When you’re at Watches & Wonders and meeting up with other watch writers, talking about the show, the chit chat naturally goes to some flavor of “What’s the best watch you’ve seen?” We’re all on different schedules and taking meetings at different times, and it’s interesting to observe a buzz building for a watch that your colleagues have had a chance to handle but for you is still a few days away. One watch that I was particularly looking forward to after a few of these conversations was a piece that certainly isn’t normally something I’d go for, but became very interested in after some gobsmacked early reviews from trusted sources. Let me tell you about my time with the Hublot Big Bang Tourbillon Automatic Purple Sapphire.
I’m not putting you on or exaggerating when I say this was absolutely one of my favorite watches of the show. The best? Hard to gauge, but I had a big dopey smile on my face for the entire time this watch was in my presence, let alone on my wrist. If you’re at all predisposed to the Big Bang’s bold aesthetic, this is a hard watch not to like simply for the novelty of the purple sapphire case and the impressive motion inherent in the dramatically skeletonized dial thanks to the tourbillon and the movement’s micro-rotor visible at 12:00. But there’s a tendency to write a watch like this off as being brash and loud just for the sake of being brash and loud. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, but I think it’s unfair to dismiss the significant technical achievements here, even if they’re something of an afterthought in the face of something so purely visually arresting.
The purple tone of the translucent sapphire case is a first for Hublot and the industry as a whole. The synthetic sapphire Hublot has created for this watch is a composite made of aluminum oxide and chrome. The case is enormous (44mm wide and 14.5mm thick, if you’re counting) but would you have it any other way? Statement watches like this should be big and overpowering. It’s not really meant as a daily driver, and such a vibrant color, frankly, deserves to be noticed, and not hidden away under a cuff (it is the Big Bang, after all).
On the wrist, the watch is light, which you kind of expect given the airiness of the skeletonized dial and translucency of the case, but it feels incredibly solid in a way that is tough to describe. The weight feels almost like titanium, but there’s still a density to the material that is apparent in the hand. Wearing a watch made of sapphire for a few minutes if you’re used to more traditional materials is a strange experience – your mind kind of thinks it’s going to be plasticky, but it’s much more like a really good rocks glass. It doesn’t feel like a material a watch should be made from, but there it is.
The technical details of the movement are impressive but almost beside the point. Still, it’s worth highlighting the relative rarity of an automatic tourbillon movement that uses a micro-rotor, and the highly unusual placement of the rotor at the 12:00 position. Rethinking the movement architecture for what appears to be purely aesthetic purposes (the balancing of the tourbillon with the micro-rotor is unique and quite striking) is a flex in and of itself. Hublot’s caliber HUB6035 has 72 hours of power reserve and bells and whistles that include the use of ceramic ball bearings in the winding system, with sandblasted finishing on the plate for a contemporary look that is completely appropriate for a forward looking watch like this.
I imagine a lot of people will see the headline for this article or even just the banner image and have an immediate negative reaction to this watch. That is basically par for the course with Hublot. I’ve been warming up to their watches over the last few years anyway as a result of looking toward watches that feel unique and less concerned with constantly engaging with the past, but meeting with Hublott was so relaxing and fun, it allowed me to see the watches in their proper context. This is a brand that knows exactly what it is, doesn’t take things too seriously, and allows you to come to their watches on your own terms. There was no slick presentation – just a bunch of watches on a table and an easy conversation about what we thought about them as we tried each on and took a few photos. The experience made these watches approachable, which is a word we use a lot here at Worn & Wound, but isn’t something usually associated with high end luxury. The complete lack of snobbery (which, by the way, is an attitude that’s present at all price levels) is incredibly charming. And yes, this watch costs $200,000 and is limited to just 50 pieces, so it’s not like any regular person can just go out and buy one. But it’s fun and inviting in a way that transcends its high price, and a watch I found easy to appreciate for the giant purple glass weirdo it is.
If you go into Watches & Wonders thinking about every watch as a potential purchase, you’ll be equal parts frustrated and disappointed. The truth is, there are very few watches here that I could honestly imagine purchasing with my own money, either because they exceed what I’m willing or able to spend, or they simply don’t suit my taste. I actually can’t even imagine ever owning a Hublot, but as a watch fan and enthusiast, the hobby is just a lot more fun when you open yourself up to the crazy stuff that’s well outside your comfort zone, and possibly even outside the bounds of what is normally considered good taste. The Hublot Big Bang Tourbillon Automatic Purple Sapphire is genuinely jaw dropping, and exactly the type of watch I came here to see. Hublot