During Dubai Watch Week I sat down with Hublot CEO Ricardo Guadalupe and finally got to see a timepiece I have been excited about since it was announced on aBlogtoWatch earlier in 2021. This is the Hublot Big Bang Integral Tourbillon Full Sapphire, and it’s an amazing modern luxury timepiece with all the high-end trimmings today’s watch enthusiast can get excited about. I even got to ask Mr. Guadalupe some interesting things about their use of sapphire crystal and its potential as watch case material for lower-priced timepieces. For now, while you don’t need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for entry, sapphire-cased watches aren’t cheap given the complexity and time required to machine the parts which are milled from pieces of synthetically grown sapphire crystal. And this Hublot is the first sapphire crystal watch I’ve ever worn that includes a full matching sapphire bracelet.
“How durable is it compared to ceramic, or even metal?” I ask Mr. Guadalupe. He has overseen a host of novel material rollouts from the brand including everything from fancy carbons to their own special blend of gold and ceramic. If anyone knows how modern luxury watch materials fare in the real world – it is the managers at Hublot. Ricardo admitted that if you drop a sapphire crystal watch on a hard surface it can indeed crack. This is a fixable scenario though not a particularly inexpensive one. Recall that Hublot innovated in the area of modular case design for high-end watches. Parts are meant to be interchangeable, so a cracked or damaged component can be replaced. Sapphire is actually harder than ceramic and both are known for exceptional scratch resistance. That means the materials are extremely dense, which is also why they crack rather than having surface deformations like a metal might if they experience a sharp prod or shock.
So what does that mean for overall durability? It means that provided you don’t subject the watch to too much shock or bang it around, the material will look sparkling new… pretty much forever. That’s sort of the ultimate response to “why don’t you just make it in plastic?” This is actually the most common thing I’ve heard people say about why they don’t feel sapphire crystal cases are as exciting as I do. To these people the material could “pass” as plastic and thus doesn’t have the showy appeal of say gold or another precious material. However, such thinking is a bit superficial. It is true that from afar a sapphire crystal case might look like plastic but the similarities end there. Sapphire and plastic certainly don’t feel the same, and they don’t age the same either. Compare a clear plastic or clear sapphire case months or years down the line and they won’t look the same any longer. The plastic will likely be yellowed in color and probably rather scratched up. The sapphire crystal on other other hand will look pristine. And on a bracelet it looks even cooler.
I’m not going to try and convince anyone who doesn’t like a transparent luxury timepiece that it is cool if they just aren’t into it. I happen to think the concept is amazing and love the extension of the skeletonized movement and dial to the entire wearing experience overall. Indeed it means that what you see inside of the watch needs to be pleasant to look at which, thankfully, it is here with Hublot’s in-house made automatic tourbillon movement. The hard crystal case makes for a beautiful frame for the mechanism inside and the Hublot Big Bang Integral as a case fits comfortably and attractively on the wrist.
aBlogtoWatch debuted the Hublot Big Bang Integral here and the model is a revision of the Big Bang case designed to have an integrated bracelet (as opposed to a strap). Hublot has produced the Big Bang integral in a series of materials so far with “full sapphire” being the latest exotic flavor. The case here for this reference 455.JX.0120.JX model is 43mm wide and combines mostly precision-cut sapphire crystal with some bits of titanium for the parts not possible to be produced from sapphire crystal. Those include things like screws, the crown, and bits inside of the strap’s deployant system. For the most part this is an entirely sapphire crystal case and it is water resistant to 30 meters.
That is one area where I think there is going to be a lot of innovation in sapphire crystal cases – water resistance. My guess is that due to the fragile nature of sapphire crystal, a watchmakers can’t screw the parts together with too much tension. Metal can handle huge tension because it can bend, but sapphire crystal cannot. 30 meters is fine for daily wear, and to be honest it is probably wise not to consider a sapphire crystal cased timepiece a “sport watch” just yet. The wearing experience is worth it to baby these watches just a little bit.
Inside the watch is a still pretty new movement from Hublot known as the caliber HUB6035. This skeletonized movement features the time with a tourbillon regulation system as well as a micro-rotor automatic winding system. Hublot designed the movement for aesthetics and did a great job of “hiding” the automatic rotor over the mainspring barrel which is located just under the 12 o’clock hour indicator. The automatic rotor is also where the “Hublot” branding is on the dial so it is sort of fun to see it spinning around while you wear the timepiece on your wrist. The Hublot-made caliber HUB6035 operates at 3Hz with 72 hours of power reserve and it is produced from 243 parts.
Legibility on the dial is also very good. Few brands next to Hublot have the sheer experience with skeletonized dials and how to make them both cool-looking and readable. Hublot has been doing this for as long as I can recall and achieve prominent hands and hour markers, subdued coloring, and proper surface finishing. The result is an imminently legible dial but one that offers a full skeletonized/transparent experience for the eyes to delight in. Additional pieces of sapphire crystal are further used in the dial and for parts of the movement bridges to further enhance the “see through effect” that Hublot is aiming for.
What’s next for sapphire crystal watches? Colors. Synthetic sapphire is actually easier to color with various shades than ceramic. Hublot and some of its contemporaries have already started to play with various sapphire crystal colors. In fact, a unique version of this watch with an orange-tinted sapphire crystal was produced for the Only Watch 2021 charity watch auction. While various sapphire crystal colors will populate the market soon, I think the purist choice is totally clear sapphire crystal. Not only does it offer the least varnished approach to enjoying the transparency experience, but it also is the most stylistically versatile. “Clear” goes with anything, but you can’t always pull off a yellow, green, orange, blue, etc… watch with what you are wearing.
In a lot of ways wearing the Hublot Big Bang Integral Tourbillon Full Sapphire watch is like having a crystal chandelier on your wrist. It is showy and eye-catching even though it still feels like a primarily functional object. Hublot produces no shortage of diamond-covered watches (they have a full-gold with diamonds version of the Big Bang Integral even), and those are a bit more traditionally flashy. Sapphire crystal is flashy not because of its inherent material value, but rather in how expensive it is to machine and how exclusive it is. It also is extremely novel at this point to wear a watch that’s made out of precision cut sapphire crystal – especially when you admire the facets on pieces like the bracelet links and how clear the case transparency is. I highly suggest people try one of these on if they can and I don’t think Hublot will have too much trouble selling out this limited edition of just 30 pieces. Price for the reference 455.JX.0120.JX Hublot Big Bang Integral Tourbillon Full Sapphire watch is $422,000 USD. Learn more at the Hublot website here.