" L'homme véritable veut deux choses : le danger et le jeu. C'est pourquoi il veut la femme, le jouet le plus dangereux." Friedrich Nietzsche
Watches Reviews

Vortex: Hautlence, the return

Le 23 July 2015
Malik "Pifpaf" Bahri

Hello fellas,

A decade ago, I was stuck in bed with some painful but not quite serious health problems for a couple of weeks. After 72h of non-stop Battlefield 2, my eyes were stinging and my thighs had been badly burned by the bottom side of the laptop.
It was time to give it a break, and troll more intensely on the watchmaking web. In a forum, I discovered an incredible watch, the Hautlence HL02. It was a completely new thing, both as concerns the aesthetic and the complication.

Let us look back at the context of the times, for those who weren’t there or have simply forgotten: forumeurs used to worship two watches: the Rolex Submariner and the Omega Speedmaster. The Paneristis were persecuted like the first christians, Lange was regarded with a lot of suspicion and Patek was far. The best of all was the Rolex Daytona…

Vortex vs HL:

Hautlence Vortex VS Hautlence HL (1)

  • As wachmaking enthusiasts, we were still in the old watchmaking paradigm, that which prevailed in the pre-quartz crisis watchmaking: an European designed utilitarian watchmaking (France, UK, Germany, Italy), enhanced and sublimed through the art of finishings and the Swiss micro-mechanics precision.

The shift to art and leisure watchmaking wasn’t yet influencing the products, which were based on a beautiful but a bit fusty tradition going back to the immadiate postwar period.

This is when the independent watchmakers made their presence felt. Their proposition consisted in revolutioning the displays.

This may seem surprising, but it’s actually very logical: as soon as we go back to the basis because of the disuse of the rim, we put the complications on the side to overdevelop the crux of the matter: the display.

  • In 2004, this idea was the basis of Hautlence’s creation: a new way of displaying the time and presenting a watch.

Hautlence (pronounced HauTlence) was the nimble star of the early days of independent watchmaking.

It has taken other indies such as MB&F, Greubel Foresy, De Bethune, ect…, several years to offer products that reflect their respective creator’s genius.

HauTlence immediately hit the nail in the head with a highly desirable watch: the HL. This watch combined a very strong aesthetic, adopting the TV-Screen format (typical of the 70’s, but forgotten in 2004-5) with a display complication brand-new in a watch: jumping hour and retrograde minute display via connecting-rod.

Despite those original aspects, the first HL (especially the 02 & 05) was a paragon of balance and aesthetic, so that Hautlance ranked among the top sexiest independent brands.

And after that? The doldrums. Strangled by difficult relationships with investors and the subsequent Quentin’s departure, Hautlence struggled to finance their costly developments. They dressed up the movement of the HL, more or less succesfully, but without the breath of the first one.

Hautlence Vortex HL2.0 caliber(16)Hautlence Vortex (8)
Early 2010, I went to Hautlence’s. They had just developped some crazy stuff that I was going to have the privilege of being the first blogger to see: a new movement that displayed the time via chain and had a jumping retrograde minutes. A large movement, super complicated, reminiscent of a miniature tank chassis, complex and heavy. I loved it right away.
Guillaume Tetu also presented me the prototype of the case: I liked it less, the watch is rectangular but vertically, and I did quiz Guillaume on this: “when are you going to make it horizontal?”

5 years and a haf later, I finally got the answer: the Vortex.

Hautlence Vortex HL2.0 caliber(14)

It was a bit long, but it was worth it, especially since the usher of this long intermission was Eric Cantona, the most street-credible footballer in history. An exceptional partership for Hautlence: Eric wasn’t that expensive and threw all his energies into the horological creation, with an unbridled creativity worthy of his puppet in “Les guignols de l’info” (they were still funny at that time).
Either as a footballer or as a watchmaking ambassador, Canto is the opposite of the fop pro, the metrosexual, sorry to say, hired by Breitling, the ultimate poser, David Beckham.

  • Let’s go back to the Vortex.

Hautlence Vortex (2)

The challenge for Hautlence was twofold: go back to sources while managing to fit a movement with unusual dimensions: 37.8 x 33.2 x 12.35mm, and 15.4mm thick with the balance-wheel block at 90°. Additional fitting strain: the watch shall be equipped with sapphire crystal on four out of the six faces, the last two being reserved to the lugs.

Hautlence Vortex (6)Hautlence Vortex (7)

The Parisian designers have used various ingenious solutions to reduce the volumes of the imposing 50*52*20mm grade 5 titanium case.
The most effective trick was to split the flanks of the case diagonally to create two additional faces. This totally broke the thickness effect of the watch, and if Guillaume hadn’t told it to me, I couldn’t have guessed that the watch was reaching the psychological barrier of two centimeters thickness…

Moreover, this case is slightly trapezoidal, reinforcing the TV Screen effect (TV tendancy Star Wars-style, I can’t wait for the DLC version, tribute to Dark Vador).

You will also notice on the pictures that the part that unveils the regulating organ is not covered by the titanium armature of the case, but has a shaped sapphire that breaks the lines once again and have a slimming effect on the watch, while enhancing the trapezium impression.

Hautlence Vortex HL2.0 caliber(15)Hautlence Vortex (5)

  • More generally, the multplication of the faces (6) underlines the calibre so strongly that we find ourself paying as much attention to the volume of the calibre as to the one of the case while examining the pattern of the vortex.

Thanks to the titanium, the watch is actually very light on the wrist, and the TV Screen format provides an optimum distribution of mass on the wrist bone (fatty part, in my case). The only danger with the actual thickness is the impacts.

We’re positively disappointed.

Good thing about it, while wearing it, we find the same sensations as with the first HL. It feels like wearing a small bullion on the wrist. It leaves you with an impression of solidity (yet, if the first HL was a blokhaus, this one looks more like a glass tower) and paradoxical mass, given its light weight (less than 100 grams).

Hautlence Vortex (4)Hautlence Vortex (3)

The new placement of the calibre HL2.0 is another welcome development. The TV Screen format makes the regulating organ stand out even more. Although it’s not a novelty, it’s always impressive to see it running.

Note that the whole thing sprung balance/escapement is fixed to a movable bridge rotating on its axis. The principle is: when the retrograde minute hand reaches 60, the chain jumps and makes the whole regulating organ bloc jump too at a 60° angle. So the escapement runs over a 360° segment in 6 hours, which is a Tourbillon, literally.

Hautlence Vortex HL2.0 caliber(13)

  • A tourbillon is always a pretext to impress. In this case, not only it rocks, but above all it’s a new type of escapement complication, inaugurated by Hautlence for the HL2.0 (model of which the sales have allowed the brand to keep going until today).

This Vortex version of the movement HL2.0 brings additional new features. The main one is the switch to a unique spiral with a frequency of 21600 bph (for 40h of PwR) instead of the previously used 18000 bph by double spiral. I have a preference for the 21600, whose base 6 fits better with the sexagesimal system used in watchmaking. It is also a base 6 that determines the jump of the regulating organ bloc. Thus, we come full circle and the Hautlence’s logo representing the infinity is respected.

Hautlence Vortex (12)Hautlence Vortex HL2.0 caliber(17)

Aesthetically speaking, the escapement bloc evolves into a more angular design, that goes well with that of the case. The calibre maintains the concentric aesthetic of the HL2.0, which is a bit pitiful. What’s even more strange is the tilted ring on the escapement bloc, simply there for decoration.

  • Aesthetically, it works, but it is useless mechanically speaking, and it disturbs my watchmaking psycho-rigidity (a blogger colleague once described me as a watchmaking taliban: “Breguet Akbar”, I answered him).

Hautlence Vortex (10)

If the decoration is slightly developed (positively), le mechanical complexity remains unchanged: 2 barrels (complication and time), 552 components, 92 rubies, constant force system for the energy regulation of the jump of chain, and differencial at 90° for the jumps of the regulating organ bloc.

Finally, the dial, for those who don’t know the Hautlence universe: there’s the aperture of the hours chain at 9 o’clock, the retrograde minute in the middle, the power reserve at 3 o’clock, and the escapement block at 6 o’clock.

Do not trust the photos, it’s a prototype. The glass colour will slightly get more and more transparent. As is, it does the job, which is to provide a little sobriety to the whole in order to put the spotlight back on the escapement bloc. We could quibble over the absence of decoration on the barrette at 3 o’clock, opposite the hours aperture. In the final version, a more sophisticated decoration is provided.

Beyond the necessary nitpicking, the important information is that Hautlence is returning to success, and this applies just as much to business (new investor), communication (Hou Ha Cantona!!), creativity (Guillaume has some big on-going projects ), and above all watchmaking with this life-saving Vortex.

Infinitely yours.

Hautlence Vortex (11)