Inside Hublot: Our Visit To The Heart Of Fusion Watchmaking
The name Hublot is inseparable from the idea of innovation. A visit to the manufacture shows how just strong the concept is – and it goes way beyond fine watchmaking.
From its inception in 1980, innovation and disruption have been at the heart of Hublot. The brand was the first to associate a gold case and a rubber band while everyone screamed "sacrilege!" The arrival of Jean-Claude Biver in 2004 made the concept even stronger with the Art of Fusion. But it did not stop there, far from it.
The art of differentiation
As early as 2005, Hublot clashed with watchmaking tradition with the launch of the Big Bang and won a GPHG award for "Best Design." The conception of the case is the essence of innovation: its multiple layers offer a multitude of possible combinations and even helps improve the after-sales service process. The opening of the new manufacture in 2009 opened further new horizons. Hublot can now produce all of the necessary watchmaking components, cases, and materials entirely in-house.
The first manufacture movement – the now famous Unico – saw the light in 2010 and equipped the first model of the King Power with a flyback chronograph. Its main advantage of Unico is that it can adapt to any kind of complication. Not by adding or removing modules, but by re-organizing itself simply for each one of them. Hublot purchase of BNB the same year integrated a full department of high complications. The manufacture is now complete – and constantly pushing forward innovation.
In 2011, Hublot decided to fuse two material that oppose everything: gold, fully moldable, and ceramic, one of the toughest materials available. The fusion of both is a very complex process, which Hublot developed and mastered internally. Magic Gold was born, the world's first scratchproof gold alloy! It is today such a trademark, that enthusiasts call it "Hublot gold."
Hublot has long specialized in the use of innovative materials. Titanium, carbon, glass fiber, sapphire. The manufacture was the first to use them in watchmaking. R&D became central for Hublot. Here we touch on an essential point, as explained Mathias Buttet, Hublot’s R&D director,
“We were the first to use a different material that already existed in other industries. And that is already very good. The real feat comes when we start creating new metals ourselves. Lighter, more resistant, more colorful. After Magic Gold, Hublot was the first to invent colorful ceramics: red, blue, green. Nowadays, we are working on a new alloy, lighter than titanium and stronger than tempered steel. We see other high-tech industries approaching us and showing interest in our researches. It is becoming very exciting because we see our R&D is starting to become useful for the rest of the world”.
To learn more, my colleague Josh Shanks recently wrote an impassioned plea to watch collectors called “How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Appreciate Hublot” which is a worthy read (HERE).
Creating a new metal is not enough, you also need to invent tools capable of "working" it, drilling it. So Hublot developed an entire array of specific machines to perfect their processes. In the manufacture, unique machines can be found, like an ultrasonic milling machine with a diamond spike which creates the cases, or an electric erosion milling machine, which is capable of drilling through Magic Gold.
Hublot even has its own foundry on-premise, as well as another machine dedicated to colorful ceramics. It is mind-blowing for such a small company, compared to aeronautics or aerospace giants. And the results are very concrete. Hublot has become a scientific and technical partner with the ESA (European Space Agency). The manufacture from Nyon will provide a special module that will leave in 2020 for Mars and land on the red planet in 2021.
As the voluble R&D director specified, “Watchmaking is the starting point, but we see that we can go way further, whether in space or at the bottom of the oceans. We are proof that it is possible to innovate without having colossal budgets. You truly need to think differently."
Projects are moving forward fast. The next one in line, before the Martian adventure, will happen under water. The R&D department of Hublot has put together a Drone Archeology Research Program for oceanic excavations. The proven water-proof competency of Hublot – with their diving record of 4000m with the EXO4000 – has been put to use to conceive and build this unique drone. Hublot produced everything internally: the drone itself, the electronics and the computer programs driving it.
Even the 3D image rendering has been developed in-house. We are far away from ‘simple’ watchmaking R&D. The goal? Push forward further research on the famous Antikythera machine, revealed off the Greek coasts in 1900, which has been thoroughly intriguing the scientific and watchmaking community for years.
This first scientific astronomical calculator displays an unequaled precision which is incomprehensible for the time it was invented…around 200 years before Jesus! The reinterpretation of the Antikythera machine by Hublot in 2015 was only a first step. Tons of discoveries remain to be done – and Hublot will partake in them, spear-heading research and development.
Our visit to this unique manufacture proved to us that the Art of Fusion goes far beyond watchmaking. Hublot fuses together the past and the future, tradition and innovation, antiquity and technology. And this is only the beginning.
(Photography by Pierre Vogel)