If one could sum up the 40-year partnership between renowned specialist watch retailer The Hour Glass and Swiss watchmaker Hublot, it could only be described as unique and fortuitous. And in celebration of this incredible milestone, we’re taking a flashback Friday to how it all started.
It was October 1979 when The Hour Glass was established by Dr Henry Tay and Jannie Chan. While the former’s family had been watch merchants since the ‘40s, he and Chan had a whole new vision of creating a new kind of specialist watch retailer. They envisioned a store that was refined, upscale, and focused on the savoir-faire of watchmaking – an establishment that’s considered a norm today, but during their time was a daring an innovative feat. Rather than pursuing the traditional haute horlogerie Maisons, the couple sought out avant-garde and unusual timepieces.
As if by coincidence, Carlo Crocco was also pursuing lofty visions of his own from halfway around the world. Driven by an intense ambition to create a radically different luxury-sports watch that was unheard of at the time – Crocco started his family’s watch distribution and licensee business, Binda Group, which to this day, continues to be a giant in the Italian watch industry.
Four years later in April, Crocco realised his ambitions by revealing the first Hublot at the Basel Fair 1980, merely a few months after the opening of The Hour Glass. Crocco’s inaugural creation was a slim nautical-inspired wristwatch that fused gold, and for the first time in watchmaking, rubber, while managing to maintain a minimalist and contemporary look at the same time.
As The Hour Glass grew to become the watch purveyor of choice in Southeast Asia for those who appreciate the finer things in life, Hublot too became the must-have timepiece of its era. It was seen on the wrists of royalty, icons, and celebrities, from King Juan Carlos to Sylvester Stallone.
Friends and partners
It was more than commerce that contributed to the longevity of the partnership between Hublot and The Hour Glass. It was also the friendship between the two that endured the many unexpected turns of life and business.
“Carlo is the same age as myself – a fine gentleman – and we became close friends, sharing issues of work, family, and our passion – charity work,” Dr Tay recounts. “At the time, when we first met at Basel Fair 1980, Carlo had already been visiting India every year, sometimes several times each year, to do charity work while also donating money, something he still continues to do today.”
In fact, during the Asian Financial Crisis, Hublot remained steadfast with watch retailer, only to be repaid as Crocco began planning his final bow. According to Dr Tay, he met with a close friend, Jean-Claude Biver, who had sold Blancpain to the Swatch Group and was subsequently appointed to lead the relaunch of Omega. Following the latter’s success, Biver was keen to take on a new challenge.
Since Carlo’s children were not interested in managing Hublot, Dr Tay advised Biver to reach out to Carlo to help build another success story. A few months later, Biver became an official partner in Hublot, setting the stage for the marque’s iconic Big Bang watch.
It all started with a Big Bang
The creation of the Big Bang was Jean-Claude Biver’s way of reimagining Hublot, a wristwatch that was radically different from the Hublot classics of the 1980s. Oversized and exuberant, the Big Bang continued to stay true to the brand’s founding concept of fusing materials, while managing to capture the zeitgeist of the 21st century’s opening two decades.
Original launched in 2005 in a nostalgic mix of gold and rubber – with a touch of carbon-fibre composite, the Big Bang is now known as an icon in watchmaking as well as the signature Hublot wristwatch. It has not only adorned the wrists of many boldface names, it also became a receptacle for a growing range of proprietary watch movements developed by Hublot’s watchmakers and engineers. A few years down the line, the Big Bang also became a canvas for a myriad of artistic collaborations.
Hublot and The Hour Glass, today
Now helmed by Biver’s successor, Ricardo Guadalupe, Hublot had continued to flourish in the watchmaking world, while growing its partnership with The Hour Glass. The retailer now operates 30 points of sale for the brand, concentrated in Southeast Asia but as far afield as New Zealand, Australia, and Japan.
“Thanks to The Hour Glass, Hublot has had an incredible development in Southeast Asia in the last 40 years with now 7 boutiques. The Hour Glass has really been key in the success of the Hublot brand, in particular since 2005,” commented Guadalupe. “I would like to thank Dr Tay for the great partnership and friendship as well as the whole team at The Hour Glass for their commitment in making a success story out of Hublot.”
Reflecting the strength of both their partnership as well as the important of The Hour Glass’ home market, Hublot has created 11 limited edition wristwatches for the region in the last decade, capped by last year’s launch of five Southeast Asia editions, including the flagship Big Bang Chronograph Southeast Asia Special Edition 44mm.
Photos: The Hour Glass