A relative young’un in an industry filled with centenarians, Hublot has no trouble not just holding its own but also breaking the mould. Its Nyon headquarters in Switzerland is home to a state-of-the-art Metallurgy and Materials laboratory that could be run by a mad scientist, if madness were merely genius misunderstood and a penchant for extraordinary experiments.
Here you will find patented world-firsts that few watchmakers might have even imagined: Magic Gold that is veritably scratch-proof, hyper-pigmented ceramics, machined sapphires in translucent colours, rubber straps shockingly paired with gold watches to create a new standard in luxury watchmaking. Such firsts are inspired by the brand’s Art of Fusion tagline, juxtaposing the seemingly incongruent or innovating what does not yet exist to create covetable wholes.
Following a successful presentation of novelties at the entirely digital LVMH Watch Week 2021, we had the chance to spend some one-on-one time with Hublot CEO Ricardo Guadalupe. The captain of this particular ship is always a joy to speak to; even the turbulence of the past year could not dim his fervour.
“That is just who we are,” says Guadalupe. “Hublot thrives on the challenge to innovate. As a young brand, we don’t have the history and traditions of our older peers, so we can, and must, be different. Our philosophy is constant creativity and innovation, we always ask what’s next. If I were to present fewer novelties one year, people would say, ah, Hublot is losing its creativity. So, we have to balance a release of novelties and new iterations of our core range, like the Classic Fusion and Big Bang Unico.
“Our fans are serious enthusiasts and they look forward to adding to their collections,” he continues. “I know of a collector who has over 500 Hublot timepieces — yes, just Hublot. Such collectors are always on the lookout for new novelties. There are many ways to enter the brand, from the commercially successful sporty chic watches to the unique artistic collaborations, and we make sure there are talking pieces every year.”
A definite highlight for 2021 was the Big Bang Tourbillon Automatique Sapphire Orange, which had the entire industry buzzing. The 50-piece limited-edition watch joined a family of coloured sapphire watches — transparent, black, yellow, blue and red — as the first orange through-tinted sapphire timepiece in the world with a new and incredibly rare self-winding tourbillon.
Joining this on the pedestal of Hublot releases that will go down in history is the Classic Fusion Takashi Murakami All Black. The watchmaker is especially adept at artistic collaborations, giving free rein to the artist and yet still retaining features that distinguish it as unmistakably Hublot. Japanese contemporary artist Murakami transposed his iconic 12-petalled smiling flower onto the dial of a Classic Fusion, only instead of the bright colours that characterise his floral motif, the colours were stripped away for a sophisticated all-black persona. The carved petals turn, courtesy of an ingenious ball-bearing system, while the smiling face of the flower is inserted into sapphire crystal for a three-dimensional effect. Just 200 timepieces were produced and they sold out almost immediately upon their online launch.
“We are always looking for new sources of inspiration and artforms that translate well into the art of watchmaking provide that,” says Guadalupe. “The graphics of tattoos, for instance, as seen in our work with tattoo artist Maxime Buchi, or faceted sculptures such as those by Richard Orlinski. With Murakami, the response exceeded expectations. Of course, I knew it would do well, but so many people were putting down deposits on a watch they had yet to see in person that we had to stop taking orders because it was becoming crazy and we simply would not be able to satisfy everyone.”
Those who failed to secure the limited-edition runs need not fret that their wrists might be bare, with updates to series such as the Big Bang Integral Ceramic. Previously only released in black, a new trio in white, navy blue and grey now colour the ceramic timepieces with matching integrated bracelets. The monobloc architecture is so tricky that few watchmakers could even conceive of doing this, let alone in a material as tough to work with as ceramic. This is a watch you have to feel to believe.
“The pandemic definitely threw a spanner in the works for us, but not by much. We have always embraced technology at Hublot, and this has been key in our reinvention as a response to Covid-19. Since no physical events were allowed, we did a live broadcast of our 40th anniversary celebrations from Nyon last year, and I appeared as a hologram to join Murakami in Ginza, Tokyo, when the Classic Fusion Takashi Murakami All Black was launched. It’s a new way of thinking. Our chat now, for instance, is not just me talking to a laptop camera. We invested in a whole set-up, from new equipment to technicians who can help us make full use of them.”
To impressive effect, too. This novelties season has calendars booked with video calls from Switzerland, but Hublot has perhaps one of the best set-ups, seamlessly integrating live video feed with video presentations. The relevant watches pop up as soon as Guadalupe mentions them, without interrupting the chat or live feed. So immersive is the setting created here that it comes close to a live interview.
They strived for the same with the e-commerce store, too, launched last July. “The response to that was good,” says Guadalupe. “Of course, we started at zero, and from there we could only grow, but I was surprised that customers were willing to buy watches starting from €15,000 (about RM73,000) without trying them on. At that level, the customer experience is very important. They usually want to see a few timepieces and wear them before a purchase, so we created a digital boutique for browsing and live digital appointments, so they could be shown presentations and ask questions before making a purchase. The potential here is huge.”
And Hublot is preparing for increased demand and growth with plans in the works for a third manufacture to expand production of in-house movements from the current 30%.
“Construction has been massively delayed by the pandemic, but we are hoping to open in 2024,” says the CEO, unfazed about pushing back plans by over a year. Disruption, after all, is the name of the game at Hublot.
“I’ve been working in the watch industry for 33 years and it was Hublot that opened my mind to what could be possible. There is truly no limit to what we can do,” he says. “The pandemic is a difficult time for us, with unchartered waters, but we have done the impossible. Crazy ideas become real at Hublot. Like, say, a gold watch that is unscratchable. That sounds crazy but we did it.”
This article first appeared on Mar 29, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.