Angus Davies gets hands-on with the recently launched Hautlence Vortex and reviews the watch which features three patents and showcases incredible ingenuity.
This detailed review of the Hautlence Vortex includes live images, specification details and price.
Periodically, I write about prestigious cars for a lifestyle magazine. Whilst haute horlogerie is, without question, my first love, cars come a close second.
Essentially, on the face of it, most cars appear the same. Four wheels, an engine, a gearbox, some form of suspension, etc. The vast majority of automotive companies take a similar course. On occasion there have been ‘exceptions’ such as the advent of amphibious cars or exotic vehicles sporting six wheels, but fundamentally these have been rare.
Likewise, it could be argued that many wristwatches appear similar. They have a propensity to be round, feature a crown at 3 o’clock and invariably employ two hands to impart hours and minutes. However, as regular readers of ESCAPEMENT will no doubt attest, there are numerous nuances which differentiate one watch from another which can often only be discerned with greater knowledge.
Nevertheless, I concede that to the untrained eye, the majority of watches have a tendency to look the same. Albeit, I would suggest many people have yet to discover the joy of Hautlence, the young haute horlogerie brand that breaks the rules or to employ the company’s parlance, ‘Cross the Line’.
Hautlence is based in the watchmaking haven of La Chaux-de-Fonds and was founded in 2004. In its comparatively short life it has sought new ways of imparting the time whilst always embracing the elevated levels of craftsmanship synonymous with haute horlogerie.
Recently, Hautlence has created a new timepiece and similar to the aforementioned six wheel car it represents an ‘exception’ or as the brand terms it, ‘Concept d’Exception’. On first glance, it certainly does not resemble any mainstream wristwatch and on making its acquaintance, inquisitiveness reared its head and a ‘hands-on’ encounter soon ensued.
As I admired the Hautlence Vortex, I was reminded of my childhood, riding a bicycle and irritatingly boasting, ‘look no hands’ as I wobbled down the road. Thankfully, there is nothing irritating or boastful about the Vortex, but there is a distinct absence of conventional hands.
Hautlence describe the dial display as the ‘multi-level reading of time’ and it certainly offers a unique means of conversing with the wearer. A grey-coloured bridge spans the dial area with the prevailing hour shown in an aperture on the left and the company’s nomenclature presented opposite.
The minutes are shown on an arcing scale, running from left to right in a clockwise direction. A tip affixed to a centrally mounted wheel interfaces with said scale to indicate the minutes. This is a retrograde minute display and upholds Hautlence’s fascination with this mode of communication, albeit the brand does make some other models that eschew this degree of complexity.
Hautlence has restricted the palate of colours to monochrome tones, save for the flurry of red hues employed on the power-reserve indicator positioned in the north-easterly region of the dial.
The half-trailing hours utilise a 12-link chain to proclaim the hour. Every 60 minutes this chain slowly advances, taking between three and four seconds to complete its forward motion. It is this slow progression that adds to the sense of theatre, showcasing the mechanical machinations of tiny components plotting the advance of the chain.
An instantaneous hour change would lack the same visual splendour as the measured motion of the chain progressing forwards. Indeed, this avant-garde Swiss watch company clearly illustrates it understands how to entertain the wearer. Not only does the advancing belt provide a sense of drama but the ‘mobile bridge-type’ movement exhibits a slight bounce at it rotates 60 degrees each hour, augmenting the visual spectacle.
Hautlence has clearly exercised much thought with regards to rate at which the 12-link chain advances. Conversely, it has ensured the motion is not too protracted as this would have led to a frustrating situation where only part of the hour value was shown in the aperture and in the world of no-compromise watchmaking where evidently Hautlence dwells, this would have been unacceptable. Indeed, the pursuit of perfection is omnipresent and comes from the charismatic CEO and Co-founder of this Swiss company, Guillaume Tetu.
Beyond the mere presentation of time, this watch is an exhibitionist and beckons horological voyeurs to witness the interaction between various internal components. Six ‘three-dimensional’ sapphire crystals are employed to ensure that each gesture of the movement is revealed to enquiring eyes.
The case is sizeable at 52mm x 50mm x 17.8mm, it still remains very wearable. The mass of the watch is only 120 grams, courtesy of the widespread use of grade 5 titanium for the case, horns, crown and external screws.
Grade 5 titanium can prove challenging to polish, but this does not seem to have deterred Hautlence with the Vortex masterfully combining satin-brushed and highly polished surfaces.
The crown is positioned above noon, typical of a traditional pocket watch. However, this timepiece oozes modernity and any similarities to other watches remains tenuous. The nearest blood-relative to the Hautlence Vortex is its older sibling the HLR2.0, the very first Concept d’Exception, launched in 2010. However, despite sharing some DNA, the Vortex appears fresh and truly unique.
Hautlence clearly wishes to indulge owners, supplying the watch with three straps, a black alligator option, a crocodile skin strap with vibrant red stitching and, lastly, a black rubber strap. Each watch is supplied with the necessary screwdriver and spring bar to facilitate ease of exchange.
I adore small independent brands because they choose to be different. Moreover, they don’t subscribe to focus groups but allow artisans to be creative and free thinking. Commercially speaking, this is a risky strategy and not for the faint-hearted. However, it is when you see watches like the Vortex that the courage shown by innovative minds is vindicated.
An 18-carat white gold oscillating mass supplies energy to the main barrel which in turn winds the second barrel. However, the primary purpose of the main barrel is to provide power for the time-keeping aspects of the watch.
The second barrel powers the advance of the mobile bridge 60 degrees every hour. This approach ensures that the rotation of the mobile bridge does not influence the power held in the first barrel, adversely effecting the precision of the watch. By adopting this approach, Hautlence clearly demonstrates its thorough understanding of engineering.
The constantly changing position of the mobile-bridge ‘compensates statistically’ for the effects of gravity, improving precision.
The Hautlence Vortex is a wonderful exemplar of ingenuity and the in-house self-winding movement, calibre HLR2.0, is protected by three patents.
However, innovation and creativity have not come at the expense of traditional Swiss watchmaking craftsmanship. The Hautlence Vortex harnesses fine finishing typical of haute horlogerie. Satin-brushed, hand-drawn surfaces, typically found on historical pocket watches, sit adjacent neoteric ruthenium-anthracite coated bridges. The result is a visually striking movement.
Hautlence has chosen to ‘think outside the box’, avoiding convention and delivering something new.
The Hautlence Vortex appeals to me on several levels.
Firstly, the design is influenced by modern architectural forms and utilises six sapphire crystals to showcase the magnificence housed within. By freely disclosing the internal organs of this timepiece, Hautlence was obliged to demonstrate painstaking attention to detail and matchless finissage. I am pleased to report that everything appears blemish free and tip-top. The company may be small, but it has succeeded in producing a timepiece absent of compromise and devoid of flaws.
Style has not compromised functionality and the Hautlence Vortex proves eminently logical with its simple to read dial. Indeed, ‘style’ is a word which readily leaves the lips when discussing the Vortex and is another reason why I am attracted to this watch.
But lastly, and most pertinently, it is the sight of the advancing half-trailing hours and 12-link chain which beguiles me with its fantastic fandango performance. In my opinion, by creating the Hautlence Vortex, the Swiss company has delivered its finest stirring performance to date.
- Model: Hautlence Vortex
- Case: Grade 5 titanium; dimensions 52mm x 50mm x 17.8mm; water resistant to 3 bar (30 metres); six sapphire crystals.
- Functions: Half-trailing hours; retrograde minutes; power-reserve indicator.
- Movement: HLR2.0 in-house calibre, self-winding movement; frequency 21,600 vph (3 Hz); 92 jewels; power reserve 40 hours.
- Strap: Supplied with three straps; black hand-sewn rolled edge, rubberised padded Louisiana alligator strap with large scales; black hand-sewn hornback crocodile leather strap with red topstiching; black rubber strap. Folding clasp grade 2 titanium with palladium plate.
- Price: CHF 160,000 including taxes (RRP as at 28.7.2015)
- Limited Edition: 88 pieces