September 30, 2015
by Rob Nudds
I’m a sucker for a new material. When I was a younger watchmaker and far wetter behind the ears, I stuck hard-and-fast to the principles of old, believing science to be cheating, witchcraft, magic… Well, it turns out I was right. The Hublot Big Bang Unico Full Magic Gold and Hublot Big Bang Tourbillon 5-day Power reserve Indicator Full Magic Gold are the latest of the Nyon-based manufacturer’s products to utilize this novel material that really has to be seen (and felt) to be believed.
Full disclosure: There is no actual magic in this watch. If you buy one, do not expect it to grant you wishes, make your brooms dance, or inspire that girl/guy you’ve been ogling for the past few months to introduce themselves. What it might do, however, is give you a little more wrist-confidence when you finally decide to make the first move (nothing ventured, nothing gained). You may be enthralled by Magic Gold’s dulled hue, or you might simply find it dull. Whatever your final opinion of its aesthetics, I think it’s difficult to sniff at the processes that led to its creation. It’s hardly alchemic, but it is pretty damn cool.
When you want to market something as gold, it has to have at least 75% of its final weight made-up of gold. The other 25% can be whatever you like. If manufacturers want white gold, they might add a bit of silver to the mix; if they want red or pink gold, they would add different amounts of copper to change the color. Other additives, like nickel and zinc, go into forging the alloy to give the gold enough strength to stand up to daily wear. But traditional gold is still soft – really soft. It scratches, it dents, and, when it does, it’s really hard to reform it without permanently ruining the original shape. Hublot identified this problem and decided to do away with the traditional alloy materials and, instead, use boron carbide as the minority quantity in the 75/25 split.
Boron carbide is the second hardest material on Earth after Diamond. In its natural state, it looks like crushed pencil lead. While it’s in this state, Hublot takes it and pack it into a tube-shaped mold, before applying 2000 bar (yes, two thousand bar) of pressure to the powder. While in this compressed preform shape, the boron carbide is heated at 2200 degrees Celsius, fusing and neatly arranging the particles. When the preform comes out of the kiln, it looks like a toilet roll on steroids. It’s also weirdly light for its size and wall thickness (about 2cm). It transpires that the reason for its lightness is due to its porousness. I was shown an example of just how absorbent this material is at Hublot’s dedicated foundry in Nyon. When doused with water, the boron carbide preform appeared wet for a couple of seconds before the water disappeared as it might on a hot paving stone. At this point in the demonstration the reality of what was about to happen dawned on me, but didn’t detract from the first sighting of the finished product…
The next step of the process is to take a pre-shaped pure 24kt gold ingot (which has been molded under temperatures of 1100 degrees Celsius) and place it atop the boron carbide preform in the kiln. The two materials are then heated to 1400 degrees Celsius. At this temperature the gold is totally fluid and is forced under pressure into the pores of the boron carbide preform. When the composite is removed the gold simply seems to have disappeared. It’s not until you actually pick it up that you realise it is now one with the preform (at this stage the color is remarkably unchanged). The finished tube of Magic Gold weighs four times as much as the boron carbide preform. The two materials are bonded and form a sturdy partnership. So sturdy, in fact, the only thing that can be used to shape the material is diamond. Before that, however, the tube is sliced by an electrified wire, into slithers of Magic Gold that will be worked into bezels, case uppers, lowers, and backs. Deeper slices of Magic gold will be cut vertically to create the lug-piece that connects the two lugs and carries Hublot’s new strap release system.
I was invited to damage one of the finished bezels. The foundry master gave me a drill bit and the exclusive use of his steel desk, the floor, door, and anything else in the room I could think of whacking against the material. I caused a lot of damage, but not to the bezel, which remained intact and unblemished throughout. At one point, I thought I’d succeeded, only for my heart to sink when the ‘mark’ rubbed off with the lightest of brushes (turns out it was part of the desk…). The Hublot Big Bang Unico Full Magic Gold and Hublot Big Bang Tourbillon 5-day Power reserve Indicator Full Magic Gold make excellent use of this exciting new material, which elevates the importance of Hublot in my mind. I’d always loved their output from an aesthetic standpoint, and certainly respected some of their higher-end complications, but this kind of development grows the industry. The material is only used by Hublot, but its existence is a spur that might encourage other companies to come up with something even better.
As well as sporting a resilient exterior, the Hublot Big Bang Unico Full Magic Gold features an in-house self-winding HUB 1241 UNICO column wheel chronograph movement with the double clutch visible on the dial side. The watch has a power reserve of 72 hours, a water resistance of 100 meters, and an easily removable strap that can be detached by the simple press of a button located between the lugs and changed for one of Hublot’s many other strap options that can be purchased separately. The Hublot Big Bang Unico Full Magic Gold is 45mm wide, has anti-reflective front and back sapphire crystals, small seconds sub-dial at 9 o’clock, and a chronograph minute counter and date at 3 o’clock. The date is a personal highlight of this watch for me: I love Hublot’s habit of skeletonizing their date wheels, and although this is not the best of clearest example of the stylistic quirk I’ve seen (I prefer the date ring to be black for clarity against a pale background), it’s still awesome.
The Hublot Big Bang Tourbillon 5-day Power reserve Indicator Full Magic Gold is also 45mm but is only water resistant to 30 meters as is the norm for Hublot’s complicated watches. This hand-wound movement displays its remaining energy by way of a sub-dial at 9 o’clock. The power reserve of this watch is an excellent 115 hours. The calibre HUB 6016 is skeletonized and visible through the front and back sapphire crystals, both of which treated with an anti-reflective coating. The tourbillon beats away at 6 o’clock enlivening an excellently restrained color palette, which seems vintage and cutting-edge at the same time to me. There’s a kind of bleak futurism about these pieces, which I think is great, but appreciate it won’t be to everyone’s taste. That figures to be of little consequence to Hublot as both pieces are limited. The Hublot Big Bang Unico Full Magic Gold is restricted to 250 pieces worldwide and the The Hublot Big Bang Tourbillon 5-day Power reserve Indicator Full Magic Gold is limited to just 50 pieces in total. The price of the Hublot Big Bang Unico Full Magic Gold will be $36,700, and the Hublot Big Bang Tourbillon 5-day Power reserve Indicator Full Magic Gold will have a price of $110,000. hublot.com