There are instances when it is actually good for me to wait a long time before reviewing a watch. I spent some time with the Halda Space Discovery about a year before writing this review, and since then, a lot has happened in the watch world that makes the Halda Space Discovery a much more interesting conversation piece. What I am actually referring to is the serious entrance of the smartwatch into the popular tech culture zeitgeist. While the Halda Space Discovery isn’t a smartwatch, it is a sort of precursor to them, and it offers some potentially valuable lessons for those looking to create devices that appeal to watch and tech lovers who are loathe to make a choice between what is cool and what is novel.
Halda is a Swedish company that apparently has ties back to the 19th century – though, as far as I know, the company as a watch brand is relatively new. The Halda Space Discovery is their first watch, and it was originally released in about 2012 as a limited edition. In 2013, Halda released the Race Pilot as a follow-up to the Space Discovery, and I believe a new version of the Race Pilot might be coming soon. To best explain what I can surmise is the point of the brand, Halda promotes the concept of a watch case with an interchangeable module – one of which includes a traditional mechanical movement, and the other is a computerized digital movement.
When I was reviewing the Halda Space Discovery, I could not help but be reminded of the theme originally espoused by UK brand Linde Werdelin. While Linde Werdelin has changed its marketing path since its start, the brand’s distinctive case style was designed to equip an electronic module, first known as the Land Instrument. The brand eventually offered The Rock (what the Land Instrument was later renamed) and The Reef (for diving). These electronic modules literally clipped on top of the case and had digital screens. The idea of both brands is to offer the ability for the customer to have a traditional watch dial and movement, or the functionality of a small computerized device meant for serious adventure in various climates.
The Linde Werdelin concept pre-dated Halda’s by about five years, but both are the product of Northern European design (While UK-based, Linde Werdelin was started by a pair of Danes) and share a common vision of how adventure-lovers with a taste for luxury can enjoy their watches. The irony, of course, is that no matter how attractive or durable these high-end electronic instruments are going to be, they are never going to best those produced by major companies invested in making wearable computers. Of course, that point is a bit arguable with the Halda Space Discovery, because its “intended” use is for space flight, and there isn’t exactly enough people flying in space right now for a company to produce wrist instruments exclusively for astronaut types. So in that sense, Halda joins companies like Breitling and Omega that continue to produce quartz-based electronic timepieces for space flight.
Even though I am going to briefly go over the features in the “Space Module,” I am not going to spend a lot of time focusing on its utility in space. I haven’t been in space, and I think it is a conversation best left for Halda to have with existing space travelers. I am, however, going to suggest that the concept of such a module and how it works should be studied by smartwatch makers looking to understand how to combine their technology with the existing expectations of watch wearers. The Space Module begins with a high-end quartz regulation system and proprietary software (that looks to be updateable). In addition to offering various pieces of information related to the time, there are some sensors in the module, such as a g-force meter and a light sensor. Here is a full list of the Space Module features from Halda:
1. DUAL TIME: Two world times are shown simultaneously: Local time and any alternative World time. Full calendar function displaying current day, date, month, year, and week. Here it’s also possible to read the battery status and current version of the software.
2. CHRONOGRAPH: Timekeeping and split time presented down to an accuracy of 1/10th second.
3. TIMER: 24 hour timer.
4. UTC ALARM: Alarm based on Universal Time Coordinates (UTC). This function is used by the Astronauts on missions, during their research, and during different experiments.
5. MET ALARM: Alarm based on Mission Elapsed Time (MET). This function is used by the Astronauts on mission during their research and during different experiments.
6. EVENT LOG: Log for events based on date, Universal Time Coordinates (UTC) and individual event number for up to 99 events. The Astronauts are using this function to save precise time if there is some event that they would like to log and save. This function was also used by the Astronaut Christer Fuglesang during his space mission in his research and experiment on particle counting.
7. REVEILLE: Alarm clock that can be set once, repeating daily, or each weekday.
8. COUNTDOWN: Sets countdown to a certain day/point in time, up to one year ahead.
9. MET START – Mission Time: This function allows the start of liftoff countdown. Upon liftoff, acceleration-measurement is begun automatically, and current G-force is displayed. Once acceleration measurement ceases, the display shifts to present current MET (Mission Elapsed Time). This function is based on the NASA protocol 101 that they are using for countdown to liftoff. The Astronauts are interested to follow the G-forces that they are being exposed to during liftoff and also during re-entry. The maximum value is stored and displayed. After the maximum G-Force is displayed, the watch will show MET – Mission Elapsed Time – which is the time that they are using on board during their mission.
10. EARTH TIME: In the World Timer, you can see what time it is in various parts of the world. Here you will find all countries* of the world, local time, and their time zone. *Total 192 countries that are UN members.”
11. G-FORCE: Acceleration, the G-force, can be measured automatically during liftoff, during the re-entry phase, or be initiated at a chosen point in time. During measurement, the highest G-force value is stored in a separate memory.
12. PERPETUAL CALENDAR: Day, date, year, and week indicator.
As you can see, many of the features in the Halda Space Module aren’t the same as in your basic Casio G-Shock. Having said that, the features are rather specialized, and many of them will not have a lot of application for “desk astronauts.” Though, imagine if Halda or other companies applied this same concept to a smartwatch module. Wearers could choose between a mechanical module or some useful technology. While the Space Module is battery powered, (Halda claims about two years of battery life), removing a smartwatch module could make it easy to charge. People might also decide that they want a smartwatch module during the day, and a mechanical watch module at night.
At the time I was originally reviewing the Halda Space Discovery watch, I never really considered the utility of the module concept for the upcoming smartwatch industry. Though, as I’ve explored the current crop of smartwatches, as well as their creators’ desire to appeal to watch lovers, I see this module concept working on a few levels. Perhaps most importantly is the ability for users to invest in a bracelet one time, and then to replace the module each year or two with the most advanced screen and hardware technology. Something like this might be the answer to the future of luxury smartwatches, where owners are asked to pay high amounts for items that aren’t going to experience the same longevity as a mechanical watch – which, by the way, only enjoy such longevity because their technology more-or-less stopped progressing years ago.
For the price of the Halda Space Discovery, I think the case and bracelet could have been a bit better. They aren’t bad, but given the timepiece’s over $10,000 price, I think there could have been a bit more work put into them. Yes, you receive some nice accessories and two modules, but with the quality put out there by the big names, as well as what you can get for even just a few hundred bucks these days, small-time luxury watch companies need to realize that the bar has been set high. On the plus side, the bracelet is decent looking, and the system for the how the modules attach makes for a snug, and coherent looking fit.
At 45mm wide, the steel case varies from about 15mm to about 17mm thick depending on whether you have the Mechanical or Space Module inside of it. The lug to lug length is pretty large, so don’t expect a compact fit for smaller wrists. Having said that, given that there is a “case within a case” the Halda Space Discovery could have worn a lot larger. As you can see, in addition to the steel bracelet, there is a fabric Velcro strap option as well. Further, while the modules have sapphire crystals over them, Halda says that they will replace them with Hesalite crystals for free if the wearer is actually going into space with them. I don’t think sapphire crystals in space are a real issue, but there is, of course, a super small chance that they can shatter upon serious impact – which will lead to a lot of dangerous floating particles in zero gravity.
This all brings us to the Mechanical Module, which is probably what you’d be wearing if you are like most watch lovers. The simple three-hand-with-date dial is attractive, in a sort of Swedish minimalist manner. I wouldn’t call it the design of the year or anything, but it isn’t bad. My only major gripe is that the 12 o’clock hour indicator isn’t unique, which makes visually orienting the dial when not looking at it head-on sometimes difficult. Inside the Mechanical Module is a vintage automatic movement likely from the 1970s, professionally decorated and restored by the Swiss workshop of Svend Andersen in Geneva. Halda apparently acquired a healthy lot of these interesting movements to work with.
Today, Zenith is known for being one of the only produces of 5Hz frequency mechanical movements. Blancpain joined them in 2014, and some other brands such as Breguet, Seiko, and Chopard offer “high beat” movements with frequencies of 5Hz or more. Ironically enough, the Halda Race Pilot watch does have a Zenith movement inside of it. Anyhow, while Halda doesn’t say exactly who originally produced the mechanical automatic 36,000 bph (5Hz) movements in the Halda Space Discovery Mechanical module, my guess is that it was ETA. They made a few movements of this sort in the 1970s, but they were not produced for long, due to the advent of more accessible quartz movement based watches that were so much more accurate. That is more or less what happened originally to the El Primero, before it caught on again almost 20 years later, when Zenith had an opportunity to make it popular.
5Hz movements are going to be a bit more accurate over time compared to the more common 3Hz or 4Hz mechanical movements you’ll find in most movements. Though, this is less of an issue these days, as the market has proved people are buying watches less for pure accuracy and more as a celebration of craftsmanship. Though, I do think it was interesting, to say the least, that Halda decided to go this route with the movements inside of the Mechanical Module for the Halda Space Discovery. It was able to avoid using a generic three-hand movement, while at the same time, offering something a bit exclusive for the limited edition watch.
Quirky and inherently interesting, there is a good reason why Halda produced the Halda Space Discovery as a limited edition timepiece. Not only are the potential customers who would fully benefit from it rather small in numbers, but it is a concept that sort of pulls at the limits of practicality. Having said that, Halda refined the concept enough to win them a Rod Dot award in 2012 for the Halda Space Discovery watch – and the overall design is attractive and relatively inspired. Halda produced 128 pieces of the Halda Space Discovery watch, which are available at a price of $13,200. haldasweden.com
>Model: Space Discovery
>Size: 45mm wide
>Would reviewer personally wear it: Sometimes
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Astronaut, guy who thinks he is an astronaut, or guy who really wants to be an astronaut.
>Best characteristic of watch: Successfully executes a rather complicated concept in making a timepiece that is both niche and highly approachable.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Incredibly niche audience who can fully appreciate all its functionality. Where do you store one module when using the other? Fit and finish could be better given high price.