I’m a sucker for a new material. When I was a younger watchmaker and far wetter behind the ears, I stuck hard-and-fast to the principles of old, believing science to be cheating, witchcraft and magic… Well, it turns out I was right. The Hublot Big Bang Tourbillon 5-day Power Reserve Indicator Full Magic Gold is crafted from a novel material that is, for my money, the product of borderline sorcery.
Full disclosure: there is no actual magic in this watch. If you buy one, do not expect it to grant you wishes, make your brooms dance or spirit you away to your dream location. It might, however, interest you to know how such a unique result is achieved. You may be enthralled by Magic Gold’s dulled hue, or you might simply find it dull. Whatever your final opinion of its aesthetics, I think it’s difficult to sniff at the processes that led to its creation. It’s not quite alchemic, but it is pretty damn close.
When you want to market something as gold, at least 75% of its final weight must be just that, with the other 25% whatever you like. If manufacturers want white gold they might add silver to the mix; if they want red or pink they would add different amounts of copper. Other additives, like nickel and zinc, go in to forging an alloy that makes gold strong enough to survive daily wear.
Pure gold itself is really soft. It scratches, it dents, and it’s really hard to refinish without permanently ruining the original shape. Hublot identified this problem and decided to do away with the traditional alloy materials, instead using boron carbide as the minority in the 75/25 split.
Boron carbide is the second hardest material on Earth after diamond. In its natural state, it looks like crushed pencil lead. Hublot’s material scientists pack the powdered boron carbide into a tube-shaped mould, before applying 2,000 bar (yes, 2,000 bar) of pressure to the powder. While in this compressed shape, the boron carbide was subjected to temperatures of 2200°C. The powder fuses and the particles become neatly arranged in a cylindrical tube.
When the ‘preform’ comes out of the kiln, it looks like a fat black toilet roll. It’s also weirdly light for its size and wall thickness (about 2cm) due to its porousness. When doused with water, the boron carbide preform appears wet for a couple of seconds before the water disappears as it might on a hot paving stone.
The next step of the process is to take a pre-shaped pure 24kt gold ingot (which has been moulded under temperatures of 1100°C) and place it atop the boron carbide preform in the kiln. The two materials are then heated to 1400°C. At this temperature the gold is totally fluid and is forced under pressure into the pores of the boron carbide preform. When the composite is removed the gold seems to have disappeared (the boron carbide preform does not increase in size at all).
It’s not until you actually pick up the preform that you realise it is now one with the gold (at this stage the colour has not emerged). The finished tube of Magic Gold weighs four times as much as the boron carbide preform alone.
The fusion of the gold and the boron carbide is so resilient the only thing that can be used to accurately shape the material is diamond. Before that, however, the tube is sliced by an electrified wire, into slithers of Magic Gold that will be worked into bezels, case uppers, lowers and backs. Deeper slices of Magic Gold will be cut vertically to create the lug-piece that connects the two lugs and carries Hublot’s new quick-release strap system.
If you’re lucky enough to visit Hublot’s foundry in Nyon, you will be handed a finished bezel and invited to damage it, using whatever you can find. I was offered a drill bit, the foundry master’s steel desk, the floor, door and anything else in the room I could think of whacking against the material. I caused a lot of damage, but not to the bezel, which remained intact and unblemished throughout. At one point, I thought I’d succeeded, only for the ‘mark’ to rub off with the lightest of brushes (it turns out the mark was part of the desk that I’d gouged out during a frenzied flurry of strikes and swipes at the steel surface).
The Hublot Big Bang Tourbillon 5-Day Power Reserve Indicator Full Magic Gold makes excellent use of this exciting new material, which elevates the importance of Hublot in my mind. I’d always loved the brand’s output from an aesthetic standpoint, and certainly respected some of their higher-end complications, but this kind of development grows the industry. Hublot owns the rights to this material, but its existence is a spur that might encourage other companies to come up with something even better.
Despite being 45mm wide, the watch is only water resistant to 30 meters. Although this is normal for Hublot’s complicated watches, it’s a little bit of a shame, as the unbreakable exoskeleton suggests indiscriminate wearbility that is somewhat undermined by its effectively splash-proof rating.
But perhaps this should remind us all that this watch is still a delicate beast at heart. The in-house hand-wound movement displays its remaining energy by way of a sub-dial at 9 o’clock. The power reserve of this watch is an excellent 115 hours and is also clearly displayed thanks to the black and red scale.
The calibre HUB 6016 is skeletonised and visible through the front and back sapphire crystals. Both of which are treated with an anti-reflective coating, which is the kind of detail that inspires confidence. The tourbillon beats away at 6 o’clock enlivening an excellently restrained colour palette, which seems vintage and cutting-edge at the same time. There’s a kind of bleak futurism about this piece, which I adore. With only 50 pieces available, Hublot doesn’t need too many people to agree with me on the beauty of this watch, but they do need to have seriously deep pockets: the Hublot Big Bang Tourbillon 5-Day Power Reserve Indicator Full Magic Gold will have a price of around £88,000. A small fortune, yes, but perhaps not too much for a little bit of much-needed magic in your life…