4 New Sapphire Crystal-Cased Watches At Watches & Wonders 2021 From Hublot, Chanel, And Purnell
Transparency fascinates me. What better way is there to reveal the inner workings of something and build an intimate relationship to it than to remove the covers?
The idea of transparency in watchmaking was likely first commercially implemented in a wristwatch by Corum with its Golden Bridge in 1980. Corum, which can surely be termed the pioneer of wearable transparency, was spurred on in exploring this route by the belief of co-founder René Bannwart and independent watchmaker Vincent Calabrese that the work of the watchmaker should not be hidden from view.
Richard Mille took the industry’s fascination with transparency to its modern format at the 2012 SIHH (now Watches & Wonders) with the introduction of the million-dollar, five-piece limited edition RM 056 Felipe Massa Sapphire. Its fully transparent case reveals oodles of complicated gearing coming together to make a split-seconds chronograph movement with 70 hours of power reserve, torque indicator, and function indicator. It was nothing short of mesmerizing.
The production of the RM 056’s sapphire crystal case took years of research and testing. When that was through, the three-part case by itself needed more than 1,000 hours of machining: 430 hours for pre-forming the sapphire crystal components and another 350 hours just for the polishing.
Today, these rare – and usually highly limited edition – timepieces continue to pop up. The last time in any noticeable quantity was in 2016 with five different sapphire crystal-encased watches on display at Baselworld 2016 – coincidentally (or not) the year that Hublot introduced its Big Bang Unico Sapphire in two editions of 500 pieces each, which it was able to do thanks to a new way of combining the sapphire crystal parts with transparent resin in a sandwich style, ensuring both more affordability and less fragility, all while keeping the same wow effect.
At the 2021 edition of Watches & Wonders, I have noticed four new sapphire crystal cases.
Hublot Big Bang Integral Tourbillon Full Sapphire
Hublot has continued to experiment with the material and now offers it in a wide variety of color, which has led to the outstanding Big Bang Tourbillon Automatic Sapphire Orange introduced at the digital LVMH Watch Week in January in a 50-piece limited edition.
Now Hublot takes transparency a step further to lead off its 2021 Watches & Wonders presence with a showpiece: the Big Bang Integral Tourbillon Full Sapphire featuring a complete sapphire crystal bracelet and clasp and coming in at a whopping $422,000.
While Hublot was not the first to create a full bracelet out of the tricky-to-machine material – that honor belongs to Chanel with 2020’s J12 X-Ray – it does not lessen the impact of the mechanical beauty of this piece, especially considering the many, many hours needed to work the extremely challenging material.
For more information, please visit www.hublot.com/en-ch/watches/big-bang.
Quick Facts Hublot Big Bang Integral Tourbillon Full Sapphire
Case: 42 x 15.25 mm, sapphire crystal, water resistant to 30 m
Movement: skeletonized automatic Caliber HUB6035 with one-minute tourbillon and micro rotor, bridges in sapphire crystal, power reserve 72 hours, 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: 30 pieces
Chanel J12 X-Ray Electro Caliber 3.1
Extending on from 2020’s J12 X-Ray, an exceptional timepiece celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the Chanel J12, this new variation on the theme simultaneously celebrates the “rainbow” mini trend by using 12 baguette-cut sapphires to mark the hours. And an array of matching baguette-cut sapphires around the bezel bring an unexpected pop of color in place of the colorless baguette-cut stones on the original J12 X-Ray.
The J12 X-Ray Electro Caliber 3.1’s case and three-link bracelet are still made of the transparent corundum material, with two links set with 34 baguette-cut diamonds (1.96 ct) and a white gold triple-folding clasp. This bracelet was a world premiere in 2020 and continues to wow me in its more colorful clothing in 2021.
The dial is also made of sapphire crystal and, as mentioned, is set with 12 baguette-cut sapphire hour markers, each in a different color. And talk about minuscule work: I would not want to be the one to have to drill the tiny holes in that sapphire crystal dial blank to set the stones. That’s a nearly impossible task due to the hardness and brittleness of the material, and extremely prone to splintering.
The caliber powering this marvel is a new iteration of Caliber 3 called Caliber 3.1, which also contains a number of sapphire crystal components, including the base plate and main bridges. The effect is that the visible metal components and synthetic ruby bearings appear to float like Wonder Woman inside her invisible jet. Chanel reports that it takes a week to assemble the delicate parts.
The name “Electro” is derived from Electro culture, an electronic music genre from the 1990s that according to Chanel also evolved into an artistic genre.
For the full story on the Chanel J12 X-Ray, please see Chanel Celebrates 20 Years Of The J12 With The X-Ray: The World’s First Watch With A Full Sapphire Crystal Bracelet.
For more information, please visit www.chanel.com/us/watches/manufacture-movement-watches.
Quick Facts Chanel J12 X-Ray Electro Caliber 3.1
Case: 38 x 10.7 mm, sapphire crystal with white gold bezel set with 46 rainbow-colored sapphires (6.46 ct), crown set with brilliant-cut diamond (0.17 ct), 30 m water resistance
Dial: sapphire crystal set with 12 rainbow-colored sapphires (0.48 ct)
Movement: manual winding manufacture Caliber 3.1, skeletonized, power reserve 55 hours; 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency, variable inertia balance, sapphire crystal plates and bridges
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: 12 pieces
Chanel Boy.Friend Squelette X-Ray
The Chanel Boy.Friend Squelette X-Ray follows on from the 2018 Boy.Friend Squelette, which offered a great view of the intriguing skeletonized Caliber 3, but now takes the transparency much further with a full sapphire crystal case.
The Chanel Boy.Friend was first introduced in 2015, mainly targeting women who like to combine a high-end timepiece – be it a watch aimed at men or women – with casual fashion.
Timeless refinement distinguishes its signature clean lines inspired by the octagonal design of Chanel’s first timepiece from 1987, the Première watch. Like the Première, the Boy.Friend takes its beveled lines from the stopper of the Chanel No. 5 perfume bottle, in turn inspired by Paris’s famous Place Vendôme.
The best part of this watch is the full view of Caliber 3, a true gem exuding artisanal character. In keeping with the maison’s signature aesthetics, the geometry of the skeletonized movement was designed to be beautiful from every angle, featuring a series of interlinked, vertically aligned circles. Black ADLC (Amorphous Diamond-Like Carbon) coating on the plates and bridges ensures that it stand out to the maximum against the practically invisible case, seeming to float.
This is a watch for connoisseurs.
For the full story on the Chanel Boy.Friend Squelette, please see Chanel Boy.Friend Skeleton: Intriguing Views From All Angles.
For more information, please visit www.chanel.com/watches-jewelry/watches/boy-friend.
Quick Facts Chanel Boy.Friend Squelette X-Ray
Case: 37 x 28.6 x 8.4 mm, sapphire crystal, 18-karat white gold crown set with 5 baguette-cut diamonds (0.12 ct), 30 m water resistance
Movement: manual winding manufacture Caliber 3, skeleton, power reserve 55 hours; 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency, variable inertia balance
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: 100 pieces
Purnell Escape II Absolute Sapphire
The Purnell Escape II Absolute Sapphire does double duty, both displaying the beauty of a rare and fascinating case and showcasing one of the fastest triple-axis tourbillons in existence. Developed in collaboration with master watchmaker Eric Coudray, the Escape II Absolute Sapphire movement is found within a ridiculously hard-to-make sapphire crystal case, placing the two triple-axis tourbillons side by side on full display from every angle.
The tourbillon’s inner cage rotates in a blazing fast 8 seconds, inside the middle cage rotating in16 seconds for, and the outer cage rotating in 30 seconds. The escapement is on a lightning fast tumble cycle day in and day out.
If the mechanics aren’t enough, just take a look at the case because it is also no simple creation. When Purnell first launched its original Spherion, it was the case development that took the majority of the development time due to its complexity. And now that same complexity has been transferred into a solid piece of sapphire crystal.
Where before it offered an awesome view of the speedy tourbillons, now the view of these is nearly unobstructed. What’s more, the tourbillon cages are diamond set, the offset sapphire crystal dial features baguette-cut blue sapphires as hour indexes, and the movement is powered by six mainsprings. This is just one incredible watch.
For more on the mechanics of this double triple-axis tourbillon masterpiece, please see The Purnell Escape II Double Tourbillon Comes To Life.
For more information, please visit www.purnellwatches.com.
Quick Facts Purnell Escape II Absolute Sapphire
Case: 48 x 19 mm, sapphire crystal
Movement: manual Caliber CP03 with two spherical triple-axis tourbillons with titanium cages, six mainsprings in four barrels, 32 hours power reserve, 21,600 vph/3 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes; power reserve
Limitation: unique piece
Price: $1 million