Review: Hautlence HL Sphere 01

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Hautlence burst into the scene in 2004, creating interesting ways to tell the time. Since the early years where they were breaking trends and slaying sacred cows, they somehow got lost along the way. Till now. This year, they presented a new watch which blew tradition away. Introducing the HL Sphere 01. A new way to tell time.

We covered the jist of the concept when they showed a concept clock in SIHH this year. A very special clock, carried in two cylinders, each containing a ball. One is marked with numerals 1 to 12 to represent the hours, and the other with numerals 15, 30, 45, 60, representing the minutes. But for Baselworld, they showed an even more amazing wristwatch. We carried the press information here. With full specifications.

Hautlence HL Sphere 01

Hautelence HL Sphere 01

Visually, the watch immediately captivates one’s curiosity. Housed in a rectangular case, the entire front of the watch is a large crystal which reveals all. On the left, a ball in a magnetic blue, printed at seemingly random numbers from 1 to 12. And on the right an openworked system showing the clockwork and an arc marked from 00 to 60. Watch the video to see what happens at the top of each hour:

The case, dial and hands

The case is the Hautlence signature TV shape and consists of a middle made of white gold and two caps of sapphire crystal. On the dial side, Hautlence does away with the bezel altogether and the sapphire crystal covers the entire face. The crystal is box shaped and stepped with chamfered edges to suggest a transparency. It allows the visually captivating blue sphere to be clearly visible within its cutout on the left. And the rest of the skeletonized dial shows the retrograde minutes and the movement components.

The display shows the hour marked on the ball on the left, and a blue hand shows the minutes marked on a 180 degree arc on the right. The font chosen is classic Hautlence font, with the numerals of the hours in large clear, and simple sans-serif typeface in white laquer. The minutes are marked in 10 minutes intervals with appliques. These are placed around a cutout on the dial with chamfered sides which are engraved to show the minutes. The movement wheel train is visible through this cutout.

The effect of the face side is captivating. And even more at the top of each hour, when the ball on the left suddenly spins, seemingly uncontrollably and very fast through all three rotation axes, till it halts itself to display the next hour. The hypnotic dance follows a strict choreography, dictated by four conical gears that move two crossed spindles inclined at 21 degrees. The ball itself is made in two pieces of polished titanium with a blue PVD treatment. And in a yin/yang fashion forms the ball.

The overall look of the watch is a kine of geeky elegance which is provocative, and yet very attractive. Especially at the top of the hour when the animation of the ball and the minute hand flying back provides visual entertainment.

The movement: HTL 501-1

This is Hautlence’s eighth caliber in the brand’s history. The entire movement is conceived, and manufactured in-house in their facilities in Neuchatel.

The movement is visible from both the front through the skeletonized dial. From the back, the movment plates also appear skeletonized. The balance bridge, visible at 11 in the photograph above carries the proprietary balance spring produced by Precision Engineering AG, Hautlence’s sister company. The mainspring and ratchet system is also visible and the drive mechanism to the sphere.

The HTL 501-1 calibre is fitted with a safety mechanism that prevents incorrect manipulation during reverse time setting, leading the movement to simply rotate freely without any risk of damaging the mechanism.

The bridges are sand blasted and darkened. And hand finished, but the level of finishing is a workman like engineering finish rather than a haute horlogerie fine finishing. Very practical and serves its technical purpose.

The competitive landscape

We know of no other watch which has this combination of a spinning ball to display the hours and a retrograde minute. At this level, Hautlence keeps up to its reputation as a top avant garde manufacture and has gone boldly before anyone else. The spinning ball hour display system is very complex, and requires the use of conical gearing which we have only seen in MB&F and Greubel Forsey watches.

We can perhaps think of jumping hour and retrograde arrangements. but these are far less complicated. Some examples might be the IWC Pallweber (US$23,100 in a SS case) and the Blancpain Villeret Tourbillon Volant Heuere Sautante Minute Rétrograde (S$207,000 with GST). Both are not directly in competition. Neither has the unique spinning ball to display the hours. And while the IWC features jumping hours and minutes displayed digitally, the Blancpain a jumping hour and retrograde minutes, but is equipped with a tourbillon escapement.

Concluding thoughts

We think this is a big step forward for Hautlence. It has come full circle to fulfill the avant garde promise of the brand’s inception. And is provocative, interesting and captivating. It no longer mimics the movement of the elder and more stately H. Moser, or is the wild playboy of the family with nonsensical wrist displays like the Playground Pinball. But now come full measure with a complicated movement. Done right. Deserves a standing ovation. And the coveted Chief Editor’s Award for his Top Watches from Baselworld 2019.


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