“The Art of Fusion” is more than a motto for Hublot, it’s a lodestar for everything the watchmaker does — from marrying unconventional materials with traditional horology to aligning haute timepieces with street art. And as CEO, Ricardo Guadalupe is Hublot’s alchemist-in-chief, spearheading the products and partnerships that affirm Hublot’s reputation as a risk-taking innovator in a typically staid industry. Guadalupe has been with the company since 2004, when Jean-Claude Biver — his mentor and predecessor as chief executive — transformed the stagnant brand into a model for 21st century watchmaking success. Since taking the helm in 2012, Guadalupe has bolstered Hublot’s cachet with an array of initiatives, including high-wattage events and bold-faced collaborators, that has attracted a broader and younger clientele. He caught up with Robb Report to discuss his approach to brand-building and digital relevance.
How do you go about choosing the partners for “The Art of Fusion”?
There are two important pillars to our partnerships. One is football, or soccer, which is important for us because we had the World Cup in Russia and we had visibility of the brand through the fourth referee board, which is a big investment. And the other one is Ferrari, which has been an honor because Ferrari is an incredible, iconic brand that’s known all over the world and that makes people dream.
Beyond that, we go for partnerships that give us new platforms, like music and art, where we can talk about the brand. We go by opportunities: we had the chance to sponsor Depeche Mode’s tour, we just launched a collaboration with Nicky Jam, which is more reggaetón street music, and we also collaborated with Lang Lang, which is classical. So, it’s an eclectic mix.
With art, we decided to be a bit disruptive because, of course, we don’t want to just go with classic art. So, we did the partnership with Romero Britto, we did Mr. Brainwash, now we’re working with Shepard Fairey. It’s not always rational, you have to go by instinct.
You have to have a good [rapport] with the person and the person should like the brand, of course, because if they don’t it’s never going to work.
Brands are competing for coverage on Instagram and social media…do you feel like there’s pressure to go bigger and better each year?
It’s a digital revolution that we’re living in and we were one of the first [watch] brands to be on social media, so we’re leaders. On Instagram there’s Rolex, and of course Rolex is a massive brand, but we are second with 3.5 million followers. We need content: video, photo, product, events, lifestyle, manufacturing. So, we are investing a lot to get the right content at the level of quality for a top brand.
It’s a new way of hiring and working with these talented people we didn’t have before: filmmakers, young guys coming out of design school, from New York, London. It’s a mix that is really key for us.
It’s as though you’ve become your own media brand in addition to being a watchmaker.
Yes, starting next year we will have our own studio in the factory to produce videos of the product. We have really hi-tech cameras and robotics to create new types of video. We’ll also have a studio for interviews and a studio for photos, but we will continue to work with outside talent as well.
How has the digital boutique experience in New York been going?
We have sold a few watches through that. Really, it’s a step forward toward e-commerce. If we just did standard e-commerce, I don’t think it would be successful. It needs to be an experience. This was a way of giving an experience to the customers. Will we go further? Sure, of course. And hopefully one day we will sell our watches online. The problem with customers buying watches online today is that they want a discount. So, if you give zero discount, I think it’s difficult to sell. You must give them something different.
In light of the recent news about Mr. Biver [the much-revered President of LVMH’s Watch Division, stepping down], what is the greatest lesson he taught you in your career?
I’ve worked with him for 25 years, so he’s really my mentor. I think his best advice is that when you think you’ve reached the top of the mountain, keep climbing — you’re never there. We think we have success but still must continue; just to stay on the top is already a challenge.
What can we look forward to from Hublot in 2019?
Our partnership with Ferrari is going to be important, with the 90-year anniversary of the Scuderia Ferrari at Formula One. So, we’re going to come out with a new watch dedicated to the Gran Turismo world and the cars they produce. It’s something that we’ve designed together with the team at Ferrari and will launch in Basel. It’s a new watch that is not a Big Bang, that is not a Classic Fusion; something entirely new that is really Ferrari and something that is also very different for Hublot.