François Moreau has always had a fascination with gauges. Something that becomes abundantly clear at our first meeting in Mexico City during the 2019 El Salón Internacional Alta Relojería (SIAR) — an event that now seems like it took place a lifetime ago considering the seismic changes of the last seven months. Immediately, we begin to discuss the beautiful pragmatism of gauges like the Smith speedometer and tachymeter mounted to my 1972 Norton Commando as well as the VDO gauges that had presided over the stripped-out Spartan cabin of my 1979 Porsche 930 Turbo, a car that used to try to kill me on a daily basis as a young man living in Los Angeles. We joke, in particular, about the Turbo boost gauge that remained motionless even when you had slammed the accelerator to the floor for several seconds — thanks to the model’s notorious turbo lag — before skyrocketing beyond one bar once the turbo finally spooled up and shot you forward toward what seemed like certain death.
Moreau laughs and says, “Well, anyway, this is a clear demonstration that for the majority of the 20th century, all forms of exploration, conquest of the air and the sea, and even competitive racing on land, could not have taken place without these extraordinary instruments providing vital information on everything from oil pressure to altitude.” Inspired by his love affair with instrumentation, Moreau thus set out to create his watch company. He explains, “Of course, I was immediately confronted by the fact that the majority of watches tell time with hands that revolve around the dial, while gauges provide information with a linear or ascending semi-circular reading. So I quickly arrived at the idea of combining a retrograde-minute hand and a jump-hour indicator.”
For those of you who haven’t experienced the engaging visual pyrotechnics of a jump-hour and retrograde-minute watch, this is what happens. The minute hand continues moving forward in a semi-circular arc until at the end of the 59th minute — bam — it jumps back to the beginning of its arc, i.e. the very first second of the first minute, without losing a fraction of a second of accuracy. This is thanks to a very cool snail-cam mechanism that loads the spring-powered hand until the penultimate moment. At the exact same time, the hour indicator, usually in an aperture somewhere near the centre of the dial, instantaneously jumps. This is, of course, not an original idea; there have been many jump-hour watches over the years. My favourites amongst these are the old Gérald Genta Mickey Mouse watches. Mickey’s hand would serve as the minute indicator while the jump hour was shown in a porthole beneath his distinct yellow shoes. And, of course, I also love the iconic Cartier Tank à Guichet, which dates back to 1928, and features a solid case with just two windows on what would normally be the dial; one for the jumping hours and one for the dragging minutes.
Since the creation of the Reservoir brand, Moreau has offered a charming array of clean, legible, jump-hour watches characterised by a large arching minute hand, an aperture at six o’clock for the hours and a linear power-reserve indicator just under that. The designs of the watches have been inspired by the worlds of automobiles, aviation and even submarines, with evocative names like the GT Tour, the Airfight and the Tiefenmesser, all executed around the same movement, which starts life as an ETA 2824-2 but then has a proprietary module for the unique indications added. This module comprises 124 parts and was developed specifically for Reservoir by Télôs Watch of La Chaux-de-Fonds. And all of these watches I consider appealing timepieces, with fun contemporary styling, offered at a competitive price range. So at what point did I stop thinking about Reservoir Watch as a good brand and start thinking about the brand helmed by Moreau with the capable collaboration of his peers François Nakkachdji and François-Marie Neycensas (yes, apparently a prerequisite to Reservoir management is being named François)… as truly great? That was the moment I set eyes on Moreau’s dive watch named the Hydrosphere. I get that there is a seemingly endless number of brands offering dive watches. And yes, each one claims to make the most functional, visible and reliable dive watch around. But with the Hydrosphere, you get something totally different. It has to be the single most out-of-the-box, “take the path less travelled”, march-to-beat-of-its-own-drummer dive watch in existence, and the one and only jump-hour, retrograde-minute dive watch in Christendom.
A Unique System
“Wait a minute. Hold up a second,” you say. Because you too have immediately zeroed in on the fact that a dive watch needs to have a unidirectional dive bezel to show elapsed time. And this elapsed time is read from the bezel relative to the minute hand. Which would absolutely not work in the context of a retrograde-minute hand. Well, that’s just what is so damn cool about the Hydrosphere. Moreau has created the very first dive watch bezel that functions perfectly with his retrograde-minute indicator. It works like this. The bezel features two sets of indicators. The ones in red are for use up to 45 minutes and the ones in blue are for use after 45 minutes. OK, so what exactly does this mean?
How To Measure the Decompression Level at the 15th Minute
Try the following: Imagine your Hydrosphere’s minute hand is at the 46-minute marker. Now you turn the bezel so that the red pearl aligns with 46 minutes. OK, now you can submerge underwater. Checking the bezel at the end of the 59th minute, the minute hand will leap back to zero where it now aligns with the blue indications on the bezel, telling exactly the correct elapsed time. If you set the start point on the 47th minute, the blue indication automatically moves forward by one minute, meaning that the bezel functions flawlessly to show elapsed dive time. It also means that the bezel turns in only one direction, meaning that you can only accidentally shorten dive time; not accidentally increase it, which could be dangerous. Because all dive watches need to have either a seconds hand or running indication, Moreau has placed a sub-seconds disc on the same axis as the minute hand, to show you that the watch is under power. In addition, there is a power-reserve indicator just beneath the hour aperture. Note that this — as well as the seconds indicator, minute hand, the minute scale on the dial and both sets of minute scales on the bezel — are all massively luminous.
After the Hand Indicates 45 Minutes
Says Moreau, “We wanted to create the world’s first retrograde dive watch. But only on the condition that it is a truly functional dive watch. I think the way in which we’ve given massive luminous visibility to all the most vital information, such as elapsed dive time, seconds and power reserve, makes the Hydrosphere hugely functional even while being an engaging and fun watch to observe and play with. For this reason, we wanted to include a helium release valve in the case and rate the water resistance to 250 metres — to stress that when we make a dive watch, we do it seriously.”
Yes, that’s right — the Hydrosphere, which is not only one of the coolest-looking, but also definitely the most unique dive watch around, is super functional and actually features a helium release valve. So if you wanted to take it deep saturation diving, you could decompress with the watch on without worrying that expanding helium molecules from your stay in the hyperbaric chamber would cause the crystal of the watch to pop off. Says Moreau, “We wanted to create a devastatingly charming watch but with no compromise as a diving tool.” Despite all this technical street cred, it is the design of the Hydrosphere that is so damnably arresting. Whether it’s the Pop Art Frank Stella-like colour fields of primary hues used around the minute track, the smooth UFO shape of the watch that is reminiscent of both Ikepod and Max Büsser & Friends, the entire 45mm-diameter watch (it wears smaller as there are no lugs) just looks epic and wildly futuristic on the wrist. And at a hair over USD 4,000, we can say that it is a strong value proposition as well.
The Maldives Edition
When the opportunity arose to create a special-edition watch with Reservoir, it was without hesitation that I asked for it to be on the Hydrosphere platform. And as it turns out, we had the perfect theme. We will be opening our first physical retail shop in the beginning of 2021. While many might have speculated that this would be in a major city like London, New York or Singapore, our first boutique will be located in the Maldives. Specifically 50 minutes from Malé by speedboat, on a reef owned by our partners Pontiac Land where they have reclaimed three islands for three different hotels comprising a total of almost 300 villas on the water. To celebrate our launch in this diving and water sports mecca, we decided with Reservoir to create a very special version of the Hydrosphere — one that evokes the sun as it dips into the water. The setting sun is a promise that it will rise once again tomorrow, bringing with it a brand-new day. It symbolises the beginning of 2021, a year that we know will bring a renewal of hope, optimism and prosperity to the world.
Says Moreau, “We selected bronze because this has been a material for some of Revolution’s best-selling special-edition watches, including the IWC Mark XI in 36mm with a George Cleverley 200-year-old Russian reindeer-hide strap. I recall all 150 pieces of this watch sold in 14 minutes in 2019 when it was launched. But even more because, in the context of a diving watch, bronze was always the material that [was] used to create ancient marine elements like hardware, oarlocks, latches and even propellers. The use of bronze gave our Hydrosphere the sense that it was an artifact from a Jules Verne fantasy. We loved the idea of this watch developing a beautiful patina [because it] was used in the stunning blue waters of the Maldives. To complement the bronze case, we found a dial with the perfect colour of the sunset, and complemented by a beautiful sunray effect emanating from the centre. Then, we found the perfect tone of brown ceramic for the bezel insert.”
Note that on this special edition, the indexes are rose gold in colour, filled with luminous material, then applied to the dial for an extra touch of vibrancy and richness from the regular production watch. The entire design was an interesting exercise in playing with much warmer colour codes, such as the cream-coloured Luminova used on the bezel. The end-result is a watch with a totally different character — much warmer and somehow sensual — and we love it. With the watch, we will include a rubber strap and a NATO strap with bronze hardware and keepers. This is an all-new strap design for us and is exclusive to the Revolution model. A third ZULU strap with bronze keepers will also be included in the box, as our way of saying thanks.
Just before I check out, I can’t begin to explain how supremely ecstatic and incredibly humbled we were to find out that our watch was on the list of finalists for the 2020 GPHG Diver’s Category.
The Reservoir × Revolution Bronze Hydrosphere will be made in a limited edition of 100 pieces and is priced at USD 4,400. It also comes with a print of an original artwork by Alain Bouldouyre, commissioned by Reservoir to tell the story of our collaboration in the lush and wondrous Maldives. Says Moreau, “It’s funny, when I look at the watch and dream of wearing [it] in the Maldives, I am filled with optimism. In some ways, the watch fills me with hopefulness for the future.” I am most inclined to agree with him.