Hublot Big Bang Unico King Gold Rainbow 421.OX.1118.LR.0999
It’s a strange situation to be in when you start a review, but know, or at least, think you know what the response to it will be. So before we really dig into this watch, let me first say the following things.
Yes, I know its a Hublot.
Yes, it is indeed covered in gemstones.
Yes, its a Hublot covered in gemstones.
Yes, for the traditionalists, I should probably stop right there and produce a James Bond Submariner 6538 from my back pocket and discuss that instead.
But, hear me out, and maybe you’ll begin to see why I absolutely LOVE this watch.
Hublot was founded in 1976 by an Italian by the name of Carlo Crocco who decided to leave his employment with the Binda group (jewellery and watches) to start up his own brand.
It was originally named MDM, but evolved to Hublot (the French word for porthole) as Croco was becoming increasingly enamoured with the yachts and nautical sights of the French Riviera.
I understand the complaints that Hublot is “derivative” of the AP Royal Oak or the Patek Nautilus, but if we look at the timelines, the Royal Oak landed in 72, Nautilus in 76, and the first Hublot was released in 1980. So perhaps not so much “a copy” but a result of the rise in ocean inspired watch design that was popular in that era.
As a designer first and foremost, Croco was fascinated with the concept of mixing materials, something that hadn’t particularly been explored in watchmaking at the time.
He was the first to combine precious metal cases with rubber straps, which both created a stir, and piqued the interest of Princess Carolina of Monaco and King Juan Carlos of Spain who were both keen on the designs and subsequently seen sporting Hublot watches which was a definite boost for the new brand.
It didn’t take long before rubber became synonymous with Hublot because it simply was not being used by any other luxury brands at the time. Yes, Isofrane and tropic straps were in production and mounted to dedicated dive watches, but Hublot was a different kettle of fish.
The brand continued to blend different materials into their watches which ultimately produced the tagline that we recognise today “The Art of Fusion”.
2004 was a significant year for Hublot. The brand was increasing in size and output and Croco was finding himself busy with both the research and development of new models and his charitable work.
He needed a right-hand man. The end result of this recruitment was that watchmaking royalty and all-round genius Jean Claude Biver joined the brand.
Biver has been a figurehead of the Swiss watch industry for close to half a decade.
First starting with Audemars Piguet in the 70s, before moving to Omega.
It was while working for Omega that he made a decision to buy the rights to the (deceased at the time) Blancpain brand along with his friend Jacques Piguet where he rebuilt the manufacture from the ground up saying
"Since 1735 there has never been a quartz Blancpain watch. And there never will be."
We’re going to have to politely ignore the new Swatch X Blancpain release for that one. Ahem.
Nonetheless, Biver is one of the names credited with saving the Swiss industry from the Quartz crisis. Not a bad point on the resume.
After creating a roaring success with Blancpain, he sold the brand to the Swatch Group for a cool $43 million while remaining CEO until 2003.
He took over Hublot in 2004, and in 2005 launched the Big Bang which, predictably, launched the brand into the stratosphere.
Sales increased FIVEFOLD in the three years following his hand on the helm, and as a result, was purchased by LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennesy, a huge luxury conglomerate) in 2008.
Hublot’s current CEO Ricardo Guadalupe has been heading the company since 2012, as Biver ultimately become the head of LVMH’s jewellery and watches division until his retirement in 2018 where he retired to follow his other great passion.. Cheesemaking.
It is safe to say that Jean Claude Biver’s contribution to Hublot is as almost as well regarded as his Gruyere which is said to be exquisite.
He was a veteran marketing supremo, and his touch on Hublot is still visible today.
You can’t really watch a football match without seeing Hublot branded everywhere. They sponsor FIFA World Cups, UEFA Champions League, The Euros, Juventus, Chelsea, Ajax, you name it.
A side effect of this, of you are not predisposed to the beautiful game, is that Hublot has become known as a “footballers watch” and this is not often delivered in praise.
It is also not delivered in fairness, and I say that as someone whose interest in football is on a par with my interest in Tofu, so on a scale of 1-10, its a solid zero.
The thing with Hublot is, you might not appreciate the design, but the goings on under the hood are either belt and braces decent in their base ETA powered offerings, or utterly bonkers and brilliant with the likes of the MP Bi-Axis tourbillon movement.
They are an autonomous manufacture based in Nyon near the banks of Lake Geneva.
Everything ranging from research and development, UNICO and complication movement manufacture, watch assembly, and so on is contained inside one massive building.
The grounds of the manufacture also host a large number of beehives and landscapes designed to encouraging bee foraging and local pollination.
Hublot harvests the honey, packages it up, and sends it along with a dipper to customers and friends of the brand to enjoy as they see fit.
We’re looking at a brand that although not “traditional” is modern, prepared to invest in others, environmentally conscious, and one that proactively goes out of its way to do nice things for its customer base.
Given that there are some manufacturers (mentioning no names) who will put you on “a list”, crawl through your social media to ensure that you aren’t too far beneath having the chance to give them your money and perhaps they will get back to you in 5-10 years time.
Hublot has evolved from equipping their watches with Valjoux or ETA movements to designing and producing in-house.
Effectively, they provides a cross-section of calibres that steadily increase in technical prowess the further up the chain of offerings you go.
The use of external suppliers has been routinely held against the brand by its detractors, but dare we say that RM used Vaucher before going “in house”. AP VC and Patek used JLC calibres, and Rolex used Zenith or Aegler movements before absorbing the manufacture in 2004.
They deftly got around the “in house” issue when Aegler S.A. was renamed Manufacture des Montres Rolex SA when the Aegler family agreed to become exclusive suppliers.
Without wishing to light the touch-paper, “in-house” movements have become a modern preoccupation which has little to do with quality and everything to do with brand image.
That said, the MECA-10, MP and UNICO calibres are “in-house” Hublot, and as well as being attractive, well finished machines.
Having finished some of the internal chat, it’s probably wise to address the elephant in the room.
The external appearance.
I could sum it up in exactly the same way that I dealt with the movements.
Hublots offerings vary between belt and braces decent Classic Fusions, to utterly bonkers brightly coloured carbon or gem clad bursts of frivolity which are going to do one of two things to a watch collector - They will either make you grin and appreciate some of the F-It-Its-Fun elements, or quite frankly, you’d rather kill them with fire than put one on the wrist.
I’ve never had a discussion on the subject of Hublot’s design where a middle ground has been achieved.
They are polarising to say the least, and I have the sneaking suspicion that my target audience is largely going to be those who have bought a lighter with them.
Naturally, I lack the kind of common sense that dictates I should really show you one of their understated offerings, of which there are a few.
We’re going all the way with the Big Bang Unico King Gold Rainbow, which is an absolute RIOT whichever way you look at it.
Its a 44mm case, which fuses their proprietary 18 carat rose “King Gold” with 162 baguette and brilliant cut gemstones consisting of rubies, pink sapphires, amethyst, blue Sapphires, blue topaz, tsavorite, and finally, yellow and orange sapphires.
Not satisfied with just doing a baguette bezel, Hublot has covered the rest of the head ranging from shoulders, strap system, indexes and chronograph rings with gemstones.
AND THE REHAUT!
Its a lot, but, if you really take a close look, the setting has been really well executed.
Phenomenally well executed, in fact.
Rainbow watches aren’t new, they’ve been released by quite a few brands most notably Rolex, who have been joined by AP, Chopard, Parmigiani Fleurier, and even Patek who recently found themselves in on the deal courtesy of the Aquanaut Luce.
They are without a shadow of a doubt, a manufacturer flex with some fun in mind, and on that note, I really do enjoy them.
They aren’t every day or office watches, but lets face it, if you’re at the point of looking at rainbows or any other variant of a gem set wrist bauble, you’ve probably already got daily wearers covered and beyond.
The thing is though, if you were brave enough, beneath the light-show of an exterior lies an absolutely spot on daily wearer.
Its a Big Bang Unico.
The movement is Hublot’s calibre HUB1280, an automatic flyback column wheel chronograph movement with date which boasts a 72 hour power reserve.
Water resistance is to a more than adequate 100m so it’ll survive a swim with ease.
The strap, oh lord, the strap. Its a rubber and alligator hybrid which also boasts a rainbow theme. Its loud, brash, and really comfortable to wear, daily.
The whole shebang could of course be significantly toned down by a switch to a black strap (easy courtesy of the quick change system) but honestly, if you can pull off the Unico Rainbow, why would you even consider it?
I’m a big fan of this Unico, and given that its other Rainbow competition has a price tag of a detached house in a leafy suburb, the Hublot absolutely holds it ground really REALLY well as a more accessible option.
Its not the OG Daytona Rainbow, but then again, its also a fifth of the price.
You may of course think I’ve lost my mind, but I’m a fan of the Ploprof, the Royal Oak Offshore, Panerai, and all sorts of “contentious” watches.
I also adore the 14060, classic 36mm Datejusts, the AP Jumbo and the Nautilus.
I LOVE safe choices. My collection is full of them.
There’s a little mischief part of me that would part with all of them in favour of the Hublot Rainbow.
It’s the antithesis of bland “investment pieces” which after a few years of ownership can become very similar to driving a diesel.
They’ll do the miles, but they wont blow your skirt up at the same time.
I want a watch that doesn’t take itself seriously while being a serious piece of kit. I want something that will make me smile and roll my eyes at the same time. I want *something* in watch collecting that appeals to my heart and not my head with one eye on a calculator.
Basically, I want something that brings unashamed joy, and this is where Hublot’s completely OTT magnificent mad beast delivers by the bucket load.