Review: Hublot King Power Unico GMT
While Blancpain, the oldest watch manufacturer in the world today, was founded in 1735, Hublot... was not. Nearly two-and-a-half centuries separate the pair, and you don't need me to tell you—that's a lot. With so much ground to make up, how can Hublot possibly make its mark?
Watch our video review of the Hublot King Power GMT 771.CI.1170.RX
Whether you like or loathe Hublot, you've most probably heard of it. If anything, it may be a surprise to you that Hublot is as old as it is. That's because the brand was a complete unknown until 2005, but we'll get to that in a moment. For the first 25 years of Hublot's existence, it operated as the brainchild of founder Carl Crocco, who quit his job at watchmaker Brinda in 1976 to pursue his dream of creating his own brand.
Track 12 time zones at once across four disks
Presumably inspired by the—also 1976—release of the nautically themed, Gerald Genta-designed Patek Philippe Nautilus, Crocco produced a porthole-based watch design of his own. So consumed by the premise of the porthole was Crocco that he actually called his watch 'Porthole'—or rather, the French equivalent: Hublot.
While Hublot was not a failure, it was not a roaring success, either. There were elements of the design that worked, and elements that, well, didn't. The brand needed something extra, something to make it really stand out. That something turned out to be a someone, namely Jean-Claude Biver, the mastermind who—as fate would have it—had already resurrected an ailing Blancpain in 1992.
Biver stepped down as CEO of Blancpain in 2003 to take the same position at Hublot. What he saw was a diamond in the rough, an idea that needed a bit of polish to really make it shine. What Biver brought to the equation was 'The Art of Fusion', a concept built around the use of exotic materials, and the 2005 'Big Bang' was the platform to showcase that concept.
The pusher on the side of the case allows adjustment of the GMT function
The chunky, industrial styling, bizarre materials—including a gold-ceramic alloy called 'Magic Gold'; an aluminium coated carbon fibre called Texalium; one of the rarest stable elements on Earth, Osmium; and a proprietary blend of aluminium and magnesium appropriately called 'Hublonium'—put Hublot on the map. Despite the high price and off-the-shelf ETA 7750 power plant, the design and the ethos of the Big Bang gave it cult status overnight. It wasn't long before enthusiasts started to question the watchmaking pedigree of Hublot and its bought-in calibres, and Hublot responded in 2012 with the in-house Unico movement, a version of which features in this King Power Unico GMT. And whether you like Hublot or not, the Unico is the real deal, with this calibre HUB1220 GMT version featuring 358 parts, 72 hours of power reserve and a most unusual way of telling the time.
Each city points to a time with a red arrow
Turns out that this is something of a GMT-world timer hybrid, because instead of having one GMT readout, the King Power GMT has four. While home time is read as normal from the central dial—which, in the absence of hour and minute markers is a little tricky—local time is read from one of four revolving disks displayed in a cross over the dial.
At first glance, the readout can appear quite daunting, but once the little red arrows directing each city printed on the bezel or rehaut become apparent, it's plain sailing from there. There are twelve cities in total on display, and adjustment is easy via the pusher at two o'clock(ish), which has a light, positive action. The original display previewed by Hublot actually made no sense at all, so it's just as well that it was revised in time for the final release.
All this is encased in a ceramic shell a whopping 48mm in diameter, but this isn't a watch that's bought to hide under a cuff. The Urwerk-esque appeal of the design—which, at an RRP of £23,175, is a quarter of the price of most Urwerks at least—is undeniable, even if it isn't to everybody's tastes, and it's a firm step forward for a brand that had such shaky origins.
The in-house Unico movement has over 300 parts
And while Jean-Claude Biver has moved on to pastures new within LVMH—oh, Biver's efforts saw Crocco's Hublot bought out by luxury giant LVMH in 2008, just four years after Biver came on board—Hublot continues to thrive. After all, it's the first brand to survive the Ferrari curse—but that's another story for another time.
While it can be easy for noses to turn up at a brand like Hublot, it's still important to recognise the achievements that have been made and the strength of the company's growth. This is a hugely competitive corner of the market, and is hotly contested by some of the best and oldest watchmakers in the world—Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet to name a couple—so to create a brand that can be spoken in the same sentence as these great masters in such a short period of time has to be commended.
Let's not forget that Crocco did choose the seventies, hot off the catastrophic demise of the mechanical watch industry to the quartz onslaught, to launch a niche watch brand—and, despite the odds, succeeded. Can you think of any other watch brand that's been able to achieve the same?
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