It was 2005 that Hublot originally released the Big Bang. This was at the height of the global economic boom (only to be followed by a huge downfall about three years later), and Hublot was about to become a powerhouse again. The Big Bang quite literally jump-started the once ailing brand. Just a few years before Hublot was purchased by Jean-Claude Biver who saw the brand as an investment and challenge. He had just come from Blancpain and Omega, the former of which was purchased by Biver himself in the early 1980s for about 22,000 Swiss Francs, only to be sold to the Swatch Group in 1992 for about 60 million Swiss Francs.
Biver was credited as having helped revitalize Omega and Blancpain, and his next project was Hublot, which had been dwindling for years after having been founded in the early 1980s. Eventually Hublot was purchased by LVMH in 2008. Hublot marked a new challenge, but nothing that Biver wasn’t prepared for. Unlike the classic approach of Blancpain or the sport and celebrity connections of Omega, Hublot would be something new that emphasized modern materials and design. In a cocoon of Biver’s famously charismatic marketing speak and vision of success the Big Bang watch was born. For 2013 it finally gets a true successor.
For years it seemed as though Hublot was only producing Big Bang models, By 2007 or 2008 people started wanting new models. Eventually those models came with the larger King Power watch, as well as more classic fare such as the Classic Fusion. Nevertheless, the modern military-styled 44mm wide Big Bang was at the heart of the brand for years – and Hublot produced dozens of variations, oftentimes in limited editions.
The secret to the Hublot Big Bang 45mm watches was how it was aimed at the right demographic with the right design. Hublot wasn’t trying to convince Blancpain wearers to suddenly wear a modern looking high-end sport watch. Instead, Hublot was trying to offer Rolex and other more standard luxury sport watch wearers something novel, and arguably more “now” to wear. Hublot was innovative in that it was perhaps the first major Swiss watch brand to focus on the affluent black community in the United States. This helped the brand make headway in pop culture, and even got itself named in a few songs. Despite not having the heritage or prestige of some other brands, the Big Bang really took off.
With the larger King Power watch that followed the Big Bang becoming very popular, the original 44mm wide size of the Big Bang was starting to seem small a few years ago. Hublot wearers wanted something larger, and oftentimes women were found wearing 41mm and 44mm wide Big Bang watches. Hublot had been planning a follow-up to the Big Bang for sometime, but it took them a few years. The first major hurdle was the complexity of in-house production. For a while Biver wanted to outfit the Big Bang with an in-house made Hublot movement. Big Bang watches used modified versions of the Swiss ETA Valjoux 7750. Decent movements of course, they were nevertheless rather ordinary and were often attacked as not being exclusive enough for a watch priced like a Big Bang.
Hublot began to produce some extremely high-end movements in-house in around 2010 after famed movement maker BNB Concept shutdown due to a lack of paying customers (due to the recession). When the company shutdown after declaring bankruptcy, Biver purchased many of the company’s assets (including machinery) and hired the lead designer (Mathias Buttet) to work for Hublot. Buttet, never a “money guy” has been quite happy at Hublot and is currently in charge of developing their most high-end creations. He and/or his machines from BNB Concept helped in the development and eventual production of the Hublot UNICO – an in-house movement whose goal it was to replace 7750 movements in Big Bang watches.
The UNICO was meant to be the higher-volume in-house movement that Hublot needed (next to its small production of in-house tourbillons, etc…). However, the UNICO took a long time to develop, and suffered some delays as Hublot perfected the materials used in the movement. Early versions of the UNICO for example were planned to have carbon fiber main plates. It was an ambitious concept that was in fact used in some watches, but apparently didn’t turn out to be something that Hublot could produce in large quantities from about 2011-2012.
In early 2013 Hublot seemed to be offering the UNICO movement in more models, and at Baselworld 2013 the UNICO was finally in not just a Big Bang watch, but a brand new and refreshed Big Bang. With an in-house movement powering it, the Big Bang was finally the “in-house made” timepiece base-level Hublot that the brand always wanted to offer. The design of the watch came about in big part thanks to Ferrari.
In 2012 Hublot became the official high-end timepiece maker of Ferrari (hands-on with the watches here). The famous Italian car maker had its ups and downs partnering with Swiss watch brands. A relationship with the strong automotive name was an appealing, albeit risky move for Hublot. It was however something that Biver and his team could not resist. Biver’s tactic was to produce a totally unique collection of watches for Ferrari, as opposed to simply re-branding other models. Using the original Big Bang as inspiration, Hublot created a larger 45mm wide case with a UNICO movement, and distinctive style. The case and dial were beautiful, and new features debuted on the watch such as an easy release strap system, and Hublot’s “Magic Gold” that was a hybrid material of ceramic and gold.
The Hublot Big Bang 45mm watches quickly became hot sellers and in 2013 Hublot added to the Ferrari collection with new models (hands-on here) that emphasized the “material” strength of Hublot including an all-carbon fiber version, a version in a totally ceramic case, as well as a model with a red tinted sapphire crystal. At the time I mentioned that the Big Bang Ferrari was the finest Big Bang model the brand had ever produced. Biver agreed with that because the Ferrari relationship was so important to Hublot, they really put their time into making sure the products were amazing. Later in 2013 Hublot had another surprise with an updated Big Bang that built on the Ferrari watch.
Using lessons learned with the Big Bag Ferrari, Hublot finally set out to recreate the Big Bang with many of the same features and components. I actually think that Hublot will continue to produce the original Big Bang for sometime. For that reason I can’t claim that the 2013 Big Bang UNICO is a replacement, but rather it is an updated model that people who liked the Big Bang in 2005 would probably want to get today. Using a case very similar to the Ferrari watch, the Big Bang UNICO is 45mm wide (actually 45.5mm) and incorporates some of the features we loved on the Big Bang Ferrari, such as the pusher on the lug structure that acts as an easy release for the strap (so you can swap them).
Hublot didn’t however just re-purpose the Big Bang Ferrari case. There are differences, and the Ferrari version is still a bit more complicated. Differences include the materials options, crown, and chronograph pushers. In fact, probably the most controversial element of the new Big Bang UNICO are the chronograph pushers. Round, and designed to look like pistons, they mark a stark departure from the more square pushers you normally see on Hublot chronograph watches. At first I wasn’t too taken by the new pushers, but eventually I learned to accept and appreciate them. They offer a bit more of a classic feel, that strikes a sort of harmony with the otherwise very modern design of the watch. In fact, because the case of the 45mm wide Big Bang is so similar to the 44mm wide version, the pushers mark an important visual distinction point. The biggest update is really the dial. Hublot has been perfecting the art of modern skeletonized dials for years now and the Big Bang UNICO 45mm is a shining example of their lessons put to the test. Building on themes from the original Big Bang such as numeral fonts and hands, Hublot designed a completely three-dimensional dial complete with multiple layers and a partial view into the movement. The hands and hour markers are very easy to see thanks to their bold, high-contrast design, but satisfying technical elements abound as well.
Inside the new Hublot Big Bang 45mm watches are the Hublot UNICO caliber HUB1242 automatic movements. Based on the same UNICO that is in the Big Bang Ferrari watches, this caliber has a subsidiary running seconds hand (where the Ferrari has a Ferrari logo in this spot). The movement has a 60 minute chronograph and date indicator window. The chronograph further uses a column wheel and has a flyback feature. Operating at 28,900 bph, the UNICO HUB1242 has a power reserve of 72 hours and is made from 330 parts. It is a really nice looking modern movement and just what a new Big Bang watch deserves.