The Hautlence HL2 is one of those watches you don’t forget. The HL2 was launched in 2011 — the first of Hautlence’s Concepts d’Exception (as they name their very top-tiered products). This is pretty astounding when you consider the fact that the watch has become somewhat of a design icon in little more than four years. With its monolithic quadrilateral form, movement on exuberant display and emphatically energetic indication of time, the HL2 was one of the most impressive products to emerge from an independent brand at the time.
It still is, in my opinion.
One of the most captivating aspects of the HL2’s appearance is how perfectly its aesthetic and technical elements are articulated throughout its design. The construction of the movement HL2.0, with its asymmetric curves and sharply rounded segments, the intricacy of its exposed components, the cyclical tread of the hour panels — they all unite in a modern-day interpretation of the fin-de-siècle design philosophy.
Organic shapes expressed in industrial materials evoke the grandeur and decadence associated with the end of the 18th century, when the last gasps of romanticism coupled riotously with modernism. The word “steampunk” is very easy to fall into when talking about the HL2, but the watch — being an actual functional and technical object — transcends the associations of artifice and fantasy that come with the term.
Four years on, the new Vortex is the latest Concept d’Exception from Hautlence, and translates the HL2 along the horizontal axis. Along with this change in spatial orientation comes a significant evolution in design.
Every facet of the Vortex is machined with aggression in its lines. The panes of sapphire crystal that emphasised the sleek lines of the HL2 are in the Vortex reworked to convey tension and pure strength. It’s an impression further reinforced by the contrast of finishes on the case, playing up the angularity and strict geometries of the watch.
The hourly 60° lateral rotation of the escapement also carries more force behind it, snapping forwards and coming to a rebounding halt, as compared to the relatively sedate rotation within by the HL2. For those worried about the effects of this abrupt motion on the chronometric performance of the watch, I have it from CEO Guillaume Tetu himself that the balance is in no way compromised, thanks to the speed regulator built into the movement.
The action of the speed regulator is expressed through the Hautlence logo at the centre of the retrograde minutes indicator, which spins rapidly at the end of each hour and reflects the braking influence on the rotating escapement. So that’s nice to know, that the spinning logo actually represents a functional operation of the watch. Not just a pretty face, clearly.
If the HL2 was a heady ferment of wonder and romantic optimism, then the Vortex epitomises modern confidence and industrial stability. The transition from one to the other is something that I’ve also observed in the growth of Hautlence as an entity — from a company that leaned heavily on its individual, strong products to a brand with sharp products benefiting from focused commercial and industrial direction.
This complication has always been the halo product of Hautlence, and it’s obvious to anyone who’s been following the company that the evolution of the brand is closely mirrored throughout its watch collection. Being a small company, Hautlence doesn’t necessarily have access to the giant marketing machines that larger brands wield. That’s the great thing about Hautlence having products such as the Vortex, though. What do they need marketing machines for when their watches communicate so clearly every single line of the Hautlence story?