Rubber’s Strength in Flexibility

Watchmaking Stretches Rubber’s Capabilities

ML8A1691_CAOUTCHOUC_03What material is light, waterproof and elastic yet quite tough, capable of
deftly handling temperature fluctuations while easily assuming a new color?Some people are surprised to learn that rubber is not only a natural material but also extremely versatile.

In 1980 Hublot became one of the first watch companies to tap the material for the straps of its luxury watches, which was quite a polarizing move at the time. Raphaël Nussbaumer, the company’s product and purchase director, hails rubber’s lightness as an asset in catering to wearer comfort.

But the rubber Hublot uses isn’t completely natural, coming straight from the rubber tree, Nussbaumer says. “We use synthetic elements because rubber in its raw form can cause redness on the skin.”

In “Hublot’s DNA is the art of fusion,” Nussbaumer says. “It is in this way that Carlo Crocco, Hublot’s founder, decided to combine a precious material like gold with rubber.”

While “at the time, creating a classic watch with a rubber strap seemed inconceivable,” he continues, “we can claim today that it was a genius idea.”Nonetheless Hublot doesn’t manufacture its rubber straps but instead contracts with a specialist firm with many years of experience in working with the material. “Our partner, [which] has been providing us with rubber since Hublot’s creation, uses a basic elastomer that already has some of the characteristics of the final product.

An unfinished Hublot strap like its flexibility and then vulcanizes it,” Nussbaumer says, referring to the process of putting a material under high pressure and high temperature. “Then the vulcanized rubber is taken to a finishing workshop in order to give it the selected color and form.”
Nussbaumer also salutes rubber’s resistance to swings in temperature. They must “be extreme to alter this material, which allows it a longer lifetime.”

Even though many objects with rubber have a deep black color, natural rubber is the shade of honey. Hublot’s supplier covers rubber with white pigment, then adds the desired color.“From the aesthetic point of view, rubber can have different forms and different colors,” Nussbaumer says. “It also can be combined pretty easily with different materials such as ceramic for bezels, just like we did on the King Power collections.”

Hublot currently relies on rubber in straps and also crowns, pushers and bezels.

“Hublot uses rubber because of its functional characteristics—its lightness, its toughness,” Nussbaumer says, also praising the elasticity, resistance to shock and water as well as its ability to handle different designs and hues.

Thus, rubber has been closely wound up with Hublot’s entire watchmaking history. “We will continue to use it, Nussbaumer says, “because it is part ofthe brand’s identity.” — Keith W. Strandberg