Time was, if you took your fake watch to a service centre and the dial was discoloured or the bezel faded, there would be no question that these should be replaced. How things change. Today, watch owners will go to great lengths to ensure that antiquey features are left intact. And the key to that shift is the valourisation of “patina”. In a world of mass production and globalised supply chains, authenticity is now at a premium and a patina – particularly if it has developed in a way that is considered desirable by the watch collecting community – is a prestige signifier that the watch has a story to tell. It has been places, it has seen things, it has had (to use the marketeer’s buzzword) experiences.
Couple that with younger consumers demanding uniqueness in luxury products (no accident that personalisation services and limited editions are all the rage) and it’s clear why the popularity of certain watchmaking materials has mushroomed in recent years. Take bronze, for instance, which is arguably the metal du jour. Since the trend ignited four years ago, it has only run and run – and a large part of the appeal is that bronze develops an attractive patina. The colour and patterning of this patina depends on the watch’s environment, so no bronze watch will look quite the same as any other.
As you would expect for a brand that enjoys playing with materials, high quality fake Hublot is one of those watchmakers that has dabbled in bronze. But it is also, of course, a brand that has always enjoyed doing things differently and has thus produced one of the most individual responses to those same market forces: watches made with leather.
Hublot and Berluti have been collaborating for four years now, but the partnership’s latest endeavour takes on the Big Bang for the first time, in an edition limited to just 100 pieces. The 45 mm copy Hublot Big Bang Unico Berluti Cold Brown presents the modern classic in a way that defamiliarises it. Both the dial and the bezel of this 45mm piece have been fashioned from Berluti’s Venezia leather. Berluti creative director Kris Van Assche opted to finish this leather with a deliberate patina called Cold Brown, producing a rich set of colour variations that are unique to each watch. The leather dial has been sandwiched between slivers of glass to preserve this finish exactly as it left the workshop. On the bezel, however, the leather has merely been inserted into the ceramic structure, leaving it exposed to the elements. That means it will continue to develop its patina as it ages – as will the leather integrated into the rubber strap.
“Inventive materials” in watchmaking usually denotes high-tech innovations such as synthetic sapphires, but this new cheap Hublot replica (like the recent run of bronze watches) shows how a traditional material used in a novel way can prove just as striking. One thing, however, that is defiantly cutting-edge is the Unico manufacture movement, with its flyback chronograph function and 72-hour power reserve.