The weather outside was wet and cold. Inside the Japan Football Museum, however, the atmosphere was warm and toasty from the palpable excitement generated from dozens of reporters from around the region.
The reason for the buzz? The appearance of Pelé who was in Tokyo to unveil, for the first time, Hublot’s official watch of 2014 Fifa World Cup Brazil. I wasn’t sure which I was more excited to see: The legendary Pelé, hailed as the King of Football who led Brazil to three record World Cup wins, or the watch, which turned out to be a revolutionary rendition of the Big Bang.
In recent months, Hublot has been intensely promoting its role as the official timekeeper and official watch of this year’s World Cup, a deal it inked with the football federation in 2010. Through it all, Pelé has played an instrumental part as the newly appointed Hublot ambassador, which was announced in October last year at the Football Extravaganza Awards in London. Ricardo Guadalupe, the CEO of Hublot, declared at that time: “It’s an immense honour and privilege to have been chosen by Pelé. His presence and enthusiasm for his country and the upcoming Fifa World Cup were incredible and we’re going to accomplish great things in Brazil.”
In February this year, Pelé lent star power to the opening of Hublot’s first boutique in Latin America in Rio de Janeiro. The occasion also saw the presentation of the Classic Fusion Aero Chronograph to Pelé that also bore his signature on the case back. The timepiece, limited to 500 pieces, was dedicated to the football legend.
Fast-forward to March this year where we assembled in an auditorium of the Football Museum in JFA House located along a road aptly nicknamed Soccer Street. The floor of the auditorium was carpeted in football field green; apart from the unveiling of the watch, it was also a charity event to support recovery efforts from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake that caused the Fukushima tsunami.
Eleven children training to be on the Japanese national team were invited for a coaching session with Pelé, complete with a target practice. For every target they hit, Hublot would donate a sum of money to the Japan Football Association’s Soccer Family Reconstruction Support Fund. With some help from former national footballer Masashi Nakayama, the kids succeeded in scoring six goals for a total amount of 3,000,000 yen ($37,000).
After this spirited display of sportsmanship, we got to inspect the commemorative World Cup watch up close and personal. The Big Bang Unico Bi-Retrograde Chrono, stylishly decorated in yellow and green — the national colours of Brazil — boasts a unique bi-retrograde movement that operates a central chrono display, a first for a Big Bang.
This display features a semi-circular scale of 45 minutes — the half time of a football match — with an additional 15 minutes for extra time and a window display at 12 o’clock to indicate which half of the game is being timed. The large minute and second hands are responsible for indicating the chronograph time and automatically jumps back to zero when they hit “60” on the scale. While the chronograph is in motion, the watch maintains normal time-reading function at a sub-dial at six o’clock, which has permanently rotating hands.
The Big Bang Unico Bi-Retrograde, or the Soccer Bang, is available in 45.5mm 18k King Gold (limited to 100 pieces) or black ceramic case (limited to 200 pieces).
Later that evening, Hublot hosted a gala dinner at the Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo attended by the glitterati of the Japanese capital’s society. A charity auction was also held — among the items up for bidding were soccer boots, a soccer ball and an old jersey autographed by Pelé and a Classic Fusion Aero Chronograph numbered “000”. A total of 5,600,000 yen was raised for the Soccer Family Reconstruction Support Fund.
The choice of Pelé, who also serves as Fifa World Cup honorary ambassador, is a no-brainer and a coup for Hublot in the run-up to one of the world’s most televised sporting events, which will take place from June 12 to July 13 in Brazil (it is the first time a South American nation is hosting the event since Argentina in 1978).
Guadalupe enthused: “Who better than Pelé, the record-holder for scoring the most goals [1,283 in total], to join us on this World Cup journey? He is a huge iconic personality who has brought a great deal of attention to the whole campaign.”
He adds: “This [partnership with Pelé] is an opportunity for us to do something in a big way that we weren’t able to do in South Africa [in 2010]. We’re a big brand in Brazil and we plan to invite more than 1,500 people to the World Cup. They will stay at a hotel that we have taken up entirely for the occasion. From an operational point of view, this is a massive undertaking for us.”
Needless to say, the CEO is a big football fan, a passion that he feels fits the brand’s DNA as a masculine watchmaker with athletic appeal. “We’re a luxury brand and football is a sport beloved by the masses. Seven or eight out of 10 of our customers are football fans too. Football elicits a lot of excitement and emotions that no other sport could. If I invite a billionaire to see the World Cup finals, he would jump at the chance. You probably won’t get the same kind of reaction with, say, a polo match.”
“At the same time, we’re also reaching out to potential customers who may not be able to afford our watches now but who can aspire to. Football has opened a lot of doors for us that no other sport could.”
in a span of eight years, Hublot has entrenched itself firmly in the world of football. It started in 2006 with a partnership with the Swiss National Team before it became the official timekeeper of Euro 2008.
Things took a spectacular turn when it landed a major partnership deal in 2008 with Manchester United. Although it terminated its partnership with the club after the retirement of Alex Ferguson last year, the brand remains an ardent fan of the sport.
Apart from Pelé, Chelsea’s football manager José Mourinho (right), arguably the greatest manager of all time, is the other football luminary on its list of brand ambassadors. Hublot also sponsors football teams Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus of Turin and Ajax Amsterdam as well as European football club FC Bayern Munich.
But it is without a doubt that it is the brand’s deal with Fifa that has garnered the most attention. It didn’t hurt either that Hublot was the first watch brand to be the official timekeeper for the World Cup in 2010. To celebrate this milestone, it created the Fifa World Cup watch based on the Classic Fusion model with a case, bezel and dial in pink gold, and the Fifa World Cup logo delicately drawn on the dial — a limited edition of 100 pieces that thrilled both watch and football aficionados alike.
For the upcoming sporting event, the Swiss watchmaker has also engaged Swiss photographer Fred Merz to produce a stunning photo spread, featuring its collaborators from the world of football. Each portrait also puts the spotlight on an artwork by Brazilian painter and sculptor Romero Britto, which has been painted onto the football itself.