New Delhi: Hublot watches are distinct for using a blend of precious metals with rubber or ceramic and even carbon. “People often say: ‘How can you buy a $30,000 watch with a black rubber strap? Are you crazy?’” jokes Jean-Claude Biver, chief executive of the Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy SA-owned company, brandishing the $250,000 (Rs1.19 crore) piece that adorns his wrist. Biver says in an interview that the $220 million Hublot aims to increase the 3% revenue contribution from India to 10% by 2015 by deploying about $15 million for marketing and distribution. Edited excerpts:
Are customers ready to pay in excess of Rs4.5 lakh and up to Rs4 crore for a watch with a rubber strap, especially when heritage brands are available in the same price range?
Our target customer is young, and although the age group can be defined as 30-45, it’s their thinking that I’m really referring to. Many young customers are attracted by the future and they want to connect to the future and disconnect from the past. This is the very basis of our brand message and philosophy because we are interpreting tradition in a very different way. For 450 years now, luxury watches have been made of metals such as gold, platinum and silver and therefore, available in colours such as yellow, white and grey. We thought, why not introduce new materials such as rubber, carbon, magnesium, ceramic, among others, that signify this new age and address the future. I’m wearing a $250,000 watch and my watch is all black. We can’t keep on repeating tradition, we need to go out and meet the future. People might say ‘How can you buy a $30,000 watch with a rubber strap? Are you crazy?’ because they think it’s a sin to challenge tradition, but I believe that through the marriage of opposition comes new vision, and the new generation of customers is looking for just that.
Changing times: Jean-Claude Biver says the culture of negotiating for products in India needs to change. Harikrishna Katragadda/Mint
Does the same thinking apply to India where customers are still conservative when it comes to high-value purchases?
When it comes to buying luxury products, there is only one taste and one thinking, no matter which country you are in. For local products, there are many different tastes and varied standards but the logic is uniform for luxury products.
You see, people use watches for different reasons now. One is to read the time, and one is for communication. As soon as someone buys a watch that costs more than $50, they enter the world of irrationality because they no longer buy it to indicate time—your mobile phone may give you more accurate time than a million-dollar watch. This purchase is used to communicate your dream of owning an expensive watch, or to communicate the person you are—sporty, rich, chic, powerful, whatever it may be. These have become especially important in today’s world where you may not be able to communicate as freely with people around you, but your watch can do that. We have some 400 buyers in India and the reasons they buy these watches are no different from the buyers elsewhere.
What are your plans for Hublot in India?
China is important but in India, there is more potential because there is incredible art and history here and this is what luxury items are all about. In the next few years, we are investing $15 million in just marketing the brand in the country. Although we are not looking at stand-alone stories just yet, we do plan to increase our distribution network through joint ventures and franchise operations. By 2015, we want to increase the amount of revenue this country generates from 3% of our global turnover to 10%.
Will you be signing a Bollywood star as brand ambassador?
No, we are staying away from Bollywood stars because we have seen that if one actor endorses a product, other actors won’t buy it, and they (actors) are our consumers, so we can’t do that.
What was the influence behind the use of materials such as rubber and carbon, among others, in Hublot watches?
One is the electric guitar. When the guitar became electric, it was still just a guitar but it broke tradition to create new sound. Similarly, if you look at what we are made of, or what this earth is made of, it’s a fusion of things like earth and water, water and bones, and this fusion should be present in watch-making too.
What are the biggest challenges in marketing Hublot in India?
The biggest sweat in general for luxury items is the discount. If you buy a luxury item and you meet another person who bought it for less, you get upset with the brand and may never come back to it. Price should never be discussed and it should be equal. This is a major problem for a market like India because there is a culture of negotiating for everything and this needs to be changed for more luxury items to be present here.