A generation ago Hublot paired rubber with gold. Now the watchmaker heralds galactic change to timepiece design with new eclectic timepieces.
By Kristian Haagen
It all started at the BASELWORLD fair in Switzerland 28 years ago when a stall representing the then newly-launched MDM Genève watchmaking company made people look twice. The owner, Carlo Crocco, had been bold enough to combine ‘the rubber tree with the gold mine’ and thus the first rubber strap Hublot watch made its timely entry on the market. Combining rubber with gold was apparently just what people craved. The Spanish were quick to embrace the brand, notably including King Juan Carlos, whose royal endorsement has helped sway the fortunes of the brand and secured Spain as Hublot’s top market.
A new beginning
Spain isn’t Hublot’s only domain, and one man in particular can be credited for the brand’s wider appeal, namely the Luxembourg businessman Jean-Claude Biver. In legendary partnership with Lebanese-Swiss timepiece billionaire Nicolas G. Hayek (CEO of the Swatch Group) he salvaged the Swiss watchmaking industry from total collapse in the 1980s following the introduction of Japanese-made quartz watches, which had come to dominate the timepiece market. Jean-Claude Biver came to Hublot in 2004 after having sold his own watchmaking company, Blancpain, to the mother ship of Swiss timekeeping, the Swatch Group. Searching for new challenges, his interest fell on Hublot. Failing to persuade Carlo Crocco to sell the company he settled for the position as chief executive. With Jean-Claude Biver at the helm, the company now has only one direction – up. Biver speaks with pride of the Hublot brand DNA but shows little interest in the old collections. “I want to be the first who doesn’t repeat the past but rather leads Hublot into the future,” he says.
Since 2004, Jean-Claude Biver has piloted the company towards a whole new horizon, the Big Bang timepiece collection. And although the name promises a revolution, it’s more about evolution. Big Bang is created from the DNA that founded Hublot in 1980: a fusion of rubber and metal. And adding to the list of ingredients, Biver has introduced tantalum, tungsten, Kevlar and ceramic. The 44-mm Big Bang timepiece – and most recently the 48-mm diver’s model Big Bang King – also follows the international trend towards large timepieces, although the collection also features 38-mm timepieces. Watch brands need a top-selling model to secure their market position. Rolex has the Oyster, Cartier the Tank, Patek Philippe the Calatrava, and Breitling the Navitimer. Hublot meets this challenge with a whole new collection – the Big Bang collection that marks a whole new chapter for the brand.
Reaching for the stars
Jean-Claude Biver describes Hublot’s past as that of a sleeping brand. Sales were so-so, and that could be said of the models, too. But, as he adds wryly, being a sleeping brand isn’t all bad. After all, when you sleep, you don’t get yourself into trouble. On the other hand, being a sleeping brand will get you nowhere. Hublot was first on the market with its fusion of metal and rubber, long before Breguet introduced rubber straps and Audemars Piguet launched the rubber bezel. And according to Biver, this cutting-edge position needs communicating. What better way to do so than with a galactic shake-up, hence the Big Bang. When Jean-Claude Biver took over management in 2004, Hublot had an annual turnover of CHF 26,000,000. In 2007, the turnover was almost tenfold: CHF 252,000,000. In recognition of his remarkable achievement, Jean-Claude Biver was elected Watchmaker of the Year in 2005.
In 2007, the Hublot Big Bang collection was awarded one of the world’s most prestigious design awards, the Geneva Watchmaking Grand Prix. This year the bang is about to get bigger. Hublot has launched the first manual-winding movement developed by their own R&D department. The Bigger Bang collection features face-visible column-wheel tourbillon chronographs – an awe-inspiring vision that truly opens the universe of watchmaking to the naked eye. Hold tight as Hublot reaches warp speed with their new Bigger Bang timepiece collection!