With Hublot, innovation is a way of life. It was a key ingredient when Carlo Crocco founded the brand, and it erupted into the “Art of Fusion” when marketing genius Jean-Claude Biver joined the company and introduced this phrase to the watch world.
Especially during the last couple of years, Hublot has innovated at a very high rate, and one of those innovations is the Unico movement. It might seem a bit odd to start the progressive and innovative accomplishments of Hublot with what can be considered as its “base” movement. Yet the term “base” already says it: It is from there that all the rest is built up, so, in fact, it is the perfect starting point.
When people hear the word “base,” many take this as a synonym for the word “basic,” taking that it is simple. This is especially not the case with the Unico movement. First of all, a chronograph movement is one of the most difficult complications to make. The reason for this is the volatility of the complication: Tourbillons, perpetual calendars and even grand sonneries have a predictable behavior when the complications take power from the rest of the movement. Chronographs are started, stopped, reset and started all over again, at the discretion of its owner. To create a movement that can not only handle this time after time but also do so without having a negative impact on the precision of the timekeeping is quite extraordinary.
With the birth of the Big Bang, the chronograph complication became synonymous with Hublot, so it is no wonder that it set out to develop a chronograph movement of its own. Hublot approached this challenge from multiple angles, with a focus on reliability, user friendliness and serviceability. The Unico movement also had one additional challenge to tackle: While Hublot is by no means a high-volume brand, the success of the Big Bang does mean that the Unico movement has a substantial production, and each and everyone needs to meet the high standards set for it. Those standards are definitely at Haute Horlogerie-level, and Hublot achieves this by utilizing a partially automated production. Machining, stone fitting, oiling and part of the assembly of the movement are done by robots to ensure the highest, consistent quality.
The Unico is a fully integrated chronograph, meaning that it has been developed from the start as a chronograph. This means that it is not an automatic movement with a chronograph module placed on top, but that the gears and levers for the chronograph function are an integral part of the movement as a whole. Since Hublot developed the movement from scratch and in-house, it could incorporate some unique features. The column wheel is placed on the front of the movement, visible through the half-transparent dial that most Big Bangs have. The pallet fork and escapement wheel are made from silicon and affixed to a platform that can easily be removed when the watch is in for service.
But it is not only the watchmaker who will reap the benefits from the movement. Thanks to bi-directional winding, the Unico is a very efficient movement and offers a power reserve of 72 hours. The chronograph itself is a flyback: This means that you can have an instant restart of all the counters, instead of losing time by having to stop, reset and start the chronograph again. This is, in particular, handy when you measure lap times for races or other sporting events.
Sometimes, user friendliness can be found in the details, such as a minute counter that can register 60 minutes instead of the more common 30 minutes. This makes it much easier for the owner to read the elapsed time. It is one of the many things that make the Unico stand out from the crowd.
When it comes to explaining Hublot’s “Art of Fusion,” there is almost no better example than “Magic Gold.” Hublot is the first and only watch brand that has created the impossible: scratch-resistant 18-karat gold.
It has done so by literally applying the “Art of Fusion,” merging pure gold with ceramic. In general, gold watches are made of 18-karat gold. This is because pure, 24-karat gold is simply too soft to make watches out of it. To create 18-karat gold, pure gold is mixed with other metals to form an alloy. Copper and nickel are popular metals to incorporate in the alloy, as they not only make the gold stronger but also change the color to rose and white gold. Hublot has been able to include ceramic in the alloy, combining the precious look of gold with the scratch-resistant capacity of ceramic, while maintaining the 18-karat purity threshold.
Although 18-karat gold can perfectly handle everyday life for decades, owners will notice that it is more prone to scratch and nick than stainless steel. A common way to identify and compare the hardness of a material is the Vickers scale. Here, the true value of what Hublot has accomplished becomes clear. Normal, 18-karat gold is around 400 Vickers, depending on the exact alloy. However, Magic Gold is about 1,000 Vickers, and with that, it is, even more scratch-resistant than steel, which ranks at 600 Vickers.
While the exact process for which Hublot is able to combine the best of both worlds is a closely regarded secret, the Hublots crafted from it are just part of the collection. What’s interesting is that they have a slightly different look than regular yellow gold. It is hard to describe, but there is a glow to them that makes you realize that this is something special, something magic.
Yet scratch-resistant 18K gold is only part of what Hublot does, as they have also been one of the pioneers of creating sapphire watch cases from sapphire crystal. More recently, it has really shown the progress the brand has made by introducing colored sapphire cases.
While this sounds easy, it is in fact far from it. Sapphire is grown as it is a crystal. You cannot simply inject a color of your choosing but need to take a different approach. To create the Big Bang Unico in blue sapphire, Hublot heats the raw material for sapphire, aluminum oxide, to a temperature between 2,000 and 2,050 degrees Celsius, together with chromium. In this delicate process, the sapphire will actually take on a blue color. In a similar process, Hublot also was able to create red sapphire by using iron instead of chromium.
The challenges the brand has had to overcome are numerous. First of all, these watches are limited editions of 250 pieces. This means that all 250 pieces need to have the same hue. Also, to craft a case you need to have a substantial sapphire to cut it from. The larger the sapphire has to be, the more difficult it is to make. Add to this the usual challenges to grow sapphire crystals such as bubbles and cracks that can make it unsuitable to craft a case from, so you know that this is an incredible accomplishment by Hublot, as well as a world-first!
The fact that Hublot has been able to create colored sapphire watches, and can make 250 of each, is nothing less than a breakthrough. It shows that the Art of Fusion is more than just a marketing slogan, but a solid part of the brand’s DNA.