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Hublot and the ‘Art of Fusion’

Feature

Hublot and the ‘Art of Fusion’

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Hublot has a very specific idea of their path to success and it revolves around three words: “Art of Fusion.” The concept is simple in nature, to achieve innovation and advancement by creating unexpected synergy via research, collaboration, expertise and experimentation. This ideal was championed by Hublot founder, Carlo Crocco, who led Hublot back in 1980 to be the first brand to combine the high-end, precious metal of gold with a raw material, natural rubber — a strategy that has gained more and more traction through the years. Jean-Claude Biver, in his time, formalized the “Art of Fusion” as his motto and mission, and developed the Big Bang to enormous success.

Watchmaker placing the dial of Classic Fusion Chronograph on the movement before casing up

The company has used this guiding principle to patent unexpected new materials and develop advanced techniques in manipulating materials and design methods. However, the “Art of Fusion” goes beyond engineering and science; it also means embracing partnership and celebrating collaboration. Hublot works enthusiastically with artists, researchers, scientists and other industry experts to drive innovation beyond watchmaking.

Hublot Research and Development

Hublot prizes the innovations that create new possibilities, and strives to maintain their place in the forefront of the innovators. One look at the R&D lab at Hublot manufacture and it’s clear that the brand prioritizes this aspect of their business. They have nicknamed their team the “F1 of watchmaking” and it is comprised of 30 people with talents in watchmaking, design, engineering, micro-dynamics and micro- chemistry, who are dedicated to advancing Hublot’s arsenal of materials and architecture.

Matthias Buttet, R&D director, explaining the fascinating process of producing vivid color ceramic

The Hublot R&D team is led by Mathias Buttet, who was one of the key players in the BNB Concept movement manufacturer that approached movement design from a perspective of modern technology and techniques over traditional methods. Buttet moved to Hublot when BNB closed its doors in 2010, bringing with him the equipment and 29 of his best watchmakers. Working closely with CEO Ricardo Guadalupe, this team is responsible for many of the brand’s most interesting new inventions.

Material Mastery

In 2011, Hublot partnered with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) to create an 18K gold alloy that combines gold and porous ceramic named “Magic Gold.” This alloy gives the look and feel of gold, but has the scratch-proof properties of ceramic. “With Magic Gold, it was like Hublot acquired a black belt in a martial art, and with this, we got the first dan,” Buttet said.

The art of fusion with Magic Gold

Ceramic and gold for the Magic Gold

Magic Gold preparation in the foundry

Their success is no accident — the team is given the resources they need to continue to produce new advancements and the expertise they need to master the skills for reproduction in the manufactory. “It’s not a technology you can just deliver to a production, tell people to press a button and it works,” Buttet explained. “It’s a small window of coincidences which allow us to pass through a tiny door lock.”

Another great advancement is the brilliant cherry red ceramic that Hublot calls “Red Magic” — a red ceramic material achieved by fusing iron oxide and ceramic under intense heat and pressure with a precision that proves their mastery of material engineering. Because of this work, Hublot has gone on to be the first brand to offer watches in colored ceramics like white, black, red, blue and green.

Other metal alloys have come from their laboratory workshop, including a gold and platinum combination named King Gold, a magnesium and aluminum alloy cheekily named Hublonium, and the carbon fiber and aluminum mix named Texalium.

3D carbon fiber case used in MP collection

Blue sapphire case

The R&D team has also tackled some natural elements in new ways, including perfecting the use of sapphire in their products. This stone is one of the hardest materials to manipulate, cut and use in product design, but Hublot has created reliable methods that resulted in full sapphire timepieces. Once that was settled, they moved on to creating colored sapphires, such as transparent, black, yellow, blue and red, via engineering techniques that mix raw materials like aluminum oxide with other metals like iron and titanium. More recently, they managed to create a striking emerald green sapphire that they have called SAXEM — the brand’s acronym for “Sapphire Aluminum oXide and rare Earth Mineral.”

Expert Technique

The work done by the R&D team extends beyond the material sciences. The designers and engineers have experimented with mastering new ways of working with those materials, most notably their mastery over the realm of setting precious stones. Their “invisible setting” method was developed to cut and polish a gem with such precision that it can be set in its place with no visible prongs. They were also able to develop ways to encrust gems and stones into their transparent sapphire cases, despite the incredible difficulty in cutting the material.

Intricate gem-setting process

Gem Setting the bezel of a watch

Examining the gem setting process

They were also invited by the University of Geneva’s archaeology department to develop underwater drones capable of diving to 300 meters to explore the Antikythera seabed. The name for these bots is a delightful combination of the word “bubble” with Hublot: Bubblots.

The Hublot team of developers work for the sheer joy of discovery, and are happy to partner with new ventures that offer opportunities to learn and to apply the expertise they have obtained through their research. With their dedication to R&D and their openness to collaboration, it’s no wonder that Hublot continues to lead the industry in new ways of using materials.

Design Evolution

Aside from Hublot’s use of space-age materials and ground breaking colors, the company is not afraid to play with the concepts of shape. In a world where most watches conform to the “round is right” shape for cases and dials, Hublot has plenty to meet the requirement with their iconic “porthole” models. However, they are also known for the unique tonneau, or “barrel,” cases that make their watches instantly recognizable to aficionados and collectors.

The movement for the Big Bang Tourbillon Samuel Ross

They have applied their famous experimental spirit to watches that break entirely from conventions of shape in many of their Masterpiece or MP watches. These MP models feature fascinating cases in shapes that have never before been seen. The LaFerrari models, created in partnership with Ferrari, have tapered, organic shapes that look like they belong mounted in a supercar’s engine. The “Key of Time” watch, with its unusual arrangement and dashboard-like dial, could have stepped right out of our favorite science fiction novel.

More recently, Hublot has introduced a new shape with the Square Bang Unico and Spirit of Big Bang Unico. While this may seem like a simple design update on the surface, changing the underlying movement architecture to fit the case is a technical hurdle that requires thought, planning and hard work for the watchmaking team. In fact, the square watches are skeletonized to showcase the new designs of the in-house Unico movement and celebrate the accomplishment.

Machining process for the main plates of the UNICO movement

Machining a case component for the Square Bang Unico

Big Bang Unico upper plate case milling with a CNC machine

Like in other areas, Hublot refuses to be defined by the conventions of traditional watchmaking. Their use of shape is just another way they push the boundaries of design and incorporate art and innovation into their timepieces.

Leading Through Innovation

When it comes to innovation and experimentation, Hublot has been a leader since day one. With the “Art of Fusion” concept driving decisions and direction, and the R&D department working at full speed, there is seemingly no limit to where this brand will take the watch industry. It’s remarkable to see a company that commits to the development of new materials and techniques with a mind on the bigger picture rather than sales and commercial success. In their collaborations with scientists and artists, it’s clear that the team at Hublot are following their hearts in their discovery of new ways to solve difficult problems. With this attitude, the brand will continue to surprise and delight their loyal collectors and their partners for decades to come.