We recently caught up with Samuel Hoffmann, Brand Manager of Hautlence and discussed what makes the brand tick. And how this young man is taking the 20 year old brand to new high places to make a strong comeback.
In Conversation: Samuel Hoffmann talks about Hautlence
We have known Hautlence since the early days, as early as the founding years way back in 2004. The brand name Hautlence is an anagram of Neuchâtel, where the maison first began. The brand was founded by Guillaume Tetu and Renaud de Retz, and we were captivated by the first watches they showed in Baselworld 2004, making a grand appearance in the independent watch scene. The Hautlence HL01 made quite a scene back then. Not only was it unusually shaped, but it had a jumping digital hour, and a retrograde minutes presented as an arc. The dial was partially skeletonised, and the mechanism for the retrograde was exposed. It was built over a Perseux base movement. But it was fascinating. A brave new world for the independents. Exciting times.
In 2009, Renaud left the company, leaving Guillaume still at the helm. MELB Holdings took over the company in 2012, and Guillaume left Hautlence in 2015, and the Sandro Reginelli took over as CEO until 2017. The brand was somewhat quiet, though 2019 saw the HL Sphere released. Samuel Hoffmann, who had joined sister company Moser in 2018, took over as Brand Manager in 2022. We caught up with him recently when he visited Singapore, and talked about his vision for Hautlence, and how he will make the brand great again.
What are some of the changes that have taken place since you took over as Product Manager in 2022?
SH: The basic concepts that were established years ago by Guillaume. Incidentally the origin story of how the first concepts were sketched at the beach on the proverbial napkins, cigar in hand are true. And since the early years, Hautlence has grown from conception to an infant to a child and through to the adolescent years. At this time (2023), we rekon they are just getting into early adulthood.
This coming of age began back in 2018, when we first conceived the idea of the Sphere. We showed the concept of the HL Sphere Kinetic Clock, which was revealed in SIHH 2019. 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. How is this done? Simple. The two cylinders are totally independent of the other. One displays the hours, the other display the minutes. But what is special and the concept to be showcased was the way the two balls rotate to show the time. This was novel.
We quickly followed up in Baselworld of the same year by the HL Sphere, a wrist watch version. In our signature TV shaped case. And using the concept of the rotating ball to display the hours. And for the minutes, we chose a retrograde display. Mainly because space is a premium in the wrist watch, but also as a counterpoint to highlight the “magic” of the hour display. Plus, the retrograde minutes is part of the Hautlence DNA.
So, what is the DNA for Hautlence?
SH: The TV shaped case. The volume of the case, especially the height. Enough for the complications. And sufficient to showoff the technical virtuosity. Also, the angular architectural design. These are the key signatures of the Hautlence style.
The case has a wide aspect ratio. This allows the volume to appear smaller on the wrist as it sits nicely between the radius and ulnar bones on the arm. The shape is surprisingly complex, with many models showcasing the bevelled edges of the crystal right over the case, leaving space only for a tiny, very slim bezel. This maximises the dial real estate, and makes the watch look larger than it is. And coupled with the shape which makes it wear smaller completes the conundrum.
Take this latest addition. The new Vagabonde Tourbillon Series 3 (Review soon!) with a dial which is made from a superconductor, showing the honeycomb structure (another Hautlence signature!) of niobium filaments. A dial made by our friend, James Thompson. The dial is not flat, but with a ripple pattern cut into the surface, so that with the play of light, it looks like water ripples in motion. Add to this the glow in the wandering minutes and hours set in 3 dimensional numerals made of ceramic loaded with SuperLumiNova. All these, set in a case in midnight blue PVD. Quite an edgy design.
What does the Hautlence business look like in 2023 and on to 2024 and beyond?
SH: Currently we are still a very small manufacturer. Though we have the support of the MELB group and are situated near our sister company Moser, we have our own branding, our own product line with our own design, prototyping and even marketing. (Editor’s note: MELB moved the company operations from Neuchâtel to Schaffhausen soon after they took over.)
In 2022, we made 100 watches. This number will be 150 by the year ended 2023. And our plan is to make 200 watches in 2024. And we are committed to remain small. As a comparison, Moser, though still a very small manufacture, made 2,000 watches for 2023.
Our major markets are Asia. With Malaysia having the biggest pie, then Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong being the main focus. Then in Europe, we see Switzerland, France being important to the brand. And then comes Dubai and the Middle East markets with the USA growing strongly.
And thus our time with Samuel ended. We also had some time to talk about his father – Patrik Hoffmann, whom we have also known for many decades, since his time in Ulysse Nardin and now with Watchbox and as a consultant to many watchmaking maisons, including Chronoswiss. After asking Samuel to send our regards to Patrik, we moved out to MBS for the photography session. The mall was already decked out for Christmas.