Brand story: Cooking up a storm
Interrogating luxury and the art of fusion with Ricardo Guadalupe, CEO of Hublot.
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...