As  I wrote in an earlier piece, there is no shortage of unique methods to display the time on watches. With Baselworld upon us, we may be seeing new innovations in that arena. While I like the originality, if something verges more into indulging artistic urges at the expense of actual usability, the brand has lost me. Then you come to something like the Hautlence HL Sphere that initially looks overly complex, but instead employs a familiar method.

The star of the TV-shaped case of the Hautlence HL Sphere is, no doubt, that cobalt blue sphere. I mean, it’s right in the name of the watch, so if you weren’t sure, there’s exhibit A. Orbs spinning on watches are not new but spinning orbs to indicate the time (or, in this case, the hour) is new. And at first, I thought the time would be hard to read. But the way it works is similar, in execution at least, to how a jump-hour complication works. Similar, but not exactly the same. While the hour moves, well, on the hour, how it’s moved is unique. Here, we’ve got two crossed spindles at a 21-degree angle, driven by four conical gears. On that you’ve got the sphere, which is actually made up of two polished titanium pieces with the blue PVD coating. This sounds very interesting (and complex) and surely a treat to actually see in person.

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To the right of that blue marble is where the Hautlence HL Sphere indicates the other half of the time, the minutes. While a simple, circular dial would have felt appropriate to mimic the roundness of the sphere, it doesn’t speak to the complexity the watch is engendering. So, instead, you’ve got a retrograde display for the minutes. This is partially open, allowing you a view into the movement, including the bits (the differential and snail) that trigger the jumping-hour mechanism. The minute track itself, as well as the numerals, is attached onto a piece of sapphire that brings some translucence to the look, while still allowing you to read the minutes, as it’s smoked. As far as open-dial watches go, this one looks to be one that has remained legible.

Underpinning all of this — and visible through both sides of the case — is the hand-wound HTL 501-1 movement. While a watch of this design should be able to go without saying it, this is a movement that is designed — and produced — in-house by Hautlence. Even the springs they use are produced by a sister company, giving them full integration into what they’re building. Speaking of the springs, the brand managed to work in some more cleverness here. Since you’re able to see the barrel spring (due to the skeletonization), you’ve got a basic power-reserve indicator. A bit more clever, but no less useful, is the mechanism built in to protect the movement when you’re setting the time in reverse. Sort of like a free-wheeling bike, the crown is simply allowed to rotate freely.

All of this is set into the identifiable TV-shaped case that Hautlence relies on. Here, though, the brand needed to enlarge the case (produced in white gold) to fit the movement and its complications. At 39mm x 46mm, and 12mm-thick (plus another 3.75mm at the apex of the sapphire dome covering the hour sphere), this looks to be an eminently wearable watch. There is an overall balance to the piece (though the crown does mar that a bit, I suppose). What I like best about the Hautlence HL Sphere is, for all its complexity and engineering marvels, it’s still a very workable watch. Picking out the time should be absolutely no problem, and it will be a feast for the eyes (yours and those around you) when it slips out from under the cuff. And, should you see one in the wild, introduce yourself to that person. With only 28 pieces being made, seeing one out in the real world will be a rarity and something you should not pass up, given the chance. Visit hautlence.com for more information.

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Tech Specs from Hautlence
  • Model details
    • Spherical hour and retrograde minute on a 180° sector
    • HTL 501-1 hand-wound mechanical movement.
  • Display: Spherical hour and retrograde minute on a 180° sector
  • Caliber
    • HTL 501-1 hand-wound mechanical movement
    • Spherical hour and retrograde minute on a 180° sector
    • Hand-wound mechanical movement.
    • Power reserve: minimum of 3 days
    • Regulating organ: 21,600 vibrations / hour
    • Number of jewels: 38
    • Front face finish: sand-blasted, components decorated and finished by hand
    • Back face finish: sand-blasted, components decorated and finished by hand
  • Case
    • Case middle and horns: satin-finished and polished white gold
    • Bezel: satin-finished and polished white gold
    • Screws: steel, with polished heads
    • Crown: polished white gold with engraved HAUTLENCE logo
    • Crystal (TOP): extra-hard sapphire crystal with anti-reflective treatment, bevelling and dome
    • Back: satin-finished and polished white gold, 4 screws, engraved “HAUTLENCE”, “3 ATM WATER RESISTANT”, “Horlogerie Suisse”
    • Crystal (BOTTOM): extra-hard sapphire crystal with anti-reflective treatment
    • Dimensions (excluding dome): 39 x 46 x 12 mm / 3.75 mm dome
  • Dial
    • Base dial: skeletonised and rhodium-plated with engraved minute track.
    • Intermediate dial: Smoked metallic sapphire crystal and curved, diamond-polished rhodium-plated appliques.
    • Hour sphere: Polished grade 5 titanium with blue PVD treatment, laser engraved numerals and white lacquer filling.
    • Minute hands: Satin-finished grade 5 titanium with blue PVD treatment and white lacquer filling.
  • Strap
    • Blue Louisiana alligator; domed, rubber-lined, full square scales, rolled-edge
    • Interchangeability spring bars
    • Folding clasp: grade 5 titanium with satin-finished steel plate.
  • Water resistance: 3 ATM
  • Limited edition: 28 pieces

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