Hublot Big Bang Tourbillon Automatic Purple Sapphire: It‘s Love-Hate, but if You Have Money to Burn there’s a Lot to Love
by Tim Mosso
Hublot is a controversial brand by design. Although low-key for its first 25 years, the path of the company since the 2005 launch of the Big Bang has been divisive and bombastic. But watch pros and experienced collectors know not to speak in generalities, and controversy requires two sides. This case study argues the merits of Hublot’s wonderfully weird Big Bang Tourbillon Automatic Purple Sapphire.
Did I mention that Hublot is a divisive brand? The Big Bang and its marketing campaign had a lot to do with that. Hublot launched in 1980 as Italian Carlo Crocco’s “MDM Genève,” and the “Hublot,” or “porthole,” was its first product.
Later, industry veteran Jean-Claude Biver was lured out of early retirement by the promise of equity and total creative control; he became the guiding force behind Hublot from 2004 forward.
By the time the Big Bang launched at Basel in 2005, Biver had restructured the Hublot marketing message to duplicate the growth formula he used at Omega in the 1990s. That involved major money expended on sporting events, paid celebrity spokesmen, and hosting gala events geared towards lifestyle buyers rather than cultivated watch connoisseurs.
And yes, many Hublot products of the era were superficial duplications of Audemars Piguet sports watches, powered by humble ETA movements, and pitched with ambitious pricing.
Hold your fire! We’re not talking about those watches today; you’re reading a mini tribute to a ridiculous but respectable high horology Hublot. The 2022 Big Bang Tourbillon Automatic Purple Sapphire – hereafter BBTAPS – is a 50-piece limited edition built with rich extroverts in mind. That might not sound like an auspicious start, but it gets better.
Artful use of color, volumes, and worthwhile engineering elevate this Big Bang to a level on par with the most interesting watches from unlikely peers including Richard Mille, Roger Dubuis, MB&F, and yes, Audemars Piguet.
Really, for sheer gee-wiz factor and prices to match, those brands are the relevant rivals.
Hublot isn’t new to tourbillon escapements or sapphire cases. The Nyon-based outfit has been selling tourbillons since at least 2007 and sapphire cases since at least 2016. Early Hublot sapphire models hailed from the ultra-luxury LaFerrari line, but a Big Bang Unico Sapphire in clear crystal arrived almost immediately thereafter. The rollout of different sapphire colors started with red, blue, yellow, and continued all the way to 2022’s purple entry.
The 44mm Purple Sapphire is toy-like in appearance, feel, and ambiance. The combination of a full sapphire case with titanium hardware and silicone straps creates an unnerving sensation of weightlessness. Panicked glances at the wrist will confirm that this MSRP $200,000 watch hasn’t departed untimely, but it certainly feels that way.
The sapphire adds a dimension of durability that even the ceramic versions of the AP Royal Oak can’t match; only diamond is harder and more scratch resistant than the Hublot’s case. Chrome and aluminum oxide change Hublot’s synthesized clear corundum – “sapphire” – into the uniformly transparent purple material that defines this watch.
Internally, sapphire plays an even greater role as most of the crystal bridges of the movement act as anchors for the tourbillon and drivetrain pivots. A casual glance deceives to reveal a “flying” tourbillon – a tourbillon regulator with no upper bridge to block the view. But the upper bridge, which sits nearly invisible as a wafer of clear sapphire, disappears unless scrutinized in the extreme.
The same tactic creates the appearance of a physically impossible floating drivetrain on the reverse of the watch. Everything from the mainspring barrel down to the tourbillon pivots on a jewel setting that seems to float in space. The unique sapphire bridges of the caliber HUB 6035 achieve an effect rarely associated with Hublot: subtlety.
Depending on one’s perspective, Hublot’s decision to use monochromatic grey metal gears and clear sapphire bridges rather than clicking CTRL+A+PURPLE represents either an act of rare restraint or a missed opportunity to go full Barney.
Mechanically, the BBTAPS is accomplished but minimally artisanal. A micro-rotor at 12 o’clock sits on a common axis with the skeletonized mainspring barrel; they combine to produce a 72-hour power reserve. The tourbillon is a conventional one-minute style with a three hertz beat rate and an orthodox sliding index for timing adjustments.
Fine timing and positional regulation are achieved with an Etachron-style rotating key with curb pins. As with all tourbillon regulators, the extra power expended by the Hublot makes it audible across a quiet room and a powerhouse among mechanical heartbeats.
Finish of the 6035 is neat but mainly by machine not hand. The only components that bear clear marks of human intervention are those on the tourbillon carriage itself. Rounded bevels, inward angles, and mirrored polish are evident on the tourbillon structure.
Hublot also seems to have spent time and energy on the micro-rotor. The surface includes brushed satin graining, contrasting media-blast, and mirrored bevels that likely started with milling tools but finished with a hand-held buffer on a drill-bit.
Minimal base plate components are employed, but those present feature a media-blasted surface and a clearly machined bevel. Wheels exhibit a brushed satin surface, but the spokes and inner circumferences are devoid of beveling. Screw heads are well polished and chamfered, but the slots exhibit little if any tapering.
The single greatest shortcoming of this watch is its water resistance. Despite a screw-down crown and a hardcore sports watch build, the 30-meter factory water rating is a gut punch for those willing to spend 200 large ones for an un-scratchable machine. Despite the water test letdown, the sapphire construction of the BBTAPS should prove gratifying in everyday life. Unanticipated swims are fairly easy to avoid, but scratches come like heat-seeking missiles for the finish of expensive watches.
On an AP Royal Oak, Offshore, Patek Philippe Nautilus, or even a conventional Hublot Big Bang, the first abrasive heartbreak often comes only minutes after departing the dealer’s door. With a hardness of nine on the Mohs scale, only diamond can scratch a corundum case with ease. A sapphire case can shatter, but that’s not a real concern in most daily use. Despite sitting prominently atop most luxury watches, sapphire crystals often go decades without acquiring even small scratches.
Details matter, and the BBTAPS has a few worthy of mention. Its core style remains that of the Big Bang Unico launched in 2013, so any collector familiar with that series will recognize the general layout and proportions of the Purple Sapphire. It’s a more refined version of the 2005 watch, and the shape finally seems less derivative of what AP was doing in the 2000s. Dial luminescence is minimal given its dim lavender shade of Super-LumiNova and limited use of hour indices.
Hublot describes the transparent purple strap as “rubber,” but the look, feel, and dust-magnet tendencies of this strap suggest it’s a type of silicone. That said, it’s so supple that ergonomic feel is a dream, and a comfortable fit is easy to find. To that end, a single-fold titanium deployant clasp binds this expensive mass of lightness to its owner, and the system hides excess strap length for a clean look on the wrist.
Hublot’s long-running pushbutton strap release makes strap-swapping a snap as long as you’re happy with the OEM strap selection. While aftermarket solutions for the Hublot quick release lug exist, these straps are less common and costlier than custom options for earlier generations of the Big Bang.
Most watch collectors know sight unseen whether a six-figure purple Hublot of any description is for them. For the vanishingly small sliver of persuadable people who might consider such a thing, there’s reason to believe. Hublot’s execution of this watch is love-hate, but for a wealthy enthusiast who doesn’t take himself too seriously, there’s a great deal to love.
For more information, please visit www.hublot.com/en-us/watches/big-bang/big-bang-tourbillon-automatic-purple-sapphire-44-mm
Quick facts: Hublot Big Bang Tourbillon Automatic Purple Sapphire
Indications: Hours, minutes, and seconds via tourbillon
Movement: Caliber HUB 6035, automatic mechanical movement, 3Hz, one-minute tourbillon
Features: tourbillon escapement, quick-release lugs, 50-piece edition
Power reserve: 72 hours
Dial: Open dial with clear sapphire bases for tourbillon, numerals, and indices
Case: purple sapphire with titanium hardware
Case diameter: 44 mm
Price at launch: CHF 190,000
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