Hublot is firing on all engines. Year after year, results from the haute horlogerie brand – in the hands of luxury conglomerate LVMH since 2008 – have shot off the scale, and 2013 was no exception. The brand, captained by Ricardo Guadalupe and best-known for its Big Bang and King Power watches, is intent on proving that it owes its success to horological substance and not pure marketing. Last year’s sales soared to an all-time high, progressing 12% at constant exchange rates. Such a performance from the company – which is based in Nyon, by Lake Geneva, and which recently unveiled its latest products alongside the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie – is all the more remarkable considering that Swiss watch exports were virtually flat last year.
Ricardo Guadalupe has every reason to be pleased. The brand has won market share from the numerous competitors in its main segment of watches priced between CHF 5,000 and CHF 15,000 to take it through the symbolic 40,000 watch mark at end 2013. The brand has made such impressive progress that it’s difficult to imagine it was an unknown name until Jean-Claude Biver took the helm in 2004. The current network of 70 stores worldwide is set to expand with new projects scheduled to launch. The brand is opening new doors at the rate of some ten a year; almost one a month. Soon the network will include addresses in Houston, Munich, Bratislava, Lucerne, Mexico City and three new outlets in China (Shenyang, Changchun and Chengdu).
Hublot has continued to push the industrial side of operations too. Last year it fitted 7,000 watches with its own Unico movement, and has a five-year objective to equip 75% of its timepieces with in-house calibres. This ramping-up of production has meant an extension to manufacturing facilities in Nyon, where work has already begun to the tune of some CHF 20 million. The new building will enable the brand to go on integrating its skills, and to transfer activities from the site in nearby Gland to the new premises. Increased production capacity will inevitably mean more staff: the brand plans to take on 150 new people over the next five years, adding half as many again to the 300 who are currently employed in Switzerland. The brand also employs some 100 people worldwide.
Major investments in production
Hublot anticipates a rise in sales of 7% to 8% in what Ricardo Guadalupe believes will be a landmark year, not least as Hublot is official timekeeper for the World Cup, taking place in Brazil in June. In fact the brand will soon be opening a store in Rio de Janeiro, aimed at driving sales in a country whose watch purchases are earning it a reputation as a second, smaller China.
Already this year the brand has unveiled products in segments outside its usual arena. In January it presented a tonneau watch, the first from Hublot with this case shape although still with the design cues of its predecessors, such as the six H-shaped screws around the bezel. Interestingly, the “engine” is an El Primero movement by Zenith (also LVMH) which has been completely reviewed and adapted to Hublot’s specifications. Meanwhile, the brand continues to imagine new sidelines. After a racing bike, skis and a sledge come a pair of titanium sunglasses. Manufactured as a limited edition of 1,000 (CHF 2,900 a pair), they were developed in partnership with Marcus Marienfeld, a specialist based in Ried-Brig in the Swiss canton of Valais. The lenses are by Zeiss, a world-leader in the field.
Continuing in this exclusive vein, Hublot recently presented a watch that will only be sold at the just-opened Cheval Blanc Randheli resort on the Noonu Atoll in the Maldives. Guests of the hotel, whose parent company is also LVMH, will be able to purchase the Oceanographic 4000 Cheval Blanc Randheli Special Edition. Made from titanium with accents in Randheli yellow, it is built to withstand pressure equivalent to a depth of 4,000 metres, and results from eighteen months of research, development and testing.
Moving from products to strategy, Hublot chairman Jean-Claude Biver has been appointed at the head of LVMH’s watch division, which also includes TAG Heuer and Zenith. Interviewed about this new function, he clarified his role: “I haven’t been put here to reposition or restructure activity. The situation is very different to when I took over at Hublot or at Blancpain, where everything needed rethinking. This time everything is on track. Hublot is still posting double-digit growth, Zenith has completed its restructuring under Jean-Frédéric Dufour, and Tag Heuer is in line with its objectives.” Biver, who is a veteran figure of Swiss watchmaking, added there would likely be no major changes within the division but rather “homeopathic” adjustments.
When asked the tricky question of what lies in store for the Swiss watch industry in 2014, Jean-Claude Biver replied that, while “cautious”, he felt this would be an even better year than 2013, “even if it’s only 3% or 5%. After a record year, that would still be a fantastic performance.”