Few watches have been as disruptive and defining in the modern era as the Hublot Big Bang. I’ve spent a lot of time writing about Hublot timepieces, but I’ve never actually reviewed the original Hublot Big Bang 44 watch until now. Many of the original designs are still produced today, so this watch – while representative of the original design – was produced recently. During my review I also spoke with Jean-Claude Biver about the Big Bang, since it was the first major release under his ownership of Hublot. Today “Big Bang” is arguably the most well-known watch model name released in the post-year 2000 era. Its masculine and polarizing design is highly indicative of luxury in our modern era, and quickly receives opinions from both fans and opponents.
Let’s go over a little bit of history first. Hublot as a brand began in the early 1980s, around 1981. The term “hublot” means “porthole” in French, which was the aesthetic influence behind the brand’s case designs. Of course Hublot wasn’t the first company to produce watch cases inspired by portholes. About 10 years earlier in 1972 Audemars Piguet released the Gerald Genta-designed Royal Oak whose case (while different looking) was also inspired by portholes. Hublot has a relatively quiet history as a pleasant but ultimately small watch brand that did itself the disservice of being founded during the height of the quartz crisis. In the late 1990s and early 2000s Hublot wasn’t doing very well and was apparently looking for a buyer. That buyer ended up being Jean-Claude Biver who recently came from Omega and Blancpain (the latter of which he sold to the Swatch Group).
Biver told me a few years ago that Hublot was losing a few million dollars a year when he acquired it (I am guessing for a very good price) and in 2004 he officially became the CEO. In 2005 his radical plan to reform the brand started with the launch of the Big Bang. The design built on the classic porthole sports watch case that Hublot was founded on, but made for a new generation, in a boldly large size, with a strong, hyper-masculine design. More so, the watch was meant to embody Mr. Biver’s famous marketing slogan for Hublot of, “the art of fusion.” This clever slogan more or less meant that Hublot watches were a fusion of materials, textures, colors, and aesthetics. To this day, Hublot can easily be credited as being a pioneer of incorporating a whole slew of previously “non-luxury” materials in regular components of high-end wrist watches.
My first experience with a Hublot Big Bang watch was back in about 2006 – about one year after its original release. I’d heard of the watches but never seen one on public. This was more than a year prior to when aBlogtoWatch even started. I encountered the Big Bang in a rather unlikely place. At the time, I was a poor law school student but given that I spent much of my time in class surfing for watches on eBay and the sales area of forums (which at the time were really popular) I was always looking for a good deal.
One day I found a particularly uncommon limited edition Japanese Citizen Campanola watch that was being sold by someone who didn’t live too far away from me. The guy wanted just a bit more than I was able to spend, but I wanted to see the timepiece in person to see if I liked it as much in the flesh as I did in pictures. So I arranged to meet him at his condo. I still recall the odd feeling I had while strolling to his place that I was about to enter the home of a stranger in order to possibly buy a high-end watch. How young and naïve I was… These days I meet with strangers all over the world and fondle their watches.
So I enter this man’s home – who happened to be a dentist. Something about that amused me because most dentists take their watches off while practicing – so this guy’s dedication to the horological hobby was worth admiring. Ironically, a few years later I spent a few seasons being the Watch Editor for a lifestyle magazine run by a dentist that I chose to work with specifically because I like the publication’s clever name: Incisal Edge.
Entering the dentist’s home, the first thing I noticed was a glass display case full of small model commercial airline planes. “Watch people are weird collectors,” is exactly what I recall saying to myself. The man instructed me to sit down on his deep brown leather couch and brought over the Citizen Campanola watch I had come there to see. The piece had one of those very strange artistic and very Japanese market-style designs. I sort of loved it, but I didn’t $3,000 love it – especially since it was a high-end quartz watch and I knew that very few people out there would appreciate its artistic merits as I did. That wisdom holds true today when it comes to high-end JDM (Japan Domestic Market) watches with an artsy twist to them.
As I sat there and carefully considered the potential watch purchase, I asked the dentist why he wanted to sell it. The Citizen purchase itself was so obscure, and it certainly wasn’t the type of watch to be flipped. The guy responded by saying that he had just made a much more expensive watch purchase and was looking to help pay it off. So selling the Citizen was to help make room for something he wanted more. What could it be? He walked off into another room to get his new coveted purchase.
I didn’t notice how long he was gone given my attention to the Campanola chronograph with the hand-painted dial that I was torn about getting. When the dentist returned, he proudly handed me a Hublot Big Bang smiling and saying “have you see one of these?” I hadn’t.
The first thing I recall noticing on the Big Bang was the applied military stencil-style hour markers and how cool they looked. The rubber strap design struck me as being a bit odd, and overall I remember feeling as though I’d never held a watch in my hands that was quite like it. I didn’t know at the time whether or not I was a Big Bang fan, but it left a deep impression in my mind and I could understand why the dentist got so excited about it. If anything, the Big Bang was impressive for being actually quite different than what I think most watch lovers were used to circa the mid-2000s. A few years later, that would all change.
The Hublot Big Bang 44 reference 301.SB.131.RX (there is a 41mm wide model of the same style as well) I am reviewing here is actually the same exact model that I was shown in that dentist’s living room over a decade ago. Now it is on my wrist, even though it is one of many Hublot timepieces I’ve put on my wrist. The last Hublot I reviewed was the spiritual successor (just the more modern and more technically interesting model) to the original Big Bang which was the Hublot Big Bang UNICO watch. With that said, the Big Bang 44 has a unique look and wearing experience. Compared to the Big Bang UNICO, this earlier model is a bit more simple, slightly smaller, and at this point actually feels more classic (which it technically is).
The sandwich-style case design is where a lot of the “art of fusion” comes into play. Hublot designed the Big Bang this way so that it could mix and match colors and materials. Being able to have a modular case design was an important part of the original concept. This watch case makes use of steel, resin, titanium, ceramic, and rubber. Other Big Bang models have featured a large host of other materials ranging from gold to carbon fiber and even magnesium. Today, Hublot is still a big fan of using novel and interesting case materials for luxury watches. Other brands quickly followed suit.
At 44mm wide and relatively thick, the Big Bang intentionally wears large. It is however very comfortable. If you like the look of it but feel that the stately 44mm wide case is too large, the 41mm wide version actually isn’t too bad. If you are perturbed by larger timepieces, I would strongly consider trying on the 41mm wide Big Bang and seeing what you think. The case (which is made up of 257 components) has a flat AR-coated sapphire crystal, and ceramic bezel. It is also water resistant to 100m and just a hair over 14mm thick. It looks like a sports watch, and happens to more or less function like one as well.
The case complexity of the Hublot Big Bang is both part of its charm as well as its marketing success. This is because the overall design lent itself well to a range of visual styles. What made the Big Bang so famous was that its design worked well in so many colors, which helped lead to a large volume of models (more on that below). The case is also home to some of the Big Bang’s most controversial features, which are the H-shaped titanium screws. So what is controversial about that? Oddly enough, a lot of purists fault Hublot for not having screws that line up with one another. Meaning that each of the screws is lined up in the same way, or at least meant to “go with” one another. Hublot uses real screws and for that reason their particular orientation would be difficult to change – unless they stopped using real screws that is. This is just one of many things pundits to the Hublot Big Bang have been know to complain about.
Given that the Big Bang 44 has come in so many styles, colors, and materials, one might argue that featuring such a basic one might be boring. To that I respond that this model of the Big Bang 44 is one of the most classic given its straightforward design (looking at it with a modern lens), and actually one of the most stylistically versatile. It is also a good place to start if you are keen to develop a serious Big Bang collection. According to Mr. Biver, there is a guy out there with over 500 Big Bang watches – so good luck keeping up with that guy.
The art of fusion more or less translates into a slick marketing statement, but it does illustrate the power of both a modular design and the popularity of featuring a series of materials in a watch. I think for that reason alone the Big Bang can be considered modern, because in a weird sense, it had the idea of deep personalization built into it.
Inside the Hublot Big Bang 44 is the Hublot caliber HUB4100, which is another controversial element. Hublot helped to kick-start the burgeoning “in-house made” craze where all watch brands strove to offer in-house movements for their watches. This was because the Hublot Big Bang was selling at such volumes, and at such prices that many people expected an in-house movement… Alas the HUB4100 (even though it is printed on the movement) is not an in-house movement but a base Swiss ETA automatic chronograph with some modifications. That doesn’t bother me a bit, but for a while Hublot was being receiving complaints for charging so much for an ETA-based timepiece. Watch fans had a point. The Big Bang UNICO (review linked to above) did away with this issue by debuting the UNICO in-house made movement.
ETA movements are reliable and have a lot more people out there who know how to fix and service them. In an ideal world one might be able to get an in-house movement-based watch all the time, but the reality is that much of the time an ETA-based movement is going to be both more durable as well as affordable to maintain. The only issue that comes up then is price. Consumers of high-end watches are wise to be cognizant of where the value in their watches comes from, and often look to movements as a principle source of value. This is of course true, but so are the other components of a watch such as the case, dial, and hands. The Hublot Big Bang 44 is an example of a watch whose value is less in the exclusive nature of the movement, and more in the other original parts which are made especially for these models.
So the Swiss ETA-based movement inside of the Big Bang 44 is the caliber HUB4100. With a lot of decoration customization, you can see the movement through the caseback of the watch. The automatic movement operates at 4Hz (28,800bph) with a power reserve of about 44 hours. The movement features the time, date, and has a 12 hour chronograph.
At 44mm wide on the wrist, the Big Bang 44 wears a bit larger thanks to the wide lug structure and side flanks. This particular model has a black ceramic bezel, titanium “H” screws, a steel case, black resin middle section, and a textured rubber strap. It does indeed have a lot going on, being modeled after modern vehicles and technology, which are “detail dense” sources of inspiration. Signature elements of the Big Bang design include the case shape, hour and minute hands, as well as the style of the hour markers. People in the past have claimed that Hublot borrowed heavily from the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore. Do these models have certain similarities such as bezel screws, use of multiple materials, and a strap which is integrated into the lugs? Yes, but so do many other watches. If Hublot borrowed anything, it was the concept of the Royal Oak Offshore as a type of luxury sports watch. I really don’t personally see how these two watch models could be visually confused for one another – at least I’ve never had that experience. The brilliance of the Big Bang 44 from a marketing standpoint was the modular means of its construction. This allowed for Hublot to play around with materials and colors while preserving the same core design. It turned out that this strategy was integral for the success of Hublot in a modern era – because they could create new selling options by varying up the look of the Big Bang, versus radically changing the core watch itself.
Reviewing this particular model in steel with a ceramic bezel and “carbon effect” dial is just a glimpse into the larger work of Big Bang variety. This happens to be one of the original designs – if not the original Big Bang 44 design, which is why I wanted to cover it, if anything to see how well it has aged. Ironically this once massive to wear watch that was seen as being packed with visual detail is now considered relatively conservative compared to a lot of what has come since – even from Hublot themselves.With that said, the Big Bang 44 continues to age gracefully if you are at all a fan of the core look. It might not be a hot new model anymore, and Hublot has certainly turned their “limited edition” attention to newer more updated models. Nevertheless, the Big Bang 44 experienced literally hundreds of model variations during the first 10 years after its original debut. The ability to market and sell that many variations made Hublot not only a valuable brand, but important enough for LVMH to purchase it from Jean-Claude Biver. Rather than leave the company to allow someone else to run it, Mr. Biver stayed on to run Hublot for years, and while he is not the current acting CEO (Ricardo Guadalupe current has that honor), Mr. Biver continues to be the Chairman of Hublot while he spends most of his time running fellow LVMH brand TAG Heuer. While on one hand many people enjoyed the seemingly endless variety that Hublot seemed to feel the Big Bang watch collection could handle, other people in the watch enthusiast world began to feel fatigued by what seemed like a never ending stream of Big Bang variation. For a while it really did seem as though Hublot was releasing a new Big Bang model each week (which isn’t far from the truth). Watch lovers began to lose the ability to track all the models, but what Hublot was doing was proving the effectiveness of their marketing method. What Jean-Claude Biver had in mind for the popular Big Bang was to make a version of it for a whole galaxy of different interest groups. Sponsorships and partnerships of all kinds were not intended to test the design creativity of Hublot’s team, but rather to create models which were designed to appear to niche interest groups. The tactic worked, and what Hublot also managed to do is attract its share of Big Bang enthusiasts who collected Big Bang watches in a way similar to how many people collect sneakers (albeit with a much higher budget).
The Big Bang was one of the first high-end fashion watches of the modern era – the only question was how Hublot was going to prevent a good thing from being over-saturated in the market. Depending on who you ask, Hublot either overdid it a bit with Big Bang variants, or properly followed Biver’s mandate to make Hublot the favored watch brand of a range of athletes, musicians, artists, designers, charities, and other people and groups of interest.
My personal take is that Hublot demonstrated a prolific stream of activity – guided by Biver – that no other Swiss watch brand was even remotely close to matching. I admire the execution skills of the team, which far surpass the typically overly cautious and conservative nature of their neighboring colleagues. Hublot isn’t located in a busy metropolis, but in the quiet city of Nyon outside of Geneva. Hublot’s ability to move and act quickly and with relative agility is because Mr. Biver didn’t ask people for permission before acting, rather he asked them to do things. This management style accounts for what I feel is a major part of Jean-Claude Biver’s success in the watch industry. As a non-native Swiss resident (he was born in Luxembourg but did eventually become an Swiss citizen) he was able to communicate to the Swiss using their own language, but was arguably not held back by their conservative decision making tendencies.