Hublot Watches: A Review
One of horology’s youngest big names, Hublot has been taking the world by storm in recent years.
Born in 1980, the manufacture has turned the merging of different elements into an art form—and not just with materials.
Although they were among the first to join the likes of carbon fiber and ceramic, or solid gold with hardwearing rubber, they also excel in blending traditional and modern styling fundamentals, as well as aligning their brand with some of the biggest icons and institutions of the era.
Today, their catalog is filled with some of the boldest designs in the business, all underpinned with Hublot’s unmistakable aesthetic signature.
Not first choice among the shy and retiring, their brazen creativity attracts larger than life characters from all corners and they are the darling of the Hollywood player.
Below, we take a closer look at this extraordinary company and pick out some of their most impressive pieces.
Unlike many of the more traditional houses in the industry, which can trace their roots back to the mid-19thcentury, Hublot has only been in existence for around four decades.
It was started in 1980 by Italian, Carlo Crocco, the heir to the Binda Group, run by Crocco’s uncle. A well respected family watchmakers, the company owned both the Breil and Wyler Genève brands.
Touted to become the new CEO, instead Crocco decided to set out on his own in 1976. The 32-year old determined to make watches according to his own personal vision, something he had been unable to do while in his uncle’s employ.
It took him four years of fundraising before he was able to set up his modest factory in Switzerland and that same year the newly christened MDM Geneve brand introduced its first watch at Baselworld.
The Start of it All
Crocco’s debut was met with massive critical acclaim. A study in both simplicity and avant-garde daring, the Hublot Classic MDM ref. S140.11.2 was a 32mm quartz powered model, with a perfectly round case, minimalist black dial and a bezel secured by 12 titanium screws. It took its inspiration from the look of a ship’s porthole (an ‘hublot’ in French) and spoke to Crocco’s love of sailing.
However, it was his ‘art of fusion’ philosophy which caused most of the headlines, with the model being the first to blend the luxury of an 18k yellow gold case with a natural rubber strap.
Until then, only the cheapest, most disposable watches came on rubber bracelets, and the Hublot’s was a world away from that. Crocco reportedly spent three years and around $1 million of his $4 million startup budget getting the strap exactly right. The one attached to the Classic MDM was a specially tempered and lightweight specimen and set the watch up as the perfect mix of opulent high end status symbol and everyday casual wear.
Yet, even though it managed to steal much of the limelight, the Hublot failed to translate all that attention into cash and Crocco left Baselworld without a single order.
The lack of sales could have been down to the fact many collectors are reluctant to take a chance on the unknown, regardless of how radical and progressive the model. But it may also have been that both Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet had fairly similar looking pieces, namely the world famous Nautilus and Royal Oak, each designed by Gerald Genta to resemble portholes as well.
Nevertheless, after a slow start, word spread. In MDM Geneve’s first full trading year, the company brought in revenue of around $2 million, but it was becoming obvious they were in need of help.
While a visionary, Crocco seemed to lack the commercial edge vital for survival in the cutthroat horology industry. In the following years, he dedicated himself to both his own work and that of the Hand-in-Hand Foundation, a charity set up to help underprivileged children all over the world.
It wouldn’t be until 2004 that he was able to find the missing piece to the Hublot puzzle when the then-president of Omega watches, Jean-Claude Biver, jumped ship and joined Crocco, taking the position as CEO and becoming a minority shareholder.
An industry and, more importantly, marketing genius, it was Biver who really set Hublot on their way.
His first contribution, the Big Bang Chronograph, was unveiled at the 2005 Baselworld and would go on to receive innumerable awards, including the prestigious Design Prize at the Geneva Watchmaking Grand Prix.
An outlandish, oversized collection of watches, the Big Bang split opinion, as all such breaks from the norm generally do. Its convergence of different materials and styling elements was too much for some but offered a refreshing break from the traditional for others and the series quickly became the brand’s flagship range. Moreover, Hublot was able to imbue the Big Bang with its own sense of exclusivity.
Biver decreed that each model in the collection would be a limited edition (as he had done to a lesser degree in his previous role at Omega), saying, in an interview with The Economist in 2009, ‘…you must always keep the customer hungry and frustrated.’
The strategy worked exceptionally well, and the brand’s turnover increased exponentially over the next few years, attracting the well-heeled from all walks of life.
In 2008, Hublot was absorbed into the LVMH conglomerate and continued to associate themselves with some of the most well-known entities in the world.
These included some of Europe’s biggest soccer teams, including Manchester United, Bayern Munich, Ajax, Juventus and PSG, all of which became authorized partners. Later they would go on to sponsor both the LA Lakers and Miami Heat basketball franchises.
Similarly, they released a number of Formula 1 themed watches when they were announced as the official watchmaker of F1 in 2010, and also the sanctioned timekeeper of the Ferrari team.
Hublot’s current portfolio is still as groundbreaking as ever, and they made the move from manufacturer to manufacture several years ago when they started building their own movements. From once being seen as a somewhat gauche line for the nouveau riche, Hublot is now taken far more seriously and are responsible for many of the industry’s most interesting recent releases.
With Hublot being such a recent addition to the industry, it is only their very earliest pieces which can be described as vintage (and even the 1980s is pushing it in some collectors’ eyes).
Nevertheless, it is in those first run models where some of the best bargains are to be found, as well as potential future investments.
Below, we have picked out two to have a closer look at.
Hublot Classic MDM
The debut offering from any watch brand which has gone on to achieve great things can usually be relied on to be crushingly expensive as a vintage buy. However, that is not the case at Hublot.
The Classic MDM, the piece which set out most of the styling codes for what was to follow, is actually the gateway into Hublot ownership now on the preowned market.
By the standards of later references, the MDM is extremely restrained.
Available in a variety of sizes, ranging from a 28mm ladies piece up to a 36mm, the original gold version was quickly followed up by both steel and two-tone examples, all with that porthole-inspired case shape and screwed down bezel, integrated lugs and, of course, the rubber strap.
The model has nothing in the way of hour markers, with the austere dial completely blank except for some subtle branding, a date function and the plainest of plain stick handsets. Its humble functions are driven by a quartz movement and there is a modest selection of dial colors; the majority are in black but you will also run across blue, silver, white and pink faces occasionally.
Best of all, prices start at under $2,000—an absolute giveaway for a brand benchmark.
Hublot MDM 1810.1 Chronograph
Hublot introduced their MDM 1810.1 Chronograph a few years into their run, at the start of the 1990s.
It followed much of what they had done with the Classic MDM in terms of shape, but had some noteworthy changes.
Firstly, it was bigger than the debut piece, coming in at 40mm; relatively large for the time, but very much at the smaller end of the scale where their present catalog is concerned.
Also, while the case was still perfectly round, the bezel was now smooth, with the trademark Nautilus-esque screws relinquished.
The dial likewise went through a transformation. There were hour markers now, either in Arabic numerals or else tiny batons, and the date window moved from the three o’clock to the 4.30 to make room for the running seconds sub dial. The further two counters, the 30-minute and 12-hour totalizers, sat widely spaced at the six and nine o’clock, and the stick hands were swapped for elegant leaf shapes.
Materials were the same, either steel, gold or two-tone, but this time customers could choose between a quartz or automatic movement, the latter an ETA 2892 A2 with the chrono module sourced from Dubois Dépraz.
Another important milestone in the early years of an important brand, nevertheless, you can find examples of the MDM 1810.1 Chronograph for as low as $3,000.
The Hublot after Jean-Claude Biver came onboard is a very different proposition to the one before his appointment.
The concentration on, and dedication to, new and revolutionary materials has marked the brand out among the great innovators in the industry, and it is something at which they continue to excel.
Their contemporary collections feature some extraordinary models, often with price tags to match.
But whether or not you are a fan, there is no way you could describe modern Hublot as boring.
Hublot Big Bang UNICO GMT Carbon Blue Ceramic
The Big Bang, Biver’s first contribution to Hublot, now stands as the brand’s cornerstone range.
There are nearly 200 different iterations in the collection, across a wide scope of styles and complications. However, squint and you can still see echoes of the very first Hublot watch in the Big Bang’s makeup.
As well as the array of different designs, this is where Hublot tends to unleash its latest proprietary building blocks. Here you will find models in everything from titanium, sapphire and ceramic, through to their own King Gold (the precious metal mixed with large amounts of platinum to create a warm-toned scratch resistant alloy) and this, their carbon fiber.
A lightweight, super strong material, prized in the aerospace and automobile industries, it is used across a number of Hublot’s creations.
The UNICO subsection of the Big Bang range houses three GMT models, with the carbon fiber piece occupying the mid-priced position at around $22,900.
Obviously not cheap, but the advanced case component, along with Hublot’s in-house movement, the HUB1251 UNICO, means there is a lot of watch for the money.
The imposing 45mm body is topped with a microblasted blue ceramic bezel and attractive blue and matte black skeleton dial.
In all, it is one of the more restrained Big Bang watches, with the carbon fiber mesh pattern offering a lovely textured look.
Hublot Spirit of Big Bang Titanium
This offshoot collection of tonneau-shaped Big Bang watches, known as The Spirit of Big Bang, first surfaced in 2014.
The range contains more than 70 models, taking in tourbillon and moonphase pieces, alongside the openwork time-and-date Meca-10 sub division, and this, one of the 34-strong chronographs in the family.
Issued in both 42mm and 45mm, you can take your pick of materials, with ceramic, sapphire, King Gold or Magic Gold all on offer. That last is another patented Hublot invention, with 24k gold alloyed with 3% molten liquid gold, injected with boron carbide to result in the first 18k example of the precious metal to be completely scratch resistant. In that way, it is similar to the already discussed King Gold, but it retains the traditional yellow color.
However, it is arguably the titanium models which present the most in the way of versatility, with a subtly neutral aesthetic which can be worn up or down.
In keeping with the rest of the collection’s visuals, the bezel is fixed with six H-shaped screws and the dial is skeletonized, giving a view of the chronograph caliber underneath.
That movement, the HUB4700, is actually a reworked version of the legendary El Primero from fellow LVMH brand Zenith, beating at its 5Hz, or 36,000vph frequency to allow for 1/10th second accuracy to the stopwatch. Like the dial, the components of the HUB4700 are also skeletonized, and it comes with a healthy 50-hour reserve.
As for prices, the 42mm piece comes in at around $20,000, with the 45mm adding an extra $1,000 on top. There is also the option of a ceramic bezel on both, again with another $1,000 supplement.
Hublot has been one of the great horology success stories of recent years, and is now recognized as a major driving force in the industry. The poster child for nonconformity and rule breaking, they march to the beat of their own drum—with some spectacular results.
Their legacy of radical design means they are a real favorite among the world’s most creative watch connoisseurs, and their reputation, and revolutionary spirit, continues to grow.
— Feauted Photo: Ortmozkin2, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons