Hublot Big Bang Unico Sapphire

Just when you thought Hublot couldn’t get any crazier, they go ahead and release a clear watch. That’s right, CLEAR. The Big Bang Unico Sapphire automatic flyback chronograph is the first new release in anticipation of Baselworld. If this is just a pre-release, then I can’t imagine what the brand will have to present in March.

So first things first, what is this thing made of? Believe it or not, it is made of none other than sapphire crystal. Hublot has managed to take the same stuff used to make transparent case backs and molds it into actual Big Bang cases. This was no easy feat. The case middle, bezel, and case back were all cut out of blocks of sapphire crystal, which is scratch resistant and is almost as hard as diamonds. Titanium was used for smaller elements, including the screws, crown (additionally molded with silicon), and the deployant buckle. Overall the watch measures 45 mm in diameter.

The skeletonized dial is made of transparent resin and features the automatic Unico HUB1242 flyback chronograph movement, which was also used in the Hublot Big Bang Unico Full Magic Gold released last year at Basel. The watch is further accented by a clear strap (which seems to be a trend this year; see the clear strap used on the Christian Louboutin x Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso here).

The last time we saw something similar was back in 2014 when Richard Mille released this crazy RM56-02 Tourbillon Sapphire. So while this isn’t exactly a new technique, it certainly is interesting to see it resurface. This piece is made in a limited series of 500 piece and retails for $57,900. For more information on Hublot you can visit their website here.

In addition to the sapphire crystal-cased version of the MP-05 La Ferrari, the big “transparent” news from Hublot for 2016 is this all-sapphire-cased version of the Big Bang UNICO. Difficult to properly capture in pictures, I think anyone handling this interesting sapphire watch will be impressed by it, and compared to other all-sapphire crystal watches, the price is a relative bargain at under $60,000. In fact, the Hublot Big Bang UNICO Sapphire reference 411.JX.4802.RT might be the most affordable all-sapphire-cased watch to date.

Not wanting to merely respond to the sapphire crystal-cased watch trend, there is a more poetic angle to the Hublot Big Bang UNICO Sapphire that echoes an area where Hublot was an innovator about a decade ago. Back when the Hublot Big Bang first came on the scene was the same time that Jean-Claude Biver helped introduce the all-black “phantom” watch concept. I recall a few years ago when he gave his speech about how all-black watches represented “visible invisibility.” The trend gained a lot of traction with consumers, and for a long time we saw a good number of successful (and admittedly cool) black-on-black watches which retained legibility by mixing textures, finishes, and shades of black on the dial.

For Hublot the antonym of an all-black watch isn’t an all-white watch. While there have been all-black “phantom” Big Bangs, I don’t recall there being any all-white models. Rather, the opposite of an all-black watch which ironically retains the spirit of “visible invisibility” is a transparent watch. Clever.

This helps explain why the Hublot Big Bang UNICO Sapphire doesn’t just have an all-sapphire crystal three-part case, but also transparent elements on the dial such as the hands and even the strap. I don’t think “transparency” will become the new “all-black,” but it is a cool concept and admittedly works quite well for the Big Bang UNICO.

I published a full aBlogtoWatch review on the Hublot Big Bang UNICO watch here where you can get more of my thoughts on this collection that I personally admire. Aside from the sapphire crystal case and unique transparent elements, this watch is the Big Bang UNICO in all ways. The case is 45mm wide and water resistant to 100 meters (something to be proud of) with titanium screws. Hublot does not produce the sapphire crystal case themselves, but refer to a local “Swiss specialist” supplier.

Looking at the dial – which is already skeletonized as is – feels like seeing an x-ray of a Hublot Big Bang UNICO watch. The painted SuperLumiNova on the hands and hour markers preserves legibility, but the concept here is full transparency… and it works. At first, it is a bit odd to see the transparent hands moving on the dial, but to be honest, Jean-Claude Biver is right, and this is the opposite of an all-black watch, but it feels like it fits in the exact same theme.

Lovers of skeletonized dials and movements will enjoy the further view into the movement which, here, is the in-house-made Hublot caliber HUB 1242 UNICO. An impressive movement, this automatic chronograph operates at 4Hz with 72 hours of power reserve. The chronograph has a flyback feature and uses a column wheel transmission (which can be seen on the dial side).

My only issue with sapphire crystal-cased watches has nothing to do with the fact that to the lay person these might be mistaken for plastic. It is true that from a distance it would be difficult to know whether or not the watch is inexpensive plastic, or difficult-to-machine and very hard sapphire crystal. All I can say is that because the case is sapphire crystal it benefits from being extremely hard and scratch-resistant. So like ceramic-cased watches (sapphire is even harder), the case of the Hublot Big Bang UNICO Sapphire will likely age quite well.

Instead, my issue is with the strap. Hublot, like some others, has felt compelled to complete the transparent theme with a transparent strap. While these help complete the effect, I don’t find them particularly attractive or necessary. I would advise anyone interested in this otherwise super cool watch to quite abandon the strap for whatever else they wanted. The good news about a transparent colorless watch is that any strap choice you want will fit with it!

Better news is that, if you recall, the Hublot Big Bang UNICO case is fitted with a tool-less quick-release system for the straps. Thus, you can easily fit whatever strap you like to the watch – assuming you buy it from Hublot, as the strap connection system is proprietary. I think on a black alligator strap with white stitching the Hublot Big Bang UNICO Sapphire will look quite cool.

It is probably predictable that the Hublot Big Bang UNICO Sapphire will be produced as a limited edition watch. With that said, it isn’t a tiny limited edition, so at least for the first year or two, scarcity won’t be that big of an issue. For what is likely to be one of the coolest and most affordable sapphire-cased watches around,