Nobody could accuse Hublot of lacking ambition. The name has been displayed prominently in the high temple of the modern religion of football. It has aligned itself with the gods of the beautiful game, and pretty much every other glamorous sport you can name. It has refused to play by the rules of watchmaking, pushing the limits of art and science and experimenting with metals in a way that borders on alchemy. And Hublot, as it exists today, began in typically modest fashion, with a Big Bang.
But before that, all was quiet. Hublot was conceived in the late 1970s by Carlo Crocco, an Italian businessman from the Binda watch and jewellery group who left Italy to set up on his own in Switzerland. His first watch had a nautical theme, possibly influenced by the Gerald Genta-designed Patek Philippe Nautilus. The watch was named Hublot, after the French word for porthole and, in 1980, the brand was born.
The company was not unsuccessful, and made some stylish watches, but its numbers were modest, most of the watches were quartz and their impact on the wider world limited. The watches made during the first 25 years of Hublot are now only of interest to the most dedicated collectors.
In 2005, everything changed. Hublot had been taken over the previous year by Jean-Claude Biver, a man acclaimed as a genius by everyone in the industry. Biver was fresh from reviving Blancpain and saving Omega, and he took over at Hublot with the intention of sending the brand stratospheric. And the way he set about this was with the launch of the Big Bang Gold Ceramic. This watch was unlike anything the industry had seen before. The porthole styling was still there, but everything else was a shock. The big, brash chronograph, with its chunky, almost industrial look was the first example of Biver’s “fusion” plan, to mix high-quality, traditional watchmaking skills with innovative materials. The Big Bang became the brand’s signature model and has seen gold combined with rubber, denim mixed with diamonds, as well as using everything from sapphire and gold crystal to linen and leather.
Since that first Big Bang, Hublot has never once stopped throwing out as many surprises as it can
The model may divide opinion, but it was described by watch authority Nick Foulkes as ‘the archetypal early 21st-century sports watch’. And as people voted with their wallets, it transformed the fortunes of the brand. Biver saw a tenfold increase in turnover in four years and, in 2008, Hublot was acquired by the luxury giant LVMH. Since that first Big Bang, Hublot has never once stopped throwing out as many surprises as it can and making as much noise as possible. It has launched five further collections and created an ambitious range of movements, from simple automatics to tourbillons and minute repeaters.
In 2012, Hublot opened its own foundry to provide its R&D programme as much leeway as possible. This allowed it to create a proprietary material called Magic Gold in-house: a scratchresistant 18-carat gold developed in association with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.
But watches are only half the story. Ahead of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, Hublot launched a mega high-profile campaign of inspirational statements from 13 “living legends” including Pelé, Diego Maradona, José Mourinho and Usain Bolt. ‘To become a champion, respect others and never think that you’re the best,’ says the peerless Pelé, all while holding aloft a Hublot-designed football.
When the campaign kicked off, Hublot’s name was seen by billions. Each time a player was substituted, or extra time was announced, Hublot was writ proud on a hand-held electronic board that resembled – of course – a Hublot watch. And naturally the World Cup campaign was accompanied by a new watch, in this case the Big Bang Referee 2018 World Cup Russia, a smartwatch developed with Google and Intel.
The brand’s immersion into football is long-established, and it has partnerships with both Juventus and Chelsea – maintaining its association with Mourinho long after he left Stamford Bridge. But the beautiful game is far from the limits of Hublot’s sporting ambitions. Another massive marketing coup was the big-money deal to have Hublot stitched into the shorts of boxing legend Floyd “Money” Mayweather as he defended yet another futile attempt to take his title.
There are also strong golfing links, with the Hublot Golf Cup and partnerships with former US Open champions Justin Rose and Dustin Johnson. The Big Bang Unico Golf was launched in association with Johnson and featured an ultra-light case made from a fusion of carbon fibre and aluminium containing an innovative movement that allows golfers to calculate their score as they play. Hublot has signed a deal to be the official timekeeper for the International Cricket Council for all events until 2020. It also organises the Hublot Polo Gold Cup Gstaad, and is the official timekeeper for the Ferrari Formula 1 team. There is more, but by now the point is made: Hublot has got into sport in a pretty big way.
Lest you think it is all macho stuff, Hublot has been keen to burnish its artistic credentials too. In 2015, Hublot joined forces with Lapo Elkann and Italia Independent to design the Big Bang Italia Independent. It also formed partnerships with the Parisian shoemaker Berluti to make the Classic Fusion Berluti, unique watches with leather dials, and launched the Hublot Design Prize, created to help talented young designers gain recognition.
Without Biver, there would be no Hublot, at least not as it exists today. Recently the 69 year old stepped down from operational duties following ill health. Hublot looks to be in great hands, though, under the control of CEO Ricardo Guadalupe, who took over in 2012. He worked with Biver since the rebirth of Hublot and is widely regarded as a genius in his own right. At the opening of a new Hublot boutique on New Bond Street this summer, Guadalupe said the new London flagship showed Hublot’s ‘willingness to constantly challenge fine watchmaking boundaries’ and that the store would ‘serve as a springboard for Hublot in the UK’.
In just a few years, Hublot has gone from a bit player to a vast global powerhouse that has already brought proper watchmaking to a bigger global audience than anybody thought possible. And as you can hear from the CEO, Hublot has absolutely no intention of slowing down.