How did Hublot produce the world’s first vibrantly coloured ceramic timepiece?

Hublot Big Bang Unico Red Magic

In the realm of haute horlogerie, Hublot is the first to produce vibrantly coloured ceramic

Situated nowhere near the traditional watchmaking hubs around Switzerland’s Vallee de Joux region, Hublot’s manufacture in Nyon is a different kind of horological powerhouse. Apart from the usual movement production rooms, assembly lines, and finishing studios, it has a department solely dedicated to new materials R&D. This was the very department that came up with Magic Gold in 2011. Magic Gold, if you any need reminding, is the world’s most scratch resistant 18K gold alloy made from the fusion of boron carbide and 24K gold. Unique and proprietary to Hublot, it has a fascinating soft glow unlike any other gold alloy in the world.

Indeed, materials are at the heart of Hublot’s Art of Fusion philosophy, and the manufacture has used all kinds from the typical to the unique. Quick throwback to the mid 1990s: Hublot was the first high-end watch brand to combine gold with rubber, and through the years it has used literally everything including all kinds of gold, platinum, steel, titanium, tantalum, magnesium, sapphire, carbon fibre and ceramic. Having worked with such a wide array of materials, it was only a matter of time that Hublot went on to create something of its own. It’s exactly as Hublot’s materials science engineer Sebastien Recalcati says: “If you want something unique and different, you have to create it yourself.”

This pioneering spirit in materials innovation allowed Hublot to once again release another world’s first: vibrantly coloured ceramic. Before Hublot, such a material was just a pipe dream. Many manufactures including the greatest ones like Rolex have attempted to produce red ceramic components but none have been able to achieve the kind of rich colouration as seen in the Big Bang Unico Red Magic. And magical it certainly is.

The Big Bang Unico Red Magic is obviously a patented innovation. While red ceramic has already made its debut in the Ferrari Unico Carbon Red Ceramic, it appeared as the bezel only. In this 2018 novelty, however, vibrant red ceramic has been used more prominently for the bezel, case middle and back.

Taking up four years of R&D, Hublot’s vibrant red ceramic is not just about the aesthetics though. Compared to ordinary high-tech ceramic which is already very hard and scratchproof, this newly developed version is incredibly dense and resilient, with a hardness of 1,500 HVI as compared to 1,200 of conventional ceramics.

But how did Hublot achieved this amazing colouration? The great challenge in producing high-tech ceramic in an exact colour goes back to its raw materials and the manufacturing process, which involves high pressure and high heat. The sintering process which solidifies and stabilises the material would also burn the pigments, thus preventing manufactures from creating bright coloured ceramic. Without revealing all its secrets, Hublot circumvents the problem by using a sintering process that does not burn the pigments. This innovative solution thus allows Hublot to create vibrantly coloured ceramics in all hues, not only red.

In addition, the manufacture has also succeeded in refining all the steps necessary in high-tech ceramic case component production. This means that Hublot is able to produce complex shapes in high-tech ceramic rather than just standard flat circular forms. As high-tech ceramic is very hard and scratchproof, machining or shaping it is an extremely dexterous process that if not done right, will cause the material to shatter. This is why high-tech ceramic watches are often more expensive than steel or titanium models.

With this material, Hublot has achieved the impossible. Indeed, if there’s any brand that could make the impossible possible, it would be none other than Hublot. But this is just the beginning, as CEO Ricardo Guadalupe promises much more: “There is a quote which perfectly illustrates our ongoing desire to push watchmaking, materials, and fusion to the limit. A conviction that nothing is impossible. In the words of Charlie Chaplin: “Let us strive for the impossible. The great achievements throughout history have been the conquest of what seemed the impossible”. Today, with the world’s first vibrantly coloured ceramic, Hublot has once again demonstrated that the impossible really is possible!”