Coming to America

Hublot, the luxury Swiss sport watch best known for its “porthole” bezel and natural-rubber strap, is shifting its primary marketing spotlight to the United States, and its watch-design focus to American tastes, JCK has learned. “Hublot will put 80 percent of its efforts and energy in this market,” said Fabrizio Cocchiano, president of Hublot of America, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in an interview with JCK.

The company will place more emphasis on women’s watches and complications, add U.S. dealers, try to boost its average sale and enhance its image. It will launch a new advertising campaign with “an American concept for American people,” says Cocchiano.

These initiatives are part of a strategic makeover to strengthen the brand, which is being led by Jean-Claude Biver, luxury-watch veteran and chief executive officer of Hublot S.A, in Nyon, Switzerland.

Review. Biver and his top staff conducted a detailed review of Hublot’s product and global business in the second half of 2004. One result of that review, says Cocchiano, was the decision to make the United States the prime market.

“Most of the watches produced, materials used, and design shapes and forms will be for the U.S. market, and will feed the rest of the brand’s world market,” Cocchiano says. He notes that Swiss luxury watch brands usually start with Swiss concepts and then adapt them to other markets.

The characteristic features of the watch itself, including the porthole-shape bezel, vanilla-scented rubber strap, and screws in the case lugs, won’t change. “Our niche remains a sport-casual, not technical, watch,” Cocchiano says.

But Hublot, which sparked controversy in 1980 when it launched its luxury stainless-steel watch with rubber strap, now has become “like a blue blazer—never out of fashion, but not on the cutting edge,” notes Cocchiano.

Biver, himself an innovator in luxury watches, says he isn’t afraid to “wake the sleeping volcano. Historically, Hublot has been on the forefront of trends in the watch industry, and part of our mission is to continue its success,” he says.

New Watches. The first fruits of that mission are prominently displayed this spring at the international BaselWorld watch trade fair (March 31–April 7). There Hublot planned to add more than 30 new watches, with more color and gemstones, and modify some popular models. Hublot’s SuperB chronograph, for example, has enlarged and recessed its formerly raised 12 polished bezel screws. It offers a dial in blue, black, titanium, or white; a screw-down crown and two push-pieces fitted with lockable rings, all of rubber (solving the problem of water resistance in chronographs); and a first-time transparent crystal back (showing its automatic movement, enhanced by a flyback with a new oscillating weight sporting the brand’s colors).

More noticeable are changes to Hublot’s signature watch strap of black vanilla-scented natural rubber, which has symbolized the brand since its creation. The rubber straps now come in various colors, including navy blue, red, pink, silver, and bronze, and there’s a crocodile strap on a rubber base (to preserve the comfort characteristic of Hublot straps).

Biver says the new guiding design principle for all Hublot watches is “fusion,” which he defines as capturing the affinity between sea, land, and man. “It gives the designs a new dimension while adhering to Hublot’s unique, classic style,” he says.

U.S. Market. Hublot executives reviewed the entire collection with an eye toward the important U.S. market and found that 60 percent of Hublot’s products are doing well in the United States. “There’s a big demand, for example, for men’s watches with diamonds, more than in some other countries,” Cocchiano notes. That leaves room in the other 40 percent for innovation and change.

There will be more emphasis on women’s timepieces. “We absolutely need to boost that business,” Cocchiano says. “In our classic Hublot watches, sales are about 50-50 men and women, but for the whole range, it’s predominately men. We need to do more for ladies.” One example of that direction is its Floréales line, added in mid 2004, with color-stone dials and gem “flowers” set on the stainless-steel case of a classic Hublot watch.

Price Boosting. Operationally, Hublot of America wants to boost its average price and image and expand its U.S. network. Its average sale is $6,000 (in a price range of $2,800 to $56,000). It wants to go to $8,000, aided by “more emphasis on new watches with more complicated movements, more on gemstones, and other new developments,” Cocchiano says.

It also wants to strengthen and expand its U.S. network of 80 stores, 70 percent of which are active, according to Cocchiano. “We’re in the process of identifying who are partners to whom we mean something and who aren’t,” he says. “We want to grow stronger with the people doing business with us.” It aims to be in 100 to 120 stores in three years, while remaining selective, with a long-term goal of 150. Since Hublot is sold in all major U.S. markets, most additions will be in smaller urban markets and states without a strong presence.

Hublot is also raising its public profile. “The consumer doesn’t know Hublot enough,” Cocchiano says. “There’s much room to grow.” There will be more p.r. events, more Hublots put on wrists of celebrities in the media spotlight, and a new ad campaign in keeping with the focus on the United States as Hublot’s prime market. “Instead of a Swiss company, we’ve asked an American agency to create an American concept for American people,” says Cocchiano.

Meanwhile, with Hublot’s 25th anniversary coming in 2006, additional plans are already being made for promoting and marketing the brand and its watches.