For the past two years, the collective appetite for watches featuring integrated bracelets has been larger than ever. The emergence of the Hublot Big Bang Integral isn’t necessarily a surprise, as there has never been a better time to release a Hublot with an integrated bracelet, but it does represent an interesting departure from one of the core tenets of the Big Bang design. It ditches rubber in favor of a bracelet.
In 2005, after a short leave of absence from the watch world, Jean-Claude Biver launched the Hublot Big Bang to an industry that was watching his every move. The Big Bang wasn’t universally accepted right when it came out, but one thing was for sure: It bolstered the identity of the brand and ushered in a new era of popularity and interest. It was imbued with the classic Biver magic that had earned him legendary status in the industry during his time at Blancpain and Omega.
Rubber straps had been a pillar of Hublot’s identity since the beginning, and Biver knew this. In fact, it was this “fusion” of rubber and precious metal that was part of the Big Bang creation story. In a conversation with our own Joe Thompson, Biver explained how the Big Bang came to be through the fusion of two elements, “One comes from a tree in Malaysia: natural rubber. The other comes from under the earth in South Africa: gold. Only through a Big Bang can those two elements come together.”
The Big Bang has been a tremendous success and spawned more than a few crowd-pleasing iterations over the years. But if nothing gold can stay, then nothing gold and rubber can stay, either.
Given the context of the contrarian beginnings of the Big Bang, the inclusion of an integrated bracelet seemingly goes against the guiding principles of the initial design. This modern era of horology is marked by the championing of the integrated bracelet. One might make the argument that jumping on the bandwagon is giving in to the current trends, but I would make the argument that Hublot was capable of making a watch like the Integral the whole time, and it would have been a hit no matter what; they just waited for the right time. Creating an integrated bracelet for the Big Bang in a precious metal isn’t anything entirely groundbreaking. Making a precious metal watch look good on rubber is, and they’ve been doing that with the Big Bang for the past fifteen years. The way I see it, it’s Hublot saying, “been there, done that, and now the time has finally come to give the people what they want.”
Hublot has historically been quite unconventional in the way it markets watches, with strong celebrity endorsements, highly targeted brand positioning, and a very distinct, bold position on watchmaking. Perhaps a small part of what may have created a situation where many horological enthusiasts turn their noses up at watches like the Big Bang is the idea that a luxury watch shouldn’t dare come on a lowly rubber strap, although that notion has faded in recent times. It’s 2020. We’ve certainly moved beyond those stodgy rules of watch enthusiasm. There are no rules anymore. And to the contrarian side of Hublot, it’s the perfect time to have released a watch that calls out the lunacy of the idea that there were ever any rules at all, because they never played by them anyway.
More than a few collectors I’ve spoken to in the watch world have been quietly curious about Hublot for a long time. I certainly have been. Although I’m not taken by some of the ancillary aspects of the perceived Hublot lifestyle, I’m absolutely fascinated by the way Hublot plays with materials. The Big Bang Integral comes in three materials: titanium, black ceramic, and King Gold. All three feature the same beveled and chamfered case and bracelet architecture, but all wear completely differently, as one would expect.
The King Gold bracelet wraps around the wrist much like I imagine gold bangles hung off the wrist of royalty ruling over the kingdoms of yore. King Gold is formed using a higher percentage of copper as well as platinum, lending a red hue to it that, to my eye, is even more lavish and signaling of opulence than yellow gold. The titanium and ceramic are light and breezy on the wrist. They easily fade into the background in exactly the way the gold does not. The bridges behind each openworked dial are matched appropriately to the material they’re ensconced in. The ceramic watch features black bridges, and the titanium features bridges finished in a similar fashion to the rest of the watch, but again, the King Gold sticks out for the immediately noticeable contrast between the case and the raw finish on the bridges. On all three models, the screws adorning the bezel are left unfinished as well. And of course, they’re not aligned.
A key part of theHublot Big Bang Integral design is the way the lugs seamlessly transition to the bracelet. This single detail is executed with purposefulness and intent. The angle formed by the solid end links meeting the case is uniform, and no gimmicky visual engineering is needed to conceal an unsightly seam. Things simply line up like they’re supposed to. It’s clean.
Speaking of clean, the Integral dial has shed the Arabic numerals in favor of simple markers that put the visual emphasis on the case shape and eventually lead the eye to the technical bits that the openworked dial reveals, like the column wheel of the HUB1280 movement. High-tech hypercars made from cutting-edge materials often feature a pane of glass that allows a glimpse of the engine, and the Integral follows the same philosophy. All those technical advancements aren’t lost on people seeking visual appreciation.
Depending on the model, the range of case materials each offers a distinct feel, but the rubber molding on the crown and the resin bumpers flanking the bezel give the entire line a sort of mid-Aughts tactile sensation when winding the watch or cycling through the date wheel. That’s partially intentional: The pushers are directly lifted from the early designs of the Big Bang.
So how does the Integral compete with the new wave of models featuring integrated bracelets that have recently appeared on the scene like the Bell & Ross BR-05 or the Chopard Alpine Eagle? I’m not sure it does. Hublot claims their guiding philosophy is being “unique & different,” and the Integral does indeed back that up. It doesn’t come in stainless steel, and that alone puts the Hublot in a different category. Where stainless steel honors tradition, a trio of gold, titanium, and ceramic flies in its face. In that sense, it continues the tradition of being unique and different. The Hublot Big Bang Integral may be timely, but it’s hard to say it’s of its time. It’s still a watch that feels like it’s been in production since the very beginning. Maybe this was all part of the master plan that Mr. Biver had crafted 15 years ago.