade product that is a one-off product or maybe produced in a very limited number, it does not make sense to install an elaborate and automated workflow. At Bvlgari we offer a broad range of jewelry from mass-produced pieces from serial production to limited quantities or even unique pieces. We must keep the logistical problems in mind, as gemstones, diamonds and gold are extremely expensive. This must be taken into consideration when planning the production workflow, as stockholding and the value chain can get complex. We recently introduced an MES (manufacturing execution system) to streamline and simplify the production process. This is a first in the jewelry industry and goes to show that innovation can relate to products and processes but can also be integrated with the rest of the environment and the value chain.
How do you combine artisan skills in your manufacturing process with CNC machining and 3D printing?
We use these technologies to enhance certain production processes and to increase quality and craftsmanship. It complements traditional methods in product ranges with high quantities. 3D printing for example is useful for creating moulds that we use in our casting-process. They can increase quality and control, whilst preserving the respect for the final product and the work of the artisan in the following production steps. In specific applicati ons these new technologies also enable us to quickly get a life-size model of a designer’s idea – something which was difficult before .
Since moving into your new premises in early 2017, the number of employees more than doubled to nearly 750. What effect did that have on the culture of Bvlgari?
Most of our new employees are very young, this helped in pushing through a cultural change. I am happy to see a very good collaboration within the workforce, as experienced craftsmen teach their younger colleagues the details and fine art of jewelry-making. Conversely the young generation is helping in getting to grips with tablets or software-related production processes. The interaction is not just happening between people in a single department, but also between different sections like production, design or procurement. That fine balance I talked about between craftsmanship and digital production methods also applies on a personal level: At Bvlgari we respect and honour the knowledge of experienced artisans and provide the freedom for artistic expression. Yet at the same time workers need to adhere to certain processes to ensure a smooth operation and to fulfil the expectations of the customer. Form this standpoint the process confirmation we introduced with Staufen plays a key role. We achieve this by not following a restricting standard, but instead focusing on collaboration, inclusion and learning from your colleague. It is easy to change technical aspects of a production process but getting people to changing their way of doing things is far more difficult.
What role does the Bvlgari Academy play?
We grow at a considerable pace and need to ensure, that we keep control of the final product and guarantee the utmost quality. This is only possible by training the people coming in and showing them our way of doing things. It is a big effort, especially as we even built a full production line for practical courses. We absolutely focus on the practical aspects of the work and follow a hands-on approach.
Why did you choose Staufen as your consultancy to streamline the production process?
We decided to implement some changes to benefit from innovation. Innovation should not be only an internal process; but can generate greater success with external contributions as well. So, we were looking for a consultancy and were impressed by Staufen because of the approach taken. No one was trying to sell us a commodity, instead the work went ahead with a very personalized approach and a true understanding of our needs and our way of doing things. Staufen assisted us in introducing efficient, modern business principles, while keeping the tradition and a unique artisan spirit alive.
Bvlgari has always been an innovator and pioneer; it is ingrained in our DNA.NicolÒ rapone, operations senior director, bvlgari gioielli spa
We use CNC machining and 3D printing to enhance certain production processes and to increase quality and craftsmanship. It complements traditional methods in product ranges with high quantities.NicolÒ rapone, operations senior director, bvlgari gioielli spa
We decided to implement some changes to benefit from innovation.NicolÒ rapone, operations senior director, bvlgari gioielli spa