Some watchmaker-and-carmaker collaborations are a great success; others fail miserably; most, of course, fall somewhere in the middle. Many of the variables, the partners obviously can’t control — timing and luck, for example — but others, they can govern and refine. The now five-year-strong Hublot and Ferrari alliance proves a success story to learn from.
Perhaps two of the most noteworthy modern car/watch partnerships are Breitling for Bentley and the recently concluded Jaeger-LeCoultre and Aston Martin (one could add the rather unattainable Parmigiani and Bugatti here). The Breitling/Bentley pairing, now a little long in the tooth, is defined by its good timing; the latter’s AMVOX is the true embodiment of refinement, a collaboration that just worked. Ferrari watches are an entirely different animal, if for no reason other than the longevity of Ferrari’s timepiece program.
It began informally in the 1950s and '60s; paired strategically with Longines and Heuer (with Scuderia Ferrari specifically) in the ’70s; with Cartier (under the brand “Ferrari Formula”) in the ’80s; with Girard-Perregaux (the “Pour Ferrari” collection) from 1994 to 2004; with Panerai (“Ferrari Engineered by Officine Panerai”) from 2005 to 2010; with Cabestan (a one-off limited-edition “Scuderia Ferrari”) in 2010 and 2011; and, finally, with Hublot since 2011.
Hublot/Ferrari already comprises two generations of Big Bang Ferrari, including the new Big Bang Ferrari Chronograph Unico; thirty-something limited editions, with standout models such as the Classic Fusion Tourbillon Skeleton Ferrari 250 GTO and the Big Bang Chrono Tourbillon Ferrari; the MP-05 LaFerrari Manufacture models; and the unique Big Bang Ferrari Collot Foundation, a one-of-a-kind piece created for a charity auction. Despite the companies’ relatively midterm time together, the partnership is well on its way to entering — if it hasn’t already — that august club of which only Breitling, Bentley, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Aston Martin and very few others are members. To understand Hublot’s tremendous success with Ferrari, it helps to look back at all those Ferrari partnerships that came before.
For argument's sake, though, let’s ignore Longines, Heuer, and Cartier; they’re ancient history and lacked the complexities of current partnerships. We’ll also disregard the one-off Cabestan as sui generis. That leaves us with Girard-Perregaux, Panerai, and Hublot. Two of those, Girard-Perregaux and Hublot, were (and remain) enormously successful; Panerai was a disaster. (The obvious question is whether the GP Pour Ferrari collection would succeed today, and the answer, owing to fickle timing and luck, is a resounding no.) Let’s look, then, at what has worked, what’s currently working, and what lies ahead.
In essence, Girard-Perregaux Pour Ferrari watches were nothing more than standard-issue GPs with Ferrari’s prancing horse on the dial and a few other adjustments — attractive for sure, but not distinctive beyond the GP offerings of the time. The success of this decade-long joint venture, as we’ve mentioned, was largely a case of timing: The watches debuted at a point when the weekend racer was beginning to rediscover mechanical watches, and when Ferraris (beginning with the GTB and 308 GTB) were more accessible than ever, for no other reason than increased production.
Although this partnership released some exceptional models, such as the sublime Scuderia Ferrari Chronographe à Rattrapante Foudroyante, there wasn’t much genuine “Ferrari” in any of them. Not quite two decades later, the watches feel oddly dated — not in a bad way, necessarily, but they’re far more indicative of the oversized Swiss mechanical timepieces of the ’60s and ’70s, and not remotely contemporary.
Ferrari Engineered by Officine Panerai suffered the same fate, to a degree, but in this instance, its timing was badly off. To its credit, it was a more noble effort at creating something truly innovative. On paper, Panerai and Ferrari seemed an ideal pairing of iconic Italian design-driven luxury brands. Yet again, the resultant timepieces had little to do with Ferrari per se regardless of the collection-specific case designs — which in turn made them a departure from traditional Panerai Luminor and Radiomir models. Panerai partisans and Ferrari fans alike were unhappy. The era called for a much more sophisticated and integrated collaboration. The collection fell flat and was terminated months ahead of its scheduled conclusion; eventually, the watches were quietly put out to gray-market pasture at half-price — a great deal but slow to move nonetheless.
All of which brings us to Hublot, which begins its second five-year epoch with Ferrari with the new Big Bang Ferrari Unico - it officially debuted in autumn 2016 but won’t be available for retail sales until March 2017. The watch has been successfully reimagined by Ferrari chief designer Flavio Manzoni to echo the curves and angles of some of his most notable car designs: the California T, 488 GTB, and the limited-edition LaFerrari hybrid supercar.
“The new design combines cutting-edge technology and contemporary style,” says Hublot North America managing director Jean-François Sberro. “It features a new silhouette and advanced features such as improved readability on the dial, countersunk notches on the case for improved ergonomic fit and new stylistic attributes to better represent Ferrari characteristics — [for example,] the elongated push buttons fixed to a rotating staff in the likeness of pedals on a car.”
This raises a question: How evocative of Ferrari automotive design is the silhouette and overall look of the Big Bang Ferrari Unico? Well, evocative enough: sufficient to satisfy anyone inclined to add such a watch to his collection. It’s sleeker than earlier Big Bangs, with specific design nods such as the chronograph pushers modeled after brake pedals, and the rotor and oscillating weight that call to mind the classic star-spoke design of Ferrari rims. It feels hyper-masculine, like a Ferrari — and therein lies the point of it all.
As its name indicates, the Hublot Big Bang Ferrari Chronograph Unico comes equipped with the in-house-produced Unico automatic flyback chronograph caliber, which is housed in one of three limited-production case-metal options: titanium (1,000 pieces), carbon (500) and 18-karat King Gold (500). The dial, inspired by dashboard instrumentation, discreetly features the prancing horse at 6 o’clock.
Hublot succeeds on two fronts: It retains its core Big Bang DNA (although the Ferrari Big Bangs have always differed slightly from those in the core collection) while delving deeply into Ferrari design, as well as automotive and race-car materials — never compromising on either, and in fact accentuating each. Hublot Big Bang Ferraris are the pinnacle of Hublot’s “fusion” ethos, and therein lies the difference as to why it triumphs where Panerai failed: balance. Enthusiasts of both brands feel like they have a stake and are well-represented.
“The watch is not the most important part of this partnership,” says Jean-Claude Biver, Hublot’s larger-than-life chairman, who owns a vintage 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4. “Ours is an ‘ambassador partnership’ in which Ferrari is an ambassador of Hublot. Ferrari brings awareness, prestige and exclusivity to Hublot in countries where [Hublot] lacks recognition. Ours is a marriage.” Adds Sberro: “Each new edition of the Big Bang Ferrari represents our quest for innovation, excellence and performance — values that both our organizations embody — and we look forward to the continued celebration of our longstanding partnership.” And so, it seems, the honeymoon continues. hublot.com
Aaron Sigmond, an occasional contributor to aBlogtoWatch, is the author of "DRIVE TIME: Watches Inspired by Automobiles, Motorcycles and Racing," the forthcoming "DRIVE TIME Expanded Edition," and "SEA TIME: Watches Inspired by Sailing, Surfing and Diving," all from Rizzoli New York.