HYT Gives The Flow Of Time A New Meaning | The WatchBox
Watchmakers have long struggled to keep liquids out of their watchcases. And while water clocks have existed for centuries, wrist-sized timekeepers are traditionally tightly sealed to repel the elements. Oil has been the only liquid the vast majority of wristwatch makers want to see anywhere near their intricate gears, pinions and plates. Most watchmaking companies boast about how strictly their products resist liquid via tough water-resistant designs.
So when HYT a few years ago introduced what might be an entirely new category of watch that actually emphasizes its use of liquid as an integral component to display time, more than a few observers were skeptical.
As the first HYT models began to reach collector wrists in 2012, however, doubters quickly became fans. The brand’s premier model, the H1, showed the world that HYT had successfully harnessed the properties of liquid to dramatically display the time.
By creating a new world of hydromechanics within horology, HYT CEO Vincent Perriard and a team of watchmakers has made very real the quest of its founder, Lucien Vouillamoz, who more than a decade ago considered combining fluid mechanics and high-end watchmaking. Vouillamoz, a nuclear engineer and a specialist in fluid mechanics, first considered the idea during the Swiss national exhibition in 2002 among the lakes near Neuchâtel, where, ironically, so many traditional – and water resistant – Swiss watches have been made for hundreds of years.
Idea To Concept
Vouillamoz initially wanted to miniaturize the dynamics of ancient water clocks, or clepsydras, to fit on the wrist. After several years of wrestling with the idea, he decided to instead integrate fluid mechanics and watchmaking, eventually creating a new company, HYT, and a blueprint for a previously unheard-of interface between a closed hydraulic system and a proven manually wound Swiss watch caliber.
Tagged as an “encounter between fine watchmaking and fluid mechanics,” HYT’s resulting designs took years to design and construct, with many prototypes made, considered and discarded in between Vouillamoz’s first idea and the premiere H1 model a decade later.
Vouillamoz enlisted watch veteran Perriard in 2010. Perriard’s experience with a liquid-infused power reserve indicator made for Concord a few years prior made him an ideal partner to direct HYT’s next-generation approach to hydro-mechanics. HYT and its sister firm Preciflex, a liquid components maker, then called on movement designer Jean-Francois Mojon and his team at Chronode to design the first H1 models. HYT enlisted watchmaker Giulio Papi, technical director of Audemars Piguet (Renaud & Papi), to construct H2, the firm’s latest collection.
In essence, each collection relies on two flexible reservoirs (the bellows-shaped components, pictured at right) with a thin tube capillary attached at each end. In one of the bellows is a fluorescent liquid called fluorescein. In the other is a viscous clear liquid. Keeping them apart is the repulsion force of the molecules in each fluid.
As the hours pass, the piston inside one reservoir pushes the colorful fluorescent liquid into the capillary as the other fills with the clear liquid. The point where the two liquids meet, the meniscus, serves as the hour hand, indicating the time around the dial.
At 6 pm, the fluorescent liquid returns to its original position. As it floods back quickly, the liquid replicates the motion of a retrograde hand, deepening HYT’s integration of its own avant-garde design and classical watchmaking displays. The entire display is of course powered by the manually wound movement inside, which moves the two pistons that control the liquid’s flow inside the bellows while simultaneously controlling the minute hand and seconds disc on the H1, and the jumping minute hand on the H2.
NASA sensors inspired the HYT bellows design. HYT, drawing on the fluid dynamics experience of sister firm Preciflex, miniaturized the NASA aerospace design to fit into a watchcase so that it can operate with only the power of classically designed spring barrels.
Not surprisingly, all this research and development meant HYT was developing numerous technical achievements previously unseen in high watchmaking. Indeed, HYT has thus far registered seven patents for its hydro-mechanical technology and one addiional patent for its watch design. The firm’s work also earned accolades from its horological peers: In 2012, HYT won the Best Innovative Watch Concept trophy at the Geneva Watchmaking Grand Prix.
The premier model to emerge from HYT’s hydro-mechanical laboratory was the H1, offered as a collection of 48.8mm titanium watches that at first glance combines both avant-garde design and at least one traditional dial, displaying minutes. These designs feature a small power reserve indicator between the 3 o’clock position and the 4 o’clock position and a seconds display between the 9 o’clock position and 10 o’clock position.
The latest H1 models are available in various case metals and alloys, including aluminum, titanium and gold, all offered in a variety of combinations. In addition, several H1 models feature unusual case materials. The new H1 Azo Project for instance offers a case made of Azo polyepoxyde, a translucent resin that is much lighter than stainless steel and three times as resistant to abrasion. The new H1 Graphite Project offers a darker color polyepoxyde case.
The new H1 Alumen Blue arrives with a blue anodized aluminum alloy case while the new H1 Dracula DLC, offers a red liquid display inside a titanium black DLC case with brushed, shot-peened and satin-finished surfaces.
The second collection, H2, features a redesigned movement that encloses the bellows and the system of feelers, cams and pistons, but also exposes all these components via a fully open front and back, all within the same 48.8mm case size.
The constructors at Renaud & Papi moved the bellows from their vertical position at the bottom of the case, positioning them also at 6 o’clock but in a v-formation, much like automotive or aeronautic engines. This new design optimizes the way the movement integrates with the fluid, in part explaining why the H2 offers a longer (eight-day) power reserve when compared to the H1 (sixty-five hours).
At 3 o’clock Renaud & Papi added an H-N-R crown position indicator, meant to recall the gearstick of a racing car but also an indicator that might remind collectors of the similar device Renaud & Papi created for several high-end Audemars Piguet concept watches. The letters indicate the crown function: Hours (H), Neutral (N) and Winding (R).
The H-N-R indicator is counterbalanced by an HYT-exclusive temperature hand. To negate the effects of heat and cold on the position of the fluid, this thermal indicator shows if the watch is in its optimal temperature segment to be handled. The H2’s minute hand is markedly different from the more traditional dial-set H1 minute hand. On H2 the hand will jump over the bellows in a complementary echo of the hour-fluid’s retrograde “leap” at 6 pm.
Among the new H2 models: the H2 Titanium Platinum SQ, the H2 Titanium & White Gold Blue and the H2 Black DLC & Pink Gold. Each is a limited edition, generally of fifteen or twenty units per version. We’ve pictured several of the new H1 and H2 models within this article with details about each model’s case material and strap options.