Hautlence Watch

Hautlence Watch, the independent watchmaker from La Chaux-de-Fonds, has produced some interesting timepieces since it was founded in 2004. Angus Davies looks at the history of the brand, its models to date and ponders what the innovative company will reveal at Baselworld 2015.

This in-depth article about Hautlence Watch includes numerous images of the brand’s models and details of its incredible timepieces.

Hautlence - 10 years of thought provoking watch design

Hautlence Watch HL2.2

Independent watch brands often excite me. They are frequently born out of a desire to establish an alternative means of depicting time. I often smile at the degree of inventiveness placed in front of me and ponder the source of inspiration for the mechanical wizardry employed.

The problem for many companies choosing to embark upon this path, especially when creating avant-garde concepts necessitating much ingenuity, is the inherent commercial risk this can present.

New ideas and technology need to be validated. A substantial marketing budget is necessary to communicate the nuances of a ground-breaking concept. In some instances, the figurehead of the company has to divide their time between product development, production, sales and marketing. It is not a simple task running an independent watch brand.

Guillaume Tetu, CEO and co-founder of Hautlence Watch, the small Swiss brand based in La Chaux-de-Fonds, freely admits the early years of the company proved challenging. However, in recent times the company has been acquired by MELB Holding, bringing with it significant resources to assist in the running of Hautlence.

The early years

Tetu created the first prototype, the HL04, in 2004, establishing several of the design codes which prevail today. The jumping hours, the retrograde minutes, trailing seconds and a case resembling a 1970s television screen proffers an appearance unlike any rival watch.

Hautlence - 10 years of thought provoking watch design

Hautlence - 10 years of thought provoking watch design

Hautlence Watch HL04

In 2005, the company selected the name Hautlence, an anagram of Neuchatel, a nearby city, and released its first commercial timepiece, the HL06 in white gold.

Hautlence - 10 years of thought provoking watch design

Hautlence - 10 years of thought provoking watch design

Hautlence Watch HL06

A second model range, the HLS, which shares much of the mechanical architecture of the HL06, was released a couple of years later. On this model, the case appears more rectangular, evincing a greater degree of modernity.

Hautlence - 10 years of thought provoking watch design

Hautlence Watch HLS

Two years later, in 2009, the brand launched its first round watch, the HLQ, which included a honeycomb dial, delivering an eye-catching and highly unusual aesthetic.

However, the degree of technical creativity reached unprecedented heights with the release of the HL2.1 in 2011. The movement in this timepiece was designed in-house and brought to life by, two individuals who have ‘been part of the Hautlence creative watchmaking team since 2007’.

Hautlence - 10 years of thought provoking watch design

Hautlence Watch HL2.1

The HL2.1 presents the prevailing hour on a belt or chain moving from left to right, the retrograde minutes are denoted on a 180° semi-circular display and the movement is self-winding. However, in my opinion, one of the most mesmerising aspects of the design is the mounting of the escapement. It is arranged vertically from north to south, visible via the partially open-worked dial. The escapement is connected to the aforementioned chain, rotating each time the hour changes. This is described by the brand as a “mobile bridge type calibre”, but to my eyes it borders on horological magic, leaving me aghast with its slowmotion pirouette routine.

A family of three collections

Three collections of models now form the Hautlence range.

The Origine shares many of the design codes of the original HL04 and HLQ. The rectangular shaped cases have gentle, angled corners and the caseband of each model, including the round watches, features neat, flat sides. These models have a comparatively understated appearance when contrasted with the Avant-Garde collection.

The Avant-Garde collection adds a note of modernity to proceedings. The bold use of vibrant colours, such as turquoise or orange, result in models exhibiting a more flamboyant character. The HLS was the first example of the Avant-garde collection. Over the years, the collection has subsequently grown and now includes the HLS, HLRS and HLRQ.

Hautlence - 10 years of thought provoking watch design

Hautlence Watch HLRQ04 Avant-Garde 

The ultimate expression of Hautlence ownership is the Concepts d’exception collection. These exceptional watches, each produced in a limited series of 28 pieces share the same mind-boggling mechanical ingenuity showcased with the HL2.1. Since the launch of the HL2.1, Hautlence has released subsequent versions in pink gold and titanium.

2014, a landmark year

The highly complex movements used prior to 2014, were all designed in-house by Hautlence and were costly to produce due to their complex nature. The brand’s innovative connecting rod system, first seen on the HL04, necessitates pricing which would be beyond the financial grasp of some clientele.

In September 2014, Hautlence celebrated its 10th anniversary, a year which represented a significant landmark in the history of the company. Indeed, it was in 2014 that Hautlence took the bold step at Baselworld to release its more accessible Destination timepieces.

Hautlence - 10 years of thought provoking watch design

Hautlence Watch Destination 02 Origine

The Destination, offered in four different variants, delivers a dual-time indication, large date display and a day/night indication. Economies have been made by using a Soprod 9351/A10-2 movement, allowing the brand to deliver the watch at a more affordable price point. However, none of the design prowess has been lost with eye-catching, sumptuous lines still much in evidence.

Hautlence - 10 years of thought provoking watch design

Hautlence Watch Invictus Morphus Avant-Garde

Also in 2014, Hautlence revealed its first chronograph model, the Invictus Morphus. The Swiss brand used a Soprod A10 base movement equipped with a Dubois Dépraz chronograph module. The design, a key strength of Hautlence, drew on the artistic talents of footballing legend, Eric Cantona. Framing the central area of the dial, an artistic depiction of a butterfly in a captivating blue hue delivers a unique mien.

What is next for this progressive brand?

Hautlence is a relatively young brand in the world of Swiss horology where some companies have over a hundred years of history. However, in its short life it has produced some exceptional timepieces.

It has repeatedly demonstrated an amazing ability to conceive and deliver remarkable timepieces. While some of its more affordable watches may lack the same technical complexity of the original HL04 and HL2.1, they continue to show a superb design creativity which distinguishes them from many other watches on the market.

By enlarging its portfolio of models, Hautlence Watch has now increased its potential market without losing the essence of what makes the brand special. The company continues to produce watches featuring its own in-house designed movements as well as offering the more affordable timepieces equipped with third-party movements.

With Baselworld 2015 only a few weeks away, my diary is already starting to brim with appointments. Despite competing demands on my time at the annual trade show, one brand which justifies my attention is Hautlence. It never ceases to deliver intriguing models which exhibit much originality and I am eagerly looking forward to seeing the next phase of this young brands evolution.

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