LVMH Buys Swiss Watch Hublot

LVMH, one of the world’s leading luxury goods groups, has purchased the innovative Swiss luxury watch brand Hublot from owner Carlo Crocco.

Officials of both companies announced the 100-percent acquistion at press conference Thursday in Geneva, Switzerland. The transaction capped two months of talks.

Cocco founded Hublot, based in Nyon, Switzerland, near Geneva, in 1980. It’s been managed by Swiss watch veteran and innovator Jean-Claude Biver (pictured) as chief executive officer since 2004. Paris-based LVMH’s portfolio of prestigious watch brands includes TAG Heuer, Zenith, Dior Montres, Louis Vuitton and watch collections for the jewelry houses of Chaumet, Fred, and De Beers.

Details of the transaction weren’t released, but sources at Hublot said it’s “about double the [watchmaker’s] turnover for 2008,” budgeted at 250 million Swiss francs (about $250 million).

Philippe Pascal, CEO of LVMH’s Watches and Jewelry Group, called Hublot “a strategic and very complementary acquisition. Its high-end positioning, selective distribution, financial performance and growth potential make Hublot a ‘rising star’ [and] will strengthen the [LVMH watches and jewelry] business group which, over the last three years, has been growing strongly.” The group’s sales rose 13 percent to $1.2 billion in 2007, led by strong growth in the TAG Heuer watch brand.

Crocco said he’s pleased that “Hublot, an innovative brand since its creation, is joining the LVMH group, the world leader in luxury goods. Its creative passion is … a value that I’ve always shared.”

No changes are planned in Hublot’s operations. The current management will remain for at least three years, say Hublot sources. Jean-Claude Biver—architect of the success of Hublot’s Big Bang collection (Big Bang Orange Carat watch pictured), and its recent strong growth—said he’s “delighted” the brand can benefit from “LVMH’s support and strategic leadership in the luxury goods industry and maximize its growth potential in the years to come.”

“We’re very happy Jean-Claude Biver, along with Hublot’s management team, will continue [to] contribute his considerable expertise to our development in this promising sector,” said Pascal.

Since 2004, Hublot has grown rapidly, from revenues of 29 million Swiss francs and a two million Swiss franc loss in operating profit, to about $151 million and operating profits of about $31 million in 2007. A company report expects “a very significant increase” in revenue in 2008, with sales budgeted at about $250 million. At BaselWorld 2008, Hublot posted a 70 percent gain in sales to about $248 million.

In 2006, Hublot launched its 24-hour Hublot TV on its Web site, the first TV channel in the luxury goods industry devoted exclusively to a watch brand.

Hublot is building an $8 million watchmaking facility, due to open at year’s end, at its Nyon headquarters to accommodate its expansion. Production will grow 50 percent, from about 20,000 watches annually to more than 30,000 pieces. Much of the increase will be in higher-end timepieces. Hublot’s staff will go from 65 to about 120.

Hublot (French for “porthole,” for the shape of its case and bezel) shook the watch industry when it launched in 1980 as the first luxury watch with a rubber (and vanilla-scented) strap. Under the innovative and energetic Biver, its creative and entrepreurial team revived the band’s DNA—which he calls “the art of fusion, between traditional and vision”—in 2004 with the Big Bang collection and avant-garde designs incorporating various materials, including ceramics, diamonds, Kevlar, steel, gold, platinum and technological metals (titanium, tantalum, tungsten, zircon), in very high-end watches. Most recently, it launched a Big Bang collection for women, its first, at the 2008 international Basel, Switzerland watch fair.