ALCHEMIST OF TIME. HYT broke new ground by incorporating liquid into a mechanical wristwatch three years ago. Here’s how the story began
The story began with one crazy idea that former nuclear engineer Lucien Vouillamoz daringly told his friends during the Swiss national exhibition in 2002, around the Lakes of Neuchâtel, Biel and Murten. He was merely entertaining himself with the thought of a water wristwatch, something that’s both more natural and also revolutionary. While water clocks have been around for centuries, they all pretty much relied on gravity to actually work. Of course, this basic idea had to be rethought for it to be used in an actual water wristwatch.
As is the case with many intellectuals, that single figment of the imagination wasn’t left out to dry in the realms of intangible theories; Vouillamoz did endeavor to realize that in some way. But not until several years later was he finally able to blaze a trail for a new kind of timekeeping instrument.
The silver-haired inventor then came up with a basic formula: a closed capillary, two different colored liquids and two flexible reservoirs. Instead of water, a liquid with a higher-concentration could progress in the desired manner to tell the time within the vacuumed capillary. The reservoirs and a few additional elements would help counter the effect of gravity.
With such a plausible model ready to be realized, Vouilamoz sought out his business-savvy friend Patrick Berdoz to protect the intellectual rights to the ideas as well as to help launch the project. A team of engineers was soon brought on board to validate the theory and further bring the technical dream to fruition. Around that time Emmanuel Savioz, a specialist in the domain of high-tech startups, backed the project by raising funds to finance the prototype. The partnerships eventually founded the HYT brand, which stands for Hydro Technology, and Preciflex, its sister company responsible for the mechanical engineering side.
Since all things finally fell into place, the first prototype arrived after a year of research and development. The whole concept was immediately patented by Preciflex. But a much more defining moment was the team’s meeting with Vincent Perriard, a watchmaking enthusiast who was already involved in fluid-based timekeeping instruments—one that won the
2008 Design Watch Prize at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève. Together they joined forces under the shared desire for a truly unique luxury timepiece.
“Luckily, HYT has its own ‘alchemist’ team who are unafraid to dream anew, and also make that dream come true”
As crucial as the watchmaking concept, HYT also wanted only the best in each respective field to perfect their craft. For the very first timepiece, the H1, the brand invited avant-garde watch designer Jean-François Mojon, the man behind the Harry Winston’s Opus XI timepiece, and his team at Chronode, to develop the movement. The watch face and the rest were entrusted to the Etude de Style design company.
The result was nothing short of extraordinary. The industrial-looking H1 dial has a round capillary tube in which a green liquid and a transparent liquid work as the “hour hand.” The tube is connected to two reservoirs that compress and expand alternately, to manage the liquid movement. When the green liquid finally fills the whole capillary tube, it automatically retracts back to the start position at 6.15 taking about 30 seconds. Opposite to the reservoirs is a minute sub-dial at 12 o’clock, and beside it a 65-hour power reserve indicator at 2 o’clock.
Following its successful debut in 2012, the H1 has now grown into a multi-faceted collection, especially with this year’s H1 Cigar—the first customized watch from HYT. The atypical case epitomizes the level of customization the Nêuchatel-based watch house can do, incorporating distinctive materials from cigar leaves to even sand. Naturally, every piece of H1 and other HYT watches are produced in limited quantities.
The spirit for unique innovations continued with the launch of the H2 in 2013. This time round, HYT partnered up with Audemars Piguet Renaud Papi (APRP), elevating the watch inside and out. For one, the movement architecture received a complete overhaul. Most noticeable are the reservoirs that are now positioned diagonally in a V-shape to provide more room for a bigger movement. Where the minute sub-dial once stood is now occupied by the mainspring in bare display. The minute hand is positioned centrally, and at 3 o’clock is a crown position indicator. The latter denotes the function of the crown, with “N” referring to it being inactive, “H” for the crown adjusting the time, and “R” for recharging the power reserve. Speaking of which, the H2 has an impressive 8-day power reserve due to its double-barreled system,
a noticeable leap from the H1’s 65-hours.
As if that is not enough, the H2 adds in a jumping hour complication. This includes the jumping of the minute hand from the 5.45 position to 6.15 every time it makes its way around the dial. The H2 Aviator, a 2015 novelty, illustrates this better with a double “30” minute marker on the dial.
A complete deconstruction of the dial architecture happened with the H3, another enterprising collaboration with Audemars Piguet Renaud & Papi. The sheer length and width of the case (62mm x 41mm) is quite a lot to take in at first sight. Yet, it is nothing compared to the orchestra of time-telling that HYT has daringly created. Instead of having a round capillary tube, it steps up its game with a linear tube that tells time along rotatable hour dials. Yes, these will automatically rotate every six hours.
“Linear” is the keyword here, and that also dictates how the retrograde red minute hand works. It floats along the line where the minute numerals are, and once it arrives at 60, the hand will swiftly go back to zero and start over again in a retrogade fashion. Just like the H2, there is a crown position indicator with three settings: H, N and R. It is suffice to say the H3 is a pure masterpiece fit for a true timepiece king.
The H4 Gotham
It was quite an unpredictable move that HYT would go back to an H1 design for the H4 Gotham. While the movement is pretty much the same, it is the case material that has undergone a drastic change. The H4 Gotham is the first HYT piece to have a case made entirely of carbon, the same element used in the worlds of sailing, aeronautics and motoring. The dial’s color play is striking, reminiscent of the H1 Dracula DLC face.
So far, HYT has solidly proven that its every offering is truly unique, unlike any other in the market. So, when they decided to sail off for a crazy adventure, to craft a one-off collection that is cool and pushes the envelope even further, the idea of an attention-drawing skull shape sounded like it couldn’t go wrong. The Skull, with a no-minute-hand approach and a reconstructed capillary tube, might even be the watch that defines the decade. The ever-changing left eye indicates the passing seconds, while the other eye is a 65-hour power reserve indicator.
The fact that the Skull watch was conceptualized and built entirely by the internal team goes to show HYT’s level of mastery in hydro-technology watches, despite its tender age. If it was one crazy idea that initiated the whole project and the company itself, surely it takes more and more crazy ideas to keep it going, just like this Skull watch. Luckily, HYT has its own ingenious “alchemist” team, including legendary watchmaker Dominique Renaud, who is unafraid to dream anew, and also make that dream come true.