Most of the reviews we do here are new models – the latest and greatest. Not today. Today I’m taking a close look at a watch that changed an industry, and can be largely held responsible for the ‘big watch trend’ that’s dominated design since its release a decade ago.
Could the Hublot Big Bang – reference 301.SB.131.RX (catchy huh?) please stand up?
Even though Hublot have released what seems like thousands of subsequent Bangs in every conceivable colour, flavour and material the original is still in their catalogues, and still a strong performer.
The Big Bang is all about the case. The complex construction, incorporating traditional and modern techniques and materials embodies ‘the art of fusion’ – a philosophy at the centre of the brand’s identity. In 2005 the combination of steel, ceramic and rubber was novel, but in the subsequent decade the rest of the industry has caught up with Hublot’s trend-setting ways. Still, the 44mm case holds up well, and is a pleasure to wear. I found the riot of textures and materials constantly engaging.
Fusion is about more than just unconventional material hybrids as the Big Bang demonstrates a stylistic fusion too; the traditional tropes of luxury sports watch design are partnered with a far more industrial aesthetic – heavy knurling on the bezel edge and exposed screws (the proprietary H-shaped bit is a nice touch) really works. It might sound like something cribbed from a press release but to appreciate the Big Bang you really do need to understand the importance played by the concept of fusion in their design process. The interplay of materials and textures is key to this watch’s appeal and what makes it so fun to wear.
The use of unconventional materials continues on the dial with woven carbon fibre providing a texture that contrasts well with the mirror-like finish of the ceramic bezel. Happily, for all their fusion, Hublot haven’t confused the fact that the prime purpose of a watch is to tell the time. The dial is supremely legible – with broad luminova-filled hands, big rhodium-plated indices and unobtrusive printed subdials. I really loved the numerals and indices; they pick up on the industrial sensibilities that run through the watch. Each applied marker is cut-through with a machined groove, but while the groove itself is polished, the rest of the marker is brushed. It’s a small detail, but one that many lesser brands would overlook. Like the rest of the watch, the Big Bang’s dial is all about the materials and finishes, but function doesn’t get lost in the form.
When it was first released, the Hublot Big Bang would have been powered by a modified Valjoux 7750. These days it’s rocking the Calibre 4100, which is a high-grade ETA 2894-2 base with a chronograph module on top. This movement is a proven performer, and there’s no real issue with brands using outside movements. And let me labour this point, for a simple but profound reason. The majority of Swiss brands use ETA movements or similar in their wider range, even the big players like Patek Philippe, and it’s nothing to get snobby about.
The logic is strong. Why reinvent the wheel if an existing and available movement is perfect for the job? I’ve no doubt that for this watch, an ETA movement is the right choice. Still, it’s worth noting that for many, a $16K price tag on a steel watch with a fairly unmodified ETA inside twinges the hip pocket nerve. I understand that for some consumers this isn’t really an issue, but I personally think the value proposition is more compelling on Hublot watches with the new in-house Unico movements.
The rubber strap is an integral part of the Hublot Big Bang’s identity, grounding the luxury watch in practicality – and even here, Hublot have managed to inject personality. The diamond tread-like pattern (it vaguely reminded me of a waffle iron) is distinctive and almost aggressive. Certainly not boring. Visually the hooded lugs conceal the point where strap meets case, adding to the impression of a seamless whole. The strap is secured by a single fold deployant with a characteristically big and chunky buckle. While it’s solid and secure, I must admit I found the lines a little too sharply machined to be comfortable.
I’ve got to say, the Big Bang was FUN to wear. It’s large and in charge: flashy and unashamedly awesome. It was also comfortable and legible. And while the brash look might not be for everyone, I’d be amazed if anyone could wear this watch for a day and not be sold on its premise. The most impressive thing for me was just how well this watch has held up over 10 years. It’s a bold, innovative design. Too often designs like this date really quickly, but not the Big Bang.