In their quest to measure time, watchmakers had left almost no stone unturned, from grand complications capable of ever more calculations to revolutionary new materials whose properties are said to increase precision, not to mention experiments with unconventional displays. Not one, however, had considered the possibility of reprising – in a wristwatch – one of the oldest known methods for tracking time. Not, that is, until the four founders of HYT took it into their heads in 2012. Some 3,400 years after the pharaohs’ water clock, the H1 harnessed fluid mechanics to display, quite literally, the flow of time.
This visionary concept first occurred to a certain Lucien Vouillamoz. Already in 2002, he was toying with the idea of reinventing the clepsydra as a perfectly watertight mechanical watch. This would be no small challenge – too great, no doubt, for one man. What could have been a pipe dream became a stroke of genius when in 2010 Vouillamoz enlisted the skills of Patrick Berdoz, Emmanuel Savioz and Vincent Perriard. Chronode, under Jean-François Mojon, was tasked with developing the movement. Preciflex was responsible for the fluid technology. Design was down to Vincent Perriard. A “dream team” for a project that truly broke the mould.
Two liquids, one capillary, two bellows
In 2012, exactly ten years after the principle of a fluid-based wristwatch was pitched, the project was ready to roll. After registering as a company in January in Neuchâtel, HYT made its debut at Baselworld in March where it took the wraps off the H1. So what’s new? Not the minutes, which are counted by way of a conventional hand sweeping a subdial, but definitely the coloured liquid that moves through a circular capillary tube to display the hours. How does it work? Flexible reservoirs or bellows, one at each end of the tube, contain either a coloured or a clear liquid. The repulsive force of their molecules prevents the two from mixing. The hour is shown by the line where these immiscible liquids meet. It moves along the capillary as the watch’s mechanical movement causes the bellows to expand or compress, pushing the fluid through the capillary then drawing it back.
What seems like a simple principle on the surface is an incredibly innovative one. Never before had a watch combined traditional movement mechanics with fluid mechanics. From a strictly horological angle, it was essential that the display comply with the twin demands of precision and legibility. The fluids’ colour, consistency, resistance to shocks and vibrations, stability and the complete watertightness of the module each had to be factored in by the engineers at Preciflex as they worked on a system that would indicate the hours with complete reliability. Issues surrounding the expansion and contraction of the liquids due to temperature change, which influence the precision of the display, were dealt with in a second stage by means of a thermal compensator that is a part of every HYT watch. The bellows that push the liquids through the capillary at a controlled rate are inspired by NASA sensors. Made from a super-fine alloy and mounted on the mainplate, Preciflex adapted their form to the watch to guarantee complete shock absorption and extreme water-resistance.
From an innovation award to a full collection
This hydro-mechanical concept, with its seven patents, was a hit from the moment the H1 was launched, and earned the accolade of Best Innovation at that year’s Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève. The watch’s design and three-dimensional architecture were shaped by the technology inside. From the front, all eyes are on the capillary tube that circles the dial and indicates the hours. The bottom part of the case focuses attention on the two bellows. Above them are the minutes subdial, a power-reserve indicator and small seconds that look every inch like a water wheel. Turn the watch over, and a wide opening gives a view of the mechanics inside.
The case is equally spectacular, whether for its imposing size, blackened titanium or the impressive crown-guard on the side. Topping it all is a sculptural crystal that is cut from a single block of sapphire. Since the original H1 in 2012, this disruptive design has returned in multiple materials and colours – in particular the fluids in yellow, blue, red or black. It is also the granddaddy of an entire family of fluid-display watches: the Ho, H2o, Skull, H2, H3 and H4 collections all descend from this first venture that paved the way for a completely different approach to how time is displayed. Thanks to the H1, the “flow of time” means exactly that!