Recently, here in Los Angeles, Hublot helped brand ambassador Kobe Bryant celebrate his now official retirement from playing professional basketball for the Los Angeles Lakers after 20 years of service. The affably charming Byrant was on point this evening as his carefully curated retirement plan checked off another box while he strapped on his latest limited edition Hublot watch reference 517.CX.0180.PR.KOB16 made just for him (and 23 other people).
Hublot has celebrated various sides of Kobe Bryant’s personality with each of the now three limited edition watches they have produced together. It began back in 2013 when Hublot and Kobe Bryant announced the King Power Black Mamba (hands-on here). With the crew at the event, I congratulated Mr. Bryant on the relationship and failed to make small talk when making the mistake of mentioning Nubeo, a late 2000’s brand with huge potential that suffered fatally after the economic crash. After my remark, I then realized that Bryant probably lost money as part of the ordeal and it was a sore topic. I mostly brought it up because I was a genuine fan of the brand’s product and saw his participation as a sign of his level of fine watch appreciation and good taste.
Not wanting to invest his own resources in a watch brand, Bryant probably made the intelligent choice of working with a strong partner like Hublot. After Kobe Bryant, Hublot also became the official watchmaker of the Los Angeles Lakers. The brand began by examining Kobe’s on-court personality with the Black Mamba watch – influenced by one of Kobe’s several nicknames. In 2015, we went up to Napa Valley wine country to check out the launch of the Kobe Bryant Big Bang Unico Retrograde Chronograph Kobe ‘Vino’ Bryant watch. Nearing the end of his career, a more calm and mature Bryant here wanted to celebrate his “Vino” name in a fitting manner.
The 2016 limited edition Hublot Classic Fusion Kobe Bryant “HeroVillain” is either the third in a series or the end of a trilogy. For Bryant, I believe this watch is not only about celebrating the end of his career, but also the legacy and personality he has left behind. A sentimentalist, in my opinion, Kobe ponders whether he will be remembered for his heroic determination or his sometimes direct path to success at the expense of other considerations that might be on the “villain” side of the spectrum.
Kobe Bryant has mentioned that he would not rule out a return to the sports industry in the future, but I get the impression he is ready for a break after a live-eat-breathe-basketball life for two whole decades. The man of many passions seems eager about putting his attention and energy elsewhere for a while – even though he has not made it clear what that is.
With full humility, Kobe shared that he is not a good designer, and that he does not design his watches. Rather, he conveys a vision, story, and set of emotions he wants to imbue into his watches and credits the artistry of Hublot’s designers for the final product. It’s nice to see him open about the design process and profess his genuine appreciation for how the brand has handled their relationship – a relationship of importance to the star because he does care about watches.
The Hublot Classic Fusion Kobe Bryant “HeroVillain” watch comes in the 45mm-wide Classic Fusion case in black ceramic. A bit of spice is added in the use of 18k rose gold dial appliques as well as Hublot “H” screws on the bezel and lugs. At its base, the watch is the Hublot Classic Fusion AeroFusion Moonphase Black Magic.
Aside from the gold on the case and bezel, the most major change is the addition of the stylized three-dimensional black mamba snake figurine on the dial. It’s a Kobe Bryant watch, so it has to be there. The rear of the watch has his “HV” Hero Villain logo printed on the sapphire crystal exhibition caseback window. Attached to the strap is a “gummy” python skin strap – and it’s done expertly. Hublot likes to make straps that are soft rubber-lined with animal skin on the outside. It gives the best of both worlds, being comfortable and easy to clean like rubber, with the visual attractiveness of leather, fabric, alligator, and now, black python.
Inside the watch is the caliber HUB1311 automatic movement which is a base movement with an in-house module for the calendar and moonphase functions. The layout is meant to emulate the classic “triple calendar” look which has two adjacent windows under 12 o’clock with the day of the week and month, and then a dial for the date over 6 o’clock. In that dial is a moonphase indicator, and pretty much everything but the hands and hour markers are skeletonized. Even the dial is a piece of sapphire crystal. The look attempts to marry the old and the new. It’s certainly legible and gives a slick classic look to the modern Hublot brand. The movement operates at 4Hz with a power reserve of about 42 hours.
Kobe was clearly happy when seeing the Hublot Classic Fusion Kobe Bryant HeroVillain on his wrist. It’s cool because, at events like this, even Kobe is probably seeing the watch for the first time in real life. It’s a good time to be Kobe, retiring with the splash he was hoping for. Certainly something to add points to the “hero” side of the equation. The question is if Hublot will continue to be a part of his personality moving forward – and I think, for the time being, it will be. Price for the limited edition of 24 pieces reference 517.CX.0180.PR.KOB16 Hublot Classic Fusion Kobe Bryant “HeroVillain” watch is $20,400. hublot.com