The Hautlence Vortex: Is This The World’s Slowest Tourbillon?
by Ian Skellern
Modern technology including three-dimensional computer aided design (CAD) programs and incredibly versatile (and very expensive) CNC machines have made it easier − not easy, just easier − than ever to create watch movements and cases of a complexity unimaginable just a decade or so ago.
And the Internet, social media and myriad magazines and blogs make it easier − not easy, just easier − than ever for brands, even small brands, to communicate and market watches worldwide and directly with potential customers.
Creating crazily complicated watches has never been easier (though it’s still not easy by any stretch), and any limits today come about only through a lack of imagination.
A lack of imagination or . . . lack money.
Because, while it is still not easy to create a brand and manufacture interesting watches, there has never been as much competition because of all of those brands and interesting watches that have been − and still are being − created.
This tension between the relative ease of creativity and communication and an intensely competitive market has created quite a rocky road for most − if not all − small brands, with many fading into the sunset within a few short years of launching.
Few boutique brands have experienced the same sort of roller coaster ride Hautlence has. Having launched in 2004, this company was among the first of the young, independent, contemporary brands making a name with interesting complications and original concepts (Urwerk was probably the first in 1997) .
Throughout its decade and more of existence, Hautlence has experienced the tumult of both change of investors and change of senior management. Hautlence co-founder and CEO Guillaume Tetu has been through it all. And he’s still smiling!
The reason for Tetu’s happy countenance is that since 2012, the brand can count on financial stability in the form of new owners, MELB Holdings, the holding company of former Audemars Piguet CEO Georges-Henri Meylan and his capable sons. MELB Holdings also owns H. Moser & Cie.
With MELB’s support, Hautlence has been able to spend the last few years focusing on developing exciting watches rather than scratching for funds to stay alive.
Vortex is the brand’s latest, and most complicated, watch post-MELB acquisition, and its success, or lack thereof, will be an important milestone for Hautlence as it looks to the future.
Vortex is a good, short, snappy name, but does it fit the watch? Well, my dictionary defines a “vortex” as a noun meaning:
- Region in a fluid medium in which the flow is mostly rotating on an axis line.
- Rapid rotatory movement of cosmic matter about a center, regarded as accounting for the origin or phenomena of bodies and systems of bodies in space (in Cartesian philosophy).
With its regulator rotating around a single axis, I’d say the name Vortex is a pretty good fit.
While Vortex has an entirely new case, its movement is one we have seen before, although in a different configuration. The original caliber, called HL2.0, was first seen in the watch of the same name that was launched in 2011. For Vortex, the triple patent movement has been updated for improved reliability and ease of assembly, but more importantly has been turned 90 degrees.
The result is a very different-looking watch with quite a different-looking, but as interesting as ever, movement.
Indications and functionality
As far as indications go, Vortex has nothing special: just hours, minutes, and a power reserve indicator, but it’s how those indications are displayed that makes the timepiece so interesting.
The minutes are retrograde and sweep across an 180-degree arc making for a large, highly legible display that fully covers the top half dial side.
The power reserve indicator is on the right side of the dial with a distinctive red hand clearly warning when it is time to wind.
And, lastly, jumping hours are displayed in a window at the bottom left of the dial. The in-line progression of displays from left to right makes it very easy to read: our example shown above displays 2:05 with a fully wound mainspring.
The jumping hours merit a closer look as they are printed on a twelve-link chain. A speed governor (just like a minute repeater governor) under the Hautlence infinity logo in the center of the dial ensures that, rather than jump instantaneously and be easily missed, the hour chain advances to the new hour over three to four seconds so it can be more easily appreciated. You can also watch the gears move during the jump through the side of the transparent case.
The jumping hour chain system and other complications are driven by a secondary spring barrel to ensure that the kinetic show does not affect timekeeping by robbing power from the going train.
Out-of-this-world six-hour tourbillon
If all Vortex had were retrograde minutes and jumping hours displayed by a chain then it would already be an interesting watch. But in the words of Bachman Turner Overdrive, “You ain’t seen nothing yet!”
Vortex also has a six-hour tourbillon: a tourbillon that doesn’t simply rotate the balance, but rotates the whole regulator including balance wheel, escape wheel, pallet fork, and fifth wheel.
This isn’t watchmaking, it’s performance theater!
Each time the jumping hours advance, the regulator rotates 60 degrees. Since its launch, I’ve seen Vortex described as everything from a one-minute tourbillon to a one-hour tourbillon, but while I’m no mathematician, I can calculate that rotating 60 degrees every hour means six hours for a full 360-degree rotation. So it is actually a six-hour tourbillon.
A black rubber strap set diagonally around the escapement is there to provide more visual clues as to the position of the tourbillon regulator and emphasize its rotational movement each minute.
The angular case is a departure from Hautlence’s usual fare and was a collaboration with Parisian design studio BBDC – Berra Blanquer Design Consultants, who came up with a very architectural look. While it might be theoretically accurate to call it a titanium case, the metal in the case really just provides a relatively minimalist framework to support the six sapphire crystal panels.
And if those exterior sapphire crystals don’t satiate your appetite for appreciating the movement, here’s the clincher: the dial is smoky crystal so while it looks dark from some angles, if you look closely, you can see right through it to the movement below.
Vortex is one of thee most open watches I’ve ever seen; you can watch virtually every mechanism in operation from one angle or another.
One benefit to having so much crystal in the case is that any future gold or platinum versions are unlikely to cost exorbitantly more as the metal makes up only a small percentage of the weight of the case.
There is no denying that Vortex is visually a very imposing watch. The relative large 50 x 52 mm dimensions impart a very masculine look that those sharp case angles do nothing to soften. However, those short integrated lugs mean that, surprisingly, the watch sits quite comfortably, even small wrists like mine.
And if you want still more on the Hautlence Vortex, please check out this video above courtesy of The Watches TV.
For more information, please visit www.hautlence.com/en/collection/concepts-d-exception/vortex.
Case: 52 x 50 x 18 mm, titanium, water resistance 30 meters
Movement: HLR 2.0 in-house tourbillon caliber with rotating regulator, automatic winding with micro rotor, 92 jewels, 3 Hz balance frequency
Functions: jumping hours displayed by a chain, retrograde minutes; 40-hour power reserve indicator
Limitation: 88 pieces
Price: 160,000 Swiss francs (including tax)