If you asked the average watch lover 10 years ago what he thought about Hublot, he would’ve replied “who?” Those that did know of the brand would tell you about some obscure watch from the 80’s worn by Spanish royalty and likely mention a vanilla-scented rubber strap.
Hublot have come a long way in such a short time. What started as an independent family business in 1980 has grown into one of, if not the fastest growing watch brands of the last decade; with all the opportunities that come with being a part of the largest luxury conglomerate (I am of course talking about LVMH, which acquired Hublot in 2008).
And while the brand might have garnered notoriety with industry veteran Jean-Claude Biver at the helm for its aggressive marketing strategy and countless ambassadors and partners (not to mention their consequent “limited edition” pieces), these are a means to an end. For under all the glitz and glamor is a watch brand with every intention to become a full-fledged manufacture competing with the best of them.
Whether this was gained by so-called “heritage” or vertical integration by means of acquisition is ultimately irrelevant, because in less than 10 years Hublot have gone from a has-been to a powerhouse. You’d have a hard time finding another brand that could boast an expansion of this scale in such a short timeframe. And while the watches may or may not be to your liking, one can’t deny the progress that Hublot has made in pushing the envelope when it comes to product innovation in both design and materials. The brand’s patented Magic Gold scratchproof alloy and MP-05 LaFerrari super-watch are just two examples, both the fruits of extensive in-house R&D and manufacturing prowess.
And yet I remember when the LaFerrari watch was launched last year reading comments on forums and social media about how Hublot wasn’t a real manufacture, that the movement was outsourced, and so on. I wonder, are the naysayers just ignorant about the advancements Hublot has made because they don’t like the brand? Or are they simply having a hard time accepting that there’s more to Hublot than just marketing?
Okay, Hublot might not make every component for every watch and still rely on outsourced workhorse movements by ETA and Sellita for the majority of their watches. Yet even those movements receive in-house modifications for custom modules like the soccer-timing 45-minute central chronograph or the open-worked “Aero” models.
Hublot even came out with a propriety chronograph movement, the Unico. Not only was it designed in-house, it is entirely manufactured and assembled at Hublot’s main facility in Nyon. With multiple-axis CNC’s or electrical discharge machining (and even ultra-sonic machining for ultra-hard materials like ceramic), Hublot do it all. Even processes like electroplating, which is usually outsourced by the average brand, is done in-house by a Hublot’s chemist in an electrolysis laboratory.
Hublot have implemented a streamlined assembly approach, where each watchmaker is responsible for a different task like casing the movement or attaching the hands.
Higher-end pieces fitted with tourbillons and minute repeaters have their own dedicated manufacturing and assembly departments, working closely with Hublot’s R&D department, now headed by Mathias Buttet of ex-movement manufacturer BNB. The “High Complications” department produces its own movements and all their individual components (except perhaps rubies and hairsprings), and this also involves prototyping and testing new concepts, as well as hand-decoration of individual parts. Unlike the standard pieces, High Complications watches are assembled from start to finish by a single watchmaker, adding a more personal touch to watches of that magnitude.
As befits a brand whose slogan is “the art of fusion”, Hublot also produce their own cases; especially where high-tech materials are involved. Carbon Fiber cases, for example, are made by Hublot’s subsidiary just a few minutes from the main manufacture; as are Titanium cases. The proprietary materials like Magic Gold and Bright Red Ceramic are produced in Hublot’s very own metallurgy department by the same team who came up with the materials.
It is this emphasis on R&D and its proven results that sets Hublot apart as a manufacture in my book. With plans to expand its manufacture to a second full-scale facility, it’s clear that Hublot are very, very serious about honing their reputation as a serious watchmaker. And while you and I may not appreciate or fully grasp all their marketing decisions, this phenomenal growth couldn’t have been possible without it.