Hublot is one of the great success stories in modern watchmaking. A history that began in 1980 with the foundation of the brand, and then its explosive growth after the arrival of Jean-Claude Biver in 2004, with annual turnover increasing from 25 million to over 200 million Swiss francs by 2008. Ricardo Guadalupe joined as CEO in 2012. We spoke to him in an interview at Baselworld in April 2016, and the conversation began with the subject of this year’s anniversary: ten years of the All Black.
LUXOS: Do you think that the All Black will always be in fashion?
Ricardo Guadalupe: We launched the All Black concept ten years ago. That’s a long time ago, and it’s still in fashion because black is now a standard colour for the watch industry. Ceramic changed the game, in the 1970s and ‘80s, watches were nearly all in steel, gold or platinum, but not really black. Black has become another standard, like steel and gold, so it will remain in the future. It’s for people who want to be recognized through their watch. Above all, men, for whom the only jewel in which they can express their identity is their watch.
LUXOS: Your company always has a lot of ideas, with new products every year. Could you tell about how you generate ideas?
Ricardo Guadalupe: We are passionate about creativity. We inspire our people to be dynamic, always looking for something new. Creativity can be new materials, or the movement, or colour. An example is the Berluti partnership, in which the watches have a dial made of leather. This is more complicated than it sounds, because leather is 30% water, so we have to dry it and encapsulate it before we put it into the case. Lapo Elkann is another source of creativity: with those touches of blue, those jeans. He’s brought a lot to the brand, he’s a genius, a bit crazy, but you have to be a bit crazy to be a genius.
LUXOS: An important part of your recent history is your first in-house movement Unico. How important is it to make your own calibres?
Ricardo Guadalupe: When Mr. Biver joined the company in 2004, we were still small and we didn't have the possibility of making our own movements. The success and positioning that we attained convinced us that we had to develop the capability of building our own movement in-house. We are moving towards a completely integrated manufacture. This is important for the brand’s long-term development.
LUXOS: I imagine that developing a new movement takes a while...
Ricardo Guadalupe: For the Unico movement, we started design in 2008, the first movement arrived in 2012, it took four years. In a watch, some developments may take the order of a few months, but every time you touch the movement it’s a long process, because it involves design, construction, industrialization and testing. Every time you touch the movement it’s going to be between 18 months and two years.
LUXOS: Last year I you presented a watch completely covered in baguette diamonds, it cost 1 million Swiss francs. Did it sell very quickly?
Ricardo Guadalupe: It’s never easy. It depends on the creativity of the watch. The people who buy these watches know everything, they are specialists. Last year we sold 12 pieces like that.
LUXOS: Are they sold partly as investments?
Ricardo Guadalupe: No. It’s emotion. There aren’t many people who buy these watches, so we get to know them. I have five or six customers who can buy this type of watch. When we create the watch we know roughly to whom it can be sold. Usually they go to Singapore, Asia and the Middle East.
LUXOS: Considering the current slowing of the Chinese market, are you benefiting from the fact that you didn't invest in China as heavily as other brands?
Ricardo Guadalupe: In actual fact, we invested in China, but less than some other brands just because we’re young. We only began working in China five or six years ago. We’ve opened some boutiques, there are now about 8 boutiques, and we are still investing and building the brand. Even though the market is really down, our sales are still progressing. We can take the opportunity of increasing our market share during this tricky moment, so that we are ready when the crisis is over.
LUXOS: Is customisation an important part of your business?
Ricardo Guadalupe: We make a lot of special editions. Having a Manufacture helps flexibility, and we can make series of 10, 20, up to 100 pieces. For example, a company may ask us for 20 pieces for its top management because they had a great year. We have the capability of making pieces with their logo and their special colour. Speed is essential: you have to be able to complete the order in three months. There are not many brands capable of operating in this way.
LUXOS: The association with car brands is becoming increasingly important today. You have a lot of experience there...
Ricardo Guadalupe: This has been true for many years. There are more brands involved in Formula One today. In addition, there are the Grand Turismo cars, and in fact were have been able to sell Big Bang Ferrari watches to the owners of Ferrari cars. That was pivotal in the success of our partnership with Ferrari.
LUXOS: The first time you approached Ferrari they said no...
Ricardo Guadalupe: That was 2005-2006, we were in competition with Panerai, they said no to us and yes to Panerai. We were also at the beginning of our adventure, we were still very small. After five years, it was Lapo Elkann who said to Mr Montezemolo that Hublot was the only watch brand that could do the job properly. So we met them with Mr. Biver at Maranello in 2011, and they said yes.
LUXOS: During the Baselworld presentation, Jean-Claude said something about a connected watch, and it sounded like a Freudian slip, and everybody laughed. He said that the important thing would be the bracelet... are you actually working on a connected watch?
Ricardo Guadalupe: One of the features of our watches is that you can change the bracelet easily. So we could imagine a connected bracelet that you can decide to put on or not. We haven’t announced anything yet, it needs a lot of investment. You have to work with people outside the watch industry, closer to Silicon Valley. We want to come up with something interesting, we don’t want to compete with Apple or Tag Heuer. It’s a whole new world, with new ideas, new people, it’s interesting.
LUXOS: Exciting times...
Ricardo Guadalupe: Yes. Even though it’s more difficult now for the watch industry, a crisis can be exciting. Routine is the worst thing. It’s when you are in your comfort zone that you have to be careful.
Read more at http://www.hublot.com/