In this day and age, where horological reissues and reinventions are seemingly released or revealed every other week, it was only a matter of time before some bright spark had the idea of reinventing the clepsydra to tell the time again. Clepsydra were (or are) water clocks, and whilst that technology has been around since Ancient times, it took until 2012 for horologists to create a way to install them in a watertight wristwatch.
Those horologists were the engineers, technicians and designers at HYT. More accurately, HYT are hydro-mechanical horologists. Founder Lucien Vouillamoz dreamed for 10 years of reinventing the clepsydra in a perfectly watertight wristwatch. And whilst the idea may have seemed simple, the reality proved anything but.
His project involved bringing together engineers, chemists and micro-technicians to find a way to incorporate liquids into the time display of the watch and, further, to connect this display with the operation of a mechanical watch movement.
After considerable research and development, the solution was presented in the form of a capillary (tube) in which two immiscible liquids were pushed by a pair of bellows, themselves driven by the mechanical movement. With a transparent liquid in one bellow and a coloured liquid in the other, the point at which the two meet provides the reference point for indicating the hours.
Sounds simple enough. But huge challenges had to be overcome on the way to achieving this remarkable display of time. And looking at HYT watches now it’s easy to overlook just how technically clever the company’s ‘fluid display’ of time is. HYT had to figure out how to produce the incredibly thin capillary; how to coat its inside to ensure a smooth flow of the liquids, how to ensure the colour of the fluids remains stable over time and how to regulate their flow so that the correct time is displayed accurately.
Two liquids are stored in a pair of multi-layered metal bellows linked to a thermal compensator. As one bellow contracts, squeezing its liquid through the capillary, the other contracts, allowing its fluid to flow back into it. When the hour indicator reaches the end of the capillary, where one of the bellows is totally depressed while the other is totally full, a retrograde function kicks in and the coloured fluid returns to its below to begin another 12-hour trip through the tube.
In January 2012, HYT was officially established in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. And in March that year, the H1 was revealed at Baselworld. It didn’t take long for the industry to recognise the technical tour de force that HYT had created. In the following November HYT took home the Innovation Prize at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève. Ever since, their watches have remained unique in the industry with their colourful fluidic time displays married to high-end Swiss Made mechanical watch movements.
Having perfected the tech, HYT have been free to explore its possibilities, and they’ve moved it in startling directions. I think it’s safe to say that very few watch brands philosophise about time quite as much as HYT. It’s well worth reading their website to get an idea of their approach and beliefs, and, once done, simple to see how this is carried through in their watches.
Take their Skull pieces for example: mechanical memento-mori that remind us that time is forever in flow, yet finite and short. The 48.8mm Rose Gold Skull watch is part of a limited run of just 50. An 18k pink gold and DLC-coated titanium case has hour markers engraved onto the bezel, underlined by the black and clear fluidic time display. This piece is powered by the brand's calibre 101 hand-would movement and has an impressive 65-hour power reserve, which you can keep track of through the hollowed right eye. The patinated skull is shaped around two rhodium-plated bellows that can be seen through the exhibition case back, along with the intricate hand-bevelled and Côtes de Genève finishes.
Sinister green glaring eyes stare out from the H1 Green Eye Skull version. It looks like it’s just come straight off the set of a horror movie. The big titanium dome at the 6 becomes the lower jaw, and the steel bellows, which force the vivid green viscous liquid around the dial, take on the appearance of teeth. It is very cool, and has an enormous presence on the wrist in daytime, and low light situations. A word to the wise: at 51mm in a black DLC titanium case, the HYT Skull Green Eye is not for the faint of wrist!
Similarly daring - though in a much more sporty way - the H1 Titanium Alinghi draws inspiration and detailing from high speed yachting. Encased in a titanium body, with carbon fibre lugs and crown guard, a zig-zag section of rigging fastens down the black minutes ring just above centre. The small hand flashes with red varnish. Either side of the minutes, the power reserve is styled like a deck winch to the right, while opposite, the small seconds take the form of a furler, which rotates constantly as if drawing in on a mainsail sheet.
This H1 features blue liquid and a palladium grey-white dial. Known as the Iceberg edition, it’s a limited made in just 50 units. As with all HYT timepieces the styling on this timepiece is incredible, and for my money the colourway works particularly well with the white, blue and grey combination. The power reserve indicator along with the slightly skeletonised movement really make this an interesting watch to stare at. It looks ice-cool because it just is.
HYT describes itself as an ecosystem that unites science, high technology, art, design and philosophy. Whatever else they’ve done they must be credited with creating a ‘new’ and authentic way to show and tell the time. That combination of fluidic display and mechanical movement is both startling and fascinating… and contrary to rational horological thoughts where wristwatches are concerned, it really works. Want.