The horological highlight from Hublot this year was the long-named "Cathedral" Minute Repeater Tourbillon and Column Wheel Chronograph watch. In a King Power style case, this watch boasts a case formed out of carbon fiber and a very complex movement that has (Yup, you guessed it!) the time, a tourbillon, a minute repeater, and a chronograph.
Presenting it was Hublot CEO Jean-Claude Biver on the first day of Baselworld 2011. In front of a group of us he activated the watch, put a microphone to it, and allowed us to hear the loud minute repeater. As I have stated before, when I mentioned this watch in my Baselworld top picks for 2011 article, the interesting side effect of having a carbon fiber case is that the minute repeater function isn't muffled by metal.
Those who tend to play with modern minute repeaters on a regular basis know that, even with the most impressive models, the sound is highly underwhelming. A minute repeater is supposed to tell you the time via a code of chimes and is only useful if you can hear it. Most of the time, if you want to use one you need to be in a really quite room, tell everyone to hush, and place the watch next to your ear in order to hear the little dings.
Is that how minute repeaters always were? No, not at all. It used to be that pocket watches had little openings for the sound to travel out through and be audible. When minute repeaters found their way into high-end wrist watches those gaps needed to be closed to protect the movements from dust and water. That was simply a demand of the client. Plus, because minute repeater watches are expensive, customers wanted the watches to be in precious metals. Often heavier than steel, materials such as gold and platinum absorb more sound making them even worse for the little gong and hammer complication. I find it interesting that F.P. Journe decided to make his super Sonnerie Souveraine watch out of steel, instead of gold or platinum, and still charge over $600,000 for it.
So when Hublot created a minute repeater watch out of carbon fiber - a light material that allows more air to reverberate inside the case - it ended up with a rather nice sounding minute repeater watch compared to something in gold or platinum. It does make me wonder about a titanium minute repeater, though. Hublot just bought a company that makes carbon fiber and have been on a big carbon fiber kick for a while so I doubt that the strength of the minute repeater was really considered much in advance. So, as previously stated, it is a positive side effect of the case being in carbon fiber. For Hublot, this just another "fusion" piece combining traditional complications with high-tech material.
In the watch, the minute repeater has two cathedral style gongs: Two gongs each with a different sound - one for hours, and one for minutes. The minute repeater is activated by sliding the left flank of the case up. This flank is a typical design element of the King Power and Big Bang watches making it is a sort of "hidden lever." In fact, also released this year by Hublot is an F1 Tourbillon Chronograph which, aside from having a different overall look, has a movement and dial that looks almost exactly the same as this watch. However, that model does not have a minute repeater in it. So, really, you just have to know which Hublot watches have minute repeaters and which do not.
The chronograph is done in two subdials on the face - one for the minutes and one for the seconds. It is a monopusher with the push piece being integrated into the crown. The chronograph is even more unusual for not having a centrally mounted seconds hand. You can see the column wheel for the chronograph in the dial located under 12 o'clock. The skeletonization is impressive as the dial design places most of the mechanical elements on the front of the watch and through the caseback you do see a carbon fiber movement plate.
At 48mm wide, in carbon fiber, this Hublot Minute Repeater Tourbillon Chronograph is indeed a cool timepiece. And, it doesn't wear like something that cost you a ton of money. Hublot was still able to give it a sporty feeling that they are known to imbue in most of their watches. With a watch like this you'd feel comfortable in jeans while running around doing errands. Can you say the same for a Patek Philippe minute repeater? If anything, Hublot has created a mold for more casual luxury watches because they strive so hard to make them modern feeling. No Hublot watch is ever a timepiece you are afraid to wear and in that I think Jean-Claude Biver has really succeed in making high-end timepieces a more regular facet of people's lives.
TECHNICAL DETAILS from Hublot
Case: “King Power” - Diameter 48 mm in matte carbon fiber
Bezel: 6 H-shaped titanium screws, countersunk, polished & locked
Crystal: Sapphire with interior anti-reflective treatment
Lateral inserts: Black composite resin
Case-back: Matt carbon fiber
Crown: Black PVD titanium
Dial: Matt black with satin-finished black nickel appliques and silvered, White and red powder transfers
Hands: Faceted, satin-finished and micro-blasted, black nickel, skeleton
Movement: HUB 8100 Flying tourbillon without ball bearing
Dimensions: Diameter: 30 mm Thickness: 9.47 mm (Diameter of chime gongs: 32.60 mm)
Functions: Hour, minute and seconds via the cage, Minute repeater, Cathedral chime gong, Single push-piece chronograph at 3 o'clock (60-sec. and 30-min. counter), Manual winding, 2-position stem Manual winding and time-setting
No. of Components: 404
Hairspring: Flat, for extreme position setting
Frequency: 21,600 Vib/hour (3 Hz)
Power Reserve: Approximately 120 hours
Oscillator: Hublot Balance with adjustment inertia-blocks
Shock absorbers: Shock absorption for main plate and balance bridge
Main plate: Brass, beveled with drawn rims, and circular-grained recesses, Black ruthenium coating
Bridges: Carbon fiber, brass, beveled with drawn rims & circular-grained recesses, Black nickel coating
Gear train: Circular-grained & beveled wheels, coating: black ruthenium, rolled pinions
Screws: Polished and beveled heads, rounded and polished ends
Wristlet: Black alligator gummy, stitched onto black rubber inner
Clasp: Ceramic and black PVD deployant buckle