By Kevin Doyle
When Jean-Claude (J.C.) Biver took over as CEO of Hublot Genève in 2004 his immediate goal was to produce a timepiece of substance and style that would propel the stagnant company into the upper strata of the world’s luxury watch manufacturers.
Starting with the 2005 introduction of the Big Bang chronograph, winner of the Best Design award in the Geneva Watch Festival’s “Grand Prix d’Horlogerie” competition, Biver and Hublot have done just that. Relegated to secondary status less than a decade ago, the company is now mentioned in the same conversation with the likes of Rolex, Franck Muller, Patek Phillippe and Audemars Piguet.
With boutiques in London, Geneva, Paris, Berlin, Warsaw and Prague as well as Mauritius, Singapore, Shanghai, Hong Kong, New York and Bal Harbour, FL, Hublot targets an uber-upscale clientele, crafting approximately 25,000 pieces annually at its ultra-modern manufacturing centre in Nyon with price points the hoi polloi may have difficulty comprehending.
Emblematic of its meteoric rise to a place of industry prominence, Hublot unveiled the most expensive watch ever made– a $5 million white gold dazzler laden with 1,282 diamonds sold to The Hour Glass boutiques in Singapore – during March’s 40thBaselworld Show in Switzerland.
The iconic and oft-honored Big Bang remains Hublot’s signature piece with 35 models accounting for approximately 70 percent of annual sales. Most recently its Oceanographic 4000 won the Active Lifestyle Watch Award at the Starhill Gallery Awards in Kuala Lumpur in December 2011. The company won the Walpole Award for Excellence in the International Luxury Brand category, presented in London in November 2010.
For Biver, Hublot’s success correlates directly to its unrelenting approach to research and design in pursuit of the perfect timepiece.
“No innovation, no future,” Biver, now the company Chairman, says as he accentuates 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. Research and development are the most important part of our business.
“Marketing is a fantastic communicating tool but, at the end of the day, if marketing cannot communicate substance, you communicate what? Fashion. Fashion is great but fashion will one day let you down because fashion changes all the time. When fashion lets you down and you don’t have substance, then you will disappear,” Biver asserts.
Hublot traveled that road once before. Founded in 1980, the company made a splash when founder Carlo Crocco became the first to fuse precious metals with functional natural rubber. However, it had accomplished little of substance since its earliest days. Biver advanced the company’s signature “Art of Fusion” concept and today Hublot continues to meld classic materials with rare metals, ceramics and organic compounds to yield altogether different products. Its latest endeavour, Magic Gold, is a scratch resistant 18 karat gold and ceramic alloy.
A global market
These days, the Hublot Genève brand seems omnipresent. The company has shown itself to be every bit as innovative and adept at non-traditional marketing (social media, guerilla, ambush) as it has been in development, forging a number of high-profile partnerships.
Hublot is the official watch for both Formula One and Ferrari; the official timekeeper for the FIFA World Cup (2010, 2014) and the Union of European Football Federations (UEFA) Euro 2012 competitions; and is aligned with Manchester United of the English Premier League, the National Basketball Association’s Miami Heat, the Swiss sailing group Alinghi, the Yacht Club de Monaco and the World Boxing Council.
Among its global ambassadors are Formula One President and CEO Bernie Ecclestone, the family of deceased Formula One legend Ayrton Senna, Olympic and World Champion sprinter Usain Bolt, Dwayne Wade and Udonis Haslem of the Miami Heat, FIFA President Sepp Blatter, Manchester United coach Sir Alex Ferguson, Czech super model Veronica Verakova, Chinese actor Jet Li and Argentine football legend Diego Maradona, who has a penchant for wearing watches on both wrists.
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. So basically we are two in the same business. We are making engines,” Biver explains.
“Formula One and Ferrari are like cousins and we also have the same consumer; we talk to the same people. We are glamour, we are expensive, we are selective and we are exclusive,” he concludes.