A TimeZone Interview with Jean-Claude Biver

CEO of Hublot SA

by Mike Margolis

Interview conducted in New York, June 2005

MM:  Mike Margolis – TimeZone.com
JCB:  Jean-Claude Biver

MM:   Let me start with a simple question: What is Hublot?

JCB:   During the last recent years a sleeping brand, which is finally not so bad, because I don’t know many people who make mistakes when they’re sleeping, which means the brand has remained clean and ready to be re-lauched.

In 1980, Hublot founder and owner Mr. Carlo Crocco discovered Rubber and Gold, it was the first Fusion in watchmaking history. Fusion of the Rubber Tree and the Gold Mine, nobody had thought to do it before. The Fusion of Materials, that is Hublot. At Basel 1980 everybody thought he was crazy.

Thirty years later, every brand from Breguet to Swatch have made watches with rubber, with the rubber trend started by Hublot in 1980. Many companies now combine rubber and gold in jewelry as well.

There were two things that attracted me to Hublot: First, it is a brand with a concept and a mission: they represented Fusion in Watchmaking Art. Second, the brand had a strong identity: in thirty years they never strayed from their mission: the same case shape (“hublot” means “porthole” in French) and the fusion of rubber and metal. This brand had all the ingredients of future success.

So, I called Mr. Crocco and tried to buy the brand, and he said “No, I will not sell it to you!” But we came to terms, and I left the Swatch Group and became the CEO of Hublot in July 2004. With the summer holidays, I started in September 2004.

MM:   Where does Hublot go from here? Let’s face it, it really is a sleeping brand!

JCB:   Well, my role at Hublot is in a certain way to relaunch the brand and to develop it’s mission : The “Fusion” between Tradition and Vision. In other term to create New Fusion, to face lift the product from 1980 while keeping 100% of the DNA of the product, to develop new “fusion “movements, to develop the distribution and to make the brand desirable. Today we already have the first visibility of my intervention :the Big Bang. We have with Big Bang a very attractive, innovative, unique watch , with a very new construction concept (the first “sandwich” construction in a watch case), we have fusion using Ceramic, Rubber, Gold, Carbon Fiber, Tantalum, Steel and more! Hublot and the world will remember my contribution through the Big Bang, it is the new era of Hublot.

Click for PDF showing the evolution of the Hublot case

MM:   Excellent, now Hublot have a fusion of new materials. That is a great start. Everybody followed Mr. Crocco with the use of rubber. But aren’t you following Panerai with Tantalium, Chopard with Carbon Fiber and IWC with Ceramic (Zirconium Oxide)?

JCB:   With Hublot, we actually have TWO new fusions: First, the aesthetic, or the case and bracelet, and second, the movement. No true fusion can come from one, it must come from INSIDE the watch and OUTSIDE the watch too. Inside, after less than a year, we can’t see much yet, the inside fusion will take some more time. Nevertheless, our goal is very clear: We will make fusions inside the case and outside the case too. The Big Bang shows you all the outside fusions with new materials, the inside started a little bit. I promise you, we have a lot, lot, lot coming inside. We have many plans that will hit the watchmaking world. People will be surprised at what we do.

MM:   Can you tell us a little more about the future fusions?

JCB:   Fusion is the combination of tradition and vision. Tradition, which we take from the past, and Vision, which leads to the future, and we bring them together today. You can not walk into the future without one leg in the past. Fusion will be our basic philosophy going into the future, as it has been in the past. Art which repeats what was done in the past is an Art which is dead, because you can not progress into the future by repeating what was done in the past.

MM:   So, what does the future hold for Hublot?

JCB:   In Watchmaking Art, I was the first with Blancpain in 1982 when the brand belonged to Jacques Piguet and myself to repeat the fine watchmaking art of the past. (MM note: Blancpain under JCB’s leadership introduced the six masterpieces of watchmaking: the Ultraslim, the Moon phase Calendar, the Chronograph, the Minute Repeater, the Quantieme Perpetual and the Tourbillon, and then combined them all into one watch, the 1735) Today I want to be the first with Hublot not to repeat the past, but to interpret it into the future. I will take the path I know and the path of the future and I combine them. That is the highest objective I have for Hublot today. This is the reason I am so motivated, it is not just putting ceramic with gold, I am motivated by the entire philosophy of mixing TRADITION with VISION. This is why I work today, I want Hublot to be the reference of Fusion In The Watchmaking Art. Each brand must have a reason to exist, each brand must have a mission and bring something more than a watch to the customer .Blancpain is the reference of tradition, maybe they’re not the only reference, but they are a reference. And Hublot has a reason to exist as well, it is to be the reference of Fusion In The Watchmaking Art.

MM:   As you know, we Timezoners are movement fanatics. What can you tell us about the future Hublot movements?

JCB:   Unfortunately, I can not show you the fusion in the movements today, but believe me, it is in the works, we will have our own movements, they will come! I am so happy to be with you today, we are assisting in the birth, or really the rebirth of Hublot. And in September we will have Ron decorate coming to the Hublot factory in order to analyze and to make a report about our unique Tourbillon which we presented in limited series in Basel 2005 and which will be heavily developed in the “fusion ” spirit in 2006.

MM:   Yes, but is the technology there today to bring your fusion to the movements, to the mechanics of the watch?

JCB:   Let me say this. If we would get the most beautiful tourbillon movement in 21kt gold, I could not use it for Hublot, because where is the “Fusion”. We would have to add something from to the future to the traditional movement. For instance, why not having the bridges made in ceramic instead of 21kt gold? Why not having some bridges in titanium with blue sapphire instead of the red rubies?

MM:   If Abraham Louis Breguet were alive today, what do you think he would be doing?

JCB:   If Mr. Breguet were alive today, I think he would be using modern materials instead of gold, brass or steel, which were the only material he could use. So this is what I mean by Fusion, to add something new from our days, not simply to repeat the past. I can not repeat the past, I did that already once with Blancpain, and I can not live my life by repeating over and over the same traditions.

MM:   Thank you very much for giving us a small glimpse into the future of Hublot. As you know, here on Timezone.com we always end each interview with the same question. So, may I ask you, what watch are you wearing today?

JCB:   Today I am wearing my Big Bang in steel and ceramic and I have a few days holidays in St.Tropez after we came here to sponsor a major Polo Tournament.

Copyright 2005, Mike Margolis
All Rights Reserved