When Hublot put a rubber strap on a gold watch 40 years ago, it was quite an unconventional approach to watchmaking at the time. It was an Italian gentleman, Carlo Crocco, who created the watch by combining design flair from Italy with Swiss craftsmanship and naming it something French, Hublot, meaning “porthole” in English. The watch utilized screws in the case, a design element that’s come to define Hublot over the decades. The case shape was inspired by a ship’s porthole. The decision to utilize a rubber strap is rooted in the need for versatility and ease of use around water, but, of course, it went against traditional watch design at the time, as rubber straps were usually found on watches at a much lower price point.
Today, that very first watch from Crocco is living a second life. Hublot has released the Hublot Classic Fusion 40 Years Anniversary model in a trio of materials: 18k yellow gold, titanium, and black ceramic. There are 100 examples in yellow gold, 200 in titanium, and 200 in black ceramic. But the main difference this time around is what’s inside: the Caliber Hublot HUB1112. The HUB1112 is based in the SW300-1 and is finished by Hublot. The first Hublot, the Classic Original, used a quartz movement.
The Hublot Classic Fusion 40 Years Anniversary celebrates Hublot’s origins. The brand’s 1980 release, the Classic Original, was a hit. It was a dress watch that broke all the norms and even became popular with a cast of royal characters. The story goes that the Prince of Monaco, along with the kings of Greece(former), Spain, and Sweden all wore Hublot watches. Carlo Crocco had invented a winning formula with the Classic Original.
The Classic Original was released to much fanfare, but sales cooled off during the following decades. Crocco wanted to refocus his efforts on his philanthropy work, but wasn’t interested in selling off Hublot completely, so he looked for the right steward for the brand. It was in 2004 that Jean-Claude Biver got involved with Hublot. Crocco had known Biver prior to his joining Hublot, when he struck a deal with Biver to distribute Blancpain watches in Italy and Spain. Biver was running Blancpain at the time, and had managed to turn both Blancpain and Omega into commercial successes during his career prior to Hublot. And Hublot wasn’t any different.
In 2004, Biver joined Hublot and established “The Art of Fusion” as the company tagline. Material science is an area that Hublot has become known to excel at. The brand has worked with Lausanne Federal Institute of Technology to produce proprietary case materials, like Magic Gold. Standard gold watches are typically easier to scratch. Gold sits at a 2.5-3 on the Mohs Scale of Hardness, whereas a material like titanium is rated at 6 and hardened steel at 7-8. What Hublot did with Magic Gold was bring the hardness level up to withstand the rigors of daily wear. Coming up with advanced materials was at the core of Biver’s Art of Fusion ideology.
When Biver joined the company, he brought on Ricardo Guadalupe as the general manager. In 2008, Crocco sold Hublot to the LVMH Group. In 2012, Biver moved to the role of Hublot chairman and relinquished the CEO title to Guadalupe. He’s been the CEO since, carrying out the original vision conceived in 2004.
I first met Guadalupe in Miami, the perfect place to understand why the nouveau riche gravitate towards Hublot. It was in the midst of Art Basel, and Hublot was throwing a massive party at a club that could have certainly appeared in the TV series Miami Vice. The party was replete with endless champagne, sparklers, dancers, European house music, and a cast of Hublot’s ambassadors, including F1 drivers and fashion stars. In other words, it was peak Hublot.
It wasn’t my usual scene, but it was an absolute blast. For a night, I was living the aspirational lifestyle that Hublot owners’ dreams are made of, and it couldn’t have been more enjoyable. There’s often an element of pageantry and seriousness surrounding brand-sponsored events in the world of horology that can be a major turn-off. What I found is that when Hublot is throwing the party, there’s none of that. Enthusiasts of the high houses of horology can be far more judgmental towards Hublot and its fans than Hublot owners are of anyone else in the watch collecting world.
Hublot doesn’t try to be everything to everyone. It has a loyal following, and it caters specifically to that following with a series of partnerships that consistently appeal to different segments inside the fan base. There’s something I respect about a watch brand that’s supremely comfortable in its own skin. Following the party, I chatted with Guadalupe about the brand’s image, and after the conversation, I walked away with a deep sense of reverence for Biver and Guadalupe’s accomplishments in terms of marketing and branding. They both had laid out a framework for the brand’s future in 2004, and 16 years later, Guadalupe is still at it. Guadalupe’s tenure spans almost half of the time the brand has been in existence, but it’s the action-packed half.
Through email, I asked him how the brand has changed over the course of his time there. He responded, “Since we (Mr. Biver and myself) joined the company in 2004, we have created the necessary platform and infrastructure here in Nyon. We built our first building in 2009. The second one followed in 2016, and we have been increasing our production capacity throughout the years, not only in terms of machines, but also people. In 2004, there were 30 people at Hublot. Today, we are 450, and we have already been thinking about adding a third building within the next two to five years.”
The numbers tell a story of growth, but has the customer changed at all since the early days of Hublot? Guadalupe points out that the buyer has remained mostly the same: someone who isn’t drawn to conventional watchmaking. “Since 1980, Hublot buyers are people who like to explore new territories and want to set themselves apart. Today, our customer base includes people from all walks of life, as well as the young at heart of all ages. Our customers are daring, they like to explore unknown territory and to wear a contemporary watch on their wrist that stands out from what they have already seen. I believe we offer them the most exciting opportunity to discover fine watchmaking, through the product as well as our different partnerships.”
And with the release of Hublot Classic Fusion 40 Years Anniversary model, a modern re-interpretation of a classic, buyers now have the chance to discover what it was like buying a Hublot in 1980.