Identity Matters: Hublot CEO Ricardo Guadalupe
Waiting in the finely-appointed interiors of the Hublot boutique in The Dubai Mall for my interview with the company’s CEO Ricardo Guadalupe, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of foreboding as I examined the stunning timepieces on display in the showroom. The reason for this unease was because I had, on this particular day in early October, chosen to wear my Apple Watch on my wrist, which, when compared to Hublot’s offerings in the haute horology space, looks –in my opinion at least- decidedly inferior as a watch (sorry, Apple fanboys!), and I did worry about Guadalupe’s thoughts on it, if he were to see it. And sure enough, in true adherence to Murphy’s Law, the Hublot CEO did indeed note my wearing of the Apple Watch, and his thoughts on my smartwatch were perfectly encapsulated in this pithy remark he made about it: “It’s a device; it’s not a watch.”
That succinct statement by Guadalupe can be perhaps better understood when one takes into consideration the exacting art, engineering and tradition of watchmaking, which is a hallmark of a luxury timepiece brand like Hublot. While it is a relatively young enterprise (Hublot was founded only in 1980), this Swiss company is today recognized as being one of the world’s leading brands in the horology space, with its key characteristic being its ability to combine traditional watchmaking with futuristic innovations, a leitmotif that has now been enshrined in Hublot’s ‘Art of Fusion’ philosophy. And to its credit, this theme can be seen in just about any Hublot watch- consider, for instance, the All Black timepiece launched in 2006.
As the name suggests, it was a watch that was entirely black (think black dial, black case, black markers, black everything), which made reading time on it a little tricky, to say the least- but as Guadalupe points out, that wasn’t the point of the All Black. Given that one can today find the time from just about anywhere, be it a cellphone or a smartwatch, the All Black’s concept of “invisible visibility” was to put out the idea that for a brand like Hublot, its watches aren’t made to tell time. “We sell watches that express what the consumer is himself, what he represents, what he wants to show about his personality,” Guadalupe explains. “That’s why we created this concept, and I think it has been very successful, thanks to this philosophy.”
Perhaps the best measure of All Black’s success is to take a look at the number of inspired completely monochrome watches that are out in the market today- but, as Guadalupe proudly declares, Hublot was the first to bring out this revolutionary concept that set a standard of sorts in the luxury watch sector. The All Black is celebrating a decade of success this year, with Hublot commemorating this triumph with an exhibition called The World of Hublot in key cities around the world, including Dubai.
While the exhibit goes through the various iterations of the All Black through the years (including 2016’s Big Bang Unico Sapphire All Black), The World of Hublot also showcases its other timepieces that have been crafted in collaboration with brands like Ferrari, Italia Independent and Berluti. In terms of outreach efforts, Hublot is a brand that has managed to rack up an impressive list of a global who’s who as brand ambassadors, which include sporting legends like Pelé, Usain Bolt and Kobe Byrant.
These larger than life names make it clear that sports are a key component of Hublot’s communication strategy, with the brand having aligned itself with everything from football to basketball to boxing. Football is where Hublot has made its presence particularly felt, with the brand starting its association with the sport in 2004 in a bid to raise brand awareness. Guadalupe reveals that the company decided to zoom in on football at the time essentially because, well, all the other sports were “taken,” noting how sports like golf and tennis had big-name watch brands allied with it already.
“There was no luxury watch brand that was in football then,” Guadalupe remembers. “And we started step by step. We did a small deal at the time with the Swiss national football team. And afterward, the UEFA Euro Cup was coming to Switzerland- [we said] the Swiss watch industry should sponsor the Euro Cup organized in Switzerland… And then we saw the potential of football of giving brand awareness. Of course, you touch millions of people, and those millions all cannot afford to buy a Hublot watch, but it doesn’t matter- we said, if people know that Hublot is a watch brand, then it is already good, because then we can become aspirational.”
But such marketing efforts are not just about making Hublot an aspirational brand- Guadalupe notes that the events or places that the company aligns itself are also where its ideal customers are going to be likely present. “Our consumer is a guy who can go to the World Cup to watch football; he can go to the Formula 1 Grand Prix to watch Ferrari; they can go on holiday to St. Tropez; they can come here to Dubai,” he says. “[Our aim is that] everywhere they go, they should see Hublot. At the end, they [should] think that Hublot is a part of their world.” The underlying concept, according to Guadalupe, is that the brand should go to wherever its consumers are.
“The customer is moving today. So he goes to different places; he comes to Dubai, he goes maybe to New York, he goes to Miami… So the idea is, really, to follow our customer, and to be a part of his world. That’s the key element of our strategy in marketing. Because, before, the brand was saying, we focus on one sport, or one activity, and we stick to that. But now, it’s changed. We are in sports. We are in lifestyle [with] Berluti, Italia Independent. We are with cars [with] Ferrari. We are in art- we are in music: Lang Lang, Depeche Mode. So I think that today, you must really go in all these different worlds, and that’s how you can really touch your consumer.”
Of course, it must be noted here that Hublot’s success in the luxury market isn’t just because of its celebrity patrons, or its clever marketing endeavors- there’s no mistaking the fact that the company’s concerted efforts at being truly innovative while staying true to the hallmark traditions of watchmaking is what has made Hublot the brand that it is today. A look at Hublot’s most talked about watches over the years –consider the Big Bang, King Power, Classic Fusion, and the All Black- is proof enough of its prowess in its craft, with the company today using all sorts of materials like rubber, carbon fiber, ceramic, titanium, and its proprietary Magic Gold (a fusion of liquid gold and ceramic) to build its watches, all of which were practically unheard of in the watch industry until Hublot brought it center stage.
It’s clear that the company’s ‘Art of Fusion’ philosophy continues to drive it even today, with Guadalupe saying that this essentially requires the company to continue to be creative and innovative. “The ‘Art of Fusion’ is having beautiful watches with mechanical movements, all respecting the tradition [of watchmaking], but making watches that connect you to the future by using materials of today. Rubber didn’t exist 100 years ago, ceramic didn’t exist 50-60 years ago, carbon fiber, the same; Magic Gold’s the same- so we’ve really created watches that no other brand offers.
So when you are unique, when you are different, normally, if the product is good, the marketing is good, then you’re a success. Thanks to that, we’ve been able to grow in the last 10 years, and to become now a part of the best watch brands of our industry. Some brands, they have 200-300 years [behind them], but I’d say the difference is that we have a concept, an identity, which is different, and we have also people in the brand [who believe in that].”
While there’s no getting away from the fact that Hublot has been innovative with its products so far, I ask Guadalupe what innovation means for the company in its current milieu, in today’s day and age. “Innovation is defined by the fact that you come up with products that are not repeating the past,” he replies. “So it’s not a repetition of what has been done before; it’s creating something different to connect you to the future.” Guadalupe uses the company’s track record so far to prove his point: be it when Hublot was the first to use a natural rubber strap for a watch, or even when its iconic All Black became a trend for others to follow, the brand has always managed to stand out in the market over the years.
As for the future, Guadalupe says while the watch industry today may be in a sort of crisis, if Hublot can continue to remain really creative and innovative, then this is a chance for it to be stronger than its competitors. “We must think how we can be different, and still exist,” he explains. “You have to reinvent yourself. For us, to come with products that have a strong identity and a lot of value, it’s really important. A watch that is round, with just three hands and a dial, today, is not enough. So I think the future of the watch industry is through innovation, through giving value, and through giving a strong identity to the products that we sell.” Guadalupe’s statement thus offers an indication of how Hublot is strategizing its future- and all signs indicate a smooth ride ahead.