Written by Kevin Doyle & Jonny Williamson
With a backdrop as striking as its stature, the black H-shaped structure of Hublot’s state-of-the-art facility in Nyon, Switzerland faces Lake Geneva and the Alps. Covering 6,000sqm, Hublot Manufacture is divided into six levels (four aboveground, two underground) and has become the nerve centre of a re-defined company with a legendary reputation the world over for catering to an uber-exclusive clientele.
A site such as this would have been an unimaginable notion just five years earlier, with a stagnant Hublot in serious need of a new contemporary direction and an updated product range. The fact that the facility became fully operational in 2009 is symbolic of the turnaround executed under the direction of dynamic Chairman Jean-Claude Biver. Appointed in 2004, Biver immediately set about reinvigorating the company, culminating in Hublot unveiling the world’s most expensive watch earlier this year at the Baselworld 2012 Show. The US$5million white-gold watch is laden with over 1,200 individual diamonds and was swiftly bought by The Hour Glass boutiques in Singapore for display in its Hublot corners.
Inside, Hublot Manufacture is a bright, clean space, more closely resembling a hospital suite than a manufacturing plant, yet perfectly encapsulates the physical manifestation of Biver’s core belief that “without innovation, there can be no future.”
“If I have to choose between spending $10million in Research and Development or $10million on a new marketing strategy, I will always take Research and Development because that will provide not only our future, but substance,” the Chairman states passionately. “The brand needs a deep, profound and solid substance which can only be achieved through innovation, creativity and Research and Development.”
Hublot’s much-vaunted track record of innovation and development has led to new colours, incorporating new materials to produce ultra-light weight watches and its latest creation, ‘Magic Gold – a scratch-resistant 18K gold and ceramic alloy.
The hospital connotations are mirrored in the workforce as, due to the sheer intricacy of the timepieces being manufactured, every employee is required to don a white lab coat, mask and latex gloves to avoid fingerprints and ensure a sterile environment. Each employee is rigorously trained to execute one small part of the assembly process, guaranteeing the quality Hublot has become renowned for. To manufacture the minute and intricate components within its movements, Hublot’s CNC (Computer Numeric Control) Machines are operated by highly skilled technicians, a necessary step when creating watches which go beyond the simple display of hours, minutes and seconds.
The assembly of each watch is spread across the facility, with the raw materials moulded into components on the manufacturing floor, sitting below the floor where piecing the movements and engines of the watch together takes place. The floor above builds each movement into the outer-casing and sits alongside a team meticulously testing every piece before it is approved to leave the Hublot Manufacture. At each stage, components are polished and triple-checked to ensure the integrity of every piece and Hublot’s reputation for quality and engineering precision is maintained.
The more complications a timepiece has, the more difficult it becomes to design, manufacture and repair, so Hublot has created a Grande Complication Department, comprising 30 watchmakers, prototype designers, electroplating technicians and engineers, who specialise in Grande Complication movements.
Many employees wear Hublot watches as part of a long-term, real-world testing process, with each watch returned after a designated period of time for deconstruction and analysis, helping to inform future design and production decisions.
As well as its own employees, Hublot has an established family of sports ambassadors across the globe, including Olympic and World Champion sprinter Usain Bolt, Manchester United’s stalwart coach Sir Alex Ferguson, basketball stars Udonis Haslem and Dwayne Wade of Miami Heat and legendary Argentine footballer Diego Maradona, who sports Hublot timepieces on both wrists.
These aside, Hublot has a particular relationship with Formula 1, being appointed the sports ‘Official Watchmaker’ in March 2010 and counting both F1 President and CEO Bernie Ecclestone and the family and Institute of deceased F1 legend Ayrton Senna within its ambassador family. More recently, Hublot launched a long-term partnership with Ferrari at the start of 2012, becoming its ‘Official Watch’ and ‘Timekeeper’.
When you consider Hublot’s own pedigree of innovation, especially regarding fusing classic materials with rare metals, ceramics, and organic compounds, it is easy to understand how beneficial symbioses with F1 and Ferrari can become.
“Formula 1 is an engine; an engine for speed, for emotions, for dreams, for success. A watch is also an engine, an engine for the wrist, but an engine for dreams and success nonetheless,” declares Biver emphatically. “Formula 1 and Hublot are in the same business, building ultra-lightweight, high-performance engines from new materials. We attract the same consumer, so in the case of Formula 1 or a brand like Ferrari, a strategic partnership with them provides us with the perfect platform to form more effective, co-operative marketing.”