Hautlence HL Vagabonde Tourbillon: Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost
Vagrant, tramp, hobo, rogue, knave, loafer, vagabond: for at least the last half-millennium, people have associated wandering with no fixed home as an undesirable life. Or at least the popular opinion is that these types cannot be trusted because only an “unscrupulous” man would have no place he calls home.
This is kind of silly; for countless centuries humans were nomadic, some still are, and having a permanent home is just one of many ways of life.
J.R.R. Tolkien understood this when he penned the words, “Not all those who wander are lost” in The Fellowship of the Ring. Wanderers and vagabonds are not necessarily without direction or purpose, but may just be following their own paths wherever they lead.
In the modern world, travelers, backpackers, van-lifers, and off-the-beaten-trackers have taken these words back and turned them into badges of honor. I don’t know how many SUVs I’ve seen with stickers from every national park that also have a sticker that repeats the Tolkien quote; it has become a mantra of those who, lost or not, are happily wandering.
While many may still have the same archaic association with these words, those who seek new horizons will always understand what it means to be a vagabond, one searching for new experiences.
Chris McCandless, aka Alexander Supertramp, made one of these words his pseudonym once he turned to this life before his untimely death. And Randy Komisak, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, wrote in his book The Monk and the Riddle, “And then there is the most dangerous risk of all – the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.”
It seems clear that there are those who see that the way the world is arranged doesn’t work for everyone, and some feel the need to create their own ways.
A watch brand that is a perfect example of this is Hautlence, the innovative, quirky brand from Neuchâtel (of which its name is an anagram) that likes to do things on its own terms and without following the crowd. That inevitably means the brand has its detractors, but those probably aren’t the vagabond types.
Hautlence is known for taking some creative risks; I mean what watch brand releases two high-end “watches” that aren’t even watches but arcade games for the wrist? These are the Pinball and the Labyrinth.
The answer is Hautlence, that’s who. But when the brand isn’t making the Sterns’ family, friends, and followers shake their heads and Rolex fanboys grumble incoherently (I’m sure I’ll get some shade for that), it is creating some incredibly unique watches.
Hautlence uses tradition to explore new avenues and at other times create entirely unique mechanism categories that reshape what we can imagine a watch to be.
That is also why when the brand decided to make a wandering hours watch it appropriately named it the HL Vagabonde, a slightly more irreverent definition of a wanderer that perfectly encapsulates what the brand is about.
And the latest iteration of the collection, the HL Vagabonde Tourbillon, is a collaboration between classical mechanics and the brand’s signature avant-garde design.
Hautlence HL Vagabonde Tourbillon
So let’s just get right into the Vagabonde Tourbillon. But first a quick word on what a wandering hours display is: traditionally, this complicated display type comprises a central three- or four-legged cross component. Each arm carries a disk at its end that rotates to show the current hour while “pointing” to the minute on a track. A good, highly visible example is the Arnold & Son Golden Wheel.
Hautlence’s HL Vagabonde Tourbillon dial centers on the basic functionality for the Vagabonde wandering hours, which surprisingly isn’t really a wandering hours at all, at least not as one would expect. Instead it has a wandering minutes scale that rotates around the dial once every 90 minutes. The 60-minute scale however only takes up 240 degrees of arc, leaving a gap constituting that extra 30 minutes.
As previously mentioned, the hours shown here are not classically wandering, but distributed on three disks around the dial every 120 degrees, and the hour display kind of hopscotches around.
As the minute scale progresses forward, the current hour is highlighted on one of the three disks, pointing to the minute scale as it passes. When it reaches 45 minutes past the hour, the next hour disk rotates to display the next hour so that when the 60-minute mark reaches the pointer of the current hour, the leading edge of the minute scale aligns with the next hour.
The change for the hours is not instantaneous but takes about a minute and will snap as the star wheel switches over; this is perfectly reasonable as the change occurs 15 minutes after or before the hour. In that way it functions similar to other “star wheel” wandering hours (like the Parmigiani Toric Capitole) with the slower hour changeover.
The mechanism of the original Vagabonde and the newer Vagabonde Tourbillon is the same, but the placement on the dial differs.
The original is rotated 15 degrees clockwise from being vertically symmetrical, though 12 o’clock is displayed on the left hour disk instead of the upper disk, meaning one might argue it is rotated 90 degrees counterclockwise.
The Vagabonde Tourbillon is oriented to be vertically symmetrical, but again 12 o’clock is not on the top disk but rather the lower left one. Aesthetically, this helps with the concept of a wandering hour since the disks don’t change location over time.
Interestingly, the hour disks are more than meets the eye: they are a set of two overlapping disks that that interact in a cool way. Each hour disk utilizes a stationary disk underneath that has either one, two, or three vertical bars in white, gold, or some highlight color.
The disk on top has eight positions with four skeletonized number bars and four skeletonized blank-out covers to hide the bars when they’re not displaying an hour. When a disk displays an hour, the upper disk rotates from the blank to a specially designed cover plate that is a bar of the highlight color, and sometimes a combination of the background color should a number require it like the 2 and the 5 (both utilizing the two vertical bars disk).
The highlight bars cover the bars underneath in a specific way to create the number. For example, the disk with two vertical bars is combined with three horizontal bars to form a blocky number 8.
The same goes for all the other numbers. This has the added bonus of allowing the two vertical bars to be the number 11 and the single vertical bar to be the number 1. The three vertical bars are used for the number 3. Though not Roman numeral style, it utilizes a single bar across the bottom to form the Arabic numeral 3.
Mechanics mix with design
It is a unique system that is more complicated than it needs to be, but that is Hautlence: taking new paths that are certainly not the easy way. And in a big departure from the original, the Vagabonde Tourbillon features, you guessed it, a tourbillon where 6 o’clock would be.
Nestled between the two lower hour disks, the aperture provides a fairly clear view of the one-minute tourbillon, though the minute scale and the unused hour numbers do overlap the opening.
Since the HTL 405-1 movement is based on the H. Moser & Cie. HMC 804, this is the least “Hautlence” part of the watch, retaining some style and finishing from the sister brand. But the juxtaposition is welcome since an Hautlence watch is never going to be about sticking to one singular idea or aesthetic approach; contrast is key.
The overall style is still driven by the distinctive HL case, which is sort of a cushion/rectangle with faceted corners. This case certainly sets these watches apart from a majority of others.
This, and previous Hautlence pieces, were all taken into consideration when designing the original Vagabonde and the new Vagabonde Tourbillon. The details vary from reference to reference so that each one feels a bit like its own creation. Whether colors, patterns, materials, or cover plate shapes, Hautlence tried out some options across the variety of the originals and the tourbillon models.
In the end, however, it all comes down to that mechanism and time display.
The Vagabonde Tourbillon is a perfect nom de guerre for a watch that both mechanically wanders and represents an attitude for the brand that upholds its values of exploration, creativity, and innovation.
If I didn’t know better, I might imagine that the people currently behind Hautlence had that name in mind from the very beginning of their takeover. The Vagabonde Tourbillon is in line with the variety that has come before and signals that Hautlence is still working hard to try different ideas and avoiding following a single path.
Case in point, just look to other recent releases like the HL Newton and the HL Sphere: all killer, no filler.
“Can we please, please break it down,” you ask?
All right, since you asked nicely.
- Wowza Factor * 9.6 It should come as no surprise that Hautlence watches wow me nearly every time I see one!
- Late Night Lust Appeal * 96.6» 947.322m/s2 This is a huge amount of lust appeal keeping me glued to my chair well into the darkness of night!
- M.G.R. * 66.1 Matching an H. Moser & Cie base caliber with a wandering hours mechanism like this is sure to make the geek rating climb high!
- Added-Functionitis * N/A Did you even have to guess here? I guess we can skip the Gotta-HAVE-That cream again!
- Ouch Outline * 11.89 A hand full of hundreds of tiny cuts as you wipe something down with alcohol! It burns, it BURNS! Anybody that has done metal work or perhaps sorted through a mountain of papers will probably have some idea of this excruciatingly precise pain, yet I’d do it every day if it meant I got the Vagabonde Tourbillon on my wrist!
- Mermaid Moment * I’ll give it an hour! Wandering hour mechanisms really only need one partial cycle before you are calling the florist and the caterer!
- Awesome Total * 993 Multiply the case dimensions in length (39) by width (46) and from the total subtract the base caliber number from H. Moser (804), then add the power reserve in days (3) for a wanderingly awesome total!
For more information, please visit www.hautlence.com/watch/hl-vagabonde-tourbillon-01.
Quick Facts Hautlence HL Vagabonde Tourbillon
Case: 39 x 46 x 12 mm, 5N red gold
Movement: automatic Caliber HTL 405-1 based on the H. Moser & Cie. HMC 804 with one-minute flying tourbillon, 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency, double hairspring, three-day power reserve
Functions: wandering hours, wandering minutes
Limitation: 10 pieces each of two dial options