It’s not easy to launch a luxury brand where there was none before, but Hublot Americas’ Exclusive Partner, Rick de la Croix, has done just that.
Two years after opening the Hublot boutique in Bal Harbour, the arresting new watch brand is taking the market by storm. The watch Boutique has risen to best-seller in this high-end mall. Hublot has become the official watch for the Miami Heat, with the LeBron-sized limited-edition “King Power 305,” sold only in Miami.
These kinds of deals are key for Hublot and a central strategy for Rick de la Croix. “You have to look at what makes a brand successful,” he remarked. “These days, the biggest challenge is how to target a clientele that is no longer reading newspapers, fewer magazines and watching less and less TV. We’ve all had this huge slap in the face over the last three years. Consumers are influenced by brands in a totally different way than they were five years ago. Promotion, I would say, is now the biggest part.”
AS A MAN THAT’S REALLY IT. THE ACCESSORIES I CAN USE ARE CARS AND WATCHES. THERE’S NOTHING ELSE OUT THERE.
But it hasn’t always been smooth sailing; Rick’s first Hublot boutique at the Setai Hotel on Miami Beach was “not a success (. . . ) We sold one watch in four months.” De la Croix was devastated, but he quickly tried again at Bal Harbour, where he got a fresh start–and a completely different result. “Bal Harbour is really an international mall, it’s not really an American mall. We may sell two or three watches a month to Americans and the rest to Latin Americans and Russians. Those are the real buyers right now.”
Pieric “Rick” de la Croix had been on the manufacturing and wholesale side of the industry, so the shop’s launch was a learning experience. “That was my entrance into retail.” Now the brand is growing: Hublot just opened up a boutique in Atlanta, and soon will open shops in Orlando , Houston, and Dallas, in partnership with LVMH, the majority shareholders with whom Rick de la Croix operates.
It’s not just business for de la Croix; he is truly passionate about watches. “As a man that’s really it. The accessories I can use are cars and watches. There’s nothing else out there.” So he collects and wears watches the way a socialite might Birkin bags. He admits he’s more into the design than the technology: “I’m not mechanically minded, I’m more design oriented. I’m inspired by watchmakers that push the edge on creating new designs.” Hublot tops the list, yet he admires others: “I like very much what Richard Mille does. And Greubel Forsey, They are trend-setting by doing something different on the aesthetic side. These are all watches that I would buy.” De La Croix feels that a watch is a good conversation piece. “We have to talk and have conversation 24/7 don’t we?”, He quips with a laugh.
One of Rick de la Croix’s best conversation starters is an all black watch, with black hands on a black face, Thus was one of Hublot’s early designs, with only 250 made. “It’s true you, you couldn’t really read the time.” Which is exactly why a stranger in St. Barths offered to buy it right off his wrist. “He said ‘It’s amazing, but why do you wear it?’ It didn’t make a lot of sense, but I thought it was cool and iconic. [Eventually] the whole industry copied the black on black.”
Timepieces aren’t the only valuables Rick de la Croix collects. He also collects contemporary and street art. His grande home in Miami’s Coco Plum is full of major works, including ‘Angel of Death’ by Banksy, which was featured in the documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop, as well as ‘Baader Meinhof’ by Invader, who was also featured in the flick, and ‘Marilyn’ by the French street artist Dran.
Rick De la Croix hails from England and got his start in the watch business working with Tag Heuer in Geneva right out of school. Later he worked for The Dixie Group, which owned Zenith then. In 1992, Rick De la Croix made the life-altering decision to take a sabbatical and head to the wilds of South America. “I wanted to try to seek my destiny in terms of being independent. At the time, South America was the jungle, it wasn’t even emerging at the time, it was just a continent where you knew there was potential.” And there was—the adventurous Englishman met his future Colombian wife Martha. He returned to Switzerland to work for Corum after his year on sabbatical, but in 1997 he was eventually pulled by love and ambition back to Colombia to launch his own distribution company. This was to be the dawn of the vast distribution network that made de la Croix the huge success he is today. His brands include Hublot, HYT, Romaine Jerome, Zenith and Graham, which Rick de la Croix is partial to due to its English origin. “Some people say that is where watch-making really started,” he says with a wink.
Romaine Jerome is a romantic brand that was launched six years ago using components welded from pieces of the Titanic. Customers could literally have a piece of history on their wrists, infused into the DNA of the case and movements. The brand later used pieces of space shuttles Sputnik and Apollo. “It’s a very niche brand,” he remarks. But while Romaine Jerome focuses on history, HYT is looking to the future. “It’s like taking watchmaking to the next century and if it succeeds, it will go down in the books. These guys have an amazing concept, a vision of watchmaking. If we can get the product and the quality right and if we can get the delivery, that’s going to be a brand that we are talking about for a very long time.”