Hublot is probably one of the least understood luxury brands around (particularly in the wrist watch realm) – especially because so many people think that they understand it. Hublot really epitomizes what someone recently described to me as a “non-fragile” company. The idea is that fragile companies are those that don’t deal well with criticism or complaints. Non-fragile companies, on the other hand, actually thrive in the face of criticism and sometimes even controversy. Hublot receives more than its fair share of negative commentary from the wrist watch collector community, yet the brand seems to be getting stronger all the time. Hublot is a non-fragile company that thrives on feedback both negative and positive. No one at the frantic and busy organization is at all sensitive about the fact that many of the more conservative watch collectors take most opportunities to share their disapproval at the brand’s product offerings. Hublot keeps on going strong offering more of what people seem to love, and also more of what seems to irritate some of the more outspoken members of the watch lover community.
2015 represents the 10-year anniversary of the Hublot Big Bang that really marks the remarkable relaunch of the Swiss watch brand. After Jean-Claude Biver sold Blancpain to the Swatch Group, he proceeded to use his earnings to purchase the then distressed Hublot – a flailing and money-losing Swiss brand, with a name that means “porthole,” originally started in the early 1980s.
With the Hublot Big Bang and a modern take on bold luxury sport watches, Hublot was able to help strongly and permanently change the face of the modern sport watch industry. Love or hate their strategy, “The Hublot Way” is a powerfully aggressive and effective way of making a brand desirable and culturally relevant. Are they making products that the dedicated, niche, high-end watch enthusiasts claim to want? No. But at the same time, a close inspection of many of the elements of what Hublot is today reveals that the company embodies pretty much everything even the most picky watch collector is looking for. You do, however, need to sift through varying degrees of chaff to find it.
People often know me as a rather unapologetic Hublot fan – and wearing this Hublot Big Bang UNICO for a few months quite constantly sort of increased my Hublot fan-dom. No, I am not in love with everything they do, but I genuinely like the Hublot theme as well as their particular take on making horology contemporary. Maybe it is all because of the “Biverian” influence that remains even though he is technically the CEO of a different company right now (TAG Heuer), but the spirit of the watch industry’s most influential branding and marketing maven, Jean-Claude Biver, stays true today under the leadership of current CEO Ricardo Guadalupe.
One of the more interesting elements of Jean-Claude Biver’s maturing relationship with the brand is that it did not diminish much A) after he sold the company to LVMH, and B) after he stepped down as CEO. Today, Jean-Claude Biver still participates in Hublot events and the e-mail address he most uses has an @hublot.com name. So now, 10 years after the initial launch of the Big Bang, the products still enjoy a sense of his energy and passion – a passion that has transcended the marketing and is easily seen in the products themselves.
The original 44mm-wide Hublot Big Bang watches are still produced today (in countless variants), so this larger more modern Hublot Big Bang UNICO is not what I would call a replacement. However, the Hublot Big Bang UNICO 45mm (originally debuted by aBlogtoWatch here in 2013) fits in between the 44mm-wide Big Bang and the 48mm-wide King Power cases. I’ve actually guessed a few times that the 45mm-wide Hublot Big Bang UNICO case has more or less replaced the King Power case, as it has a similar look and feel while being more modern and also more ergonomic.
In that previous article mentioned above where I debuted the Hublot Big Bang UNICO, you can read more about the design evolution and how the case really started out as Hublot’s Big Bang Ferrari that was adapted to be a modern Big Bang. So let me step back and say that if you want a slightly smaller, more simple line of watches, the original Hublot Big Bang case is still available and worth looking at; but if you want one of the best timepieces Hublot has to offer today, then I recommend you check out a Hublot Big Bang UNICO.
From a watch lover’s perspective, the Hublot Big Bang UNICO is one of Hublot’s proudest achievements. While Hublot has produced movements in-house for quite a while, during much of their modern history, in-house-made Hublot movements were reserved exclusively for their most expensive and exclusive models such as tourbillons. “UNICO” is really the name for a movement platform which can be modified and moduled to offer a range of complications. In its purest form, the UNICO automatic movement offers time plus chronograph (and date), and is very well represented here with the caliber HUB1242.
The development of the UNICO took at least 4-5 years for Hublot and was premised around the idea that the company wanted to move away from relying strictly on base Swiss ETA Valjoux 7750 and 7753 automatic chronograph movements to power their timepieces. Not that these movements are bad, but they aren’t exclusive, nor do they fully capture the fuller extent of the Hublot personality. With an in-house movement for volume products (meaning not exotic movements such as tourbillons that aren’t produced in any large volume), Hublot needed a solid, reliable, flexible, and beautiful in-house movement that could be the cornerstone of most of their timepieces.
I recall visiting Hublot several years ago in 2010, prior to the release of the UNICO when it was still under development. The Hublot manufacture had large unfilled spaces that would eventually house production equipment to produce watch movement parts. Recently, Hublot opened up a second facility adjacent to its original Nyon, Switzerland-based headquarters that they affectionately call “H2” with additional manufacturing space.
The UNICO movement was always meant to offer as much as the Valjoux 7750 and then some. The 7750 is so ubiquitous for good reason. It is a solid workhorse movement that offers good performance, reliability, and available parts. The UNICO needed to offer at least the same performance and reliability while adding a few elements to the equation. Basic performance stats have the movement operating at 4Hz (28,800 bph) with 72 hours of power reserve. The chronograph has some improvements over that in the 7750 by adding a column wheel transmission (which is neatly visible through the dial) as well as a flyback mechanism (meaning you can reset the chronograph without stopping it first).
Thus, on paper, the UNICO offers more than the 7750 – which it has more or less replaced – so what about visually? Well, this is where the UNICO really shines because it was designed from the ground up to be more or less skeletonized and visible all the time. The bridges are natively skeletonized and almost all Hublot Big Bang UNICO watches have open dials. The “naked” approach to the movement draws in the eye, offers a lot for movement lovers to appreciate, and at the end of the day, just looks really cool. Like the automotive world that continues to inspire high-end sport watch design like the Hublot Big Bang UNICO, the movement is a visible engine with all the masculine splendor that comes with it.
One of my favorite things to do with the Hublot Big Bang UNICO is just look at the movement through the dial and caseback. Hublot cleverly designed the dial to not only be open, but also to be very legible. Very few Hublot timepieces are difficult to read. The company understands the importance of high-contrast, legible dials that allow you to easily read the time. This task gets more complicated when you have an open dial with a view into the movement parts – often, the eye is distracted between the dial and movement elements, which tends to result in poor legibility. I think that, especially with this “Halloween” limited edition Hublot Big Bang UNICO in black and orange, you can see how important readability is for Hublot.
The caliber HUB1242 is designed to have the time with subsidiary seconds dial, 30-minute chronograph, and date on the dial. The latter uses a stencil-style numbers ring that can actually be seen almost in full behind the dial, and the indicator for the current date is at 3 o’clock. Honestly, the date is among the less legible facets of dial, but frankly, I appreciate it being second to the time because, while I like having the date on a dial, I don’t always want to look at it. Moreover, sometimes I decide not to set the date (lazy), and I don’t like a super conspicuous date window reminding me all the time that I haven’t correctly set it.
So, overall, I have a lot of praise for the HUB1242, and that seems to be the consensus among the people who ask to check out the Big Bang UNICO off my wrist. This latter practice is something I eagerly look forward to – especially when someone who I know is not traditionally an Hublot fan wants to take a look at it. The process is almost the same each time – they take what they think is a large garish watch in their hands, only to spend a lot of time intimately looking at the dial and movement and saying something like “that is actually pretty nice.” I like to sometimes respond with, “damn straight it is. Do you think I’d like a brand with a crappy product?” No, I don’t like brands with crappy products, and Hublot is certainly not one of those. Love or hate their designs/events/partnerships/etc… Hublot today makes some very solid watches whose movements stand up there with some of the best. Yes, they are expensive – welcome to “luxury anything.”
At 45mm (actually 45.5mm) wide, the Hublot Big Bang UNICO is certainly smaller than the King Power, but it isn’t a large watch. With that said, it wears extremely comfortably. One reason for this is that it is designed not to slide around on your wrist. The particular case and clasp design create a “sandwich” effect where pressure to hold the watch in place comes from the top and bottom of your wrist even if there is excess space on the side. Thus, despite the large size of the case it is designed such that it is meant to fit well on even medium-to-smaller wrists (like my own).
The Hublot Big Bang UNICO also looks effortlessly cool. OK, if cool for you is reserved and classic then it isn’t cool. If “cool” for you fits into a more standard definition of “successful risk-taking” then, yes, the Big Bang concept is cool. The highly architected yet symmetrical lines along with the tapering style are both modern but also classically proportionate. What makes the Hublot Big Bang UNICO cases a bit distinct are the large round chronograph pushers as well as the particular style of the hour markers and hands (which do, of course, vary somewhat from dial to dial).
his particular reference 411.CI.1190.LR.ABO14 model comes in a black ceramic case which is given at least two finishes from polished to matte. It is paired with black screws and other case construction elements. This particular kind of all-black look means a lot to me, but it was Hublot that really helped popularize the all-black watch look that started to be a thing about 10 years ago. I was never a fan of most totally all-black watches but appreciated how a range of muted black colors made complex cases appear very interesting. That mixed with a legible dial is right up my alley.
So, it makes me happy that this particular black and orange Hublot Big Bang UNICO uses a sort of matte orange sherbet color for the outline of the hands and hour markers, which makes everything nice and legible. There is still SuperLumiNova luminant (the black paint in the hands and numerals), of course, so you have some darkness viewing. With that said, black-colored luminant (even though it glows green) is never going to be as powerful as lighter color lume paints – probably because the dark color prevents some light absorption when charging the luminant.
Hublot’s philosophy about “fusion” rings true as the Hublot Big Bang UNICO case is produced from a range of materials. Not all of these are luxury materials, but honestly, some of the high-grade polymer resins used for the middle case are extremely high performance, adding both lightness and durability. I think these materials also help make the case more shock-resistant. I also want to mention the case screws which are not “aligned” as per the desires of some of the more outspoken critics of the brand.
Allow me to state here and now that I totally sympathize with watch lovers who want screws to be symmetrical and line up properly on dials and cases so that the screw heads all work together in the same direction. I totally get the desire for absolutely harmony in all things when it comes to luxury watches. However, I don’t specifically relate to the need to have all the screw heads line up. This is especially an issue on the Big Bang bezel, where the screws are screwed in and they rest in whatever position they were when tightened.
Hublot leaves it this way on purpose. The idea is to comment on the obvious industrial nature and construction of the product. These are actual functional screws and their random arrangement is an expression of this. Hublot wants it that way and will probably retain this philosophy for the foreseeable future. Probably the most relevant competitor that does line up their screws is Audemars Piguet on their Royal Oak watches.
The reason Audemars Piguet is able to do this is because what appears to be screw heads on the bezel are actually a style of nut – with bolts that are tightened from underneath. Speaking of Audemars Piguet, they are the “sworn competitor” of Hublot – which is another regular part of watch lover conversation. Frankly, I like both brands quite a bit and think they both bring a lot of value to the table. For me, it isn’t a Royal-Oak-Offshore-versus-Big-Bang world, as I think both product families can live in harmony. When people say “the Big Bang is just a copy of the Royal Oak Offshore case design,” I respond with “and so what if it is?”
Clearly, the two products have more differences than they do similarities, and it isn’t like Audemars Piguet created the overall case in a vacuum, either. This is an industry with a lot of brands borrowing and being inspired by one another. As long as a product takes an existing theme and pulls it in a different direction that is creative, then I am OK with it. I have yet to meet anyone who has actually confused an Audemars Piguet with an Hublot. When that happens, I will entertain complaints of “copying.”
One of the more successful things that Hublot integrated into the Hublot Big Bang UNICO case are the pushers in the lugs to release the strap ends. Hublot cases tend to look good on a number of different strap options, and most of their watches come with two straps anyway (some type of leather strap along with a back-up rubber strap). Unfortunately, I think that they only supply one deployant clasp – so for total strap-changing convenience, you’ll need to get another one of those. With that said, the process of easily and securely changing straps is here, and I think that is a core element in having any fashionably diverse high-end watch. The process of pulling out the strap-changing tool and fiddling around with it seems very backwards by today’s standards when it comes to enjoying a high-end timepiece.
Speaking of straps, on this Hublot Big Bang UNICO is a black alligator with contrast stitching band which has an inner rubber lining. Rubber straps are arguably among the most comfortable, and stitching the alligator to rubber offers a beautiful exterior with a practical interior. The clasp design is further useful in helping to vastly increase the lifespan of the alligator because it does not need to bend very much when putting the watch on or taking it off.
It goes without saying that the Big Bang UNICO case is fitted with a sapphire crystal, and I like that it is set perhaps half a millimeter above the bezel which gives a small visual outline of the crystal as you move the watch around. These small areas of light reflection are subtle, but a core element in the visual design of the watch. There is another sapphire crystal on the rear of the case over the movement, and the case itself is water resistant to a respectable 100 meters.
Looking at the Hublot Big Bang UNICO watch in a vacuum, it is difficult to deny that it is a very nice product. It isn’t the luxury timepiece for everyone, but it isn’t trying to be. In fact, one of the “shotgun marketing” approaches behind the brand is specifically that not every new product they release is meant to appeal to all fans of the brand. If one in ten new Hublot watches is appealing to their, fans the brand is likely very happy. New Hublot timepieces that don’t interest me I simply disregard with the knowledge that something a lot more appealing to me will be available right around the corner.
Taken outside of a product vacuum and looking at the image of Hublot as a brand, the Hublot Big Bang UNICO is still a very impressive product. Navigating the personality which Hublot as a company has developed over the last few years is a complex task that even I can’t always do. Many times when I am with Hublot for an event or product launch, I sort of just relax and let the ride take me where it will. You never know what fun, wacky, weird, and provocative things will happen when you are with Hublot. That, for me, is part of the charm, and I like the idea of a company that tries new and vastly different things all the time is also responsible for helping to define what modern luxury is for a lot of people who don’t actually consider themselves watch lovers.
If I could say just one really positive (and true) thing about Hublot, it is that for the larger high-end purchasing community, Hublot has solidified the notion that a cool, luxury timepiece is the ultimate lifestyle product able to tell people not only who you are but the types of things you are into. If anyone is helping to keep timepieces as a status symbol for the wider public (either for better or worse) it is Hublot – and that would have never happened if their timepieces were not at the very least fun to look at and wear.
No Hublot has ever been cheap, and they are among the many watch brands out there that constantly face “price scrutiny.” With the high-end movements and pretty good attention to detail, they offer what I would say is a respectable experience for the money. Sure, their timepieces would be a lot more attractive at a lower price, but perhaps, I am just saying that because it feels like a shame that the Hublot Big Bang UNICO is priced a bit outside of what so many people who would like it can afford. This particular Hublot Big Bang UNICO