Cerrato resets quality controls to get watch sales flowing again at HYT
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Given that received wisdom warns against allowing any liquid other than a drop of oil to enter a watch, last year’s news that HYT had filed for bankruptcy was not unexpected.
Founded in 2012, the off-the-wall Swiss brand made watches that use a mechanical movement both to drive a minute hand in the conventional way and to mark the hours by pumping fluorescent fluid through a system of capillary tubes.
But perhaps more surprising than this display is the fact that HYT has been resurrected less than a year after its demise — and the chief executive is a man better known for creating retro-styled watches than avant-garde ones.
Davide Cerrato rose to become one of the industry’s star designers, starting the millennium at Panerai before moving to Tudor in 2005, where his smash-hit Heritage Black Bay line led the brand’s revival in Europe and the US.
A decade later, Cerrato became managing director of Montblanc’s watch division, revitalising its range with fresh models that capitalised on the vintage aesthetic before he left a year ago to “pursue new professional challenges”.
The first fruit of those challenges emerges this week in the form of the first new-generation HYT watch, a titanium-cased model limited to 27 examples costing SFr70,000 ($76,500).
It is the result of six months of intensive work to relaunch the company, which, says Cerrato, is new in everything but name — and the fact its watches still use liquid to tell the time.
“All activities of the previous business have stopped and a new company, Kairos Technology Switzerland, was established last June through a group of private investors who have set-aside sufficient money to develop HYT over the next five years,” explains Cerrato.
“Our first decision was to perform a full reset in terms of quality, because this was an area where HYT experienced a number of issues in the past, especially in terms of preventing the two fluids that are contained in the system from mixing.
“We also want to enhance the luxury and desirability of the brand — I think the previous models were more about the complexities of the technology than the enjoyment of wearing the watch, and later versions were pitched at a price point that was too low for serious collectors but where there were also too many competitors.”
To that end, KTS is working with HYT’s previous movement supplier, Purtec, where renowned master horologists Eric Coudray and Paul Clementi have developed a new hand-wound calibre to go inside a new case by specialist maker Efteor.
“The case is of a three-layer, modular design made from DLC [diamond-like carbon] treated titanium, with a carbon-fibre middle,” says Cerrato. “It means it will be very easy to customise future models. It makes the watch far slimmer than before and has brought the overall weight down, so it’s more comfortable to wear.
“We’ve also worked hard on the readability. The previous HYTs suffered from a lot of reflection from the large sapphire crystal, so we’ve . . . put indexes around the capillaries that make it very easy to tell the time.
The basic principle of the original HYT remains the same. It still works by holding coloured liquid in one reservoir and transparent liquid in the other, each liquid having different characteristics to prevent mixing. Both reservoirs incorporate bellows that, driven by the mechanical movement, push the fluids in opposite directions around the specially coated capillaries, which have a bore of just 0.8mm. When the coloured liquid has made a full circuit its pump compresses, while the other bellows extends and pushes the liquid back so the whole process can begin again.
It took more than a decade of research to perfect the original HYT’s liquid display, which was invented in 2002 by Swiss entrepreneur Lucien Vouillamoz. A sister company, Preciflex, was created to patent the system, and it continues as the exclusive supplier of modules for the new-generation watches.
“To me, the concept of liquid watches has always made sense and while I became known for pushing the heritage trend, I always admired that HYT was one of the few watch brands that was only looking forward,” says Cerrato. “The brand has huge potential. It’s such a great mix of horology and creativity — there’s nothing else like it on the market and it’s something designers can have a lot of fun with because we are going far, far away from normal watchmaking.”
Rob Corder, editor of WatchPro magazine, believes HYT is relaunching at the right time and, if the product is up to scratch, it could attract collectors in search of the “next big thing” in independent watchmaking. “The market is broadening and small independents are enjoying an increasing degree of success,” he says.
“HYT could be attractive to more adventurous buyers simply because it offers such a different proposition to a regular watch.”
But, as the demise of the original HYT showed, it is extremely difficult to get it right, says Cerrato. “Apart from being sure the liquids won’t mix or stick to the capillary tubes, we have to fit a thermal compensator in one of the tiny bellows to account for temperature changes, because a fluid expands 1,000 times more than a solid,” he notes. “The fluidic module needs to be 10,000 times more waterproof than a diving watch.”
The reborn HYT is expected to make no more than 200 watches in its first year to ensure quality, although it will unveil two further models this year.
Cerrato says owners of first-generation HYT watches will still be able to return them to KTS for repair, but any that remain unsold at retailers will be bought back by HYT and “dried up” to stabilise the pre-owned market and clear the way for the new range.
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