Trick question: if a company creates a watch that is completely transparent, has it really created a watch? Hublot would reply with a resounding “yes!” And for good reason, because the Nyon-based Swiss manufacture has, since 2016, released a number of watches cased in the highly transparent sapphire crystal.
Known for its hardness, sapphire crystal is virtually unscratchable. The only thing that could possibly mar its flawlessness is diamond, which makes it pretty much impervious to everything else on the planet. Yet, it is all but indestructible. In return for its extraordinary hardness, sapphire crystal has given up tensile strength. Its crystalline form is notoriously brittle and would literally shatter into pieces if struck by an appropriate amount of force.
This is why most watch manufactures recoil at the thought of machining sapphire crystal into complex shapes. But Hublot is not like most watch manufactures, and has gamely stepped up to the challenge. That its timepieces are predominantly sports watches only makes things more exciting.
Sapphire is typically used to make the crystal on luxury watches, “crystal” in this instance is referring to the transparent plate shielding the dial. This practice began in the 1930s but many watches still continue to be made with Plexiglas or mineral glass crystals. Today, sapphire crystals are a mark of high‑end watchmaking. Often they are perfectly flat, with anti‑reflection coating applied on both sides, but at times watches come with domed sapphire crystals, and companies that produce them make sure to boast what a remarkable feat it is. Indeed, it’s no false claim; the manufacturing rejection rate for sophisticated sapphire crystal components is frighteningly high, so sapphire crystal components in any form other than the familiar flat round discs deserve special mention. Consequently, watch companies reserve this material for unique pieces or very small production volumes. This is where Hublot’s mastery of the material is doubly impressive—not only has the manufacture succeeded in producing timepieces out of sapphire crystal but it has also been able to make them in (relatively) large numbers.
MASTERS OF ILLUSION
If there is just one watch that deserves to be made in sapphire crystal, it is the Hublot MP‑05 LaFerrari. This timepiece, which debuted in 2013, is as avant-garde as the supercars that inspired it. Completely revolutionary, it comes with 11 series-coupled barrels set in a spine formation down the centre of the watch, providing the tourbillon regulator with 50 days of power reserve, which is just utterly insane. Calibre HUB9005.H1.PN.1 comprises a total of 637 parts. Without overstatement, there is nothing like it on the market today. Designed in collaboration with Ferrari design director Flavio Manzoni, this timepiece reappeared in 2016 fully dressed in a sapphire crystal case that covers none of the three-dimensional movement within—everything is laid bare for all to see. As only the case is made of sapphire crystal, the movement appears to be suspended mid-air within the sculpted transparent bodywork. Only 20 MP‑05 LaFerrari Sapphire timepieces were made, each boasting a seven-part sapphire crystal case that took more than 600 hours to realise.
Following the MP-05 LaFerrari Sapphire, Hublot directed all of its crystal working know-how to the iconic Big Bang Unico, and the most amazing thing about this is not so much that the new watch is made in sapphire crystal, but the sheer numbers Hublot was able to produce. There were 500 pieces manufactured—hundreds more than the MP‑05 LaFerrari. And so for the very first time, this lustrous material was not restricted to only the most exclusive realms; this was the largest production volume for sapphire crystal watches ever achieved by any company.
Even though it’s made of a transparent material, the distinctive architecture of the Big Bang Unico Sapphire has never been more tangible. The case middle, bezel, and back are all cut from entire blocks of sapphire for Hublot by a Swiss crystal specialist. Taking minimalism to a new level, this watch also exposes the movement from all directions, and the only other parts that are not see-through are the titanium screws, the crown that is moulded-over with silicon, and the deployant buckle. Rounding off the transparent theme are the clear resin dial and the rubber strap.
But going completely transparent doesn’t mean that Hublot has given up on the all‑black theme, a design concept it single-handedly introduced in 2006. Cased in smoked sapphire crystal, the Big Bang Unico All Black Sapphire is like the dark, handsome doppelganger to the sheer clarity of the full transparent model. With these two watches, Hublot has deftly disrupted all conventional notions of visibility and invisibility.
Hublot’s venture with sapphire crystal continues this year with the Big Bang Unico Magic Sapphire and the Big Bang Unico Perpetual Calendar Sapphire. The latter is like the more complicated “big brother” of the Big Bang Unico Sapphire, and the former, a fusion of the visible and the invisible, hence magic.
Like its predecessors, the Unico Magic Sapphire’s case middle, bezel, and back display total transparency, yet the movement and dial have kept to a dark, masculine aesthetic not unlike the emblematic “Black Magic” style that Hublot pioneered in the mid-2000s. The black skeleton dial is also completed by a red second hand, which is a signature touch of all Hublot Black Magic watches. In addition, instead of transparent rubber, this watch plays up the visible-invisible dichotomy by going for a black rubber strap—another classic Hublot signature.
The plethora of ideas that Hublot has for sapphire crystal is testament to the manufacture’s unwavering spirit of innovation. And in the process of showcasing its creativity with this material, Hublot proves that it doesn’t just make watches—it makes magic.
(Related: Our Editors' Top Picks From Baselworld 2017)