When it comes to collaborations, Hublot stands out in the sea of watchmakers who usually stick to one formula: a personality from one industry. Hublot reaches out to a variety of industries through its marketing network that sources potential personalities or organisations to collaborate with. Hublot celebrates the talents of master watchmakers through the Art of Fusion, a concept where traditional, modern and pioneering materials come together to create innovative timepieces. One good example is that Hublot is the first brand to combine gold and rubber in the same watch.
This approach made Hublot the first to integrate a luxury brand into the world of football. In 2008, Hublot became the Official Timekeeper of the Euro Championship. In 2010, the brand became the historic first Official Watch and Official Timekeeper for Fifa and the World Cup, just after having been chosen as the Official Watch and Official Timekeeper of Ferrari. These two masterstrokes offer Hublot exceptional visibility on a global scale.
Ricardo Guadalupe CEO of Hublot elaborates: “I think, from the product point of view, we have invented something new by doing collaborations. When we do a tattoo collaboration, we'll create a tattoo watch, and you can either like it or not.” Guadalupe is referring to Maxime Plescia-Büchi, the Swiss celebrity tattoo artist who created the Hublot X Sang Bleu collection that included three new iterations of the Big Bang Sang Bleu II where Plescia-Buchi chose to apply his ink to two iconic materials born from the Hublot Art of Fusion – “magic gold” and ceramic.
The other artist cited by Guadalupe is Richard Orlinski, whose pop art style has dominated the Miami Art scene, from his "Wild Kong" gorilla sculpture on the Croisette in Cannes and his crocodiles in the sunshine of the Miami Design District, to his five-metre-tall bear on the snowy pistes of Courchevel. Guadalupe says: “The watch has become a piece of art where we don't just put the name of our partner. The watch becomes the fusion between the art of the artist and the art of Hublot.”
Beyond the realm of art, Hublot also looks to sportsmen and chefs. The idea, according to Guadalupe, is to create a world of Hublot that includes sports with ambassadors like [the late] Pele, Usain Bolt, and Novak Djokovic. Guadalupe sees similarities in the world of gastronomy, explaining that high-end gastronomy shares a lot of parallels with watchmaking art, “by the passion, by taking care of detail, the quality, the timing is important too”. To this end, Hublot has partnered chefs such as Anne-Sophie Pic and Claire Smyth. The former is a three-Michelin-starred French culinary chef who searches for aromatic complexity, combinations of flavours, and powerful tastes that evoke emotions, while Smyth is known for her ability to transform the finest and most humble local ingredients into globally acclaimed cuisine.
Guadalupe was in Singapore late last year to witness the opening of the Hublot boutique at ION Singapore. He carved out time in his busy schedule to chat with Options about the many varied reasons for the success of Hublot.
Most watch brands have recorded higher sales during the pandemic. Is this the same for Hublot?
Unsurprisingly, 2020 was a bad year, because that was when we were hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. But things had turned around by 2021 when we had already returned to achieving 2019 pre-pandemic numbers, which was great news for us.
Last year, we did even better than in 2021, considering that Covid-19 was still around and the Chinese tourists that we were used to having before the pandemic were still missing in 2022.
Still, we saw other tourists, like South and Southeast Asian, North American and Middle Eastern tourists, return, so 2022 is set to have been a very good year for us. One of the key learnings over the course of the pandemic is that digitalisation needed to become a key element in our business model.
By the end of 2020, we had decided that we needed an online presence to continue the sale of our watches. Since then, we have learned that we must continue to build relationships with our customers through the digital world. While we will continue to foster in-person relationships with our customers, we have found that virtual relationships are, in fact, complementary to physical interactions for an end-to-end customer experience.
What begins online can culminate in the physical sale of a watch in a standalone boutique or multi-brand boutique. The lesson has been to make contact and build relationships with our customers before they are ready to buy one of our watches in person.
Which countries recorded the best sales?
Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore have all done very well, which surprises me. Another lesson from the pandemic has been to work with local consumers instead of relying solely on tourists. In the past, particularly in Switzerland, we've perhaps relied too much on tourists.
We are not short on the supply of local consumers — over 90% of our sales in Singapore are local, which is fantastic. We’re seeing a similar figure for Vietnam as well. The maturity of the Southeast Asian market has surprised me. We could be seeing some degree of “revenge buying”, which would explain why we're doing so well in this part of the world. We will continue doing well by focusing on strong local demand.
Hublot rolled out e-commerce in 2020. Was it a significant part of the business of sales?
I would say it has made up a few percent. But of course, I think in the online business, you may see a segmentation in prices — an item selling for a few hundred dollars would be easier to sell than an item that costs several thousand dollars.
What we're learning is also that you need to create exclusivity. For instance, a model that we released exclusively online sold out. For now, online sales still represent only a fraction of our sales. If one day online sales made up 10% of our sales, it would become a significant success and source of revenue.
You launched the first square case watch last year. What prompted this move and how have the markets responded to this?
Yes, I think we explored the shaped watches with inspiration from Maison's iconic Big Bang and we have seen quite some success with this square-shaped collection. While we could have made other shapes, like a rectangle or an oval, I think the square is a very pure shape. I thought that it could be interesting to come up with a square collection and that's why we're now calling the square-shaped collection the Spirit of Big Bang. The collection arrived just a few months ago but the results have already been really promising.
You've been growing the Big Bang Integral collection since 2020. Tell us more about this bracelet – what prompted that design? And what were some of the challenges the brand faced in the creation of this bracelet?
Yeah, it's a big challenge to come up with the bracelet for us because we're known as a rubber strap watch brand, and our core business is still on rubber straps. But if you look at what's going on on the market, the bracelet represents the majority of sales in our watch business — thanks, of course, to one particular brand.
Going back to maturity, I thought that we could also offer a bracelet in our collection. Working on the Big Bang Integral collection, we tried to create a bracelet that has its own identity. But a bracelet is very complicated because it’s made up of links, so there are fewer possibilities in creating a completely unique design.
We have tried to develop our own identity with the variation of polished and matte facets, and I think the result is interesting. It's a watch that represents 6% to 7% of our sales now, and the idea is ready to grow. But this will take time because Hublot as a brand is not heavy on bracelets.
That's why we are bringing in new models in the integrated bracelet style with more unique materials like ceramic, which is seen less than perhaps titanium or gold. Together with interesting colour characteristics such as sky blue, green and sand, this could create incredible value for both our customers and us.
You studied at a Swiss Business School and switched to watchmaking. This definitely puts you in a better position to know when a watch is commercially viable. Is that an advantage or not?
For a brand like Hublot, I think the product is really important. In general, the product tends to be important for most brands, especially for physical products like watches. I believe a CEO should be involved in product development because that’s our way of life in selling our watches.
I think it's really important to be involved; to experience the current trends and to anticipate future trends or even to create new trends. A watch matters in its details — it’s not just about telling time — it's important for what it represents. You can achieve this through design, through materials, or through movement. All of these require me to be involved in the product.
Of the many sports out there, what are the synergy and special relationship between football and Hublot?
We entered football first in 2008, when the European Championships were going on. We had always looked at sports, but many other sports had already been taken by other brands. For Hublot, we always want to be unique and different, so when we realised that football had not been endorsed by a luxury watch brand, that was a very strong argument for us.
Football is also the most popular sport in the world. Of course, not everyone who watches football may be able to afford to buy a Hublot watch, but we thought that Hublot becoming a universally recognisable brand would be a positive. It could also become an aspirational brand for the younger generation, that they might be inspired to own later on in life. Football has really driven brand awareness, and we can really see that the return was immense, especially with the inclusion of the fourth referee time board.
The values of football are such that the sport is cross-generational. It appeals to the young, the old, and even women who follow the sport. Football has also always been more of a social event where you go to watch a match not only for the spectacle but also for what it represents. Being the official timekeeper for Fifa World Cup and the English Premier League has not only been good for our brand, but it's also been a really great experience all around.
In Singapore, Hublot is available exclusively at The Hour Glass
Hublot timepieces featured at LVMH Watch Week
See also: Wearable artistry
Big Bang Tourbillon Automatic Saxem Yellow Neon
This eye-popping translucent case in a bright, fluorescent shade of neon yellow may seem like a simple idea. But, in fact, it was incredibly complex to achieve. Yellow is a powerful, bright neon colour that almost seems to glow from the inside, like a fluorescent material — an intense fluorescent shade of acid yellow, citrus-like in its quality. To meet this highly technical challenge, Hublot had to search for a solution in space technology. In fact, Saxem was developed in the field of satellite technology.
See also: Time’s treasure trove
Big Bang Unico Sorai
Since 2019, Hublot has been supporting Save Our Rhinos Africa/India (Sorai), which was founded by Hublot ambassador and former international cricket star Kevin Pietersen. His work helps keep rhinos threatened with extinction safe from poachers. As with the two previous limited editions, part of the proceeds from the sale of the 100 Big Bang Unico Sorai will be donated to the organisation. The colours chosen for the third limited edition are those of sunset, recalling the heightened danger faced by rhinos as night falls. Here, the sun is a symbol of hope, of a new dawn.
Hublot returns to the 1980s with this sporty piece that shook the industry when a rubber strap was matched with a gold case. Today, the Classic Fusion Original is available in yellow gold, titanium and ceramic; the cases are available in 42mm, 38mm and 33mm. Like the seals, the six famous screws place their hallmark on the bezels; their sapphire casebacks reveal the mechanical parts. Hublot’s iconic details bring the original watch up-to-date, to undoubtedly make it a new timeless classic.