THE BOSS OF IT ALL: Ricardo Guadalupe
Text by Kee | Photos courtesy of Hublot
Hublot CEO's Ricardo Guadalupe

If we were to run a poll as to who calls the shots in high-end watchmaking today, Hublot’s CEO Ricardo Guadalupe is a shoo-in to take the plaudits. But tell this disruptor something he doesn’t already know.

The narrow hallways at Hublot’s nerve centre at the Watches and Wonders watch fair in Geneva was as busy as the main floor of a stock exchange. Many pay a visit to Hublot’s side of things simply because of the way it has gone about its watchmaking biz in recent years, perhaps akin to how molecular gastronomy has disrupted the fine dining scene. Main man Ricardo Guadalupe, who was seen pacing this very hallway and giving out hugs and handshakes to his day ones, is the reason why Hublot hasn’t lost its energy levels even when the competition is fiercer and today’s watch buyers are more opinionated than a K-pop groupie. Hublot only turned 40 at the start of the pandemic in 2020, which is still considered relatively young when compared to many other well-known labels that are four to six times older. But the beautiful truth about its age is that Hublot doesn’t view it as a handicap. Instead, it believes that it truly understands the older millennial because it is one too. This has resulted in it coming up with some of the most provocative and never-before-seen limited editions in recent memory, ones that the new money crowd aspires to flex... and actually have the financial muscle to own. Think of the collabs involving artist Takashi Murakami, crypto tech firm Ledger, cigar brand Arturo Fuente y Compañia, and even tattooist Maxime Plescia-Buchi. Even before the watch fair, Hublot casually added artist Daniel Arsham into its future line-up of collaborators, teasing a future collector’s item from the artist who actually has some clout in the timepiece market. But what really is Hublot’s secret sauce? Some might say it is the unparalleled material innovations that outfit its technically gifted timekeepers. Think coloured sapphire cases, scratch-proof gold alloy, and coloured high-tech ceramic – just some harder-to-create-than-it-sounds ideas that many today may take for granted as the norm. Let’s not forget it even gave the industry the first wristwatch with a natural rubber strap at the start of the ’80s which Hublot doesn’t give itself enough credit for. Even if its competitors hate to admit it, Hublot ought to be given its flowers for penning the blueprint when it comes to making major marketing moves. Remember when Hublot decided to land a metaphorical kick to the groin of purists when it decided to release a smartwatch in 2018 just because it was confident enough that the idea won’t cannibalise its mechanical watch segment? Guadalupe was in the frontline drinking the tears of haters when it happened. Sure, when he took over the CEO position in 2012, he was continuing the great work of his predecessor, the original horology hype man in Jean-Claude Biver. But rather than crumble under the pressure of succeeding an industry icon, Guadalupe has continued to surround himself with a strong team of boundary-pushers who have helped solidify Hublot’s position at the very top of risk-taking wristwatch designs. A smart move is Hublot’s continued presence in football (soccer, if you insist) which has allowed it to reach an existing base of five billion. It continues to partner with the top global leagues and competitions in the capacity of official timekeeper. Even if you’re a casual watcher of the game, it is hard to forget every appearance of an oversized digital board shaped like the iconic Big Bang case whenever a player substitution occurs or when the added time to a game is being displayed. At the historic winter World Cup in Qatar last year, an anomaly occurred when 60 per cent of games had more than 10 minutes of stoppage time given per game, meaning Hublot garnered plenty of extra exposure in the 64 matches played over the course of a month. So, even if you profess to know nothing about timepieces, it has somehow slotted itself into your consciousness. As to the answer of Hublot’s secret sauce? It isn’t hyperbole to suggest Guadalupe is a key ingredient in the Hublot recipe. He would probably agree.

MANIFESTO: The FIFA World Cup hosted in Qatar last year was such a big success for Hublot. What is your assessment of that exposure and how do you top that this year?

RICARDO GUADALUPE: I can’t have the World Cup every year, you know? (Laughs) Thanks to the referee board we have at least 20 minutes of visibility time every match. There are now five player changes per team instead of the usual three so we had even more visibility. Regarding the brand awareness, it was something fantastic. When someone sees Hublot today they know it, even if they can’t afford our watches – and that’s a positive takeaway. This year is really about the Art of Fusion, our DNA. We have to communicate about the art of watchmaking, we have to talk about the movements, materials, and designs. We are a real manufacture but not in the same way like Patek Philippe.

M: One of the key material innovations this year is the pairing of carbon fibre and Texalium composite proposed on a Big Bang. It feels extremely light to the touch which is unexpected judging by its looks. What does this innovation mean for Hublot?

RG: It says that we can work on high-tech materials and be able to industrialise them. Making one or two pieces is easy but doing 50 to 100 pieces is another thing. Like sapphire, we have managed to industrialise it. We can have a watch that is extremely light – and lightness is luxury. Luxury watches used to be bold and heavy with gold and platinum. Now, hightech materials are sold at an even higher price than gold. Also, the design of the tourbillon movements we are selling not just ordinary tourbillons. They come with sapphire bridges and a microrotor, and aluminium plates.

M: The new Classic Fusion – inspired by the brand’s original design in 1980 – is a welcome reminder of where you were and how far you have come. Share with us what this emblematic model means to the Hublot story.

RG: It is the most important pillar for Hublot as it is the entry model to our universe with prices ranging around 6,000 to 7,000 euros. It is a basic watch for us, three-hands with a plain dial and a rubber strap. The original Hublot was a classic watch. This is for those who can’t afford to buy the sapphire watches yet, but they can have access to the brand.

M: Hublot has done nearly everything that can be done in watchmaking. So, what excites you about watchmaking these days?

RG: Yes, everything has been done so let’s invent something else. Look at the Texalium piece we just launched. It is a new material for us and it’s so light. The best part about my job is the product development.

M: There are many passionate watch aficionados online and the forums are often filled with dismissive opinions about the brand. Do you pay attention to these critics?

RG No, not at all. I don’t care. There is a population of watch geeks who don’t make up a portion of the business. They think there are two or three incredible brands and that’s it. We try to do our best to make incredible products. They don’t think we are a true manufacture – but that’s also because we are a young brand. I can accept criticism but I don’t want to pollute my mind with their opinions. There are people who just focus on vintage watches so the Pateks, Rolexes, and APs will always be the best. At the end of the day, the watch market isn’t just about vintage watches. If so, we can close all of the watch factories today. (Laughs) We have to sell new watches to new consumers. We are a young brand and we can’t play in the vintage watch league. For 20 years, we were even selling quartz watches. So maybe in another 20 to 30 years, you can consider our Big Bangs playing a role in the vintage market. If you see our Murakami and Sang Bleu pieces, they have a higher resale value than others.

M: Do you think any of the current Hublot pieces will have a part to play in auction in the near future?

RG: Today, I think the Murakami pieces are already in-demand. I do check Chrono 24 (online marketplace for luxury watches) and I see the likes of the Pelé edition of the Classic Fusion Aerofusion doubling and tripling after his passing although it is unfortunate that he passed away. Even for the Bitcoin-themed watch (Big Bang Meca-10 P2P) is now reselling for over 100,000 euros even though it retailed for only 25,000 euros.

M: What are yout thoughts about the metaverse?

RG: Today, we are launching new Murakami watches and NFTs. We want to be leaders in everything that is happening. We want to be leaders in NFTs in the watch industry. We want to be able to give value to our watches and want others to talk about our brand. But it isn’t enough to just have our brands in the OpenSea (a decentralised marketplace for buying and selling NFTs). We have been working with Murakami because he has been quite involved in NFTs. We tried entering the Metaverse during the World Cup season. It was successful but it wasn’t crazy successful. We will continue to work on new ideas.

M: Tell us about this relationship with Daniel Arsham who is a new member on the Hublot roster.

RG: We love art and we are inspired by the artists we work with. I think it is a new way of making watches. No other brands are going this deep into creating a watch with an artist. I met Daniel Arsham and he has ideas that can develop our products further. It may be a watch or it may not be a watch with him, so wait and see.

M: Tell us about some of the ambassadors you work with and how they are selected.

RG: We have Kylian Mbappé [as a Hublot ambassador]. I saw him playing for Monaco, and he is very good in football and a really good person too. He was 18 when we met, and we had an opportunity to meet his parents. I view him as the new Pelé, so we even got both of them to meet – it was also the last public appearance of Pelé before his passing. For Novak Djokovic, his agent came to us. He was with a Japanese brand but he personally likes Hublot. In my opinion, there are three top players in the world of tennis. We know the brands that [Roger] Federer and [Rafael] Nadal are loyal to. Djokovic will soon become the number one amongst the greats although it might not be the case if you’re asking a Swiss or a Spanish. I met him in Monaco where he lives. He is charismatic and he has strong opinions but I like that in a person. I met him again a few weeks ago at our factory and we are currently working on a watch together.

M: Can you summarise your time as the CEO of Hublot?

RG: When I started at Hublot, it was not a real manufacture. We built the first building to manufacture our watches in 2009 and then the second building in 2015. We did our first in-house movement in the Unico in 2009. We are now a team of 500 people in Nyon. We are starting on a third building this summer and targeted for completion in 2025. It has taken us 12 to 14 years to reach this level today and we need another decade to get to the standards of the bigger brands. My target for Hublot is to be in the top five watch brands in the world.

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