Interview: Ricardo Guadalupe, CEO of Hublot
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Interview: Ricardo Guadalupe, CEO of Hublot

Interview: Ricardo Guadalupe, CEO of Hublot

Ricardo Guadalupe took a Swiss watchmaker that was only known among a select few and transformed it into a larger-than-life phenomenon. Here’s how he did it

Ricardo Guadalupe, CEO of Hublot

Any conversations around Swiss luxury watchmaker Hublot must begin with its former CEO, watch industry stalwart Jean-Claude Biver. Biver was handed the keys to the company in 2004 from its founder, Carlo Crocco. At the time, it was a little-known watchmaker, but Biver was brought in specifically to change that. He quickly hired Ricardo Guadalupe, who he knew from a decade before that as the international head of sales and marketing at Blancpain, to turn tables at Hublot.

“In 2004, he asked me to join Hublot. He would always tell me that when you are the first to have a unique idea, you will normally have success with it,” Hublot CEO Guadalupe tells Gulf Business.

Those ideas included the introduction of the now iconic Big Bang collection in 2005 and a doubling down on the Art of Fusion concept whereby the brand became a reference point in mixing seemingly incongruent materials in a timepiece – this was a brand that, after all, began life in 1980 by pairing a gold case with a rubber strap.

By the time Biver passed on the mantle to Guadalupe in 2012, Hublot had already been sold to luxury conglomerate LVMH, and had built a reputation for shocking marketing tactics.

For example, in 2010 former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone was savagely attacked by robbers who entered his home and stole, among other things, a Hublot F1 King Power. Ecclestone took an image of his badly bruised face and sent it to his friend Biver who quickly created an advertisement with it captioned “See what people will do for a Hublot” – suggesting that the then 81-year-old fought valiantly to protect his Hublot.

Then there was that time from a few years ago when Hublot managed to secure its logo branding on boxer Floyd Mayweather’s “The Money Fight” against Conor McGregor, the returns on investment which Guadalupe says amounted to hundreds of millions when considering the visibility the fight had around the world.

Apart from boxing, another sport where it has dominated is football. Hublot became the first luxury watchmaker to enter football sponsorship with the Euro Cup in 2008. Apart from being the official timekeeper for the FIFA World Cup, creating the referee board in the shape of the Hublot Big Bang for the 2014 and 2018 versions of the tournament was a major coup too. In September 2020, Hublot also became the official timekeeper of the Premier League – a sporting event with a viewership of 3.2 billion people. The watchmaker even released a new Big Bang e Premier League digital watch earlier this year to mark that partnership.

Giving Hublot further visibility is its partnership with artists – the Classic Fusion Takashi Murakami All Black is one example, with the others being those created with Sang Bleu and Richard Orlinski.

Guadalupe says that bold marketing tactics and strategic partnerships are de rigueur for the industry in which he operates. “Hublot, in order to succeed, had to be different compared to other traditional brands. Why else would someone buy a classic Hublot from a 40-year-old brand when they can have beautiful watches from brands that have been in existence for over 100 years?”

Hublot The Dubai Mall Boutique
The Dubai Mall boutique was the single highest-selling boutique worldwide in 2020 for Hublot

But Hublot ensured that its marketing theatrics didn’t come at the expense of proper innovation at the Nyon-headquartered brand. A full-fledged R&D push began in 2010 with the acquisition of BNB Concept that led to the creation of a dedicated research department. It resulted in the creation of the “unscratchable” Magic Gold in 2012, obtained by injecting gold into ceramic; the Red Magic case meanwhile was made by fusing iron oxides into ceramic, heating it to 800 degrees Celsius and then subjecting it to a pressure of 600 tonnes per square centimetre.

Apart from ceramic, another material that Hublot has worked on consistently is sapphire. Hublot is now well-known for its colourful sapphire timepieces, the latest of which was the Big Bang Tourbillon Automatic Orange Sapphire released at the LVMH Watch Week 2021.

On a technical front, it has had several hits too including the Unico which debuted back in 2009 as its first 100 per cent in-house movement; its Meca-10 day power reserve; and also the MP11 movement that has a 14-day power reserve thanks to the seven in-line arranged barrels. But it’s impossible not to mention the MP-05 LaFerrari timepiece from 2016 that had an incredible 50-day power reserve, which was at the time a world record power reserve for a manual-winding tourbillion wristwatch.

The partnership with Ferrari began in 2012 and resulted in several high-octane timepieces over the years. It came to an end this year though, with Ferrari choosing to team up with Richard Mille instead. “We have had success with Ferrari, but after a certain point, we didn’t find the right equilibrium to continue together. We also want to move on with our strategy of partnerships,” explains Guadalupe on Hublot’s decision to part ways with Ferrari.

Hublot Big Bang Integral Tourbillon Full Sapphire
The new Hublot Big Bang Integral Tourbillon Full Sapphire

The day we speak in March, Guadalupe says, marks the one-year anniversary from when the Hublot offices and manufacture were completely shut for six weeks as the Covid-19 pandemic took root. Hublot’s manufacture was gradually reopened in stages and only reached 100 per cent last September, although he says that distribution was affected over a three-four month period in 2020.

Last year, overall Swiss watch exports plunged 21.8 per cent to CHF16.98bn. According to data compiled by the Zurich based Vontobel private bank – a fairly accurate barometer of the watch industry – Hublot’s parent company LVMH saw its Swiss watch exports reduce around 23 per cent last year – almost as much as the other big players including Swatch Group and Richemont.
Guadalupe says that while the watch market will rebound in 2021, it won’t be at pre-Covid levels mainly because tourists are not yet returning. “In Switzerland, 50 per cent of [our] businesses is tourists.”

Hublot roughly manufactures around 60,000 watches annually. “We have 114 standalone boutiques and 600 points of sales. Our biggest market is Europe which represents more or less 30 per cent; the Americas are around 25-30 per cent; Japan is a very strong market at over 10 per cent; Greater China is at almost 15 per cent and the Middle accounts for close to 15 per cent [of our sales].”

The Middle East, and specifically the UAE, has proved to be a resurgent market for Hublot. Its Dubai Mall boutique, it says, was the single highest-selling boutique worldwide in 2020 in terms of the number of pieces sold and also the value of the sales. “We work with a strong local partner Seddiqi & Sons. They were already Hublot representatives before we took over in 2004-2005, and we have been growing with them. The UAE is [our] number one [market within the region], followed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain which are more or less on the same level.”

Trust Guadalupe to always break out audacious ideas to maintain a constant buzz around the brand. In 2018, it showcased a Big Bang Meca-10 P2P timepiece that could only be purchased using bitcoins. Last year, it introduced a blockchain-based e-warranty platform to authenticate and store data regarding the entire lifecycle of a timepiece including its production, sale, and any resale to effectively combat the counterfeit market. But now, weeks after Tesla boss announced plans for Teslas to be purchased using bitcoins, Guadalupe confirms that similar plans are afoot at Hublot. “We’re working on an online project where you can buy your watch using cryptocurrency. It’s a project we will launch this year.”

It would make Hublot the first Swiss high-end watchmaker to offer a dedicated mechanism to purchase watches using cryptocurrency. Guadalupe need not remind himself twice of what Biver once told him.

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