With the launch of its Unico movement, Hublot became a manufacture. In this in-depth review we find out how the Unico performs inside the brand’s King Power Unico All Black. Scroll down to read the full article, with stunning visuals by Zuckerfabrik Fotodesign. Click on the pictures for larger images.
Hublot’s path to manufacture status was an unusual one. In 2007, three years after becoming the brand’s CEO, Jean-Claude Biver decided to make an in-house movement. Because Hublot had limited production capacity, he planned to make no more than 2,000 or so pieces per year of the caliber, which he dubbed “Unico.” But when the Swiss movement maker BNB Concept went bankrupt in early 2010, his plans changed. Hublot bought BNB’s machinery (and hired 30 of its watchmakers), and suddenly had the capacity to manufacture some 20,000 Unico movements per year. To make the shift from small-series production, 80 percent of the movement had to be redesigned. This caused a delay of several months between March 2010, when Biver first introduced the movement, and the time when the finished version was ready for its stepped-up production runs.
The movement, Caliber HUB 1240 Unico, made its debut in the King Power watch. With an impressive diameter of 48 mm, the watch made a very big splash in our editorial office. The piece we borrowed to review was a member of the 500-piece All Black limited series (it was, in fact, the very first piece in the series). Opinions about it were mixed. “Much too big” was the verdict of some editors. “Too expensive,” others said. Comments such as “barely legible” and “drearily dark” were also heard. But let’s not be hasty. This article may shed a different light on this big watch.
The uncommonly large King Power case was created especially for the Unico caliber. Although the watch’s stated case diameter is 48 mm, the watch actually measures well over 50 mm when measured across the crown or across the lugs. The watch is 17.6 mm thick. It embodies the brand’s concept of “fusion,” the combination of different and often unusual materials in the same watch, which Biver introduced with the launch of the Big Bang in 2005. The watch also illustrates Hublot’s fondness for avant-garde styling.
Considering the size of this gigantic watch, its weight, 161 grams, really isn’t that great because the case incorporates some lightweight materials. There are black composite resin insets on the case sides, while titanium is used for the crown and push-pieces. The case’s body and back are made of micro-blasted ceramic. The watch’s porthole-like appearance (hublot is French for “porthole”) is created by the case’s lateral protuberances and by the six H-shaped, black-PVD-coated titanium screws that fasten the bezel. Some connoisseurs are annoyed by the random orientation of the slits in these screws’ heads, but Biver calls this “authenticity.” After all, a screw must be tightened until it’s firmly seated, not merely until the slit in its head is tangent to an imagined circle. Only the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak accomplishes both. The King Power’s screws hold the ceramic bezel, which is overlaid with black rubber and surrounds a sapphire crystal that’s nonreflective on both sides. A second pane of sapphire is integrated into the caseback, where a second set of six polished H-screws fasten the back to the case. This design element is also found on Hublot’s distinctive integrated and screwed lugs, on the sides of the case at 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock, and on the black titanium-ceramic clasp.
The single-hinged folding clasp is shaped like the Hublot “H” logo. A double prong holds the longer part of the large rubber strap to the end of the clasp. The strap fits securely thanks to two prongs of unequal length. The clasp snaps smartly shut and opens when you press two lateral buttons. The lugs and the rubber strap are hallmarks of Hublot, but they’ve undergone a complete metamorphosis here. The strap can now be adjusted (it formerly had to be cut to the size of the wearer’s wrist). It’s also much thicker than the original strap and it’s smooth only on its inner surface. On the outside it’s deeply textured with a pattern recalling the tracks of an armored tank — a fitting choice for the muscular-looking King Power.
The strap, lugs and clasp collaborate to ensure that the King Power remains securely fastened on your wrist. Despite this watch’s size, it fits snugly, isn’t top- heavy, and doesn’t slide toward your hand. The operating buttons have non-slip rubber tops on titanium elements coated with black PVD. The winding crown is well protected but is nonetheless easy to grasp and pull out when you need to adjust the date or set the hands. Ribbed covers on the chronograph’s angular push-pieces ensure that the stopwatch functions can be activated quickly.
The silvery brown, center-mounted elapsed-seconds hand looks shiny at first glance. But a closer look reveals that it actually has a fine satin finish that reflects light in such a way that you can see the hand clearly from any angle, even at a distance. The same is true of the hour and minutes hands. The time is always legible, even if so much light is shining through the sapphire crystal and onto the transparent dial that you can see the movement beneath it.
You might even want to keep the chronograph running constantly so that you can confirm, from the chronograph seconds hand, that the watch is running. The watch has a seconds hand on a subdial at 9 o’clock, which could be used for this purpose, but it is easy to miss. The elapsed-minutes counter at 3 o’clock and the applied black calibrations on the transparent dial are also easy to overlook. The dial looks like glass, but it is actually a form of carbon fiber. Positioned above the dial is a black ring with a wreath of engraved minute markings. The hours are marked by matte black, micro-blasted appliqués. Like the hour and minutes hands, they are filled with black Super-LuminNova, but their luminosity could use some improvement: even if light falls on the dial all day, the luminous effect lasts only a short time. A skeletonized date ring rotates beneath the dial. The date appears between 4 and 5 o’clock, where the skeletonized numerals pass over a white plane. Although the contrast is good, this display, too, is rather hard to read.
If you press the push-piece at 2 o’clock to stop the chronograph, the column-wheel turns at 6 o’clock. This rotary motion, and the pivoting of the horizontal coupling (positioned above and toward the left of the column wheel), can both be seen easily with the naked eye. As a special feature of the Unico movement, which combines 330 individual components, the column-wheel mechanism with flyback function is positioned on the dial side of the movement. To get a good view of this mechanism, we’re willing to accept a few compromises in the watch’s legibility.
But the Unico movement has even more surprises up its horological sleeve. There’s not one horizontal coupling, but two. The elapsed-minutes counter, too, is directly coupled. The energy needed for this coupling is transferred from the barrel via gears with a transmission ratio, while the power for the elapsed-seconds hand is conveyed conventionally from the fourth wheel. Consequently, the elapsed-minutes hand progresses in what appears to be smooth, unbroken motion: you can see that after 60 seconds have elapsed, the elapsed-minutes hand doesn’t jump. Incidentally, the fly-back lever simultaneously returns both elapsed-time hands to their zero positions. The Unico Caliber HUB 1240 does not offer an elapsed-hours function. To facilitate to-the-second setting, it has a stop-seconds feature: a blocking lever acts on the balance to stop both its oscillations and the progress of the continually running seconds hand. Another special feature is the removable escapement, which will be familiar to those who have examined watches made by H. Moser & Cie. In addition to offering you the option of having your initials engraved here, the removable escapement module also makes it easier for a watchmaker to service the movement. The subassembly can be removed and exchanged for a new one whenever necessary, or it can be installed in other Hublot movements. The Glucydur balance swings back and forth under a bridge with an adjustable height. Like all other bridges in this movement, it has been galvanically treated, beveled, and micro-blasted.
The movement can be finely adjusted using a two-part index system: specially designed and well executed, this system is quite effective, as is shown by the watch’s good rate performance. The stability of the rate is further enhanced by the escape wheel and the pallets, which are made from high-tech silicon, a low-wear and extremely resistant material. We measured an average daily gain of 4.3 seconds when we first placed the fully wound watch on an electronic timing machine; the daily gain decreased to 3.7 seconds 24 hours later. The amplitudes were relatively high, but remained stable even after the power reserve had been allowed to decline somewhat. The King Power performed better on the wrist. We wore the watch for several weeks and measured a daily gain of just 1.6 seconds. It also maintained this good performance with the chronograph switched on, which means you could leave the chronograph running all the time without sacrificing precision. The watch has a power reserve of three days. It has bidirectional winding and its winding rotor runs on ceramic ball bearings, which need no lubrication. This first look showed that the Unico caliber performs well and runs at a stable rate. Not every function is highly legible, but the design of the first limited edition is so appealing that we’re willing to overlook the less-than-ideal legibility.
+ Manufacture movement
+ Special “fusion” construction
+ Good rate, with or without the chronograph on
+ Impressive design + Good wearing comfort despite large size
+ Secure strap and clasp
– Legibility of some functions is limited
– Limited legibility at night
– High price
Manufacturer: Hublot SA, Ch. de la Vuarpillière 33, 1260 Nyon, Switzerland
Reference number: 701.CI.0110.RX Functions: Hours, minutes, small seconds, date, flyback chronograph
Movement: In-house movement HUB 1240 Unico, automatic; 28,800 vph; 38 jewels; diameter = 30.4 mm; height = 8.05 mm; Incabloc shock absorber; flat Nivarox hairspring; Glucydur balance; 72- hour power reserve
Case: Micro-blasted ceramic and titanium; case sides inset with black composite resins, titanium crown and push-pieces; nonreflective sapphire crystal in front; sapphire caseback; water resistant to 100 meters
Strap and clasp: Rubber strap with titanium and ceramic, single-hinged folding clasp
Dimensions: Diameter = 48.0 mm, height = 17.6 mm, weight = 161 grams
This article was originally published in 2012 and has been updated.
The skeleton watches looks truly great, yet reading time at a glance is extremely difficult.
Moreover, not many people can afford to pay the high price of the skeleton watches.
“Only the Royal Oak does both,” meaning it has screws that tighten with heads that align after tightening? Actually, the RO does not do this–if you look carefully, you will see that the “screw” heads are hexagonal, and they’re in hexagonal holes. They couldn’t turn if they wanted to! In fact, the “screws” are bolt heads, and the bolts are tightened from the other side.
Gigantic, illegible, and weighs a ton.
Is there really a market for this at $20 grand?
Although I don’t generally like skeleton watches, this one is an exception … very nice indeed.
Rarely do I comment, but can’t help saying wow!
I find the great awe extended to these “Manufacture” brands somewhat amusing: based on your recent writings regarding the Fossil Group and it’s venture into being a “Manufacture,” by buying a watch movement maker for about $266,000, being a “Manufacture” does not seem that impressive.
Worse still, to the extent that being the movement maker increases the cost of the brand’s watches, and diminishes the availability and accessibility of spare parts and repairs, the whole concept seems counter-productive and wasteful. That would be the outcome for any small brand. Of course, this is entirely the opposite of the motives of the Fossil Group purchase. Fossil is a large producer, and figures to profit from the purchase of the movement maker because then it will no longer have to buy watch movements on the open market. That makes sense.
Yet it appears there is some cachet, something worthy of note, precisely because the “Manufacture” concept and procedure is inefficient and for that reason drives up the price of the watch. It is as if profligacy and poor decision making are being rewarded. An odd industry indeed.
I realize the collectors and extreme high earners are driving this industry, But it is highly suggestive a of an economic bubble.