January 6, 2012 / 2:05 PM / 6 years ago

Watchmaker Hublot braces for tougher year

* Biver hands over CEO post to Ricardo Guadalupe

* Biver says to remain chairman

* Business trends unchanged for now from last year

PARIS, Jan 6 (Reuters) - Hublot, one of the fastest rising watch brands within the LVMH luxury group, is bracing itself for a more difficult year in 2012 after enjoying record growth last year, its chairman, Jean-Claude Biver, said on Friday.

Biver said Hublot's sales grew around 30 percent in 2011 - above the industry average - with Swiss watch exports up around 22-24 percent.

"The year (2011) was exceptional but it is difficult to believe that we will have the same kind of growth this year in light of Europe's debt problems and concerns about the global economy," Biver told Reuters in a telephone interview.

For the moment, trends remain unchanged from last year, he added.

Biver, one the watch industry's most respected figures, also announced on Friday that he had given up the position of chief executive of Hublot and handed it to long-time lieutenant Ricardo Guadalupe, with whom he has worked for 20 years.

Guadalupe, who was managing director of Hublot, became CEO on Jan. 1, while Biver remains chairman and will continue to be the voice of the brand, he said.

Guadalupe started his career at Bulgari and worked for several years at Swatch Group brand Blancpain before joining Hublot in 2005.

Biver worked with Guadalupe at Swatch Group during the 12 years he spent at the world's biggest watch maker and took the helm of Hublot in 2004 when he acquired a 20 percent stake.

After a failed management buy-out, Biver sold his holding to LVMH, which bought 100 percent of the brand in 2008, but he remained chairman and CEO.

"I had decided already many years ago that Ricardo would take over as chief executive at some point," Biver said. "Now it is official."

Hublot watches, which cost around 19,000 euros ($24,300), are known for their bulky, sporty designs and their use of high-tech materials such as carbon fibre. ($1 = 0.7817 euros) (Reporting by Astrid Wendlandt; Editing by James Regan)

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