Brand story: Cook­ing up a storm

In­ter­ro­gat­ing lux­ury and the art of fu­sion with Ricardo Guadalupe, CEO of Hublot.

Esquire Malaysia Watch Guide - - Contents - Words by Ja­son Tan

YOU MOSTLY SEE the price, how­ever stun­ning the piece. The num­bers mat­ter, what­ever the prove­nance of the buyer be­cause, what would the neigh­bours think? Hublot makes its pitch at the high-end of the mar­ket, but even the neu­tral non-col­lec­tor could be per­suaded by the rich pro­lif­er­a­tion of its might­ily mor­ph­ing line-up of watches.

That though would be the clos­est to the Swiss-like im­par­tial­ity that Hublot is in­tent on ex­plod­ing. CEO Ricardo Guadalupe knows what he wants to do, and what the Swiss watch in­dus­try needs to pro­duce to meet the de­mands of a world go­ing bal­lis­tic, head-on. And it's not an­other ‘Swiss watch’. Nor is it even a watch.

But first, a brief his­tory that ex­plains Hublot’s “Art of Fu­sion”. In 2004, JeanClaude Biver, Guadalupe’s pre­de­ces­sor and men­tor, took over the small busi­ness founded in 1980 called Hublot Geneva. He quickly re­alised that in 1980, Hublot was al­ready the first man­u­fac­ture to cre­ate a watch which used an un­con­ven­tional match of ma­te­ri­als: gold and rub­ber. Work­ing fast, he coined the “Art of Fu­sion” to ex­plain Hublot’s rea­son for be­ing, and un­veiled the aptly named Big Bang at Basel World 2005. It marked the be­gin­ning. Turnover went up: from 25 mil­lion in 2004, to more than 200 mil­lion Swiss francs in 2008, when the brand was sold to LVMH.

Guadalupe, who first met Biver in 1994, set­ting off a long and fruit­ful work­ing re­la­tion­ship, be­came Hublot CEO in 2012. The brand and the com­pany con­tinue to strad­dle the zeit­geist, in­volv­ing it­self in both pop­u­lar cul­ture and high cul­ture. On your news­feed, you might see Floyd May­weather and Ney­mar, their wrists wrapped in Hublot’s en­crus­ta­tions of sapphire and di­a­monds.

The range and fe­cun­dity of Hublot’s col­lab­o­ra­tions mean there are few watch brands that have a sim­i­lar res­o­nance in the mar­ket. Guadalupe calls a spade, a spade, whether or not it is blinged up. It's a frank­ness that lends au­then­tic­ity to the prod­uct. Esquire caught up with him on his swing-by of Kuala Lumpur re­cently for an ‘Art of Fu­sion’ event. Be­low, is an edited ex­cerpt of our chat.

Esquire: How do you see trend of pop­ulism, and how it af­fects Hublot as a high-end brand? How is Hublot re­spond­ing to it? Guadalupe: Pop­ulism is a prob­lem of civil­i­sa­tion and much more im­por­tant than what we are do­ing. Pop­ulism

is re­ally an im­por­tant ques­tion that the world should think about but, of course, it re­ally can have an im­pact on our busi­ness. Lux­ury is scarcity, rar­ity, ex­clu­siv­ity, qual­ity. To be able to make a prod­uct that make peo­ple dream, you must have a good en­vi­ron­ment; so pop­ulism is not the best en­vi­ron­ment for our busi­ness.

There are all these points in his­tory that have had dif­fer­ent im­pacts, in dif­fer­ent parts of the world, so it’s dif­fi­cult to give a global an­swer.

ESQ: Are democ­racy and lux­ury in­com­pat­i­ble?

Guadalupe: No, I don’t think so be­cause some­times, in some coun­tries that are not a democ­racy, lux­ury prod­ucts can still have suc­cess. Sales of lux­ury prod­ucts are linked to psy­chol­ogy so if peo­ple are in the right mood, and there are no big fears, they will buy lux­ury prod­ucts.

ESQ: Right now, they’re not in the right mood.

Guadalupe: To­day, who is the big­gest con­sumer? China is the big­gest con­sumer prod­ucts in gen­eral for many brands, even though China can be imag­ined as a com­mu­nist coun­try.

ESQ: How do you see the mar­ket for lux­ury goods in South­east Asia?

Guadalupe: South­east Asia, I don’t see re­ally a prob­lem. Be­cause its coun­tries can be dif­fer­ent types of gov­ern­ments, but the con­sumer is still look­ing for good prod­ucts; so­phis­ti­cated, re­fined. And they see Hublot as be­ing suc­cess­ful. With the re­birth of the brand with Mr Biver and my­self from 2004, Malaysia for ex­am­ple, im­me­di­ately ac­cepted this con­cept of art of fu­sion; prod­ucts with a strong iden­tity, strong de­sign. They have been with us since day one, which has not been the case for the Chi­nese.

ESQ: Why has this been the case with China?

Guadalupe: Be­cause the level of ma­tu­rity of the Chi­nese con­sumer is not the same. The mar­ket was opened not so many years ago, so they at first wanted some­thing tra­di­tional (con­ven­tional). The new gen­er­a­tion, the chil­dren of that first gen­er­a­tion of con­sumers, wants some­thing dif­fer­ent. Hublot can give them an an­swer... ESQ: Dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tions would like to have dif­fer­ent ideas of lux­ury. How do you nav­i­gate the dif­fer­ent ideas of Gen X, Y and Z?

Guadalupe: (laughs) I don’t care; we do what­ever we think is good; we think that when what we be­lieve for us is good, it can be good for many peo­ple in the world.

ESQ: Hublot strad­dles both the high end and pop­u­lar cul­ture. How do you choose your col­lab­o­ra­tions and part­ner­ships?

Guadalupe: It (col­lab­o­ra­tion) is a mat­ter of life; so, it is about meet­ing peo­ple in you life, when you can al­ways think about col­lab­o­ra­tion. There is no sci­en­tific ap­proach; it is to­tally ir­ra­tional and in­stinc­tive.

Fer­rari was an ob­vi­ous choice. We first first ap­proached them in 2006, but we couldn’t do it then, then in 2011, we could. I was at the Fer­rari 70th an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tion, and the ma­jor­ity of own­ers were wear­ing Hublot...

Foot­ball is a very pop­u­lar sport; maybe this per­son might never be able to buy a Hublot watch, but if this per­son knows Hublot is a watch brand, that is some­thing re­ally im­por­tant too.

ESQ: How do you strike a bal­ance be­tween reach­ing out to as­pi­ra­tional, younger buy­ers, and say, ex­clu­siv­ity, for ma­ture buy­ers?

Guadalupe: Yes, it’s a bal­ance that re­quires that we com­mu­ni­cate on dif­fer­ent lev­els. (Hublot is the num­ber two watch brand on In­sta­gram, af­ter Rolex.) You have some­times to work on the man­u­fac­ture side, of (en­gi­neer­ing) sub­stance (for ma­ture buy­ers). It’s not easy; you could lose con­sumers and not gain oth­ers. We must bring them me­chan­i­cal value and spec­tac­u­lar prod­uct with iden­tity ... It is what watches rep­re­sent that is in­ter­est­ing...

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