From Heraclit to aerospace technologies
They take the latest developments in aerospace industry and other innovative areas and they apply these technologies to timepieces. As a result of this approach, time is represented intuitively, with the help of fluids, paradoxically recalling one of the oldest methods of time measurement. Grégory Dourde, CEO of HYT, gradually introduces us to the secrets of the new world of watchmaking.
Lifetime: HYT watches are complicated, stunning creations, using a technology that combines horology and fluid mechanics. It took a lot of innovative thinking to achieve this concept. What is really impressive is the symbolic dimension of the watches, derived from the idea that time flows. Therefore, what better way to illustrate this flow than fluids themselves? How difficult was it to elaborate this new approach to watchmaking?
Grégory Dourde: Let’s start with the technical side. It has taken us more than 10 years of R&D to develop fluid technologies integrated into HYT products. We started from aerospace, medical and semiconductor technologies and we developed an important patent and a know-how platform. We are talking about a veritable “concentrate” of contemporary sciences that were associated with the finest watchmaking. The measurement of time and the energy to move the liquids are provided by a mechanical movement developed with the greatest watchmakers. Then, on the symbolic side, liquids and time measurement share a history that dates back more than 4,000 years! Water clocks were among the first instruments dedicated to time measurement. The Egyptians called them clepsydrae, but water-based methods of measurement or time representation can be found in almost all civilizations and on all continents. Fluids and time have always been in a close relationship. About the implacable passage of time, Heraclitus – a Greek philosopher who lived around 500 B.C. – said that “no man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man”. This impermanence of time cannot be reflected by a cold representation of the time, with abstract hands. There is a similarity that we perceive intuitively between the flow of a river and the flow of time. The river and the time are the colored liquid inside the glass tube, which moves precisely to indicate the time at the point of separation from the colorless liquid. The length of the capillary already filled represents your past, the things you have already done. The transparent one shows your future. Time becomes visual, in an intuitive manner that only becomes real through your own actions. It takes time to put all these perspectives on watchmaking together. For us, the training of the team, the distributors, the customers, the suppliers and the journalists is a key-factor, because we have developed a new vocabulary, new technologies, a different philosophy at the crossroads between science and art. We have gained the recognition of our peers as one of the youngest members of the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie. And the entire dynamics of our brand is accelerating, since, for example, the HYT’s fluidic time and the related technologies that make it possible will be included in the next edition of the reference book on mechanical watch complications!
Lifetime: Both you and your business partner, Lucien Vouillamoz, are engineering graduates. Why did you choose to go into watchmaking?
GD: We met when the company was created. Thanks to the work of the people who first started on this adventure, HYT experienced instant recognition. Our brand is in constant motion, like our fluid hour. We come with a different perspective, a different outlook. We are resolutely looking into the future. You mentioned engineering… Yes, it is true, but what is most interesting is how you bring together so many different skills when it comes to innovation and how you manage the different roles within the company. Due to the high complexity of the mixed technologies that we use, a holistic approach to research and development projects is required. Interdisciplinarity is the key-word. In science for sure, but it is equally important when it comes to design, production, history, philosophy… There is no providential man or woman, but rather collective work, as in the case of contemporary art. Therefore, we naturally developed teams within HYT and Perciflex, who are by far the most innovative people I have met in my entire career. It is a melting-pot of intelligence, talent and – most importantly – curiosity and open-mindedness. This is creativity. Like our HYT brand, these people work at the crossroads of Arts and Science.
Lifetime: How do you relate to the first HYT models? How were they received by customers and watch enthusiasts?
GD: The first HYT models were an important breakthrough in the history of watchmaking. The H1 won the innovation award in 2012 at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève, which brought us recognition and gave us access to collectors and watch enthusiasts, who were eager to discover the amazing technology that had been created. A year ago, for our fifth anniversary, we unveiled the H0, which has definitely accelerated the development of both our brand and our business. After the H1, H2, H3 and H4, we wanted to go back to our origins. That is why we launched the H0 instead of the H5. Liquids are at the core of our philosophy and we have designed this H0 model as a tribute to them. The two liquids and the three-dimensional fluid time are the central characteristics of this model. The attractive design makes your eyes focus on these elements – as we wanted, in order to provide a unique experience. It is a watch that brings visual pleasure, it is ergonomic, accurate and produces a different impact on your relationship with time: you are much more relaxed, in the flow!
Lifetime: What are the challenges in the development of a new model?
GD: Depending on the technology, the development of a new model can take anywhere between one and five years. To be able to think and find new solutions, we cannot simply rely on the huge horological glossary created over the last three centuries. We have to invent, and the book about the micromechanics of fluids applied to the watchmaking industry has not been written yet. In fact, we are writing it ourselves! This is what drives us. We are part of an amazing historic adventure and the teams from HYT and Perciflex – the sister company, an expert in fluid mechanics – are passionate, talented and – most importantly – creative people, each of them in their own field. Once again, the whole is worth more than the sum of its parts.
Lifetime: How many HYT watch owners are there now? Do you have an estimate of their number?
GD: Today, we have around 800 HYT owners in the entire world. The sell-through ratio started increasing heavily in 2017 and continued to grow in 2018. The number of owners is growing from one year to the next. We have a base of collectors who have bought several different models (our most important collector already has 8 HYT watches, which is remarkable, considering that we have six product lines!) We are building a new base of customers, not necessarily watch collectors, but so-called early adopters, trend setters, younger customers who have newly discovered HYT, thanks to the H0 and more recently, the H2O, which was sold out in one day at the 2018 edition of the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, in January.
Lifetime: How many HYT points of sale are there currently around the world?
GD: We have our company’s headquarters in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, and two subsidiaries: HYT Americas, located in Miami, for the customers in North and Latin America, and HYT Asia, located in Kuala Lumpur for the customers in the APAC area. We also have three boutiques: in Kuala Lumpur, Moscow and Bangkok.
Lifetime: Are the HYT watches developed for trendsetters with high purchasing power or are they intended for collectors? What other features set them apart in the avant-garde watchmaking niche?
GD: Our watches are not meant for trendsetters. When you innovate, when you radically go out of your comfort zone, you need time to reach a larger audience. Early adopters are the first to seize some important breakthrough. They are now an important part of our customer and fan base. But you need to be authentic and consistent in your message in order to be sustainable and not go out of fashion quickly.
Lifetime: What model was your first watch? Do you still have it?
GD: My earliest memories of a watch go back to when I was about eight. It was a Yema (a French brand), with a rectangular case, quartz movement, two hands and a date aperture. It was given to me in a family setting. Beyond the object itself, of which I can only remember vague images, the name Yema brings back hazy, yet familiar memories, which make me travel back to my own space and time, unintentionally, as Proust did, when he felt the touch of the past inside him while tasting a small madeleine… This is the philosophy behind our HYT project: by questioning the essence and the intimacy of time and its representation, we can make our time personal and sensitive, rather than abstract and cold… Time means nothing until you make it memorable!
Lifetime: What HYT model do you like wearing now?
GD: My favorite models – because they are two – are the H0 and the H2O. They have this ability to highlight the three-dimensional nature of the fluid, creating a union between space and time. I find the H0 calming and soothing to look at. It allows me to travel on its flow of fluid time. But, at the same time, it gives me a great deal of energy when I visualize the passage of time and the length of the transparent fluid, my foreseeable future… You feel the time. You can almost touch it. There is so much to do and so little time. Time flies. It offers me new perspectives, a kind of energy gauge. As for the H2O, I simply find it so beautiful. Its stunning skeletonized components and the floating liquid under the curving of the crystal-sapphire dome are absolutely mind-blowing. We have designed it like a sculpture that one can never seize. You start a journey travelling around it and any new perspective on the H2O offers a new perception of it.
Lifetime: Besides innovation, another very important thing for your company is your social involvement. I would like you to tell me a few things about the Ganydar Foundation and its mission in South America.
GD: HYT supports both the Ganydar and FOR social projects, in which two founders of the brand and board members are involved. They lay great stress on the formation, which is a key-factor in the social transformation, by building individualities within the communities. It is all about long-term, multi-generational visions and actions, much like the HYT project.
Lifetime: Since we are talking about South America – is it an important market for you?
GD: South America is a key-market for us, which should account for 10% of our business in 2018. Of course, Mexico is a major part of this market.
What about South East Europe? Do you have customers in Romania, too?
GD: We have a distributor, Albini Prassa, located in Romania. Its owner happens to be a former member of the HYT management, who had major contributions in building our worldwide distribution network. He perfectly knows the brand, the philosophy behind it, our technology, which makes him a key ambassador for HYT in the region.
Lifetime: What is next for HYT? What can you tell me about your brand’s future projects?
GD: They will be fluid, to magnify human time!