Hautlence: Somewhere Between A Steam Engine And A Starship
Cinemagoers in 1977 collectively gasped when the twinkling eternity of space yielded to the vast underside of a Star Destroyer in hot pursuit of a Rebel Blockade Runner, laserfire ricocheting left and right. Admiring Hautlence’s crazier horological conceits, it’s easy to imagine the hull of that Imperial craft being replaced with an enlarged version of any one of their hugely complex dials, to similarly gasp-inducing effect.
Even when you stop to consider the traditional mechanical principles underpinning all that Hautlence wizardry, the comparison still stands. Just as it was revolutionary of George Lucas to posit hyperdrive as a standard option for Han Solo’s ancient interstellar hotrod, the Millennium Falcon, it is revolutionary of Hautlence’s watchmakers to re-imagine the levers, cogs and springs of their 18th-century forebears in such otherworldly, futuristic manifestations.
Just look at the Vortex: its 200-year-old lever escapement assembly surgically removed from the movement and tumbled in free space, while the hours trundle by adjacently on a caterpillar track – itself seemingly borrowed from the Tatooine Jawas’ Sand Crawler.
But then, you’re stopped dead in your “tracks” with the most recent interpretation of the Vortex. The titanium-framed wedge of sapphire crystal is now extensively segmented to house 19 primary-coloured sapphire windows – a Mondrian painting in watch form, a glorious mash-up of art, sci-fi and Steampunk.
An artist collaboration, you might assume? Well, yes and no. It’s been realised with the help of a most unlikely brand ambassador – nobody less than Eric Cantona, the once-brilliant, now-retired footballer, now pursuing his ever-enigmatic, ever-philosophical approach as art collector, polymath, agitante.
As you can probably tell by now, Hautlence has never been one to follow the herd – as per Cantona, in fact, and his famous allegory about the seagull and the sardine trawler (do Google it!).
Since its creation in 2004, it has been a brand in a league of its own. By adopting a thinktank approach, yet always respecting traditional horological technique, Hautlence toys with design codes and the way we read the time, just as it does with its name – an anagram of the city of Neuchâtel in tribute to the cradle of Swiss watchmaking. The original concept, which still forms the core of the brand’s portfolio, combines a jumping digital hours display with a retrograde minutes indication, its minutes hand flying back to 0 after 60 thanks to an articulated mechanism on show, dial-side – rather like the rods connecting the wheels of a steam train, as realised by DeLorean.
In 2012, its reputation was further strengthened by the arrival at the company helm of one of the industry’s most well-respected personalities, Georges-Henri Meylan, former CEO of Audemars Piguet.
Together with brand co-founder Sandro Reginelli (ex Maurice Lacroix), they are currently writing one of the finest chapters in “alternative 21st century watchmaking”, backed by the finest artisans of the region.
To own an Hautlence is to connect with the past and the future, in a way quite unlike anything else.