There is something of the steampunk about Vincent Perriard's HYT H1. The ambiguity of the company’s name, (which can either be pronounced ‘H-Y-T’ or as ‘hit’), alludes to a duality that is evinced in the retro-futuristic styling of the H1 and new sequel, the H2. HYT has claimed variously that the initials stand for ‘Hydro Technology’ or ‘Hydro Time’. Name aside, the fiendishly technical case is breath-taking—a marvel that appears to house breathing bellows at its core, recalling H.R.Giger’s bio-mechanical Promethean universe. Somehow, HYT has brought liquids to horology.
It is a concept that ought to be anathema to the art that sought to protect the minutiae of regulators, bridges and escapements from such forces, yet HYT are not concerned about rusting components. As with traditional watches, the mainspring barrel stores potential energy, gears regulate the release of power at a pre-determined rate, but here is where the similarity ends.
Typically it is this conversion of potential to kinetic energy that propels a minute, second and hour hand, yet the H1 is hardly a typical watch. Just look at it—it wouldn’t be out of place in the Batcave.
Its gears drive not hands, but neon tubes containing liquids inside—one green, one clear—to demarcate minute and hour intervals. The gears propel a cam, which pushes two pistons to inflate and compress the tiny set of bellows, which in turn drive the liquid technology. It is those intermittently respiring bellows that inspire such wonder at the centre of the titanium, DLC or rose-gold case.
Much has been made of the HYT’s design, but the real artifice is in the engineering. Naturally, the watch world has spent decades refining ways to repel liquids and to prevent the utter heartbreak of a water-damaged watch. Here, HYT have succinctly engineered a waterproof circuit for the hour indicator, which runs to two reservoirs and then into the bellows. The bellows themselves are constituted from an electro-deposit alloy, designed to be highly resistant to liquid and to tensile pressure.
The cam engages and disengages the pistons against the bellows, and it is this alternating compression and inflation that impels the liquid fluorescein around the tube. The use of fluorescein itself must be a first for watchmaking, seeing as it is traditionally used in the forensic detection of blood. Predictably, even the tube itself is the product of some fairly rigorous micro-mechanics; it must be manufactured to a precise specification to allow for a tolerance that measures in the nanometres. So too, the reservoirs must only contain a critical volume, else this is a watch that simply would not keep time.
The movement in the HYT H1 is built largely by hand, and the watches themselves have been produced in only very limited numbers, which imbues the HYT with the DNA of a supercar; at around $45,000 for the titanium incarnation, it’s also approaching the price tag of one. It is a truly beautiful yet unconventional watch and whilst it can claim to be the world’s first hydro-mechanical timepiece, its real triumph is that its startling form is to be found in its function.