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Nubeo Makes Time with Kobe Bryant
New Models

Nubeo Makes Time with Kobe Bryant

Tuesday, 22 December 2009
By Meehna Goldsmith
Meehna Goldsmith

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11 min read

Nubeo entered the horologic scene just six years ago in 2003 with its first model called the Jellyfish. What made this little company stand out was their unorthodox yet ergonomic case inspired by the dangerous beauty of the oceanic invertebrate for which the watch was named.

Company co-founder Ivan Castro, a jewelry designer from Madrid with a degree in naval engineering, explains that with Nubeo he wanted to create a timepiece that would transcend the vagaries of style. He sourced his palette from the world of the sea, because, he says, those prehistoric creatures are both eternal and timeless.

A basketball fan since his college days in Spain, Castro revered the Lakers and has rooted for them like they were his home team. In particular he admired the stunning grace of superstar Kobe Bryant. Of Kobe’s arsenal of moves, Castro singled out the slam-dunk as his favorite. “I would like to fly,” he said, describing his impression of those aerial acrobatics. Though Castro didn’t personally know Kobe, he nonetheless proceeded to plan a watch worthy of his hero. Through a personal relationship, Castro scored a meeting with Kobe to present his plans.

Kobe Bryant © Nubeo
Kobe Bryant © Nubeo
Birth of the Black Mamba

Kobe has innumerable people converging on his doorstep with offers to represent products, so what distinguished Nubeo from the masses? The man at the helm. Even over the crackling phone line in the dead of night from Switzerland, Castro exuded a natural charm. His voice swelled with pride as he described the intricacies of his brand, from the guiding philosophy down to the screws and turbines used in the construction of the watches. Kobe doesn’t enter into relationships lightly, but when he commits, he’s in for the long haul. He understands the power of the team to build a successful enterprise. “You have to have that rapport and good energy,” he told.

Kobe noticed right away the similarities between the people at Nubeo and himself. “They are as focused on their craft as I am on mine, so there’s mutual respect,” he made sure to note. Many athletes sign on to endorse existing products and collect a royalty check. Kobe shook his head and dismissed that scenario with a wave of his hand. “I want to be involved in the process,” he said. Castro offered him that opportunity, which turned out to be the dealmaker. That’s when Kobe said, “Let’s go for it, let’s do it.”

The Black Mamba is the first signature watch line developed hand in hand with an athlete. Lakers aficionados know Kobe got this nickname from the stealthy African snake whose bite can be fatal. With basketball in hand, Kobe is equally dangerous and hard to predict. Castro describes the Black Mamba as an “intelligent mutation” from the Jellyfish watch. He endeavored to have the symbolism of Kobe’s personality and values combined with the DNA of Nubeo. On the court Kobe is the man of mystery, confounding his opponents. “With my game they never know what I’m going to do, what’s coming,” he said.

The case composed of 131 separate parts

In his watch, Kobe wanted to create that same feeling. In the Black Mamba MVP Kobe wore on his wrist during the interview, the black sapphires refracted light like the scales of a snake. The snake theme also continued to the hands, coated in Superluminova in a scaled pattern for nighttime legibility. “Details! Details!” Kobe exclaimed about what ignites his interest. The Black Mamba has a world of them to explore. The case is composed of 131 separate parts; yes, the case. Normally when speaking of haute horlogerie, examination turns to the movement in order to assess the level of finishing and technical achievement. Castro thought why not apply those standards to the case? Castro compares the case construction to sculpting. “It can’t be stamped because it’s too complicated.” One watchmaker assembles each timepiece from start to finish and the process takes up to two days to complete.

Nubeo powers all their models with ETA-Valjoux 7750 base to ensure reliability. While many new brands debut with high complications or seek to find legitimacy by presenting one, Castro doesn’t have aspirations in this area. His interest lies in finding creative interpretations of existing complications. He plans to make his own in-house modules to add to the ETA-Valjoux motor, such as a GMT he promises will surprise with its presentation. As he expands his line, Castro hasn’t forgotten the feminine universe. He plans to incorporate the new functions into women’s watches as well. In addition to the watches, Nubeo also has a jewelry line, which is fitting considering Castro comes from this background. The rings, resembling sea anemones, float on the fingers in vivid colors of cotton candy pink, aquamarine blue and jack-o-lantern orange.

Just as the Black Mamba sneaks up on you, revealing its layers after you spend some time with it, so does Kobe. In person he’s soft-spoken and extremely polite. For a man as busy as Kobe, time is a precious commodity. Further giving a window into his priorities, Kobe named the birth of his two kids as his most precious moments. Since he decided to give up some of these moments to Nubeo, you can be sure Kobe finds Nubeo and the Black Mamba a worthy venture.

Black Mamba © Nubeo
Black Mamba © Nubeo

Black Mamba case: 131 components
In watchmaking it is fairly common to equate the complexity of a watch with its mechanical interior. Nubeo has turned this concept around by conferring the greatest technical difficulty to the case in the design of this new watch. One-hundred and thirty-one components were used to manufacture the case, excluding movement, dial and bracelet.

Outer ceramic case: 2 components
Unlike the vast majority of watches on the market, the Black Mamba case is made up of two distinct parts – the outer case, made of ceramic, and the inner case, made of Grade 5 Titanium. The outer case works like a protective shell for the watch’s parts, while the inner titanium case acts like a chassis housing the watch’s functional components.

In conceiving and designing the outer ceramic case, Nubeo has used a nonparametric surface modeling system similar to that used for the bodywork of the most modern sports cars and luxury yachts. The complexity of the Black Mamba’s outer case is enhanced by using ceramic in the manufacturing process. The outer ceramic case is produced in three stages. Firstly, the ceramic component is injected into the mould. In the second stage (heating) the part is placed in a furnace at very high temperatures to achieve the strength and resistance required. During the heating process, it is normal to see a 25%-26% reduction in the volume of the part. In other industries, a one-point difference in the final result might be acceptable, but not for Nubeo which uses tolerance levels of up to 0.05 millimeters.

Such high demands of accuracy explain that 40% of the parts are rejected by Nubeo because they exceed tolerance levels. Once the injection process is completed the part is then machined. This third stage is known as grinding, during which the parts are drilled and shaped for subsequent assembly with the remaining parts of the watch. Finally, the outer case surface is treated with a microbead blasted process to ensure a matt finish.

The bezel: 37 components
The sheer number of parts used in manufacturing indicates that this is one of the most complex bezels ever made. The 24 titanium numbers are cut using an electro-erosion device with a copper wire less than 0,05 millimeter in diameter. They are later welded individually using a technology employed before only in the production of medical devices. To ensure seamless assembly of the titanium numbers in the rubber ring, modeling of the parts includes the checking of 352 independent surfaces with a tolerance range of +/- 0.03 millimeters. Given the use of a ceramic chassis when assembling the bezel, it is important to take into account the 1% deviation due to the injection process. Nothing can be left to chance because fitting the ceramic disc with the rubber ring involves controlling up to 74 independent surfaces, all with a tolerance level of +/- 0.03 millimeters.

Titanium inner case and case back: 38 components
The Grade 5 Titanium inner case is without a doubt the most crucial part in the watch since it is where the remaining components are assembled. It holds the outer ceramic case, the bezel, movement, push buttons, bracelet fixation turbines and rubber bracelet. The perfect union of all the parts with the inner case is essential to guarantee that the watch is airtight and reliable. Again, total coordination in manufacturing the parts is imperative to ensure that the case back – also made of Grade 5 Titanium – has the same curvature as the outer ceramic case. In both cases a curved profile has been applied to ensure adequate fitting of the watch to the user’s wrist. Along with the ergonomic complexity of the case back, there is an added difficulty, namely the mechanical process using a 5-axis tool to carve the 72 scales. The case back is fixed with six titanium pins, with special heads, treated with DLC (Diamond Like Carbon).

The crown: 14 components
The Black Mamba’s crown is also made in Grade 5 Titanium, with a multi-layer manufacturing approach. The first layer corresponds to the outer surface. It has a matt finish – thanks to surface treatment with a microbead blasted process – and is completed with the Nubeo logo. Two parts in DLC treated titanium are located at an intermediate level. Their structure, with 16 bionic scales, is reminiscent of the shapes found in nature. The body of the crown is located at a third level. It is assembled with an anodized orange aluminium disc whose function is essential – when the user sees the orange disc he or she knows the crown is open. It must be closed in the event of submerging the watch.

The push buttons: 24 components
Push buttons that activate the chronograph are as complex as the crown. A total of twenty-four components are used to put it together – twelve for each of the push buttons. These parts are also made in Grade 5 Titanium, and they include a screw-in system that ensures that the case is water resistant. The head of the push button is also DLC treated, while the second and fourth rings stand out as a result of their surface’s circular graining. The same finish is applied to the protective cylinder assembled in the case which holds the complete set of pushers. Finally, a third rubber ring is used to ensure that the case is airtight.

The turbines: 16 components
The fixation method used by Nubeo consists of a set of turbines, two on each side of the case. The solution devised by the Basel firm ensures much safer attachment of the bracelet than the usual system based on the sliding pin. Another sophisticated five-axis carving tool is used in manufacturing the fixation turbines. The small size of the parts requires this tool to work with a cutting bur as small as 0.15 millimeters in diameter. The angle changes and the inertia borne by the engraving device are such that drilling/cutting times are lengthened as well as the surface treatments applied to each of the parts.

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