“Whatever the culture, the human perception of time is fluid,” says Grégory Dourde.
As CEO of HYT Watches, he should know. The Swiss brand, based in Neuchâtel, has found an unlikely niche in the high-end watch world by promoting a philosophical approach to timekeeping through its signature hydro-mechanical timepieces, which run on a combination of fluid technology and traditional mechanics.
Four years in the making, the brand’s newest watch, the H5, captures the fluidity of time quite literally. Visible beneath a large domed sapphire glass is HYT’s trademark capillary system, containing liquid in two forms flowing around the dial to indicate the hours. (Minutes are displayed on a subdial at 12 o’clock, and seconds on a subdial at 10 o’clock.)
One liquid is transparent to signify the near future (imminent time) and one is dyed either black or green, to signify the recent past (elapsed tme). The point where they come together is the present moment.
Here’s how it works: The fluid module contains two reservoirs that compress and expand, releasing or receiving the two liquids. Starting at 6 a.m. and for the next 12 hours, the colored liquid advances around the dial; to see the hour, match its position to the number on the flange of the crystal. (The translucent numbers are made of neoralite coated with Super-LumiNova, lending them a surreal glow in the dark.)
Once the colored liquid gets to 6 p.m., its takes a minute to drain back into the reservoir, where it is reconstituted, before beginning its second journey around the dial for the 6 p.m.-to-6 a.m. portion of the day.
While all of this is happening, the H5 keeps accurate time with a new, hand-wound movement—calibre 501—developed in collaboration with HYT by the celebrated watchmaker Eric Coudray.
“We wanted to develop this watch as a whole with the mechanics and the fluids integrated,” says Dourde. “This is what we have been working on with Eric. You see that the way the design is done is three-dimensional with layers.”
There are two oversized components to the H5 that make it flow: a snail-shaped cam and a lever. In a traditional watch, a mechanical movement is built with wheels in order to rotate the hours and minutes, but here two bellows containing liquid need to expand and compress in order to move the liquid to tell the time.
In order to transform a rotation movement into a linear one, we need the snail shape cam and the lever. “Inside the cam are 13 different small elements, which the watchmaker can adjust to define the exact shape of the cam,” says Dourde. “The cam starts with a tiny proportion of metal and then it’s increasing and it pushes the lever down vertically, which compresses the bellows containing the fluid.”
Courday also developed 13 small components within the cam that can be adjusted by a watchmaker in any single position during the entire day, so that the watch functions as a whole. Beyond the mechanics, there are several cheeky design elements that have been incorporated into the watch to subtly illustrate HYT’s fluid philosophy. The base of the lever, just below the arm, has been designed to look like a frog—an animal that is comfortable on both land and water, which also has the ability to change gender. Flip the watch over and turn it upside down and you’ll discover that the seconds hand is actually a little duck. “We wanted to do a clin d’œil—to not take ourselves too seriously,” says Dourde, using the French word for wink.
But the gender-bending notion of the frog should be taken seriously. Dourde says that despite the size of HYT’s timepieces (this one measures 48.8 mm by 20.08 mm), 15 to 20 percent of their business comes from women. By 2022, HYT will come out with a smaller, thinner movement. Naturally, Dourde doesn’t want to call it a women’s watch because, of course, everything at HYT is fluid.
Dourde also divulged that the collaboration with Courday is just the beginning—expect a more complicated HYT to come sometime next year.
Until then you might want to get your hands on the H5, which is limited to only 25 pieces worldwide. Available in two versions—a black liquid model on a black perforated rubber strap, and a green liquid model on a gray strap—the H5 is priced at $55,000 and has 65 hours of power reserve.