How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Appreciate Hublot
A fusion of limited editions, brand ambassadors, and exotic materials have made Hublot a talking point for years. However, if you look deeper, there’s some seriously cool things going on at this Nyon manufacture.
For this writer, it’s easy to pinpoint the high-water mark of when Hublot made its grand re-appearance to the market. In 2011, the Jay Z song “Otis” dropped which Jay Z and Kanye West rapped over an Otis Redding beat about the joys of their gilded lives while driving in a modified Maybach. If you fast forward to 00:52 seconds, you’ll hear Jay Z rap “New Watch Alert! Hublot!”. For many, this was their first introduction to the brand.
To coincide with the album release, Hublot partnered with Jay Z (aka Shawn Carter) on a collection of timepieces aptly titled the ‘Shawn Carter by Hublot Classic Fusion’. A limited edition sure, but a masterful marketing move that lured new buyers and an urban audience to the brand. Prior to partnering with Hublot, Jay Z was associated with Audemars Piguet and in 2006 launched the Royal Oak Offshore Jay-Z 10th Anniversary in Platinum. In order to orchestrate this coup, it’s rumored that Jean-Claude Biver personally handled the signing and terms of Jay Z’s contract with Hublot.
Jean-Claude Jean-Claude Jean-Claude!
Speaking of Jean-Claude Biver, it’s undeniable that Hublot wouldn’t be the brand it is today without the guidance of Jean-Claude Biver. Around 2004, Jean-Claude left Omega to become CEO and shareholder of Hublot. Say what you will about Hublot, but the resurgence of the brand under Biver’s helm has been legendary. Biver jumpstarted the brand’s watchmaking efforts and signed important partnership pacts with dozens of people and groups. From Ferrari to Depeche Mode and even the New York Giants, the brand’s official partner list reads like a who’s who of international brand icons. In 2007, Hublot opened their first mono-brand boutiques in hot locales around the world, further exposing their timepieces to affluent and curious collectors.
The brand was officially acquired by the LVMH group in 2008 and these days, Biver has taken on more of an advisory role. He now serves at the Chairman of the Board. Current CEO, Ricardo Guadalupe has led the brand since 2012. However, Mr. Biver still is omnipresent for the brand’s announcements, Baselworld, and so much more. Even going as far as opening his private cheese reserves to gift Hublot branded cheese squares and rounds to friends, retailers, and a lucky few of us in the press. If you’ve ever seen a Jean-Claude Biver press conference, his energy, enthusiasm, and passion is unmistakable. For me, this is a very endearing trait and the first thing I think about when the name Hublot is uttered.
If you’ve ever spent any time in Switzerland, the brand is present throughout the country. At airports, train stations, shopping malls, and even schools, the Hublot logo, branded wall clocks, and advertising is on proud display. Just to make sure you don’t forget, upon leaving the Geneva airport and driving north, you’ll pass the brand’s Nyon manufacture, where a black monolithic manufacture building is proudly emblazoned with a 25-foot bright white Hublot logo.
Of course, the marketing hook doesn’t stop there. The brand directly markets through a variety of ways. Brand ambassadors ranging from model Bar Refaeli to athletes Floyd Mayweather and Usain Bolt. For the Asian market, they’ve partnered with pianist Lang Lang. Indeed, the term “brand ambassador” may seem cache, but for Hublot it’s a tried and true method. Partner with an influential maybe sometimes polarizing individual, have the ambassador highlight the watches in their own unique way, perhaps make a limited edition to commemorate, and BAM! Say what you will, but this philosophy works for the brand, and having attended a recent ambassador/timepiece launch with Jose Bautista, I can attest, these watches sell too. From my small sample size for the Jose Bautista piece, all watches were sold out by the end of dinner.
Many have wondered if all this is an oversaturation, however, after much internal and external debate, I think I know where the brand is coming from. Sure, they paint a wide swath when it comes to brand ambassadors, partnerships, friends of the brand, and events, but there genuinely is something for everyone. Case in point, one of my guilty pleasures of 2018 has been the Big Bang Unico World Poker Tour Limited Edition. A watch made of full black ceramic with the four card suits proudly engraved around the bezel.
The brand’s most recent partnership is with artist Shepard Fairey, the designer of Barack Obama’s iconic ‘HOPE’ posters. Yet again, I gotta say, the watch looks pretty cool.
All of this marketing and pop culture intersections may be a lot for you to handle. But here’s the thing, there’s actually some impressive watchmaking going on at Hublot. The brand’s “Art of Fusion” philosophy isn’t taken lightly. The brand has a dedicated foundry in-house that produces most of their fusion metals and exotic materials. Gold is a hallmark of the brand and the ensuing Magic Gold alloy is the world’s first scratch proof gold alloy. Seeing someone rake a key across the face of a watch would normally be a cringeworthy sight, but not here, I can personally attest that these things are mighty impressive. Ceramics and carbon fibers are also used throughout the brand’s novelties. At Baselworld 2018, the brand introduced the world’s first red ceramic watch. On top of this, the brand has brought to market a variety of full sapphire timepieces at price points unmatched by other brands. All of these materials, mostly made in-house, lend credibility to Hublot’s innovation and resulting prosperity.
Hublot’s in-house Unico movement sets the brand apart by producing a robust caliber capable of handling chronograph, world-time, and a multitude of other complications. Throughout Hublot’s price points you’ll find that the level of finishing and technicity doesn’t wane. From tourbillons to time only, the brand has a watch that will satisfy even the most discerning collector. Lest we forget, at this year’s Basel fair, the MP-09 Bi-Axis Tourbillon was introduced. A totally bonkers 3D printed carbon fiber timepiece with a hand-made bi-axis skeletonized tourbillon that looks like something out of 2050.
They’re just plain fun
Hublot is indeed a polarizing brand that knows how to make waves. In the watch industry, nearly everyone has an opinion of the brand. But that’s exactly the point, they have you talking and paying attention. From the Oktoberfest launch of the Big Bang Bavaria to a Basel soccer match between Pelé and Usain Bolt, you have to admit, you’re at least a bit curious right?
If anything, you’re smiling, perhaps at the clever design, the out-of-the-box partnerships, or even the cheese. Doesn’t the brand at least pique your interest? It sure does mine.
(Photography by Liam O’Donnell)