Hublot are an absolutely reviled brand amongst most watch collectors, to the extent that I’ve seen them called the Nickelback of watchmaking. Is that a bit harsh or a pretty accurate description? To me, I think it’s a bit of both.
I saw a comment that called Hublot overpriced fashion watches and I think that may be quite apt to a certain degree, but not for the reasons you think. It’s partly because Hublot have been quite innovative over the years, but externally rather than internally. Meaning they have innovative style rather than innovative watch mechanics. This might be their saving grace simply because it’s a niche that they’ve exploited quite well. But before we get there, we have to understand where the hate comes from.
Why People Hate Hublot
The first thing we have to discuss is the actual reasons people hate Hublot. The first and probably most fair reason people dislike Hublot is their use of generic parts. Generic parts are pieces of a watch made by a third party which are then distributed to various watchmakers. This practice isn’t bad in itself, as long as the price of the watch reflects the parts used. Top tier watchmakers make their watches completely on their own like Rolex. The problem with Hublot is that they use generic parts and then charge an arm and a leg.
For years Hublot used ETA or Sellita movements, common generic parts, in their signature Big Bang watches. This caused an uproar amongst watch enthusiasts since day one and when you’re charging tens of thousands of dollars with parts that are maybe 100th of the price, you can see why. Though they have made up for this with their in-house UNICO movement, which most can agree is a good movement.
A large portion of criticism towards Hublot surrounds their pricing. Hublot have been able to justify their pricing through the use of unique materials on their cases from sapphire to Damascus steel. Now is this ties in to what I was saying before, that Hublot innovate externally rather than internally. They’ve managed to do impressive things with materials but is that enough to charge so much? For many people, at least enthusiasts, it’s not.
How they market these watches indicates a different approach to their competitors and typically, businesses who take different approaches to marketing are considered innovative or at the very least interesting, but Hublot doesn’t share that praise. Instead, their overuse of celebrity partnerships, endorsements and constant “limited editions” has only hurt their reputation with watch lovers. However, it seems like Hublot themselves are mostly fine with this.
It’s clear that Hublot, for the most part, aren’t targeting watch fans with their pieces, they are targeting casual fans with a little money. It’s actually led to some discourse surrounding the “New Money” tag Hublot have been accredited with. Like this is the Titanic or something and people are still mad over those damn new money industrialists.
It’s odd because picking which kind of rich person you like better is like choosing which pile of dog shit smells better. Hublot doesn’t have the heritage of a brand like Patek Phillipe or even Omega, so it makes sense that they wouldn’t try to match them in their marketing and hit a different audience. From a solely business perspective, Hublot are doing what they can to succeed and, much like Nickelback, like it or not, they are successful.
What’s to Like About Hublot?
In saying all of that, is there anything to like about Hublot? Depends on what you’re looking for in my opinion. If you’re looking for a statement, something bold and audacious, then a Hublot is for you. No one will mistake what you’re wearing and people will notice it, even if they aren’t into watches. How could they not? It’s like wearing a Lamborghini on your wrist, but even with a Lamborghini, you’re expecting as much effort that was put into the design to be put into the engine.
Hublot have recently upped their movement in their watches to include their in-house UNICO movement. This was done to deliberately address the criticisms they were facing about their generic movements. So even if you are still worried about parts, at least Hublot have improved. However, even still, there is controversy. Hublot haven’t stated where their gears are from which has led some to speculate that they are generic parts. We know that that the balance spring isn’t made by Hublot, so some have even gone to say that even the UNICO isn’t a true in-house movement. It highlights the blow Hublot has taken to their reputation and the uphill battle set before them to win the hearts of enthusiasts. Will that happen in our lifetime? I don’t think so.
Even if you are happy with paying for design rather than mechanics, the designs themselves can be polarising. Like I said before, they’re so loud that they can often end up feeling like a gimmick rather than actually wearable pieces. However, if you’re not into that, you’ve got heaps of classic style watches available, Hublot provide something that is purposefully not classic.
There’s another caveat here, as there is with everything Hublot, even if they are known for their designs, some wouldn’t even call them particularly original. Their Classic Fusion is heavily influenced by Audemars Piguet. But, not to sound like too much of an apologist, but Hublot have done a lot with one shape… much like AP have done with their Royal Oaks. At least Hublot have a wider line of pieces from the MP collection to the Square Bangs. Even if there are so many Big Bangs, they are nowhere near as egregious as yet another Royal Oak from AP. It’s where their gimmicks start to pay off, as at least it’s probably in a material you didn’t expect instead of just offering another colourway.
It’s this kind of creativity and experimentation that Hublot should be applauded for. The problem with this is that not every experiment pays off. That’s the nature of experimentation. So with every good watch Hublot put out, like the collaboration with Takashi Murakami, you also get a Spirit of Big Bang.
Hublot partnerships have allowed artists into the design room to produce genuinely interesting pieces like the Orlinski Classic Fusion or the Murakami I mentioned earlier. These, in my opinion, are some of the best Hublot has to offer and not one of them is mechanically impressive at all, but they are beautiful art pieces. It’s just whether or not you want to pay $150,000 dollarydoos for that piece of art as is the case with the rainbow Murakami.
You’ve got objectively impressive feats of design like the all-sapphire Big Bang tourbillon, but that comes with a price tag of almost $600,000 AUD! It’s no doubt impressive and it makes sense that these would appeal to hardcore collectors, but when they release a new limited edition watch each month, it makes it difficult to know which are going to be valuable and which aren’t. Unless of course they’re made of sapphire. Like is the Damascus steel watch going to be valuable in a few years? I at least know that if I buy a Rolex, should I ever want to sell it I can at least make my money back, if not more. Hublot doesn’t have such guarantees and it’s because of the amount of limited editions they put, and as such are likely to turn away a lot of collectors.
Hublot’s practices often seem in contradiction with what they are trying to achieve. If the aim is to be a collector’s item, make fewer collector’s items. These aren’t Beanie Babies or Cabbage Patch Kids where buyers can grab a few for a couple of bucks, these are expensive pieces with price tags rivalling the larger houses.
This was supposed to be the section where I sang Hublot’s praises isn’t it?
Look, they are great at experimentation in design, they produce watches that are eye-catching. There is a place for Hublot in watchmaking, but I’m not sure if it’s the place that Hublot wants to be. If they reduced the price of a few items in their line-up I think people would be less mad in general. But this isn’t limited to just Hublot, Richard Mille cop it too.
Creation of a New Market Segment
Hublot have been part of a charge into a new market segment alongside Richard Mille. Both these companies are relative newbies to watchmaking and to carve out a place for themselves, Richard Mille specifically have desired to create a segment for themselves so as not to compete with other brands.
Richard Mille’s CEO of Japan, Keita Kawasaki, explained it like this: “Our aim is to take Richard Mille creations and elevate them to a different category that surpasses the rest… We want to develop a watch that would make the exercise of comparing Richard Mille creations with other so-called high-class watches meaningless… When you go to the showroom to purchase a car, you cannot base your comparison on the difference between a BMW or a Mercedes-Benz, and an F1 racing car.”
To simplify this, while a Ferrari SF90 is a good car, but it still doesn’t compare to a Formula 1 car.
Richard Mille have created their own space; they create pieces of art that are stupid expensive for no logical reason. Hublot are like this as well, but they don’t commit enough. They make too many watches and, I can’t believe I’m saying this, at too low a price to go to reach that ultra-luxury bracket. Hublot are caught in the middle somewhere.
Is that middle where Hublot have created their own space? In a sense, yes. To someone who doesn’t know much about watchmaking, Hublot would be up there with Rolex as “amazing expensive watches” or whatever. A potential casual buyer sees the crazy design, falls in love with it, and doesn’t realise what’s gone into it for it to cost so much. Watches just cost that much. Hublot are in it for the casual market. However, it’s a casual market with some money. And it’s working, to an extent. Hublot have managed to outsell the likes of Vacheron Constantin, Breitling, and Panerai for four years straight from 2017 to 2020 making them consistently the 12th best-selling watch brand in the world, according to Morgan Stanley. Breitling did overtake them in 2020 and Hublot did reach 11th in 2019. But compare this to Richard Mille who were ranked the 10thbest-selling watch brand in both 2017 and 2018, but then they jumped up to 8th in 2019 and then to 7th in 2020. Hublot have remained steady, but what you want to see in business is growth so when looking at it like that, a consistent 12th can be disappointing.
The market in general is turning towards more premium products with Rolex, Patek Philippe, and Audemars Piguet alone making up 35% of the market in 2020. Anything cheaper than 7,000 CHF is doing poorly thanks to smartwatches, and anything above that price point is doing well. So Hublot are safe as long as they can consistently sell their price point, however, unless they repair their reputation, it’s hard to see their market share growing further.
So are Hublot just overpriced fashion watches? Yes, but they are hardly pretending otherwise. Their strategy isn’t aimed at watch enthusiasts. It’s aimed at casuals. They make watches to stand out, not to be precise marvels of engineering. In this sense, they’ve been a success with a solid niche and dedicated fans. However, if Hublot want to grow and expand, they need to rethink their pricing and how they market their watches. The amount of people casually interested in watches with a solid amount in their bank account can’t be that big of a market. These aren’t entry level watches for casuals to buy on a whim, they’re expensive pieces that typically would rely on watch enthusiasts to support. But they don’t have the support of general enthusiasts, they’re hated by them. They don’t have the hyper-exclusivity of Richard Mille that only requires a relatively small demographic to support with crazy price tags. They are just floating in the middle, in the Hublot space.
Is the hate justified? Depends on how you feel about design taking precedent over engineering. Do I like Nickelback? No, but it doesn’t change the fact that they have four platinum albums and a diamond album. Are Hublot pushing those kinds of numbers? No, but it doesn’t change the fact that they’ve been making more money than one of the Holy Trinity, Vacheron Constantin.
So again, is the hate justified? I don’t think Hublot cares.