At the recent launch of the HUBLOT BIG BANG UNICO ITALIA INDEPENDENT at Paris Fashion Week, we caught up with the two main men. Jean-Claude Biver, the man behind Hublot and ultimately one of the most successful names in watches there has ever been. The other can only be described as a modern entrepreneur if you will. Lapo Elkann. A man involved in very much everything, from Italia Independent to his most recent love, customising cars, bikes, planes and even helicopters for the rich and famous.
We grabbed time with both at the launch party for a quick chat on all things watches, blue and a love of Paris.
Average Joes: How did the collaboration between Hublot and Italia Independent come about?
Jean-Claude: It started because we became friends through my youngest son and the daughter of Lapo. They happened to go to the same school.
AJ: Where was that school?
JC: In Switzerland. And that made the relationship.
Lapo: And the encounter was in the South of France, in the Mediterranean, which was a rather amazing day… in March it’s no always warm!
AJ: I can imagine! Sometimes the sun comes out.
JC: Lapo was the only guy swimming in the sea, although it was only 13-degrees!
AJ: Was it a long time coming from the time of the idea coming to mind to where we are today?
Lapo: Myself, I always wanted to work with Claude, Ricardo and Hublot. In those days, I was working on Italia Independent, I was working also with Ferrari, TaylorMade and our adventures started with the watch for Ferrari. Then we did Juventus. And then we did Italia Independent. So I would say the beauty is we brought Switzerland to Italy and Italy was brought to Switzerland. You know, it was a real cultural, personal, professional, technical exchange. We have known each other for 5 to 6 years and I have always wanted to work with Jean-Claude since Day One. If I thought about a watch for Italia Independent, there is nobody else I would want to work with besides Hublot. Because Hublot is a brand who made a difference in the watch industry and we made a difference in the eyewear industry. The great skill that they have is Hublot makes the impossible possible and so do we. And having the opportunity to work with materials that weren’t yet used in the watch industry, like texalium, was something which thoroughly excited me and my team. As was to work on eyewear with texalium and carbon with aluminium branches. So the opportunity to work something as unique, and as beautiful as what we’ve done, has been an amazing energy-bringer in Italia Independent. And a tremendous opportunity to work with people from which I have learnt a lot and I believe my team has learnt a lot.
AJ: And how different was it for you to work with a watch as opposed to eyewear? Were there similarities?
L: You know, there was a level of excitement which was very high and very thorough because it’s an industry which I love but it’s not an industry I deeply know. It’s an industry I love, it’s an industry I look at and I think in terms of performance, in terms of sophistication, it’s also close to the automotive industry, which is an industry that’s close to me. Hublot reminds me of a fantastic car. It has a level of technology, of research, of craftsmanship that reminds me of a brand like Ferrari. That reminds me of uniqueness and that is what we truly deeply wanted to bring in the market, and we created personal belongings. The watch is a personal belonging of who will wearing it, and is also the opportunity for who will be wearing it to have the denim on the blue denim and the black on the black but also as it’s so called the ‘Big Bang Unico’, you can also put, as I did for myself, an alligator navy blue bracelet. So there’s the possibility to change. Customisation, personalisation.
AJ: Jean-Claude, where do you see, apart from collaborations, do you see the watch industry going in the next few years? Is it all wearable tech? Or something else to look forward to?
JC: It will be both. There will be lots of wearable tech and then there will be the art. And the difference between both is that art is eternal – in 100 years you can wear the watch and in 500 years you can repair the watch. Then you will have the technology that is due to become obsolete. People can even wear both. For the day you can wear a connectable wearable and then maybe for the night you can wear a piece of art. So we will certainly have both directions.
AJ: And is that how you deem some of your collaborations? As works of art? More than something that you wear and put on your wrist and use day too day?
JC: Of course. The collaboration with Italia Independent is based on art. On methodology, on research. The materials are part of the art. Even in paintings the materials are the base of art. Banksy needs the wall! Where we would not collaborate would be on the technical side because as soon as you enter electronics, then you are entering obsoletes. Gold in the Tutankhamun period is still the same gold as today. Steel from the Eifel Tower here is still the same material. So the materials have a certain eternity. But what is inside the watch but also have eternity so we can still collaborate as long as we’re on the same level of eternity. Today if we would have an offer from Apple to say ‘why don’t you put the Apple technology chip and screen on your watch?’ We would say ‘no’! Because we destroy the eternity. It’s impossible.
AJ: Why did you choose Paris for the launch?
L: Because Paris is perfect. And we hope that we brought some light to the watch industry by bringing colour with the blue and texallium, which had never been brought. This is an amazing environment to do it. It’s a great city – a city that represents quintessential beauty. It represents history but this museum also represents modernity. So in a city which represents history, we chose a museum which represents innovation and modernity. I think it is the combination of what we were looking forward to doing on the project that we have developed. But it’s also something we look to do in communication. Because in communication we work with Chen Men, a Chinese photographer who is also a testimonial of Hublot and I do believe this year she’s also going to be doing the Pirelli calendar. So we want to be innovative and capture images, not only of the products, but on the way we communicate and on the way we present. And that’s something that’s been very easy to do with Jean Claude and Ricardo because that’s the base of their life in day to day business, as it is in Andrea’s and me in our company. It came very natural.
AJ: And what’s next for Italia Independent?
L: There’s many things going on. Lots of interesting things. I’m extremely proud of the collaboration with Hublot, I’m extremely proud of the collaboration that we have with adidas and then I just founded a new company called Garage Italia Customs, which is a tailor of automotive motorcycles, helicopters, planes and boats. It’s a new company but we already have more work than we’re capable of doing! We’ve done more or less forty cars, three boats, two helicopters, two planes and five motorcycles already. And we don’t even have our structure yet. So the reality is I believe there is a huge growth in the industry of personalisation. Not only in cars and watches but in anything because people want to differentiate themselves and they want to be unique. It’s not only right for superstars to be unique, each individual is unique in our own shape, way and form. Uniqueness is something that everyone is looking for and towards. That’s the base of each and every project that Italia Independent and Garage Italia, also my movie distribution company called Good Films, we try to do.
AJ: Which is your favourite watch of all time? One watch.
JC: It’s the Big Bang All Black, which I made… no… I asked some watchmakers to make in 2005 because I wanted this watch to become the standout of Hublot. And it became the Big Bang. It’s a piece of history. And we now celebrate 10 years. I wear it all the time and it still works! That for me is the symbol of the renaissance of Hublot and probably my biggest success.
L: And if I should choose one, it would be this one or the first ever Swatch because it is a unique product which has a story.
Average Joes speaking with Lapo Elkann and Jean-Claude Biver in Paris at the HUBLOT BIG BANG UNICO ITALIA INDEPENDENT Launch Party