At 600 feet long, the SS Cedarville was once one of the largest ships to ply the Great Lakes. Built in 1927, it hauled limestone for nearly four decades until in 1965, a collision with a Norwegian freighter sent it to an icy demise in the Straits of Mackinac. 50 years later, it is the third-largest shipwreck in the Great Lakes and, in 100 feet of water, the easiest to dive. Swimming arounds its massive stern, which is permanently heeled over on its starboard side, I kick through the blown-out skylights of the engine room. There, in the beam of my torch I see a panel of gauges, still intact after all these years, as they were on the day she went down. This is where the Cedarville‘s engineers toiled as the ship was sinking, trying vainly to push her to shallow water, and ultimately losing their lives in the process.
Shipwrecks, for all their foreboding size, hide their secrets on a smaller scale, beckoning the diver to come closer, peer in and learn their real stories. The same is true for the dive watch on my wrist, the Hublot Big Bang King Power Oceanographic 1000. It is a watch that at first glance is all about massive dimensions but upon closer examination, reveals some surprising details.
Hublot is an easy target for both scorn and admiration, and not only because most of its watches are gargantuan bullseyes. Watch enthusiasts like to criticize the brand for its shiny dinner-plate-sized timepieces that it parades on the wrists of hip-hop moguls and basketball stars. But at the same time, it’s hard to look away because Hublot isn’t mere bling; beyond its oversized watches and marketing budget is a company that is building some of the most interesting and innovative timepieces in the business. Its resurrection at the hands of watch industry guru Jean-Claude Biver in the early 2000s and the subsequent introduction of its in-house UNICO chronograph movements have produced a powerhouse brand with watches that no one else would dare build. The Big Bang King Power Oceanographic 1000 is one of those bold watches that gives the wearer as many reasons to look closer as it does to look away.
The Oceanographic 1000 is part of a small family of dive watches Hublot named for the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, with which the company is partnered. The “1000” stands for the water-resistance rating of the watch in meters, a healthy kilometer into the abyss where no human outside of a submarine will likely find himself, much less survive. But depth ratings are the dive watch equivalent of the space race, with everyone aiming for the bottom. To withstand 100 atmospheres of water pressure requires a strong case and watertight construction. For the Oceanographic, the former comes courtesy of its three-part 48mm titanium and carbon-composite case, while the latter is thanks to the ingenious screw-in crowns and pushers that give the watch its distinctive appearance.
The engineering and manufacturing of the push-pieces alone are enough to reset opinions about Hublot.
A chronograph is inherently at higher risk of water leakage simply because it has two extra holes in the case. To mitigate this risk, the push-pieces on the Oceanographic lock down firmly to seal them and prevent accidental actuation while diving. While locking push-pieces are nothing new, these go a step further. The collars are spring-loaded precision-fit teeth that engage when pushed and then screw in with an action that not only inspires confidence but is a pleasure to operate. The engineering and manufacturing of the push-pieces alone are enough to reset opinions about Hublot.
On the left side of the angular case is another protruding appendage, the crown that operates the inner timing flange. Like the chronograph push-pieces, it too locks in and is further protected by a flip-open guard; once unlocked, the crown ratchets the timing ring counter-clockwise. While the engineering here is impressive, it represents a fatal flaw of this watch, at least as a working diver. Inner timing rings are inherently inferior due to their more finicky ergonomics, but this one is impossible to use with gloves on since the guard must be opened with a fingernail and the crown is too small to grip in order to operate. Thus, this dive watch’s calling card, the timing ring, is rendered impotent and the watch, impressive in other regards, becomes nothing more than underwater jewelry. Had Hublot fitted the watch with the simpler external rotating bezel, it would have both proven eminently more usable and cleaned up the aesthetics that earned it the nickname “Frankenstein’s watch” on the dive boat.
Similarly, the chronograph itself, which could be used to track elapsed time in lieu of the timing flange, suffers the same fate due to the need to unscrew the (albeit lovely) push-pieces, an impossible task with gloves on. That’s a shame, because this is a central minutes chronograph that uses a large centrally mounted hand to track minutes rather than a tiny subdial.
One feature of the Oceanographic 1000 that is friendly to divers is the strap. The watch comes fitted on a black rubber strap which, like most Hublots, can be quickly swapped with only the push of a button on the lug to release the strap, while another one can be clicked into place. My test piece was fitted with an extra-long dive strap made from rubber and Nomex (the same flame-resistant material jumpsuits for pilots and race car drivers are made from) that easily fit around my thick drysuit sleeve. The beefy engraved buckle itself is a work of industrial art.
The Oceanographic is a big watch full of small details. Look closer and you see that the start/stop push-piece is made from a blue composite material while the reset one is polished black titanium. The crown has a rubber insert that makes it easier to grip. And all the little screws that hold the bead-blasted bezel to the case are shaped like small stylized letter H’s. These details may seem inconsequential but are examples of this watch being more than meets the eye, and the refinement of a company that is about more than just marketing bling.
Even in a drysuit, 40-degree water has a chilling effect and though I had plenty of air left, I was cold and nearing my no-decompression limit. I swam out of the engine room, leaving behind a cloud of silt, and angled towards the mooring line to begin my ascent. At 15 feet, I paused for a three-minute safety stop, giving me time to study the Hublot on my wrist. After a few days and a few dives with it, I learned to look past its massive dimensions and outrageous styling to see it on a smaller scale, one that reveals a level of refinement and innovation, imperfect as they may be. Like the wreck of the Cedarville, the real story of this watch is in its details.