Style / World of Watches (WOW)

WOW Autumn Cover Star: Hautlence Breaks the Boundaries of Traditional Watchmaking

When your name is an anagram of Neuchâtel, you’re bound to remake a complication (or two) along the way. Meet Hautlence, a fourteen-year-old brand producing incredibly ingenious timepieces

Nov 08, 2018 | By Jonathan Ho

With a name that is an anagram of Neuchâtel, Hautlence pays tribute to one of the birthplaces of horology by challenging the boundaries of traditional watchmaking. A relatively young watchmaker, the 20-year-old brand has lived up to its subtle namesake by associating innovative mechanical solutions with distinctive design codes. Case in point? An aesthetic and technical icon in a rectangular case and multi-level dial incorporating mobile elements of a highly ingenious calibre. Unlike most new brands, Hautlence’s introduction to the watchmaking zeitgeist was no mere design expression; it raised the curtain on a world in which form dictates function, materialised by jumping hours and dates as well as retrograde minutes on a jumping chain with speed regulator.

Untethered by historical inertia, Hautlence draws its inspiration from an unlimited universe derived from various arts combining design, architecture, and motion. It is a chain reaction that explodes – much like how a gasoline engine does – and yields new possibilities and revolutions (literal) to time display by enhancing the two fundamental dimensions of space and time.

Unchained pedigree

Cars move, and watches tell time thanks to two mechanical marvels: the internal combustion engine and the mechanical watch movement. Anyone who can become transfixed by the moving hands on a clock – the precise unfolding of existence as recorded by a mere machine – may also enjoy an analogous expression in a McLaren’s engine. Instead of a wound mainspring, energy is explosively released from gasoline in a chemical-mechanical chain reaction that channels the forces through gear works into pumping cylinders, mimicking the combined power and motive force of stables of horses. In that respect, man harnesses engineering knowledge to tame and even exert some modicum of control over their environment, space, and even time.

Built around a retrograde minute, the jumping hour of the Vortex comprises a 12-link chain triggered by a connecting rod system identical to those found in Hautlence HL collections. It is an ingenious system, unique in the world of wristwatches. This allows the whole ensemble to be shifted in a controlled manner thanks to a speed regulator that preserves the components from any unwanted shocks caused by the workings of the timepiece. The movement of the chain allows the hour to be changed in the aperture accompanied by the 60-degree rotation of the entire escapement assembly. Driven by the motion of the hour chain, the escapement assembly will move to a new position every hour, on an axis parallel to the wrist. This way, even if the watch is not worn, the movement of the escapement itself will fight the negative effects of gravity on the precision of the watch although the watch remains immobile.

If you happen to be an avid reader of this tome, it’s highly likely that you would have heard of the tourbillon. Invented to counter the effects of gravitational force on the movement’s rate, the tourbillon is one of the greatest expressions of the watchmaker’s art. Only a few outstanding craftsmen possess the expertise required to build this tiny mobile cage with the balance, its spring, and the escapement inside.

An immobile watch would be akin to a pocket watch; its beat rate is negatively influenced by the Earth’s gravitational force, in particular, the balance whose oscillations are fundamental to the accuracy of the movement. In order to prevent such fluctuations, Abraham-Louis Breguet was inspired to enclose the “heart” of the watch (the balance, balance spring, and escapement) in a tiny cage rotating on itself and typically completing a revolution in one minute. This allows the regulating organ to successively adopt all vertical positions, thanks to which, errors of rate cancel each other out.

The tourbillon, now an established symbol of watchmaking excellence, has remained largely unchanged since the patent was awarded to Breguet over two centuries ago. That Hautlence invented a calibre whose raison d’être was merely to tell time in a unique way and somehow incorporated the fundamental architecture needed to keep the time keeping organ completely compensated for gravity, is needless to say, a work of tremendous horology.

Visually, the Vortex Gamma Magma appears like any well-designed, high-contrast timepiece, but closer study of its bright red, highly faceted design reveals a luminance unlike any pigment you’ve ever seen. Charged with ceramic nanotube particles, the HLLightColor, commonly found in aeronautical and automotive industries, is endowed with properties identical to a conventional watch industry metal, while being four times lighter than titanium. It’s sharp yet chamfered edges are possible through precision machining, thus enabling extremely complex finishing operations such as alternating brushed, polished, and bead-blasted surfaces to be executed. The Vortex is thus, more akin to sculptural art than a mere timepiece.

Gamma takes its name and design inspiration from Tron,  the sci-fi film directed by Steven Lisberger in 1982. Six three-dimensional sapphire crystals playing with visual effects showcase luminescent shapes, enhancing the architectural lines of the Vortex case, accentuating them through a striking set of contrasting effects. But if you thought Hautlence’s latest addition to high horology is outstanding in the light, just wait till darkness descends – a bright phosphorescence, similar but more intense than the Super-LumiNova you’ve come to recognise, gives the angular watch an ethereal countenance. The Vortex Gamma is high-tech, high-end and high-impact.

High Value, High Novelty

Powered by the Calibre HTL 205-1 (based on the HMC 200  movement by sister company H. Moser & Cie.), three fixed hour discs, inspired by satellite systems, orbit around a revolving sapphire central minutes disc. The Vagabonde follows Hautlence’s penchant of presenting time in special, unconventional ways.

Set on different levels, four discs add volume to the dial, which provides a deep black background. The largest, made of sapphire adorned with the brand’s signature honeycomb pattern displays the minutes within a 240-degree sector. Three openworked hour discs revolve around the minute disc, ensuring that the time is accurately displayed when the hour numerals come into the correctly aligned position.

It’s a horological rarity that may lead many casual watch collectors to wonder why it’s not more commonplace, given its high novelty factor. However, the reasons for this are as one might suspect – wandering hours complications are technically complex. The challenge here lies in having all three discs jump once an hour in perfect unison through a 90-degree rotation. This problem is execrated by yet another challenge – from an engineering perspective, the force required from a mainspring to rotate all the discs simultaneously causes a precipitous dip of energy at the moment before the “jumps”. These tremendous forces not only threaten chronometry but also architecture – the springs holding the gears which allow the discs to jump have to be secure but not too secure that the discs unduly tax the mainspring or impair precision. Hence, it’s been the purview of a few independent watchmakers, and now, Hautlence is the latest member of this exclusive club.

Ensconced in Hautlence’s iconic “television case”, the Vagabonde represents a “back-to-basics”, but it is still an undeniably special, value-for-money timepiece for the brand. The case of the HL Vagabonde 01 is crafted in grade 5 titanium with polished and satin finishes. The ability of Hautlence to produce innovative approaches to time-telling at multiple price points are emblematic of the brand’s unparalleled creativity and prowess. Exclusivity, craftsmanship, and innovation are born of a 360-degree approach, and as its groundbreaking HL calibre proves, Hautlence is a 360-degree brand.

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