Now into its second decade, love it or loathe it, Hublot’s posterboy is here to stay – the product of a veteran auteur’s infectious ambition, and the absolute embodiment of future-forward Swiss watchmaking
By Alex Doak
When Hublot crept onto the scene in 1981 – arguably the height of the Quartz Crisis – it was known for mixing its titular, oddball “porthole” design with a rubber strap scented with vanilla. (Presumably so that it didn’t smell when you sweated over the wisdom of your purchase.) In the same year, rising exec Jean-Claude Biver had just purchased the rights to one of many victims of the aforementioned Crisis; a small naval diving watch supplier by the name of Blancpain.
Hublot sputtered along, never quite comfortable with its unusually contemporary take on “Swiss”; Blancpain blossomed as a venerable horloger, along with the reputation of M. Biver – a well-loved, larger-than-life character who would sell the brand to Swatch Group, then revive the fortunes of its struggling Omega marque.
And then? The two threads met in 2004, with Hublot finally finding the direction it needed, thanks to its new CEO’s singular brainwave: an enigmatic concept (complete with paper-napkin sketches) called “the Art of Fusion”, and embodied by Biver’s boldest move yet: the Big Bang.
Despite sniggers over the gauche name and mumblings over a certain “offshore” kinship, this pumped up reinterpretation of the porthole style was a stroke of luxury design genius. Unlike so many other revived brand names at the time, Biver was too clever to retro-engineer a false heritage for this still-youthful company – instead, he embraced the collision of traditional watchmaking with the future, “fusing” high-tech materials like ceramic and titanium with mechanics, marking Hublot as the ultimate contemporary watchmaker and attracting LVMH as its new owner.
“Take this carbon-fibre Hublot tourbillon I’m wearing,” he told QP, gesturing exuberantly. “It pleases me because it is a steam locomotive, designed for the wrist. It is the barrier we used to stand on as kids, as the train rushed past. We are in front of a Christmas shop window watching the electric train inside. When you have Christmas every day and a dream on the wrist, what else is there?”
Nope? Us neither. Yet it is exactly this unbridled enthusiasm (coupled admittedly with endless limited-editions and a ruthless marketing agenda) that makes the Big Bang still such a… well, big bang, a decade on.
This is part of our Modern Classics series, profiling the most significant watch designs of the last 30 years. You can view the rest of the entries here. Disagree with our choices? Let us know on Twitter, Facebook or by email.