Hublot CEO Ricardo Guadalupe on How the Pandemic Pushed the Brand to Reinvent Itself
If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that adaptability is key to survival. We had been awakened from a lull, pushed out of our comfort zones, ultimately forcing us to reconfigure our lifestyle habits from the way we communicate to the way we consume entertainment. With physical distancing a new reality, the digital realm has gone from being something of a novelty and convenience to an absolute necessity.
As a luxury watchmaker, Hublot also has had to make a few adjustments of its own too. "We had to adapt and reinvent ourselves in many different ways. Digital is really key in all dimensions; it was important before the pandemic but it's even more important now," notes Ricardo Guadalupe, CEO of Hublot.
He cites the recent LVMH Watch Week where Hublot joined Zenith and Bulgari to present their latest novelties, as an example. "It's strictly digital so we had to figure out how to bring quality content into the presentation. We also have to reinvent our relationships with our customers since we couldn't meet them face-to-face. We did a virtual exhibition to celebrate our 40th anniversary last year and just launched our Murakami watch via a live broadcast," he adds.
"Of course, it will never replace physical presentations but it's an evolution in the right direction. I believe these changes will still be valid even after the pandemic."
What was the real challenge of the pandemic for you?
Ricardo Guadalupe (RG) Learning the new know-hows—like this Zoom interview! It’s a lot of work even for me to have to adapt to these new tools.
What are the biggest lessons of 2020?
RG That we have to be agile, make decisions quickly, and be innovative and creative, which were already the philosophy of Hublot anyway. It just that we have to be even more so than before in order to emerge from this crisis better and stronger.
For instance, we pushed up the launch date of our e-commerce from end of last year to July last year. It was a quick decision because we felt it could be a platform for us to talk to customers. I'd say it was successful as we started from zero. (E-commerce) represents only a tiny percentage of sale but we're optimistic of its potential. We currently have four e-commerce hubs—Europe, US, China and Japan—and we definitely see bigger potential in China as the younger consumers there are extremely digital savvy. Each time we did a special online editions which were very exclusive, they were snapped up right away in China.
Hublot just celebrated its 40th anniversary. How would you describe the last 40 years?
RG We're young brand in comparison to the traditional watch brands. I would divide Hublot into two periods: 1980 - 2004 when Hublot made a name for itself a a niche brand that boldly introduced rubber on an 18k gold watch; and after 2004 when (former CEO) Jean-Claude Biver joined and expanded the concept of Art of Fusion, repositioning Hublot as a global luxury brand. We became one of the five or six important Swiss watch brands. Apart from the 2009 financial crisis and last year, we have had steady double digit growth since.
How do you see the next 40 years and beyond?
RG We will continue with this innovation, whether it is material innovation or in our movements, in the next 40 years. We want to be a real manufacture—we're not yet done verticalising our manufacture. We plan to to build a third building to increase our output of in-house movements and cases. And we aim to be one of the top five brands in the Swiss watch industry.
Let us get your thoughts on the new watches you presented at LVMH Watch Week. What is the significance of the orange sapphire case in the Big Bang Tourbillon Automatic?
RG For one, the orange sapphire case is a world's first. Second, it perfectly embodies the art of fusion—we are the first brand to industrialise the production of sapphire cases.
It took us two years to develop the right shade of orange. And the I said let's also do something different for the inside. The tourbillon is a traditional complication but we reinvented it by having the automatic rotor on the dial side.
The Classic Fusion Takashi Murakami All Black is a stunner with its black diamonds and Murkami's flower motif on the dial. The twirling petals are a nice touch aesthetically but why haven't you also considered making it functional as an automatic rotor?
RG It would have taken us much longer to reconstruct the movement, two to three years at least. So we kept our mechanical movement and focused on an incredible design for the watch. The heart of the smiling flower is not attached to the dial; instead we fixed it above the dial in order to achieve the a 3D effect. I'm really impressed with the result; it's definitely a piece of art and signed by the Japanese artist himself.
Since the Murakami watch was launched three days ago, the response has been so incredible that we had to stop our boutiques from accepting deposits!
French sculptor Richard Orlinski is a frequent artist collaborator of Hublot. Why do you enjoy working with him?
RG Without Orlinski, I wouldn't have this idea for a watch. His sculptural facets switches up the design of our Classic Fusion watches; you won't be able to find a similar watch design on the market.
Why did you decide to incorporate Hublot's proprietary Magic Gold into Big Bang MP-11 this year?
RG The watch is a masterpiece inspired by Ferrari sports cars. It features seven barrels in a row, which you can see on the dial, for a power reserve of 14 days. Already a great watch on its own, the new material adds even more value to it.
By marrying the MP-11 manufacture movement with its atypical and highly visual construction, with a materials developed by our engineers—Magic Gold—Hublot once again brilliantly illustrates its Art of Fusion, the art of being avant-garde, different and unique.