Written by: Kevin Doyle
Luxury watch maker Hublot Genève is well-established across Europe and has opened boutiques in several posh U.S. locales. Will the company expand North American operations into Canada?
It’s a question worth asking although Hublot has indicated no such plans. Given the cosmopolitan feel of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver and a combined metropolitan population exceeding 11 million, Canada’s three largest cities seem likely choices for North American growth.
Hublot caters to an uber-exclusive clientele and crafts approximately 25,000 timepieces annually at its Nyon, Switzerland manufacturing centre with price points the hoi polloi may have difficulty comprehending.
Emblematic of its elite status, Hublot unveiled the world’s most expensive watch during March’s Baselworld 2012 Show – a $5 million white gold jaw-dropper laden with 1,282 diamonds that was sold to The Hour Glass boutiques in Singapore for display in their Hublot corners.
It wasn’t long ago the company founded in 1980 by Carlo Crocco had grown stagnant, relegated to secondary status as industry heavyweights (Rolex, Franck Muller and Audemars Piguet et. al.) competed for top billing. Hublot’s turnaround coincided with the 2004 arrival of dynamic Chairman Jean-Claude (JC) Biver, who displays the symbol of his passion and boyhood dreams – a working scale-model of a steam engine he built as a child that his parents recently found and had rebuilt – prominently on his desk.
“My passion [for watch making] and the passion of my people are contagious. If you’re close to someone with passion, he will give you also part of his passion,” reasons Biver, 63. “Then everyone starts to get passionate. We have to be different. On every project, we say are we first, are we unique and are we different?”
Hublot has amassed numerous awards since the introductory Big Bang chronograph claimed the Best Design award in the Geneva Watch Festival’s “Grand Prix d’Horlogerie” competition in 2005. Hublot’s Oceanographic 4000 won the Active Lifestyle Watch Award at the Starhill Gallery Awards in Kuala Lumpur in December 2011; and the company earned the Walpole Award for Excellence in the International Luxury Brand category, presented in London in November 2010. Biver has also garnered numerous individual awards.
Power of Partnerships
Hublot added Dwayne Wade and Udonis Haslem of the National Basketball Association’s Miami Heat to its stable of global ambassadors in March of this year, unveiling a Heat-themed King Power Chronograph. In 2011 Hublot celebrated New York Yankees’ relief pitcher Mariano Rivera’s achievement as Major League Baseball’s all-time saves leader with a unique Aero Bang Steel model. Olympic and World Champion sprinter Usain Bolt is another of the high-profile athletes endorsing the brand.
Hublot is the official watch of Formula One and Ferrari, the official timekeeper for the FIFA World Cup (2010, 2014) and UEFA Euro 2012 competitions and maintains alliances with Manchester United of the English Premier League and the World Boxing Council.
Why the affinity for Formula One and Ferrari?
“Formula One is an engine. It’s an engine for speed, an engine for emotion, an engine for dreams and an engine for success. A watch is also an engine, an engine for the wrist, an engine for success,” Biver explains. “Formula One and Ferrari are like cousins and we also have the same consumer; we talk to the same people. It’s always better if we are two people to make an effort to talk to the consumer than just one alone.”
Biver has a well-documented history of conquering challenges and when Crocco sought him out in 2004 Biver jumped back into the fray, truncating a planned sabbatical. He scrapped Hublot’s processes, removed quartz batteries from the equation altogether and returned to the time-honored Swiss tradition of fine watch-making by highly-skilled craftsmen.
Within a year Hublot launched the iconic Big Bang that remains its signature piece with 35 models accounting for approximately 70 percent of annual sales. Biver finalized the company’s signature “Art of Fusion” concept first established by Crocco in 1980, when he was the first to fuse precious metals with functional natural rubber. Hublot continues to meld classic materials with rare metals, ceramics and organic compounds to yield altogether different products.
“We were in 2005 very much like a start-up and we just had the DNA, a watch with the shape of a portal. So, we had a very clear idea and the DNA. Besides that we had nothing – we had to build the company from A to Zed,” recalls Biver.
“We looked at the product of 1980 and we face-lifted the product. We said what would have been the evolution. We made a simulation and we came out with this result,” Biver says, smiling broadly while pointing to the Big Bang enveloping his left wrist.
Given the choice, Biver comes down on the side of research and development over marketing every time.
“It is very simple – no innovation, no future,” Biver says, accentuating the point with a sweeping wave of his right hand. “If I have to choose to spend $10 million in research and development and $10 million in a new marketing strategy I will always take the $10 million in research and development because that gives us our future and that gives us deep, profound and solid substance.”