In our iW Interview with Hublot CEO Ricardo Guadalupe, we learn about the brand’s laser-focus on developing high-tech materials. But, as we’ve seen with its partnerships with artisanal leather-maker Berluti and the vintage fabric artists at Rubinacci, Hublot is also keen to collaborate with artists working with ‘low-tech’ materials to develop entirely new watches.
Many watch brands today offer vintage-styled watches, but not Hublot. Why?
Hublot creates watches that link you to the future. If the watch industry wants to have a future, it has to innovate and to be creative. This will not happen if we re-create the past. I think that some brands, when they see trouble, return to the past because they feel confident that what has worked in the past will still work today. That is not our point of view.
And for another reason, Hublot is a young brand. I believe we must create products with a strong identity that are innovative through materials and movements that show the mechanics. This is what I see as the future for Hublot, and for the watch industry.
You came to Hublot from Blancpain. How did you adapt from those classics to Hublot’s fusion?
At Blancpain, the concept was to repeat the past. To be a master in the six watchmaking masterpieces, with only round watches, slim watches, very quiet dials. I learned a lot about the industry there, but I feel we should be more avant-garde and more creative. At Blancpain that was not possible because of the DNA of that brand.
At Hublot it has been incredible to have the freedom to take risks with aesthetics and materials and concepts. The ‘art of fusion’ was incredible to apply. It opens new avenues of creativity for products and for marketing.
How will Hublot work with the new LVMH Institute?
The idea is to really work together, and to not repeat the same research. At this institute they will work more on fundamental research and at Hublot we will work more on specific projects that are linked to the Hublot product, and which will not be used necessarily by other LVMH brands. There will be coordination for sure.
How do you decide how much to dedicate to research and development at Hublot?
Product development is really key and I am deeply involved in research and development. In the end, we sell watches that must transmit all that we are doing for the brand. And, the innovation can be at different levels. It can be style, design, materials or movements.
But sometimes it comes from elsewhere. For instance, our relationship with Berluti. We have taken the leather from another brand and put it into our watches. Every day I follow this research and development.
How do you differentiate your sports involvement from that of TAG Heuer?
Mr. Biver, since taking over at TAG Heuer, has applied a strategy that can be similar to what we are doing. We both do football, but we touch different segments of the public. I think we can have two brands using the same platform, while we talk to totally different audiences.
If you look at golf, for instance, other brands are there too. Audemars Piguet, Rolex, Omega. Sports in general are part of our lives, so there is not only one brand going after these kinds of partnerships.
From our side we always try to be innovative, so we try to be ahead of the others. We are the first brand to work with street artists, for example. We need a new way to make watches, and when you add an artistic approach it is very interesting. It’s in our interest for the watch to become a piece of art. And with these partnerships, we go even further with connecting art to watch making.
For instance, placing vintage fabrics within the watch as we have with Italian tailor Rubinacci is not an idea I would’ve had, but together with artists we can come up with new ideas.
What do you consider a good idea?
We try to make the impossible possible. Take the example of our Big Bang Unico Red Magic, the red ceramic watch. We thought it was impossible. We could never find a way to keep the pigment in the ceramics when it was in the oven. But after four years of trying and using developments, we have been able to find the right combination of heat and pressure, and we have made a red ceramic watch.
Timing of course is also important. Technology evolves. When I was at Blancpain talking about sapphire, at that time the technology would not have made it possible. Today, twenty years later, with lasers and with ultrasonics we have been able to produce components in sapphire and a watch of sapphire.
We are very proud of our sapphire watches because we are the first brand to be able to industrialize this process. Previously they have been made in very small production numbers. We want to invest in new machinery to make this in larger numbers, and to reduce the price eventually. We are proud of this, and I think it gives us a competitive advantage. When you wear a watch like that, it is very particular.
Has taking risks paid off for Hublot?
When you take a look at the last twelve years, yes they have paid off for this brand. We went from $26 million to $600 million over that time. Without taking risks we would not have gotten this far. The new connected watch for example, when considering risks, came from our partners, and since our partnership is so deep we said yes.
We are taking a one-shot approach with that watch, the 2,018 piece-Big Bang Referee 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia watch. We have some specific technology for football, for the World Cup. We also want to show that we are open to what is going on in the world. And we have to be leaders in what is considered new technology.
How do you see Hublot in the future?
We invest in materials and technology like carbon fiber, carbon fiber 3-D, ceramics, and sapphire. We produce around 20,000 to 25,000 cases per year in-house. With titanium and red gold we will work with suppliers because these are in a way more traditional materials.
How does Hublot handle e-commerce?
We fight against the parallel market. We buy watches from time to time to check if the discount is too high and to check where they come from. We give warnings and sometimes close the retailer that has done this. There are always black sheep. For them five percent profit is enough. And to fight this we make a smaller network and work with our distributors.
Vasken Chokarian is director of iW Middle East.