If you’ve been around for the past five years or so, then you’ve seen the rise, the peak, and the plateauing of sapphire crystal themed watches. Hublot, being the materials expert that it is in watchmaking, was among the pioneers that brought us the sapphire crystal craze. In 2016, the maverick Swiss brand presented its iconic MP-05 La Ferrari watch in a sapphire crystal case, setting the watch community abuzz. While some felt that the all-sapphire crystal treatment was avant-garde and stylish, many felt that the look was cheap and tacky.
Released alongside the sapphire crystal-cased MP-05 La Ferrari was a humbler timepiece albeit also in sapphire crystal. This timepiece was the basic but signature Big Bang Unico. At that time, sapphire crystal themed watches were known for their obscene pricing (which continues to be the case today) – understandable because of the material’s relative novelty and difficulty in manufacturing. One of the reasons the original Big Bang Unico Sapphire stood out (apart from its looks) was that it was one of the more affordable watches of its kind. While it, too, had its detractors, it also had plenty of admirers. Fast forward four years to LVMH Watch Week in January 2020, Hublot had rather discreetly launched a new iteration of the Big Bang Unico Sapphire, this time in a smaller case and a new movement to fit. The launch may have been quiet, but the decision to reinvigorate the Hublot Big Bang Unico Sapphire reference speaks volumes about how it is doing commercially. Here, we bring you the details and our thoughts on the Hublot Big Bang Unico Sapphire 42 mm.
As one might be able to tell from the nomenclature, Hublot’s new see-through Big Bang Unico watch is 42 mm in diameter – a downsize from the original 45 mm. This change likely reflects the demands of the brand’s customers. While it is true that Hublot watches have always been huge and that we have largely accepted this to be how it is, the fact remains that – barring those with well-endowed wrists – a 45 mm watch simply doesn’t wear nicely or securely. On the contrary, at 42 mm, the Big Bang Unico Sapphire would not only retain its presence, it would also fit better on many more wrists. Make no mistake, the watch is still big (because sports watches do tend to wear bigger) but a 3 mm reduction in diameter is not insignificant either. Overall, we feel that this size decrease is a simple but potent move towards the right direction.
In terms of the design and aesthetics of the case, hardly anything has changed; the new Big Bang Unico Sapphire 42 mm looks pretty much exactly the same as the original 45 mm version. Even years after the sapphire crystal hype began, the reactions of people toward the watch are still the same. First they are awed by the transparency, and then they are underwhelmed that the case looks like plastic, and last but not least, they are shocked by the price tag. These are all fair reactions, but we must say that one’s impression of a sapphire crystal-cased watch tends to improve once it is handled. The Big Bang Unico Sapphire, for instance, does look plasticky from afar, a look that is not helped by the transparent rubber strap. But once you go hands on with it, you can’t help but be wowed. The feeling of the case in your hands is much closer to glass than plastic – it is cold to the touch and even sounds like glass when tapped. The material definitely feels anything but cheap, especially if you’re aware of how hard it is to manufacture. And speaking of hard, sapphire crystal is immensely hard and and even harder to scratch; it is like the hipster brother of ceramic. Just don’t drop it onto the floor or swing it into a corner because, like ceramic, it is way more brittle than gold or steel and will shatter.
When it comes to the dial, nothing has changed as well. The Hublot Big Bang Unico Sapphire 42 mm still uses the same skeletonised dial design rendered in composite resin. Whats changed though are the hands, as they are now crafted in metal and are longer transparent. We feel that the watch would look better with the transparent hands from the original Big Bang Unico Sapphire, because the play well into the sapphire crystal theme. Perhaps this change was made to improve the legibility of the watch, which is nice, but also likely not the primary concern of anyone intending to buy a sapphire crystal themed Hublot watch with a skeletonised dial.
Driving the Big Bang Unico Sapphire 42 mm is the new 354-part HUB1280 UNICO movement (also dubbed the Unico 2). The Unico 2 calibre was designed to equip – at least by Hublot’s standards – smaller chronographs. It retains the design of the original Unico movement with a double decoupling system visible from the dial side as well as a 72-hour power reserve. But thanks to various technical optimisations, including the introduction of a new, flatter automatic winding system, it has been made thinner by 1.3 mm. It is worth mentioning that the calibre isn’t merely a column wheel chronograph movement with a date, it also has flyback functionality which – surprisingly – isn’t actually all that common even in high-end watchmaking.
The finissage applied unto the Unico 2 is fairly attractive if only a little industrial. While a significant portion of the finishing is done by machine, the outcome is tidy and fitting of a watch like the Big Bang Unico Sapphire. Ten years ago, a watch with a sapphire crystal case would have been unfathomable. But today, it seems that we have become used to it as if it were any other case. Hublot’s original Hublot Big Bang Unico Sapphire is considered a trailblazer for the sapphire crystal trend back in 2016 and the new 42 mm variation can be seen as an evolution of the piece – an improvement, if you will – to suit the demands of customers. The Big Bang Unico Sapphire 42 mm is priced at SGD94,200 or CHF65,000, a CHF10,000 increase in price compared to the larger original piece. If you thought the price hike is steep, wait till you hear about the funkier sibling of the Big Bang Unico Sapphire 42 mm: the Big Bang Unico Yellow Sapphire 42 mm. Priced at SGD130,400, the watch is almost SGD40,000 dearer than its colourless brother. The Big Bang Unico Yellow Sapphire 42 mm doesn’t just have a yellow tinge to its case, but also the strap, and the lume on the numerals and hands. We personally prefer the aesthetics of the colourless Big Bang Unico Sapphire 42 mm but can also see how some may be into the striking yellow variant. The real question is: is the colour worth a SGD40,000 premium? This is for the buyer, and the buyer alone, to answer. For a sapphire crystal themed watch with a little less complication and a little more finesse, look no further than the Girard Perregaux Laureato Absolute Light. Having only existed since 2019, the Laureato Absolute line is one of Girard Perregaux’s recent attempts at appealing to a younger clientele. The Laureato Absolute Light absolutely fits the job description as it is encased in sapphire crystal and has a gorgeously openworked movement. The finissage on said movement is sublime, with an NAC anthracite finish and numerous sharp inward and outward angles to be found. The price for such excellence, as you’d expect, isn’t cheap; the time-only watch is priced at SGD116,000, which (surprisingly) is less than the Big Bang Unico Yellow Sapphire.
Love it or hate it, you’ve got to give credit to Hublot for being there at the start of the sapphire crystal watch trend and keeping at it even four years later. Sapphire crystal is here to stay, not just as a case back and dial cover, but also as a case (or in some extreme examples, as movement parts). This is made possible by advancements in manufacturing, and we all know Hublot is one of the best in this regard. The Big Bang Unico Sapphire 42 mm, an evolution of the original Big Bang Unico Sapphire is evidence that the watch community has accepted this edgy trend. All in all, the changes made (i.e. updated movement, smaller case) to the new Hublot Big Bang Unico Sapphire are steps in the right direction in ensuring the model’s longevity.