Original materials, incredible colors, and spectacular artistry give these notable watches a unique appeal—the more distinctive a timepiece, the more compelling the magic. Where will your imagination take you?
The motto of H. Moser & Cie, which makes only about 1500 watches per year, is “Very Rare.” And the Streamliner, Moser’s first chronograph, comprises just 100 examples of that production run—each one already sold.
Behind such exclusivity, however, is a watershed moment for the brand. Its CEO, Edouard Meylan, has taken up the defense of Swiss watchmaking because, he figured, somebody had to. And from a watchmaker as audacious, cult-like, and technically impressive as Moser, the first of anything is going to make an impact.
It took Moser five years to develop the Streamliner. At 42.3mm in diameter, it is a hefty boy, yet the cushion case wears comfortably, with intricate metal-shaping on both sides. Four exposed screws on the back add a rugged dimension to the caseback, which exposes the automatic chronograph movement that doesn’t look at all like an automatic and is possibly the most advanced in production today. (More on that later.) This case is attached to a beautifully finished bracelet that’s sectored like a lobster’s tail, incredibly comfortable and form-fitting even to my (and Meylan’s) small wrists. Some might say it resembles the most forgettable, mired in ‘90s-excess designs that have not withstood the test of time: resembling the Ikepod, Meylan’s favorite, or the Ebel Sport Classic, two watches you’ve probably just had to Google.
But the design works—because it hides its revelations well. Here is a chronograph that doesn’t resemble a chronograph at all: other than checkered-flag markings, and the slightly superfluous tachymeter bezel, there is nothing that denotes timing function. No sub-dials, no small-seconds, nothing in the way of the brushed semi-matte look, which turns from gray to black to brown under the light. “I like the idea that it’s not a watch that has a chronograph function,” said Meylan, “but it’s a chronograph that gives the time.” It makes its presence felt with its mighty heft, like a knight’s sword, reminding you of some fundamental destiny you must fulfill. It imbues a feeling of power to its wearer, absurd and meaningful all at once.
That aforementioned movement hails from Agephor—another independent Swiss brand, founded by Jean-Marc Wiederrecht, working deep in the shadows of the Swiss watchmaking empire. The HMC 902 movement is derived from Agephor’s signature AgenGraphe movement, which previously appeared in the Fabergé Visionnaire and the Singer Track 1, so Moser is in rarefied company. When Meylan discovered the AgenGraphe two years ago, he fell in love: “Wow, this is the dream movement,” he told Watch Journal. “This is what I could spend millions of years on developing, and this watchmaker—independent as well—has done it. I believe this is the best chronograph in the world.”
Here, Moser upgraded it to a flyback chronograph. The dual slender hands on the dial—the seconds hand tipped in red—tick the seconds and minutes with precision, and they have a nice little flicker when the flyback action is reset. All of the hands are on a central axis, and its rotor lies against the dial. The chronograph functions are integrated neatly into the central plate, at the same level as the escapement and balance, which makes for a high level of technological function, as well as a slew of tiny parts.
“It’s a very complex watch, with a lot of details, elements,” said Meylan. “We need people to understand it.”
Is this the age of the sports watch? Well, this seems to be the year where every watchmaker rolled out an integrated-bracelet sports watch that can go from yacht to cocktail bar, so to speak. Alongside the Moser, two more unusual sports watches debuted this year. “Time for sports!” Nomos says in a cheery press release, denoting the Tangente Sport and Club Sport, while Hublot’s first-ever Big Bang with an integrated bracelet is called, appropriately, the Integral.
Both of these two companies took different approaches. Nomos has taken their popular Tangente and Club models—both 42mm in diameter, both with the watchmaker’s DUW 6101 in-house movement, and both with minimalist numbering and small-seconds subdials—and added a solid-link stainless-steel bracelet with a matte finish and rectangular links. The individually delineated shapes of these links are reminiscent of the Streamliner, whose lines also run horizontally to the length of its bracelet. Meanwhile, Hublot, celebrating the 15th anniversary of the Big Bang, opted for an entirely new model to incorporate its integrated bracelet. The Big Bang Integral, available in three variations, features a handsome segmented bracelet with the same depth and contrast as the sides of the case—which is echoed in the meticulously machined, with both brushed and polished sides, of the Streamliner.
Nomo’s integration is very straightforward and deceptively simple, keeping in step with the brand’s aesthetic. Hublot, meanwhile, reshaped the case and pushers of the Big Bang to fit its intricate, three-dimensional bracelet. And, of course, Moser had to introduce a new watch.
The Streamliner is the first of a series, said Meylan. “There will be more chronographs, more complications. It’s the beginning of a new line. It was so important to use such an amazing movement to make a statement.”
This will be a departure from Moser’s dress lineup, a dramatic expansion of its lineup, and different from its exclusive in-house movements. There’s a good foundation, thankfully. Moser’s handsome, profoundly understated lineup—with their astonishing in-house movements and their colorful, gradient-like fumé dials, minimally decorated, which has carved out its niche among a motley crew of understated innovators and haute-horology independents. Just 55 people work in its atelier; there is room for experimentation. For what it’s worth, 95 percent of its watches get sold internationally. “We’re either the biggest independent or the smallest of the established brands,” said Meylan. “I prefer the latter.”
“You’ve got a famous last name,” Norah Jones once sang, “but you’re not to blame.” In an industry where millions of francs are spent trying–and failing–to create iconic and memorable designs, Hublot has done it twice. The brand’s 1980 debut was a scientific and aesthetic triumph; when the Big Bang arrived in 2004, it reimagined the rubber-strap luxury watch as a hugely popular fashion statement. In the decade and a half since, Hublot has updated the Big Bang with a flurry of manufacture movements while reconstructing its case in everything from zirconium to white gold with black baguette diamonds. Yet the firm’s greatest strength–the instant recognition of its core product–is also a significant challenge. How do you keep the Big Bang fresh without losing what made it popular in the first place?
Lapo Elkann, the artistic director of Garage Italia, knows all about the challenges of fame. Born into Italy’s dynastic Agnelli family, Elkann would eventually become a marketing director for FIAT, the firm founded by his ancestors in 1899. Yet he was not content to labor anonymously in the family fields; Elkann’s outrageous choices in both style and lifestyle put him both on tabloid covers and in Vanity Fair’s Best Dressed Hall Of Fame. He would eventually leave FIAT and start a number of firms devoted to promoting and advancing a uniquely Italian approach to design.
In retrospect, therefore, it seems obvious that Hublot and Elkann would eventually collide–a firm considering how to evolve a famous name and a fellow who had already done so on his own account. The resulting Classic Fusion Chronograph Garage Italia exists in that narrow space where flamboyance meets tradition, to the benefit of both. “You don’t have to shout to be noticed,” Elkann states. “We pride ourselves to be both serious and playful at the same time.”
Indeed, this Hublot is relatively serious, with an ETA-based HUB1143 column-wheel flyback chronograph movement. The look, however, is playful, featuring six titanium screws holding down the first-ever sky-blue ceramic bezel on a 45mm “Garage Italia blue” ceramic case. Elkann’s logo appears at 3 o’clock, polished, and color-neutral like the crown and chronograph pushers. The strap, of course, is rubber–there’s only so much change the customer base will accept, and would it really be a Hublot otherwise? The deployant buckle is titanium.
The application of color to high-end watches is still rare enough to be noteworthy, even in what is increasingly looking like an age of near-mandatory ceramics in horology. Carlo Borromeo, Garage Italia’s designer, notes that it’s also a challenge: “When you work with specific colors, there’s a bunch of complications involved in translating a digital idea into a physical object. In particular, it’s really hard if you’re trying to obtain the same colors on different materials and with different processes. Thankfully Hublot has mastered this art, and they were very receptive to our ideas from the very start.”
What keeps the Garage Italia Chronograph from looking like a fashion watch? The fineness of detail helps–but in the end, it’s a matter of proportion and material. Nobody’s idea of an everyday-wear piece, the sky-blue Hublot would be the finishing touch for a truly over-the-top Elkann-style ensemble from Kiton, Brioni, or the tailors on Savile Row.
Launched in May and limited to 100 pieces, this watch is already selling for above retail in the secondary market, suggesting that the firm could have moved a few more than it did. Frustrated would-be purchasers can take heart in knowing the chronograph is merely the first of a three-piece collaboration between Hublot and Garage Italia, titled “Sky, Earth, Sea.”
Elkann is positively ebullient regarding future collaborations: “Garage Italia is defined by Italian excellence and traditional expertise in a contemporary style which is often disruptive. With Hublot, I have found the same hunger for innovation and exploration topped with an unprecedented timeliness for technological prowess.” Will the next two Hublots from the partnership be conventionally shaped takes on the Big Bang? Will they stay near the Classic Fusion Chronograph’s retail price of $14,100? Lastly, will future series-production Hublots benefit from Garage Italia design? Neither Elkann nor Borromeo would provide specifics, but neither would they rule out the prospect of expanding the partnership beyond their limited editions.
Regarding the temptations of fame, Norah Jones sang that “I needed to stand in my own shoes.“ This newest effort from Hublot and Garage Italia does just that, benefiting from its well-known progenitors and designers without relying on nostalgia or retro appeal–and there is more to come.
About the photographer:Junichi Ito was born and raised in Tokyo. Based in New York since 2005, he has photographed major commercial campaigns for Armani, Barneys, Estée Lauder, Moët & Chandon, Nike, and Victoria’s Secret. He has also shot original editorial content for Allure, Fast Company, Real Simple, Vogue Japan, and Wallpaper. His Instagram is a must-follow.
With a completely transparent encasing of its Grand Complication, Hublot redefines the concept of what a precious material can be.
By Stephen Watson
Pink gold? Platinum? Titanium? Market trends predict a return to a new type of discretion. So how about a grand complication that can barely be seen yet has nowhere to hide?
We’re talking, of course, about the magnificent watch on this month’s cover: Hublot’s Big Bang Unico Sapphire. What at first glance appears to be a timepiece made out of clear plastic is, in fact, an ingenious see-through case cut from a solid block of sapphire crystal. Incredibly scratch-resistant and almost as tough as diamond, the case lays bare the inner workings of the HUB1270 UNICO Manufacture self-winding perpetual calendar and chronograph movement in all its technical virtuosity. It’s a watch that must be seen to be believed.
Watch Journal had the opportunity to speak with Ricardo Guadalupe, CEO of Hublot, about the brand’s cutting-edge creativity, mechanical innovations, and enduring devotion to the Art of Fusion.
How did the concept of the clear watch come about?
The idea was to play with the visible and the invisible—to present the heart of an exceptional timepiece as if it was suspended in the air. With a transparent case, a movement can be admired at 360 degrees. Our dream had long been to produce such a watch entirely in colorless sapphire, which is light, nearly invisible, and virtually scratch-proof. Sapphire is one of the hardest materials on earth, second only to diamond.
We also liked the idea that a transparent watch would allow us to highlight Hublot’s tradition of constant innovation in using and developing new materials.
Speaking of cutting-edge materials, Hublot is known for what it calls the Art of Fusion. How has this helped to define the brand’s DNA?
Combining two materials that never coexist in nature is the driving idea at Hublot. Even the first Hublot models from 1980 merged gold cases with rubber straps—quite extravagant for that time! Just like watchmakers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, we will use classic materials such as gold for the case or brass for the movement—however, we combine them with other materials like titanium, ceramic, carbon fiber, Kevlar, even rubber. And we don’t stop there, because we also develop our own new materials. For instance, we have worked in conjunction with the EPFL in Lausanne on basic scientific research for many years. And from this cooperation has arisen a scratch-resistant gold and ceramic alloy that Hublot calls “Magic Gold.”
As a motto, the “Art of Fusion” refers not only to the materials themselves but also encompasses more abstract ideas: the fusion of past and present, tradition and innovation.
How is the sapphire material generated?
Sapphire can be generated by various types of processes, but the ones we use are the Kyropoulos and Verneuil processes. Because sapphire is so hard—measuring 2,000 on the Vickers scale—it requires specific machines to manufacture it and to polish it. Making the sapphire crystal itself was not the issue for us—it was the manufacturing of our components in sapphire that was challenging.The material comes to us in a raw block, which then to be cut into the correct shape. We invested several million Swiss francs in machinery to be able to produce the components and we also invested in machines able to polish the transparency of the sapphire. It took us nearly twenty years to develop the tools and technology that could create the watches to our satisfaction.
What are the possibilities of generating this material? Colors? Textures? Patterns?
The standard color for sapphire is “clear,” but by adding additives during the growth of the crystal, it is possible to create different colors. In 2017 we introduced the sapphire in red and blue. Regarding textures and finishes, it is possible to have a matte or a polished surface finish. Regarding the patterns, for the time being, we use black metallization (for the realization of black smoked sapphire) as well as laser engraving and fill with color lacquer for engravings on the caseback of the watch.
Can you talk us through some of the steps of the watch’s fabrication?
The different essential steps include diamond wire cutting for the raw material, diamond milling for the components to roughed out and diamond polishing of the finished components, so that the surfaces are perfectly polished, revealing the total transparency of this material. The polishing step is very complicated because this is not easy to do on complex shapes and there is a considerable risk of breakage. Sometimes the end step of polishing will also reveal minimal defaults in the crystal.
How long does the process take from start to finish?
It takes between twenty to thirty days to grow a crystal which weighs around 110 to 150 kilos. After this time, we need to cut the raw material, mill it, and polish it. Depending on the component, it can take hundreds of hours to achieve a finished component. And the results aren’t guaranteed until we polish and carefully examine the result.
How do new elements, such as sapphire, help reimagine traditional luxury?
Hublot stands for always being first, unique and different. I think there will always be a place for watches like ours because we are producing watches that are eternal. You have a world of emotions in a box that will last for the next fifty, hundred or two hundred years, but we give them a contemporary design thanks to the unique materials we use and create.