The Watchmaker Teaching Us To Go With The Flow
Meet HYT, a high-tech Swiss watch brand with an ancient method for telling the time
“We do not perceive ourselves as timekeepers, but time tellers instead,” says vice president and creative director Mr François Nunez when asked to explain the strange and wonderful world of HYT, a watch brand that depicts time’s passage with liquid. “Our ambition is to make sense of time by offering new perspectives.”
Revolutionary? In the context of modern watchmaking, perhaps it is. But the idea of using water to measure time is nothing new. It dates back thousands of years to the clepsydra or water clocks of ancient Egypt. In their simplest form, they comprised a bowl or vessel with a small hole near the bottom and a series of notches marked onto the side at regular intervals.
A few millennia later, the inventor and nuclear engineer Mr Lucien Vouillamoz embarked on a quest to combine the primitive technology of these ancient clocks with the mechanical innards of a modern wristwatch. Having realised that he couldn’t do it alone, in 2010, he decided to join forces with two investors, Messrs Patrick Berdoz and Emmanuel Savioz, and the former CEO of Concord watches, Mr Vincent Perriard, who had already played with liquid and mechanics, equipping the brand’s C1 Quantum Gravity with a liquid power-reserve indicator.
For the movement, they solicited the services of Mr Jean-François Mojon and his team at Chronode, a specialist developer of watch calibers, which operates at the more radical end of the horological spectrum. The final piece of the puzzle was how to make the liquid hour-indicator work. In order to achieve this, Mr Vouillamoz founded Preciflex, a microfluid technology company.
Just two years later, the brand’s first watch, the H1, was unveiled at Baselworld – one of the watch industry’s biggest trade fairs. To say it looked like nothing else on show is to flirt with understatement. The watchface was dominated by a pair of industrial pistons encircled by a tube containing a toxic-looking yellow liquid that might have been drawn straight out of Frankenstein’s lab.
That tube contained two immiscible liquids stored in twin flexible reservoirs with a capillary at each end. The pistons, mechanically operated by the watch’s movement, drove a bellows which in turn moved the liquids. As the hours advanced, so did the liquid in its glass capillary, with the point between the two liquids – the meniscus – marking the hour. An innovative and eye-catching way of telling the time, sure. But there’s more to it than that, or so says Mr Nunez.
“I like to think that while one liquid shows the elapsed time, the second one is about moments still to come,” he explains. “Their always-evolving meeting point represents the balance between the past and the future, aka the present. In a way, we simply try to make sure the moment is always now.”
The moment certainly is now for HYT. Since the arrival of a new CEO in Mr Grégory Dourde, the brand has simplified its designs, as evidenced in the very wearable H0, made its pricing more competitive and started preaching its liquid ethos to a wider audience. Mr Dourde has stated that his ambition is to create an entirely fluid watch, with no reliance on such antiquated things as gears. With 31 patents under its belt and only 11 used so far, it looks as though HYT will remain in the vanguard of contemporary watch design for some time.
As the name suggests, this is HYT going back to basics. Relatively speaking, of course. Whereas the H1 tried to enable wearers to understand how the watch worked by exposing everything, the H0 brings our attention back to its innovative means of representing the time – as emphasised by three starkly modern colourways. With the majority of the dial concealed, it becomes much easier to appreciate the progression of the fluid as it floats through the hours. At 48.8mm, the H0 is still a substantial presence on the wrist, but the lack of lugs makes it much more wearable than other designs of this size. It uses the Chronode-developed movement that powered the H1, which, when you turn the watch over, looks charmingly anachronistic in this futuristic case.
The decimal point here is an indication that this is a slightly revamped version of HYT’s H1. It tells the time the same way as the H1 and has the same Chronode movement, but there are subtle differences. By removing the lugs, as with the H0, the silhouette appears more streamlined, trimming some millimetres (visually at least) off its rather impressive 48.8mm frame. The case height is notable, but thanks to its sapphire crystal cloche, you can also read the time from the side of the watch, using the hour-digit cut-outs on the case’s ridged sides. Another improvement is the increased water resistance – from 30m to 50m. Granted, this doesn’t mean you can take it for a swim, but you won’t need to seek shelter next time there’s a deluge.
If the rest of HYT’s watches are physical reminders of how time is a fluid construct, the Skull is its memento mori. Everything else has been removed in terms of extraneous timekeeping elements, such as sub dials or power reserves, all there is to behold is the incremental passage of the hours. The large, and smoothly sinister, skull of the previous iteration has been replaced with a battered, patinated visage. The black-and-pink gold version above is a more muted affair, while the titanium blue iteration (coming to MR PORTER soon), with its attention-seeking skull, is the extrovert’s choice. For anyone who grew up in the 1980s, donning this watch is like wearing Castle Grayskull.