HYT H1: Hydraulic Independence

HYT H1: Hydraulic Independence

The HYT H1 was launched in 2012 amidst a somewhat morose watchmaking climate and undoubtedly created THE biggest buzz at BaselWorld, possibly even that of the year.

A veritable tidal wave of bright yellow fluid submerged the blogosphere and the horological press. Vincent Perriard and his team skillfully surfed the wave: the liquid from this genius 20th century clepsydra was all anyone talked about.

However, this yellow buzz ocean slightly outshone the real technological and conceptual tour de force this HYT pulls off: the presence of a liquid within a mechanical watch was, for many, the only noteworthy interpretation of this product.

Indeed, when confronted to such a « phenomenon», the law of the media encourages thought processes to fade, favoring emotional response instead, and this H1’s emotional impact is dispensed in several stages. A few good hours of wear at least are required for this watch to unveil its depths. 

As all three-dimensional watches, the HYT H1 does not completely reveal itself on official photos: the wristshots illustrating this article help shed further light upon this item.

Numerous articles about the HYT H1 have mentioned the clepsydra (Wikipedia link): the connection appears an obvious one to establish. Up until the 12th century, when the clepsydra of Tlemcen was created, hydraulic measurement of time was a scientific and accurate means to calculate a specific temporal segment. In those days, water was the only vector to transmit and regulate energy but, progressively, sand came to replace water. This because, although hourglasses are less exact (due to the varying size of the grains of sand), they are nonetheless easier to miniaturize.

Those antique movements are technically the reverse of the tourbillon, since the mechanism relies on the relative stability of gravitational attraction to make matter flow.

The 15th century saw the apparition of the fusee, a ‘prehistoric’ mechanical regulator.  Increasing the fusee’s diameter made it possible to compensate for the lack of tension towards the end of the mainspring’s unwinding. Albeit still lacking in precision, it was easier to miniaturize than a clepsydra and more solid than an hourglass. The invention of the balance-spring would finally regulate the whole system. Eventually, Lépine benefitted from the developments within the metal-working industry to invent the open-face caliber, with a floating mainspring going-barrel…

From Abraham-Louis Breguet to Edmond Jaeger, horology gradually progressed and improved upon its accuracy and reliability, resulting in an industrial duel between Swiss and American horology, which culminated during the interwar years. A new stakeholder, Japanese horology, eventually came out on top at the end of the sixties as quartz emerged as the choice regulator for electrical energy. American horology was never to recover, whilst Swiss horology would recoup by relying on basics: luxury watches. In the 90’s, Seiko drove the point home with the spring drive, hybridizing the energy of a spring to quartz’s precise regulatory powers, thanks to a complex magnet system. 

While this latest innovation does not possess the charm of a classic balance, it allows for formidable precision.

Ever since then, in spite of beautiful mechanical projects, Switzerland seemingly withdrew from the realm of leading-edge technology, which in recent years has been limited to new materials resulting from new techniques. Thus, although external parts have been ultra-modern, as press kits generously extol, the contents have remained ultra-traditional.  

The HYT H1 is the very opposite!

Aesthetically, this watch overflows with paradoxes and contradicts current trends.  It is an imposing watch: the case (here shown in rose gold) is at a diameter of 48.8mm, although when worn it hardly appears to be 45, by reason of its short horns and the original visual effect produced by the prominent sapphire crystal glass. As it sits on the wrist, the crystal rather than the bezel tends to guide the eye as to the evaluation of the watch’s size.

Thus, despite a consequent diameter influenced by the size of the movement and that of the capillary, the watch does not appear exceedingly voluminous. This detail reveals a great watch with a successful design: it fits the wrist far more snugly than its actual proportions would have you believe. Better still, in the H1 Rose Gold’s case, comfort is not diminished by weight: the watch is pleasant to wear. This should prove truer yet for the titanium versions, which are expected to keep things yet more light and airy.

The relevance of opting for rose gold is debatable here. Some might think that as traditional an alloy is not pertinent in such a modern context. I personally think of it as an additional, facetious snook, a form of fusion between classic material and cyberpunk design.

The dial also contributes in lessening the size of the watch visually. The volume of the elements breaks with the sense of space that can occur on some larger dials (a sense of space which can be very aesthetically pleasing, too).

A three-dimensional effect takes its source in 4 elements: the capillary which shows the hours, the minute dial at 12h, the secondary counters (power reserve and working indicators) and, finally, the bellows. The understated style, which can be likened to the Nataf-era Zenith Defy, lacks demonstrativeness to my mind and harks back to nothing else within the watch: be it the case, the movement, the bellows and, less still, the fluid… A finish with purer elements, a focus on three-dimensionality would probably have proved in better taste. Certain materials or designs used by Hautlence come to mind here…

Setting this detail aside, once this watch is in hand, there are other things to think about than the finish of the dial. To behold time racing around the dial is captivating and playing with the watch achieves maximum effect. Here, the hours are really a pretext to observe the flow of time.  So much so that one can imagine the lucky owners of this watch ‘forgetting’ to rewind the H1, so entertaining is it to just set the time: quickly, the liquid moves within the capillary with a fascinating effect of inertia.  You will not be able to set the fluid to the exact time, but the watch is well-thought out and the yellow liquid will move forward at a slower pace than the minutes, until it reaches the accurate mark. The glass being tubular, light filters in from all sides and the fluorescent liquid shines bright at the least little ray of sunshine.

The technology used in this watch has a downside: it is impossible, as of now, to produce a fluid which is luminescent in an entirely dark environment since LumiNova particles cannot dissolve in the aqueous fluids. Sooner or later, they would sink to the bottom of the tube.

However, HYT is working on new fluid solutions as well as on pipe containers to obtain ever-luminescent HYT models in future.

This is indeed a question of liquids in the plural form, as the capillary is actually filled with two fluids: one is transparent and the other is yellow fluorescent. For the separation to be impeccable, they are of course immiscible, like water and oil. Just as in a salad dressing, the oil and vinegar will not mix without the addition of mustard in the role of the tension-active element.

The innovation of this H1 is then to be found in the means used to make the fluid move within the capillary… Therein lies the genuine leading-edge technology ! 

The traditional horology part was constituted by the cream of the crop, developed by Jean-François Mojon’s company Chronode, which has officially launched a lengthy series of eclectic creations such as: the MB&F Legacy Machine 1, the Opus X Harry Winston, the Cyrus Klepsys or the Urban Jurgensen Chronometer Detent Escapement. The finish of the H1’s movement denotes a multitude of styles and influences.

This calibre is truly aesthetically pleasant. Without having a ‘Dufour’ finish, it is exceptionally accomplished for an ‘independent’ watch in this price range. The outline of the bridges is original and expressive and the semi-circular architecture is simply unheard of. Conception was optimized in order to send an important, linear energy charge to the pistons, through a cam-propelled system.

Getting the two In-House inventions of HYT - the bellows and the capillary - to work in tune, required no less. 

To start with, the capillary was exclusively designed for HYT by a German company which specializes in lasers.  The borosilicate glass was selected for its resistance to chemicals and thermal shocks. The inside of the tube, which is 1mm in diameter, received seven layers of coating to minimize friction and avoid loss of precision. Whether for fluids or gear trains, friction remains a central issue! This is such a specific piece that HYT’s partner found they needed to come up with a machine dedicated to the making of this micro-tube!

Next, HYT’s exclusive bellows were issued from aerospace science technology. So-called aerospace science materials have often been touted in the past. But today, what we’re presented with is much more than some new alloy, these bellows form an integral part of the speed captors found on rockets, missiles and jets. While resetting the time on the H1, it’s next to impossible to spot the usual “accordion” effect to the naked eye, there being less than a millimeter separating each plate.

As much as the miniaturizing is a feat in itself, one should also take into account the fact that these bellows are entirely crafted from metal! Their strain relies on the elasticity and delicacy of the alloy, which notably contains titanium and nickel. The inside is protected against corrosion by a coating of gold.

Comprehending how the bellows are built and their ultra-limited margin of tolerance allows for a better understanding of the feat achieved by Chronode in regards to the movement. Important and linear energy indeed has to be maintained all along the barrel’s course. It’s surprising then, to learn that the watch has but one barrel, one classically-made balance and no system of constant force…

Ever since the beginnings of time-measurement, inventors have had two challenges to rise up to: regularity and miniaturization. Clepsydras afforded good precision but their bulk was bothersome. Little by little, they were abandoned in favor of mechanical watches. Today, HYT makes up for almost 10 centuries during which that technology was relegated and breathes new life to hydraulic horology by miniaturizing it enough to integrate it to a wristwatch.