It’s no secret that I’m fascinated by watch movements. I love the technical aspect of it, I love how they translate a single constant (the half-swing of a watch balance) into so many incredible expressions of the world around us. Occasionally, when I come across a particularly fascinating movement, I feel as if I’d like to shrink myself down to explore its interior — especially with the highly architectural movements you come across sometimes. It would be easy to get lost in such a watch, metaphorically and literally.
With something like the Hautlence Playground Labyrinth, it’s as if this approach of mine — which, okay, I totally recognise is kinda weird — has been translated into an actual mechanical creation.
The Hautlence motto is “Cross the Line”, a philosophy that speaks to the transgressive instinct in all of us. The idea is that all of us, at some point or other, have felt the compulsion to leave convention behind and strike out into the untested and unknown.
My continuous appreciation of Hautlence and its products has always been based on its willingness to move in unexpected ways — its gorgeous HL2 being the perfect example of this. It’s not a tourbillon, at least not in the classical sense of horological construction, but its cinematic appeal and technical perspective class it in the same strata of mechanical glory.
Now, in its most radical departure from convention yet, Hautlence has just announced its newest product family, the Playground. Note that this is not simply a collection, which implies a sub-group of an existing class of products, but a new product family altogether.
Because the Playground Labyrinth is not a watch. It is a mechanical game, as built by a watchmaker, with watchmaking expertise and watchmaking solutions and watchmaking finishes. Instead of giving you the time, the message of the Labyrinth is “take the time”.
I met up with Hautlence CEO Sandro Reginelli the other day, and our conversation revolved around the essential spirit of mechanical innovation and what creates that sense of delight when we encounter a piece that really speaks to us. Personally, the sense of intimate familiarity that some watches convey is something that induces immediate affection and understanding in me — a watch is a human artefact, after all. As a means of communication between creator and viewer (art lovers will thoroughly comprehend what I’m talking about here), there is no more perfect way that a watch can touch its audience.
In fact, there is no more perfect way that any creative product — a watch, a film, a piece of music, a story — can touch its audience.
The Playground Labyrinth has extracted that central element and embodied it in a game that sits within the rectilinear case of a Hautlence watch. A three-dimensional gold maze occupies the space that would normally be taken up with a dial. The crown becomes the key to the mechanism that lifts the platinum ball up to the level of the dial and starts a new exploration.
I’ll say this for the Labyrinth — you can’t help yourself once it’s in your hands. You immediately start to tilt it back and forth and work the ball through its turns and stops. (Sandro had to ask me the same question three times before I heard him. I still don’t remember what the question was.)
This is not a watch. It represents time in an abstracted sense, evoking childhood games and nostalgia, compelling you to take your eyes off the clock and forcing a different evaluation of your time. It is not a timepiece, but it is a time object. It’s a difficult line to define, but in any case Hautlence has crossed it.