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Watches: Making Noise Again

James D. Malcolmson

“Hublot,” Jean-Claude Biver declares with all of the vehemence that he can muster, “is like a sick man on his deathbed!” Then Biver, the new CEO of Hublot and an executive who has demonstrated an ability to cure ailing companies, pantomimes the resuscitation and recovery of a sick patient who goes from being in a coma to running a marathon. The performance dramatizes his plans for the Swiss watch company once lauded for its provocative nautical-themed designs. Indeed, Biver’s recent revamping of the brand’s flagship Classic timepiece, now suggestively renamed Big Bang, indicates that the watchmaker has regained its ability to produce sports watch designs as innovative as the original 1980 timepiece.
 
That model combined a porthole-shaped gold case with a rubber strap that bore the subtle fragrance of vanilla. The piece represented a revolutionary advancement that blended elegance with a sporty sensibility. But since then, the company has made only minor alterations to the basic design, which has been emulated widely and reinterpreted by other brands. In an industry where companies are offering innovations and reinventions on an annual basis, Hublot had become irrelevant.

Reestablishing the brand is a task tailored for Biver, who gained renown among watchmakers for reviving the long-dormant Blancpain brand and molding it into the powerhouse that it is today. After Swatch Group acquired Blancpain in 1992, Biver supervised the reinvigoration of Omega’s image for Swatch. Tall, ruddy, and boisterous, Biver reminds one of Nikita Khrushchev, except that he is more imposing; his former employees imitate his motivational style with emphatic raps on the table that are audible over the phone.

The 44.5 mm–wide Big Bang chronograph appears to be an extension of Biver’s oversize personality. Its brawny proportion and striking details, however, were considered carefully. While the original Hublot was a study in simplicity, Big Bang is a complex piece, with bold Arabic numerals and oversize bezel screws that are antithetical to the minimalist design of its predecessor. Yet Big Bang remains true to the brand’s signature style that fuses unconventional materials: a stamped carbon dial, a ceramic bezel, and black Kevlar inserts on the sides of the case. To further distinguish the watch, Hublot has embellished the Jaquet chronograph movement with black PVD screws and a dimpled tungsten rotor.

Priced from $8,500 to $20,100, Big Bang is available in stainless steel and red gold, each color providing a high contrast with the piece’s dark elements. When asked if a yellow gold version (Hublot’s signature color) would be in the offing, Biver’s cheeks suffuse with a deep shade of crimson, and his voice rises. “No!” he exclaims. “That would be like the old Hublot. This must be different!”

Hublot
800.536.0636
www.hublot.com

Photo by Bonhams
Photo by Simon Clay/RM Auctions
Photo by Shooterz.biz/RM Auctions
Photo by Daniel Simon