It’s a small, rectangular, leather case, no larger than it needs to be to hold, at best, six business cards. It is slim, too, honey-gold brown, its front stamped with the words “Berluti,” “Bottier” and “Paris”. Even the darker colouring of the letters looks organic, as if no printing mechanism could create such a hand-crafted appearance. I have owned this tiny sleeve for eight or nine years, and it has aged with changes in its shadings and texture that would have Antiques Roadshow presenters swooning, were it a thing made of wood or copper. Based on this pocketable accessory, I am inclined to concur.
“Bottier” is French for “bootmaker”, and Berluti is rightly known best for its footwear (though some of us would do unspeakable things as well to own one of the maison’s briefcases). Whatever object with which the company is associated, the “p” word – “patina” – recurs. It is the Berluti mantra. As the Berluti name has now been applied to wristwatches, preserving that element of the company’s design creates a challenge: patina is usually a quality applied only to vintage objects.
One soon realises that the splest way to “Berlutise” a wristwatch, in this case Hublot’s Classic Fusion, would be to fit it with a strap made by the company’s craftsmen, but that is too much of a no-brainer. Instead, Berluti has chosen the rarely used path of applying leather to the dial. As challenges go, it’s a tough one.
At a time when unusual dial materials pop up everywhere, leather may seem mundane compared to feathers or tiny chips of eggshell, but it is just as organic and just as much in need of special treatment. Modern cutting methods can ensure the thinness required to provide a dial covering that will not interfere with the hands, but leather needs to be treated and preserved, to last as long as would a conventional dial. Hublot watches are not, after all, disposable.
For the 2016 Classic Fusion Berluti, the Parisian shoemaker’s Venezia leather serves as its signature. Ricardo Guadalupe, Hublot’s CEO, explained that: “After jeans and lace, we wanted to carry on exploring ways to dress our dials and bracelets with textiles. Leather is a standard material in watchmaking for straps, but we wanted to go beyond the traditional approach to leather and work with the most emblematic leather there is. Working with Berluti was a natural choice.”
It helps to explain why the Hublot/Berluti collaboration goes beyond merely sharing a name. Guadalupe understands this, in a manner that suggests he has past knowledge of the leatherworking dynasty. “For Berluti, I saw that specific leather which they use and it really has a strong identity, identifying it as Berluti. The person who buys Berluti shoes or other items, can become consumer of Hublot and vice versa.
“I think it’s a perfect match because Berluti also wants to come up with new products, to explore new worlds. So, we said it could be the right partnership to do something together. Every time we do a partnership, we try and do a 360-degree activation and the product, of course, is the key element of the partnership. In this case, we said let’s put the leather of Berluti on a dial.”
Guadalupe readily identified the problematic nature of leather, a departure from more stable dial coverings. “Using a living material in a sealed case is very complicated. Finding the perfect balance between the nuances of the dial and the strap is also a challenge. It is not easy because leather has a lot of water inside, 30 per cent of water still remaining in the leather.
“The issue with the dial is that oxidation is a problem with mechanical movements, so we had to find solutions to take out the water but without altering the quality of the finishing of the leather. That was a challenge and I think that the result is fantastic. We are going to use the famous brown that they have with some script, and dark grey with a specific stitching they also have on the shoes.”
These signature details will be found on the watches, and the companies have opted for witty packaging to capture completely the Berluti and Hublot spirits. “The watch will be delivered in a shoebox of the type Berluti uses, with different items to clean your shoes. It’s a beautiful box – the boxes we use when we sell our watches are also very important. People are always amazed by them, so we try to be creative.”
This is a crucial part of the complete and true Berluti experience, an adjunct to the ownership of every other product issued by this purveyor of peerless leather goods. The packaging has a role to play. Says Guadalupe, “It’s important, if you look also at LaFerrari [with a] technological box where you just push and it opens. I think the box makes a difference today because people are really touched by the packaging. Sometimes they reuse it at home, so it becomes an additional tool of communication: if somebody puts his Hublot box in his living room when people come by, they will have a look, so it’s always talking about the brand… and word-of-mouth is still the best advertising you can have.”
The leather for the watch required “exclusive” tanning for this unusual application, the solution being the result of Olga Berluti’s experience and inventiveness; the woman is as close to being a magician as a person specialising in leather treatments can possibly be. To render the leather suitable for life on a dial, a complex and delicate procedure was required to neutralise the natural components of the hide.
Because it is an organic material, a wondrous by-product emerged: each dial is unique. The Classic Fusion Berluti is a limited edition in two versions, with straps and dials that embody all of the expertise of the maison. Both feature exhibition case backs engraved with “BERLUTI” and either “LIMITED EDITION 500NUM” (ceramic) or “LIMITED EDITION 250NUM” (King Gold).
For the 500-only Classic Fusion Berluti Ceramic with black leather dial, Hublot’s tradition of producing monochrome models, exemplified by the All Black versions familiar to Big Bang enthusiasts, informs the design of the 45mm, polished and satin-finished black ceramic case. Here the watch wears a Venezia Nero-Grigio strap with black stitching, engraved with the “Gaspard” incision, a signature detail of Berluti, and secured by a black-plated stainless steel deployant buckle clasp. A handmade cut, it makes reference to the “scarification” found on Berluti products ranging from wallets to hand luggage.
For the Classic Fusion Berluti King Gold, limited to 250 examples, the case material changes to Hublot’s proprietary King Gold and the dial is covered with tobacco-coloured leather. The straps for this version are cut from Venezia Scritto calf leather, and bear the writing inspired by the 18th-century calligraphy so admired by Olga Berluti and a favourite conceit of the brand. Each is fitted with a red-gold deployant buckle. Within both watches is a Hublot HUB1100 mechanical self-winding movement. Its power reserve is 42 hours, and the case is water resistant to 50m.
As one would expect, the Classic Fusion Berluti straps have gone through the same process as the company’s shoe leather. Adapting this to something as small as a strap involved the same patterning, cutting and assembling of the pieces of leather. Construction employs the same procedures for the mounting of the strap to the protective lacquering of the finish. Individualists will enjoy knowing that each strap is as unique as the dial, while the sensation imparted by the watches approaches that of donning the footwear.
With the arrival of the Classic Fusion Berluti timepieces, there is a new depth to the credo, “Give a man fine shoes and a beautiful watch and he can conquer the world…”