Hautlence HL Sphere: The Power Of The Mystical Orb
The sphere is both the most natural shape in the universe and one of the least organic shapes in the universe.
Spheres are found everywhere throughout the universe, all it takes is enough mass, but in our everyday lives real spheres hardly ever materialize. This is probably because spheres usually only occur in extremely stable environments where either gravity is the only force acting upon matter or where consistent and completely random erosion and wear degrade an object into a sphere.
For this reason, the sphere has always held a mystical place in the human mind because it is extremely difficult to make a good one and impossible to create a perfectly spherical sphere.
Sure, some fruits and veggies are sort of spherical. And we’ve found some rocks that are fairly spherical, but they are nearly always spheroids or semi-flattened spheres. The best we have is looking up to the night sky to observe our moon or, carefully, the sun.
Once technology advanced enough that humans developed techniques or machinery that could create spheres, they started popping up everywhere: stone spheres, clay spheres, glass beads, and eventually metal spheres.
In the modern age, the sphere is one of the most useful shapes in mechanical design, with the ball bearing alone helping to create motion in a majority of things that can move. And yet, still, if you were to look around your entire house or office, you probably don’t have many – if any – perfect spheres (outside of ball bearings inside some appliances).
Spheres still hold a certain amount of awe, for instance when people find a large crystal ball or a massive, polished steel ball bearing; many want to handle and caress it. Holding a (nearly) perfect sphere is odd for our ape hands because we just don’t come across them in nature. The sphere is, in a funny way, a magical shape and, as such, commands attention.
Thinking along these lines may have helped inspire independent watchmaker Hautlence with its latest release, the HL Sphere, an absolutely fan-freaking-tastic jumping hour watch with retrograde minutes that displays the hours on a stunning rotating sphere.
In return to form, the Hautlence HL Sphere introduces one of the most unique mechanical firsts for the watch industry in a long time. So let’s dig in.
Hautlence HL Sphere: ideology
The concept visible in the HL Sphere was teased in 2018 with a pair of table clocks called the HL Kinetic Table Clock featuring the spherical differential mechanism, one displaying the minutes and one the hours.
The ideological basis of the HL Sphere watch, though, derives from the original Hautlence timepieces that featured a jump hour with retrograde minutes, mechanically driven in a novel way. That is what launched the brand way back in 2004, and the HL Sphere is meant to be a return to form for the brand, which by extension means innovation and creativity in the execution.
Thus, the basic idea of a jump hour was transformed by departing from any standard watchmaking lineage and hoisting the sphere into the spotlight.
The HL Sphere’s hour display is a highly legible PVD-blue polished titanium sphere marked in a very unique pattern with the numbers 1 through 12 in white lacquer. The sphere is cut into two pieces with a wave-shape edge, making two hemispheres with three pointed wings that nest together.
This feature is combined with a spherical differential that allows the hemispheres to rotate around while an angled center axis causes a roll that makes the hemispheres wobble back and forth.
When the hours jump, the sphere rotates smoothly 450 degrees from its last position, which flips and aligns the next numeral on the front face of the sphere.
The retrograde minute mechanism is what drives the display, and at the top of every hour a snail cam releases a follower lever allowing the minute hand to slowly fly back to zero and, with the help of a governor gear train, creates a quick yet deliberately paced motion for the sphere as it finds its next position.
The power to the sphere is driven through a differential beneath the minute hand, allowing the retrograde function to progress over the hour and only driving the sphere on its return to zero.
The entire spherical differential is tilted on its main axis of rotation with the outside pivot supported above the front plate and the inside pivot pointing out the rear of the movement. This ensures that the complex rotation of the sphere stays aligned with a numeral position always pointing directly forward.
Hautlence HL Sphere: retrospective nod to details
Minutes are displayed on the right side of the dial with a 180-degree retrograde hand reminiscent of the original HL 1. The entire mechanism is visible from the dial side, another callback to the first model, though some is underneath the smoky sapphire crystal surrounding the two cutaways.
The finishing for all the parts is kept relatively simple, satin and brushed mainly, with only a few components getting polished treatment. Aside from a few jewels, a blued hand, and a darker differential wheel underneath, the watch is almost entirely monochromatic.
The various shades of grey across the movement, dial, and case draws even more attention to the brilliant hour sphere on the left side of the dial. Being a sphere it already stands out, but the effect is much more visually poignant thanks to the contrast of the deep blue PVD coating.
The minute numerals are polished and rhodium plated so they do not stand out nearly as much as if they had a color applied instead of being a variation on grey.
The hour numerals on the sphere and the tip of the minute hand feature white lacquer as a variant to the grey, helping the features pop just that little bit more and creating stronger contrast, drawing attention to the reason we are here: the sphere.
The sphere is incredible, as is the awesomazing spherical differential inside. The ability to use 450 degrees of movement (from three axes) to create 12 distinct positions for the hour numerals was a work of genius and definitely not a simple task. Just understanding the rotational movement enough to cut the two titanium hemispheres into their respective shapes must have taken a lot of motion analysis, which often is a tedious manual process.
The sphere is the centerpiece of Caliber HTL 501-1, but we mustn’t overlook the retrograde seconds. This isn’t the same mechanism found in another movement; there is no corollary among the Hautlence calibers.
The function was specifically designed for this style of movement, allowing for gentle activation, a one-way operation for the sphere, and a safety mechanism to prevent damage from setting the time in reverse.
Hautlence HL Sphere: standout among standouts
The spring return is even unique, as it is a gentle spiral spring integrated into the return finger that presses on the minute rack. The piece was likely cut with wire spark erosion and looks unlike any traditional component. It does the job of at least three or four components all in one, and I’m guessing was calculated to be very specific in its torque delivery.
The activation mechanism is very gentle (necessary with a complex and fast-moving component like the retrograde and sphere differential), which is a feature found on other Hautlence models, all unique to their individual calibers.
This highlights that throughout the past 15 years Hautlence has maintained a consistent level of attention when designing movements and mechanisms, something that not every independent watchmaker can claim.
But most importantly (at least philosophically), Hautlence has remained committed to creativity and fun as well as the desire to infuse it into what it makes.
Not every model shares that approach (some models are meant to be relatively accessible and lack a little of the true spirit of Hautlence), but the ones that really matter do. The HL Sphere is not only a standout piece for the brand, it is a standout piece for the entire watchmaking industry, independent or otherwise.
The creativity and engineering that went into this piece are inspiring, and such ability to go outside of what we (the public) might think is possible is what keeps me so passionate about this industry.
There have been many watches in the last 15 years – from a handful of independents, mind you – that I think will come to represent the golden age of avant-garde mechanical watchmaking, and Hautlence is well represented on the list.
HL Sphere is a point of proof that it still has what it takes to amaze, and as long as it can keep creating things of this level every few years, it will easily land among the pantheon of great watchmakers of the twenty-first century, helping to shape the future of the industry.
I will go out on a limb to say that the HL Sphere is easily within my top ten favorite watches of all time: for me it has no equal and represents so much incredible engineering with a firm design restraint that can often be ignored by some brands (not going to name names).
Out of all the Hautlence models I even enjoy it more than the HL 2, which previously was my absolute favorite from the brand. The HL Sphere is something unique, and the minds behind it definitely have their fingers on the pulse of mechanics and the future.
So let’s break down this amazing piece!
- Wowza Factor * 9.98 This one is near the top of my list, there is just so much awesomeness!
- Late Night Lust Appeal * 115.5» 1,132.668m/s2 The power behind this piece is enough to keep you lusting for weeks!
- M.G.R. * 71.5 When you create something this unique and interesting, the geek rating has to be near perfect!
- Added-Functionitis * N/A I don’t even care that this is time only. Keep it simple while keeping it awesome! You can forgo the Gotta-HAVE-That cream because you deserve it!
- Ouch Outline * 13 Walking on a treadmill of Legos! The infamous max score! Seriously, I would do pretty much anything to get the HL Sphere on my wrist, including enduring the worst pain imaginable: walking on Legos!
- Mermaid Moment * Instantaneous! I mean, did you expect anything else? I’m ready to say I do!
- Awesome Total * 835 Take the first part of the caliber number (501) and multiply by the grade of titanium used in the hour sphere (5), then divide by the number of days of power reserve (3) and the result will be a seriously awesome total!
For more information, please visit www.hautlence.com/watch/hl-sphere.
Quick Facts Hautlence HL Sphere
Case: 39 x 46 x 12 mm (3.75 mm dome), white gold
Movement: hand-winding in-house Caliber HTL 501-1 with spherical hour and retrograde minutes; three-day power reserve; 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency
Functions: spherical jumping hours, retrograde minutes
Limitation: 28 pieces
Price: CHF 99,000