September 11, 2017
by Ariel Adams
Few watches have been as disruptive and defining in the modern era as the Hublot Big Bang. I’ve spent a lot of time writing about Hublot timepieces, but I’ve never actually reviewed the original Hublot Big Bang 44 watch until now. Many of the original designs are still produced today, so this watch – while representative of the original design – was produced recently. During my review I also spoke with Jean-Claude Biver about the Big Bang, since it was the first major release under his ownership of Hublot. Today “Big Bang” is arguably the most well-known watch model name released in the post-year 2000 era. Its masculine and polarizing design is highly indicative of luxury in our modern era, and quickly receives opinions from both fans and opponents.
Let’s go over a little bit of history first. Hublot as a brand began in the early 1980s, around 1981. The term “hublot” means “porthole” in French, which was the aesthetic influence behind the brand’s case designs. Of course Hublot wasn’t the first company to produce watch cases inspired by portholes. About 10 years earlier in 1972 Audemars Piguet released the Gerald Genta-designed Royal Oak whose case (while different looking) was also inspired by portholes.
Hublot has a relatively quiet history as a pleasant but ultimately small watch brand that did itself the disservice of being founded during the height of the quartz crisis. In the late 1990s and early 2000s Hublot wasn’t doing very well and was apparently looking for a buyer. That buyer ended up being Jean-Claude Biver who recently came from Omega and Blancpain (the latter of which he sold to the Swatch Group).
Biver told me a few years ago that Hublot was losing a few million dollars a year when he acquired it (I am guessing for a very good price) and in 2004 he officially became the CEO. In 2005 his radical plan to reform the brand started with the launch of the Big Bang. The design built on the classic porthole sports watch case that Hublot was founded on, but made for a new generation, in a boldly large size, with a strong, hyper-masculine design. More so, the watch was meant to embody Mr. Biver’s famous marketing slogan for Hublot of, “the art of fusion.” This clever slogan more or less meant that Hublot watches were a fusion of materials, textures, colors, and aesthetics. To this day, Hublot can easily be credited as being a pioneer of incorporating a whole slew of previously “non-luxury” materials in regular components of high-end wrist watches.
My first experience with a Hublot Big Bang watch was back in about 2006 – about one year after its original release. I’d heard of the watches but never seen one on public. This was more than a year prior to when aBlogtoWatch even started. I encountered the Big Bang in a rather unlikely place. At the time, I was a poor law school student but given that I spent much of my time in class surfing for watches on eBay and the sales area of forums (which at the time were really popular) I was always looking for a good deal.
One day I found a particularly uncommon limited edition Japanese Citizen Campanola watch that was being sold by someone who didn’t live too far away from me. The guy wanted just a bit more than I was able to spend, but I wanted to see the timepiece in person to see if I liked it as much in the flesh as I did in pictures. So I arranged to meet him at his condo. I still recall the odd feeling I had while strolling to his place that I was about to enter the home of a stranger in order to possibly buy a high-end watch. How young and naïve I was… These days I meet with strangers all over the world and fondle their watches.
So I enter this man’s home – who happened to be a dentist. Something about that amused me because most dentists take their watches off while practicing – so this guy’s dedication to the horological hobby was worth admiring. Ironically, a few years later I spent a few seasons being the Watch Editor for a lifestyle magazine run by a dentist that I chose to work with specifically because I like the publication’s clever name: Incisal Edge.
Entering the dentist’s home, the first thing I noticed was a glass display case full of small model commercial airline planes. “Watch people are weird collectors,” is exactly what I recall saying to myself. The man instructed me to sit down on his deep brown leather couch and brought over the Citizen Campanola watch I had come there to see. The piece had one of those very strange artistic and very Japanese market-style designs. I sort of loved it, but I didn’t $3,000 love it – especially since it was a high-end quartz watch and I knew that very few people out there would appreciate its artistic merits as I did. That wisdom holds true today when it comes to high-end JDM (Japan Domestic Market) watches with an artsy twist to them.
As I sat there and carefully considered the potential watch purchase, I asked the dentist why he wanted to sell it. The Citizen purchase itself was so obscure, and it certainly wasn’t the type of watch to be flipped. The guy responded by saying that he had just made a much more expensive watch purchase and was looking to help pay it off. So selling the Citizen was to help make room for something he wanted more. What could it be? He walked off into another room to get his new coveted purchase.
I didn’t notice how long he was gone given my attention to the Campanola chronograph with the hand-painted dial that I was torn about getting. When the dentist returned, he proudly handed me a Hublot Big Bang smiling and saying “have you see one of these?” I hadn’t.
The first thing I recall noticing on the Big Bang was the applied military stencil-style hour markers and how cool they looked. The rubber strap design struck me as being a bit odd, and overall I remember feeling as though I’d never held a watch in my hands that was quite like it. I didn’t know at the time whether or not I was a Big Bang fan, but it left a deep impression in my mind and I could understand why the dentist got so excited about it. If anything, the Big Bang was impressive for being actually quite different than what I think most watch lovers were used to circa the mid-2000s. A few years later, that would all change.
The Hublot Big Bang 44 reference 301.SB.131.RX (there is a 41mm wide model of the same style as well) I am reviewing here is actually the same exact model that I was shown in that dentist’s living room over a decade ago. Now it is on my wrist, even though it is one of many Hublot timepieces I’ve put on my wrist. The last Hublot I reviewed was the spiritual successor (just the more modern and more technically interesting model) to the original Big Bang which was the Hublot Big Bang UNICO watch. With that said, the Big Bang 44 has a unique look and wearing experience. Compared to the Big Bang UNICO, this earlier model is a bit more simple, slightly smaller, and at this point actually feels more classic (which it technically is).
The sandwich-style case design is where a lot of the “art of fusion” comes into play. Hublot designed the Big Bang this way so that it could mix and match colors and materials. Being able to have a modular case design was an important part of the original concept. This watch case makes use of steel, resin, titanium, ceramic, and rubber. Other Big Bang models have featured a large host of other materials ranging from gold to carbon fiber and even magnesium. Today, Hublot is still a big fan of using novel and interesting case materials for luxury watches. Other brands quickly followed suit.