Black Magic

A decade on from pioneering the first-ever all-black watch, Alex Doak charts how Hublot has orchestrated its manoeuvres in the dark ever since


You may think it’s no coincidence that the Baselworld watch fair immediately following the Dark Knight’s explosive return to the silver screen in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins saw the start of the black-on-black wristwatch trend (a trend that’s proved as persistent as the perils facing the citizens of Gotham). But while Hublot’s groundbreaking Big Bang All Black of 2006, with black ceramic case and black everything-else could well have been prototyped by Wayne Enterprises’ shady weapons division, it was actually the brainchild of the Swiss watchmaking’s very own Lucius Fox: one Jean-Claude Biver.

An industry legend, credited heavily for reviving modern-day interest in a finely crafted mechanical watch, Biver has never been short of ideas – the greatest being Hublot’s Big Bang of 2004, which singlehandedly reversed the fortunes of an ailing brand, “fusing” high-tech materials with traditional mechanics and distinguishing Hublot as the ultimate contemporary watchmaker.

While this mentality earned Biver’s in-house boffins the right to a utility belt of their own, no one could have guessed that there would ever be a Big Bang, let alone any watch, that would look the part on Batman’s very own Utility Belt. Black cases and black dials were nothing new of course, but combining them with black markers and hands inevitably resulted in a dial that was barely legible. Surely this negated the prime purpose of a watch?

“No one will pay 5,000 to 10,000 euros for a watch just to read the time,” goes Biver’s argument, “we use our cellphones for that. Fortunately, a luxury watch offers me very different qualities, whether that veers towards elegance, sports or something truly unique…

“It was Carlo Cerlatti, a jeweller from Monaco, who inspired me to make all the markings on the watch totally black,” Biver reveals, “even the dial and hands. The Hublot All Black created this revolutionary concept, which is now a major trend. But we were the first.”

Ever since the Batwatch of 2006 (our term of course, not theirs), there has been an All Black limited edition unveiled at every Baselworld. Just one year later, in fact, Hublot introduced the Bigger Bang All Black, the world’s first column-wheel chronograph with tourbillon. Updating the original, the Big Bang All Black II of 2009 upped the ante with a completely ceramic bracelet and even black PVD-coated bezel screws. Even more notable than that, and proving Hublot’s formidable versatility beyond the Big Bang, 2015 saw the introduction of an entirely black, PVD-coated titanium version of their MP-05 LaFerrari – a mind-bogglingly complex horological interpretation of Ferrari’s transverse hypercar engine, with vertical tourbillon and eleven barrels guaranteeing a power reserve of 50 days.

This year, as you’d expect, the All Black concept’s 10th anniversary is being marked in a similarly phenomenal fashion. Limited to just 500 pieces, the Big Bang Unico Sapphire All Black is crafted entirely from blocks of sapphire crystal – sapphire that has been coated with metal. It’s a subtle balancing act, which despite the overall effect of shadow,  manages to maintain a smoky transparency. The very essence of All Black’s credo, “Visible Invisibility”, in other words.

It’s almost too good for Batman, don’t you think?