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Why not...? - Provocation and the Hublot Big Bang Sang Bleu Titanium White

Why not...? Provocation and the Hublot Big Bang Sang Bleu Titanium White

Our collector explores the world of tattoos with a timepiece created by Hublot and Brand Ambassador Maxime Büchi.

In a world that is more and more regulated, provocation makes more and more sense. It helps to put things into perspective and obliges us to think differently, or at least take a look at ourselves. By its very nature, provocation is polarizing – you either like it or you don’t.

Being provocative is about showing a desire to defy an established order, break conventions or sometimes even break the law. What is interesting about provocation is that it always seems to have a highly negative image. In the legal sense, the Oxford English Dictionary defines it as an “action or speech held to be likely to prompt physical retaliation”.

For many people, therefore, provocation is a bad thing. This suggests that any attitude that questions an established order is unwelcome. But the verb “to provoke” also has another meaning that is more akin to being the cause of something, or, as the Oxford English Dictionary has it, “to stimulate…  someone”.

To provoke is therefore to dare, to try, to disturb people in attempt to start a debate, to move things forward, but also to stand out, to show oneself in another light and, ultimately perhaps, to change people’s opinions. After all, many great provokers are innovators who upset the status quo or who are right about things before anyone else, but too early…

So what about the watch industry?

If there is an industry that could describe itself as classical, this is it! Its very history is a “non-provocation”, governed by technological development and all sorts of stability (style, management, technology). Looking at current trends, provocation in watchmaking – unfortunately – comes from outside… Just think about the rise of smartwatches, still ignored by many in the Swiss watch industry, which are slowly starting to gnaw away at market share and opinion. This rupture is linked to a sense of provocation and disruption that feeds the business model of tech companies. Seen from Silicon Valley, an Apple Watch is (or rather was) an innovative concept, seen from the Jura valleys, it is a provocation. Especially when Tim Cook is the world’s biggest watchmaker!

But the more pressing question is whether provocation comes easier from the outside. In theory, it does, because being provocative from the inside requires courage, or even temerity…

In my opinion, provocation is therefore normal, and even beneficial.

And watch brands should be audacious. That could be the subject for another “Why not?”…

In the meantime, let’s talk about something else that involves provocation: the history of tattoos. It started a few thousand years ago, but their image has changed a lot over the centuries.

A tattoo is a sign of belonging, a kind of ID card in the Pacific islands (the word has its origins in Tahiti), an indicator of one’s place in the social hierarchy, a sign of suffering or constraint. Its positioning has slowly changed to become one of provocation.

In the second half of the 20th century, a tattoo became a badge of honour among bad boys, rebels and criminals. It conveys a bad image and is often associated with anti-social or violent people who live on the fringes of society.

Tattoos continue to divide us. Yet their image is still evolving. From provocation, art has emerged. But is a provocative art! It can be discreet, or it can cover the entire body. It can be read and it catches the eye. It shocks and disturbs us, yet it can also break down barriers. The fact that it is part of the skin – and thus of the individual “wearing” it – is also something that can cause envy or repulsion. Whether they like it or not, people are “injuring” their bodies to use them as medium for a very particular kind of expression.

Since the early 1990s tattoos have experienced a come-back. Countless stars have tattoos, joining the likes of George Orwell, Thomas Edison, Winston Churchill, Nicholas II, Stalin, Roosevelt and even Queen Victoria (who was rumoured to have a tattoo on a rather intimate part of her body).

To generalise, tattoos remain a hot topic. There are those in favour, those who are unsure, those who say “it’s nice, but not for me” and those who say “never in a million years”. But the debate obliges people to take a stance. It achieves its objective and should therefore be respected.

So associating tattoos with watches is not an easy thing to pull off. Between “bad ass” and the old school tie there is a fair chance that the marriage might not last.

However, if we consider that more and more people are getting tattoos, that more of them are women, that tattoos break down social barriers and create a new art form, it seems obvious that this art/industry should interest watch brands who are looking for external agents provocateurs to boost their creativity. And this means the tattooers rather than the tattooed.

Because today, some tattoo artists have become stars in their own right who are recognised for their creations. Often, they combine tattoos on the skin with other media to give full expression to their imagination. Scott Campbell is a good example. The tattoo artist from Louisiana set up the legendary studio (shop) Saved Tattoo in New York. His body of work and the list of people who show it off is impressive and it is impossible to get an appointment with him unless you want to be like Penélope Cruz, Heath Ledger or Orlando Bloom. The only way to “wear” Scott Campbell is to go to Berluti, because this shoemaker has a partnership with him that allows you to decorate your shoes or bags with designs created by the star artist.

If you are looking for a more direct link with watches, you need to look to another design studio, the renowned Sang Bleu (which recalls the noble art of tattooing but also the “blue”, which in the language of tattoos refers to a person with a lot of them).

Provocation and the Big Bang Sang Bleu Titanium White

Maxime Büchi (Sang Bleu) and Jean-Claude Biver (Hublot) © Hublot

In this London shop you can meet another big name in tattoos, Switzerland’s Maxime Plescia-Buchi. Originally from Lausanne, Maxime grew up in close proximity to the world of watches. And a chance meeting put him in touch with Jean-Claude Biver, one of whose sons has one of his tattoos.

From there, it was just a short step to these two provocateurs getting together and developing a watch that was out of the ordinary…

Why Hublot?

Even from California I still have a particular affinity with Hublot. For many years, when I was based in Nyon, I had a view across to the factory and I passed by it several times a day. Wearing a Hublot watch is therefore a small sign of nostalgia for me, but also of respect for a brand that attracts, disrupts, divides and, therefore, provokes!

I’m sure I don’t need to give you a history of Hublot watches. From the rubber straps of the MDM years to the watches with red sapphire cases, or with rabbit fur straps, Hublot has always liked to shock. We owe a lot of this to the character of Jean-Claude Biver, who took over the brand in 2004.

Provocation and the Big Bang Sang Bleu Titanium White

Maxime Büchi at work © Hublot

Ever since, he has never stopped provoking an industry that is too classical, importing the concepts of ambush marketing, creating limited editions as a kind of advertising banner and entering territories ignored by the wiser and more regimented brands. This is how Hublot came to dominate football, transforming the brand image from “chavvy” to a source of profit and unimagined recognition. Only Hublot can now put Gstaad and Las Vegas together, boxing with polo and football with cricket.

Since it is always prepared to go where you least expect it, it didn’t take much for the Nyon-based brand to delve into the world of tattoos.

It could have just tattooed an existing model, but that wouldn’t have been enough. Once again, it was time for a little provocation…

The Hublot Big Bang Sang Bleu Titanium White: what got into them?

It was only to be expected. A cooperation between a renowned tattoo artist and Hublot could only ever lead to a watch that is, at the very least, unusual.

The Sang Bleu is a watch that elicits three consecutive reactions: 1 / no, not for me, 2/ actually, why not? Let’s try it, 3/ Wow, I love it…

This Sang Bleu is built on a Hublot Unico base. So it’s a big watch (45mm) that uses the well-known modular construction. The collection comprises several models but I prefer the white model, which is even more disruptive.

Provocation and the Big Bang Sang Bleu Titanium White

An other model of the Sang Bleu collection © Hublot

Just like a classic Hublot Unico, it is fitted with a screw-on bezel, a rubber-coated crown decorated with the famous H, the excellent rapid strap change system, a rubber strap and the simple folding clasp.

But apart from that, everything is different!

First of all, the bezel. I’m not great at geometry, so I’m not sure what shape to call it. It is a hexagon inside a circle. Or a bevelled circle that has the shape of a hexagon. In more simple terms, it has an unusual shape that catches the light and smoothes out the edges.

Provocation and the Big Bang Sang Bleu Titanium White

Big Bang Sang Bleu Titanium White © Hublot

Then there is the dial. I guess you have never seen anything like it before: there are no hands and there is no date. The dial has discs to display the seconds, minutes and hours. The discs are interconnected so that they look like they are in symbiosis. Their style is unique. They consist of a number of geometric shapes and look like a kaleidoscope. Furthermore, I find myself captivated by the central seconds disc, which seems to have something bewitching about it.

The hours and minutes are displayed by two triangular points on each of the respective discs. The larger triangle is for the hours, the smaller one for the minutes. You just need to check the two scales (hours and minutes) on the white dial and the actual time soon becomes clear.

Once you have mastered this short learning curve, the magic happens. The dial is a beautiful example of imagination and provocation. You immediately understand that the primary objective is not to facilitate reading the time, but to offer a “mobile” artwork.

Once you have understood this, you can start appreciating the true value of the Hublot Sang Bleu.

Provocation and the Big Bang Sang Bleu Titanium White

Maxime Büchi © Hublot

The geometric shapes beloved of Maxime Buchi are also found on the case and the strap. The caseback has the same style, with an oscillating mass that alternates between a triangle and a hexagon.

Provocation and the Big Bang Sang Bleu Titanium White

© Hublot

The Hublot Sang Bleu is powered by a self-winding Unico HUB 1213 calibre, which offers a power reserve of 72 hours.

Hublot is still trying out different styles with this watch. Just like a tattoo, this Sang Bleu will be talked about and will provoke just as many “but whys” as “what a masterstrokes”. And that’s why I like it!

What does the devil’s advocate think?

He could quickly take the side of the opponents and the more conservative by saying that it’s too big (a 42mm version would be welcome), the dial is too iconoclastic and the style is too pronounced, almost exhibitionist. But aren’t all these things precisely what makes it so strong?

The Hublot Sang Bleu will never be a classic watch and this leads to one of the main questions that it raises: for how long will its owner be seduced before abandoning it? This is one of the anachronisms of the Hublot Sang Bleu: since a tattoo is made to last, this watch should last, too. Will it?

Wearing the Hublot Sang Bleu: do you have to have a tattoo?

The answer is no. I don’t, but it didn’t stop me falling for this watch’s charms. Nevertheless, my interest in this watch led me to discover a world about which I knew very little, so the provocation succeeded in getting me interested!

It’s easier than you would think to wear the Hublot Sang Bleu White. First, there is the fantastic choice of straps offered by the brand and the revolutionary one-click system for swapping them. So there is no need to worry, you can easily adapt your watch to your style or activity.

For the clothes, you could continue with the theme of tattoos by wearing Berluti shoes that you entrusted to the talents of Elena at Berluti, who will create the tattoo of your dreams. You then need to choose an original patina and a design that appeals to you. For the rest, stay classic with a dark blue long-sleeved T-shirt, Artling sports trousers and a Berluti Scritto belt.

Then you just need to ask yourself: tattoo or not tattoo?

The brand

From the outset, Hublot has embodied design and innovation that differ markedly from the established watchmaking order. With the impetus provided by Jean-Claude Biver, by 2004 these values had already become the basis of a new DNA, leading the brand to develop particularly audacious timepieces – most of them with a highly-developed sporting aspect.

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