In 1937, the fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli created an off-white silk evening dress with a crimson waistband. A more salient detail, however, was the gigantic lobster printed on the skirt. The man responsible for the crustacean was Salvador Dalí. Apparently, the artist  was disappointed when Schiaparelli refused to allow him to add a final surreal flourish in the form of a dollop of mayonnaise, though she conceded a few sprigs of parsley.

That lobster dress is pinpointed as the object that ignited the fashion world’s obsession with artist collaborations — think Louis Vuitton partnering with Jeff Koons in 2017, or Alexander McQueen and Damien Hirst in 2013. More recently, watch brands have become equally fascinated with cross-pollination. Swatch hooked up with Keith Haring in 1986, Zenith has been colluding with the Argentine-Spanish artist Felipe Pantone since 2020, and last year Bulgari joined forces with the Chinese-French painter Wang Yan Cheng. But one brand pushes these artistic collaborations perhaps further than any other: Hublot.  

Over the years, Hublot has developed timepieces with a host of contemporary artists including Takashi Murakami, Daniel Arsham, Shepard Fairey and Richard Orlinski, plus the creative director and tattoo artist Maxime Plescia-Büchi. According to Orlinski, there’s a reason artists flock to the Swiss brand. “They are the only watchmaker that allow an artist to do whatever they want,” he says. “I love watches, I’ve been a collector for many years, and I’ve had offers from other watch brands before. But they just involved customising a watch. Hublot let me actually create a watch from scratch.” 

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Fellow Hublot collaborator Richard Orlinski has produced more than 20 models for the brand. Courtesy of Hublot.

It’s fair to say that Hublot has a reputation for being more broad-minded than other Swiss watch brands. In 1980, it dared to put a gold watch on a rubber strap — a move deemed iconoclastic at the time, but one that has subsequently been embraced across the industry. That spirit of adventure also informs its artistic collaborations, which tend to be of a weird and wonderful bent.
Hublot Classic Fusion Takashi Murakami Black Ceramic Rainbow, for example, is a mad rendition of the Japanese artist’s smiling flower motif, with each of its 12 petals realised in a dazzling gradient consisting of rubies, sapphires, amethysts, tsavorites and topaz. Clearly, Hublot doesn’t just pay lip-service to the promise of creative control. 

Orlinski, described on his website as “the biggest selling contemporary French artist in the world”, is primarily known for his intricately faceted animal sculptures. In the same vein, his designs for Hublot teem with endless bevels and edges. “I just picked some elements from my DNA and some from Hublot’s DNA and mixed them together,” he says. 

Another one of the artist’s trademarks is the surprise locations in which he installs his works. The Hublot partnership came about after the brand’s CEO, Ricardo Guadalupe, happened upon some of Orlinski’s sculptures, including a giant howling wolf and a blood red Tyrannosaurus rex, while
at the French ski resort
Courchevel. “I like doing outdoor expositions where people can enjoy my works for free rather than having to go to the museum,” says Orlinski. “It’s about making my work accessible for all.” 

Displaying his art on people’s wrists is an extension of this philosophy, and he has already produced more than 20 models for Hublot since 2017. “They are just very open-minded,” says Orlinski when asked why the relationship has proved so fruitful. And should he wish to add a dollop of mayo to the next one, you’d expect Hublot would be just fine with that.

This is an extract from an article that appears inside out fourteenth edition’s Watches and Jewellery Lift-Out, with the headline: “Another Thing”