Spirit of Big Bang Sapphire Rainbow: Hublot’s light8 January 2024
Hublot is either loved or hated. It is a brand that is as excellent as divisive and, above all, that never leaves indifferent. In front of a watch from the Nyon manufacture, one can never remain impassive. Especially when in your hands you hold pieces like the star of our photoshoot: the Hublot Spirit of Big Bang Sapphire Rainbow – the reference 642.JX.0120.RT.4099 with a transparent sapphire case, just to be clear.
A watch that comes from afar, if we think of the three aspects that characterise it: the use of sapphire, the Spirit of Big Bang collection, and coloured gems. Three features that are, each in their own way, Hublot’s strengths; three faces of excellence that the manufacture has managed to achieve in little more than 40 years, thanks to a personal and unique vision of watchmaking, targeted and major investments in research and development, and the desire to create a market segment and an enthusiast type that did not exist before the brand’s arrival.
HUBLOT AND THE SAPPHIRE CRYSTAL
Let us start with the sapphire crystal case, pioneered by Hublot. It was the year 2016 and the brand led by Ricardo Guadalupe presented two limited editions of watches with sapphire cases. He brought the futuristic MP-05 La Ferrari Sapphire (20 pieces) to Geneva, in parallel with the SIHH, and the Big Bang Unico Sapphire (500 pieces) to Baselworld. It was the beginning of a revolution that, over the years, saw the birth of coloured sapphire cases: purple, orange, yellow, red, pink, blue.
Hublot’s expertise in working with this material comes precisely from its continuous investment in research and development. Because, technically, sapphire crystal is a synthetic corundum, different from natural corundum in that it is created in a laboratory. In nature, corundum takes on different colours depending on the impurities it contains. Sapphire, for example, is a corundum that turns from light blue to blue depending on the iron or titanium in it. Ditto the ruby, which is more or less red depending on the amount of chromium or iron ‘contaminating’ it.
Precisely because pure transparent corundum is extremely rare in nature, the need arose to create it in laboratory. Hublot has always been at the forefront of this not-so-easy process, using production processes that work at extremely high temperatures, and superhuman compression forces to produce cylindrical blocks from which watch cases are then made.
These cylinders are subjected to lengthy methods of cutting, machining and shaping before getting to the case extrusion. The difficulty of this process lies above all in the fact that corundum, whether natural or laboratory-produced, is extremely hard. On the Mohs scale, which precisely measures the hardness of materials with values from 1 to 10, corundum has a hardness of 9. The result is that it can only be cut with an even harder material which, as many of you know, is diamond (10 on the Mohs scale). Grinding wheels and pointed tools or diamond surfaces are standard practice in the Hublot manufacture and are, in part, the reason why watches with sapphire crystal cases are not for all manufactures nor for all budgets.
THE SPIRIT OF BIG BANG’S TONNEAU SOUL
Then there is the Spirit of Big Bang collection, first introduced in 2014 as an evolution of the Big Bang. For almost 10 years it has enriched Hublot’s offering by bringing in all the elements of the traditional Big Bang we know, but in a completely new form. If Hublot excels in case processing, nowhere is this excellence more evident than in the Spirit of Big Bang.
Because even before you see its structure up close, the first thing you notice about the Spirit of Big Bang is precisely its tonneau case’s shape. Named after the barrel they resemble (‘tonneau’ in French means barrel), tonneau watches are much less common than those with round cases, loved by most. In general, they are also very large and stand out when worn. In short, they are the perfect models for a brand like Hublot, which makes presence on the wrist one of its must-haves.
From a design point of view, the Big Bang’s essence is clearly present in this collection, with the H-shaped screws, the sandwich case structure created by using hi-tech materials and custom-cut elements. By combining all this with the elongated tonneau shape, Hublot has created a completely new watch whose curved lines create a softer, more elegant version of the Big Bang.
A HYMN TO COLOUR
Lastly, we come to the use of coloured sapphires, another of the techniques pioneered by Hublot. Watches with stones recalling a rainbow are in fact one of the brand’s aesthetic peculiarities. Try going to its website and typing the word ‘rainbow’ into the search string: at least fifteen results will appear in the Big Bang and Spirit of Big Bang collections, in which multi-coloured sapphires are at home.
Case, bezel, lugs, dial, bracelet: each part of the watch was gradually transformed into a canvas for Hublot to paint all the colours of the rainbow with stones. At first, it was a matter of working with the stone setting on a relatively uncomplicated part such as the bezel. Then, as the technology and technique became more refined, it was the turn of more difficult areas to work with, right up to full-pavé dials and lugs, as in the case of the Spirit of Big Bang Titanium Rainbow.
As it’s easy to understand, the difficulty in creating watches with multi-coloured sapphires is to find the correct shades which fit the design of the timepiece and will create the right colour scale when the stones are placed side by side. The size and dimension of the bezel and the setting technique are completely at the service of colour.
The fact that, in creating these, Hublot watches does not have the slightest margin for error demonstrates how, over the years, this approach that fuses industry and craftsmanship has been refined to the highest level. For it is a question of combining goldsmithing skills – industrial capabilities in creating synthetic stones of the highest workmanship and purity – with design skills and aesthetic sensitivity capable of enhancing the craftsmanship beneath the final product.
TRANSPARENCY SIGNED HUBLOT
As you might imagine, all this is present on the Hublot Spirit of Big Bang Sapphire Rainbow. Here, the rainbow work is limited to the polished 18-carat white gold bezel, which is set with 54 coloured baguette-cut stones. Their colour palette ranges from fiery red to violet, from dark blue to forest green, in a sequence interrupted only by the classic 6 H-shaped screws that indissolubly fix the bezel to the case middle.
The decision to confine the rainbow to the bezel is aligned with the objective Hublot has set itself for this watch: to make it as transparent and brilliant as possible, sacrificing a little show-off for measured sobriety. Certainly not in the tonneau shape, but in the monochrome feeling given by the timepiece when seen as a whole. A sensation that the rainbow bezel enhances rather than counteracts.
The sobriety also comes from the size of the case, 42 mm, which makes the Hublot Spirit of Big Bang Sapphire Rainbow more wearable than the average Spirit of Big Bang. Despite its not-so-subtle thickness of 14.8 mm.
Overall, the watch is light to the eye. A result that is a direct consequence of the overall transparency, given not only by the sapphire crystal case but also by the dial and back, which are made of the same material. The transparency of the dial allows themovement to be seen, barely obstructed by the rhodium-plated and satin-finished hands and the chronograph counters. The latter tend to be somewhat engulfed by the architecture of the HUB4700 calibre visible below the dial, but that is the price to pay in the face of so much luminosity. More noticeable is the date circle, which runs below the applied hour markers and in which the current day is displayed in a window at 4:30.
CALIBRE OF EXCELLENCE
The HUB4700 calibre that powers the Hublot Spirit of Big Bang Sapphire Rainbow is one of the jewels on the crown of the Nyon-based brand. It is widely used in the Spirit of Big Bang collection, equipping some twenty references, and is essentially the skeleton version of Zenith’s El Primero 400 chronograph movement, which Hublot has modified to its own specs.
To speak of El Primero is to speak of one of the most prestigious column-wheel chronograph movements. The story goes that it is the first integrated automatic chronograph calibre, a mechanical innovation with a precision to the tenth of a second, ensured by a frequency of 36,000 vibrations per hour.
All these features are echoed in the HUB4700 automatic movement with its 50-hour power reserve. In a perfect fusion of tradition and innovation, this entirely skeletonised calibre is now equipped with a silicon regulating organ guaranteeing state-of-the-art performance, precision and reliability.
THE ART OF CASTING, HUBLOT’S SIGNATURE
In addition to sapphire crystal for the case, Hublot’s other emblematic material is rubber, used for the strap of this watch. It is a transparent, ribbed and structured strap, the type we have been accustomed to see in recent years by the brand, and with a history and a peculiarity that represent the essence of the brand.
In 1980, the brand revolutionised watchmaking by combining an 18-carat gold case with a rubber strap, creating a new type of watch. A daring combination that gave rise to the first expression of the so-called ‘Art of Fusion‘, which became the brand’s hallmark and payoff. Since then, rubber has become one of Hublot’s flagship materials and an emblem of its modern approach to watchmaking.
The titanium folding clasp contributes to the watch’s total lightness. The same material also returns in the H-shaped screws, crown and chronograph pushers, which engage the movement extremely smoothly, as always when it comes to the El Primero calibre.
In essence, then, the Hublot Spirit of Big Bang Sapphire Rainbow combines transparency, luminosity and robustness, in unique shades. At a price of 132,000 euros – considering that this is a limited edition of 50 pieces. In their quest for the perfect fusion between movement and case, Hublot engineers and chemists developed a transparent material that allows to reveal the heart of the watch and remains robust enough to effectively protect the mechanism. This is how the brand became the master of synthetic sapphire, from which its unique aesthetic qualities in watchmaking derive. Transforming each watch into a work of art.
By Davide Passoni