In the luxury watch world it’s seen as the ultimate disrupter, but there’s method – not to mention the finest craft – in the glorious madness that is Hublot
Audacious, iconoclastic, loud: Hublot watches are not for those who like their timepieces to be discreet. Beloved by basketball’s leading players, proudly referenced in rappers’ rhymes and famously gifted by Beyonce to Jay-Z (who allegedly dropped $5 million on a diamond-encrusted Hublot for his 43rd birthday), it’s a brand unlike any other in its sphere.
Launched in 1980, when Italian businessman Carlo Crocco unveiled a watch that had taken three years to develop, the brand was a maverick from the start. With a brand name that translates to ‘porthole’ from its native French, more than one wag has noted that Crocco’s initial bold design was roughly the size of one. Furthermore, it came with the first natural rubber strap the industry had ever seen – which Crocco, in the kind of a bolshy move that would set the scene for what was to follow, had paired with a gold case.
Launching just as the quartz crisis (the period following the 1979 launch of the first quartz watch, the Seiko Astron, which threatened to decimate the traditional watch industry) was hitting the Swiss mechanical market was brave. To do so with a watch that looked quite like anything else in a highly unusual combination of materials could plausibly be described as foolhardy. In fact, it was a huge success. Hublot sold $2 million (c.£1,620,000) worth of pieces in its first year, placing the brand firmly on the horological landscape.
When, in 2004, Crocco was looking for someone to step into his loafers he settled upon Jean-Claude Biver. Known across the industry as a great disrupter (he was the man who turned the fortunes of Audemars Piget, among others), Biver was the ideal fit for such a trailblazing brand. In typical fashion, he immediately set out to find new ways to make Hublot even more original. The first thing to come under fire? Gold. Not happy with the way the precious metal scratched, Biver tasked expert metallurgist Professor Andreas Mortensen with the ‘problem’. The result? The aptly named, scratch-resistant Magic Gold, an alloy about the composition of which Hublot remains tight lipped.
Biver has always been very tongue-in-cheek with Hublot. Noticing its popularity among rappers, with the likes of Jay-Z referencing it in his lyrics, he launched the One Million $ watch collection – blinged up versions of the Big Bang (its classic porthole design), that cost just that. In defiance of any snobbishness around Hublot’s legendary brashness, he set out to prove the brand’s horological chops with a wrist-sized version of the Antikythera – the astronomical calculator dating from 200BC that could chart the movements and position of the moon and sun in the sky. The 48mm King Power, launched in 2009, meanwhile, can easily be seen as a riposte to complaints that Hublots were already too big.
A new high-tech factory and the wholesale acquisition – from employees to machines and prototypes – of BNB Concepts following the once legendary movement maker’s collapse in 2010 paved the way to give Hublot even more horological clout and gave rise to its first in-house movement – developments that were possible as a result of its own acquisition by LVMH in 2008; the same year Hublot was appointed timekeeper for the FIFA World Cup. In the intervening years it has become the watchmaker and timekeeper for Ferrari, allowed the likes of French sculpture Richard Orlinski and Depeche Mode to add their personal touches to their designs; the sale of the latter’s limited-edition Big Bang collection, raised millions for charity: water, which works to bring clean drinking water to people in developing nations, in 2018.
For all its apparent brashness, everything Hublot does is shot through with amazing expertise – it has its own materials and metallurgy lab so it can create crazy things like red ceramic; its watchmakers are so skilled they could come up with a patented bi-retrograde chronograph to time football matches. There’s madness here but extreme method in it too. Disrupting with purpose – it’s what Hublot’s always been about.
Pop-art phenomenon and self-styled ‘sculptor who breaks the rules’, Richard Orlinski has created this more wearable design with the dial and bezel in the heavily faceted style he uses for his art. The bold lines create an interplay between light and shade that almost make the surface look as though it’s moving. Trippily creative.