Corum created it, counterfeit killed it, and fans of the brand either loved or loathed it - but this was a watch which they could not ignore and as a follow up to our recent features on both Severin Wunderman and the Corum watch brand, neither could we - the Corum Bubble watch.
Flash back to 2000, a new Millenium, and Severin Wunderman had a new watch brand with which to exercise his creative talents which he had gained from the previous 25 years making and marketing Gucci watches. Naturally coming from this fashion-based niche he would be fearless when it came to using colour and ingenuity in the new models which he would present to the industry in the coming years, because although Corum had somewhat lost creative direction in the years previous to his ownership, they had a portfolio archive of some very fanciful timepieces. However, when he unveiled vision for what he hoped would be a showstopper at the coming year's watch fairs it must have raised more than an eyebrow or two in his newly acquired design department - even on the sketchpad what he was suggesting must have seemed just a little too audacious.
The watch was inspired by a Rolex timepiece which was strapped (-ish) to Professor Piccard’s submarine when he and his colleague Navy LT Don Walsh went to "Challenger Deep" and back in 1960. The watch, the Rolex Deep Sea Special needed a substantial sapphire in order to withstand the pressures of the deepest place on earth, the Corum Bubble's 11mm thick submarine hatch-styled sapphire dome was merely for effect.
The piece was ingenious in a number of ways: it was styled to be a durable part of the new Corum portfolio, with a sapphire crystal which would magnify and showcase the brightly coloured dials and limited edition pieces which would be released in the future: it was a surefire method of attracting publicity not just for his for his newly acquired watch company, but was also a way of attracting a younger client base in the hope of gaining brand loyalty for the future, and of course, it was a very public statement of intent to the watch industry – Corum, under the direction of Severin Wunderman would continue to be as atypical as ever before.
The Corum Bubble also perpetuated itself by appearing as a limited edition each year of its production in a variety of guises which featured a roulette table, poker hand, bats, skull and cross-bones, dive-bomber editions and the Baron Samedi, complete with a coffin-styled presentation box and voodoo doll.
Most were powered by quartz movements, but there were mechanical calibres, and chronographs too, and of course some had precious stones, after all diamonds-on-steel were a "Wunderman Special". The Corum Bubble watch was fashionable, it was fun and at times it was outrageous - not to everyone's taste, but then it was never intended to be.
To be copied in the luxury watch industry is not flattery - it restricts growth, it shrinks profit-margins and ultimately it dilutes the exclusivity of a model. Just a few years after the release of the Bubble counterfeit copies were in abundance, these were quality replicas, which even Corum's own experts were unable to detect until the pieces were opened and the movements examined. Perhaps it was futile to compete with a marketplace flooded with fakes, perhaps the cost of producing the domed sapphires became a mitigating factor, perhaps the industry had grown too familiar with the theatrical limited edition unveilings, perhaps even Corum had grown a little tired of its flamboyant character and were ready to concentrate all its design efforts on a more restrained and high-end portfolio. By the time its creator, Severin Wunderman passed away in 2008 the Corum Bubble was no longer a part of the brands main portfolio.
I have owned and worn a Corum Bubble for many years, not one of the limited edition models, simply a mother-of-pearl dial mid-size model. It is powered by quartz - I am unashamed, the watch must be viewed face-on to view the time, such is the distortion of that immense sapphire - I care not, and the miniscule date window is unfunctional whatever angle it is viewed from, so what? - when I wear it, watch enthusiasts appreciate it, and often pass comment, and ...... those who don't know watches, appreciate it, and often pass comment, no other model in my collection provokes such a favourable reaction. Future classic? Some pieces are still available out there - just be careful of the fakes......