February 20, 2019
by Rob Nudds
Let me preface this by saying that non-round watches rarely do it for me, but the Hautlence HL Vagabonde 03 has really caught my eye. Everything comes down to visual balance; if I had to pinpoint the one thing that gets to me more than any other, it would be the way the hands on a square or rectangular watch almost always get ‘lost’ when they track past the corners.
Maybe, then, that is why I quite like the Hautlence HL Vagabonde 03. While it is rocking a TV-shaped case, it’s completely done away with the hands. The time is displayed in a very unusual way. There are three apertures in the dial, evenly spaced around a rotating minute wheel. Through these apertures a digital hour indicator is displayed. Every hour, the “active” aperture changes, and the hour appears as several complicated discs align to “draw” it in place.
You will notice that the minutes marked on the minute wheel do not track the full 360 degrees as you might expect. Instead, 240 degrees of the wheel are labeled, while 120 degrees are totally blank. This is so the “00” marker reaches the next hour aperture in the sequence at exactly the same time the “60” marker aligns with the small printed pointer on the hour aperture that is about to shut down.
In the below image you can see that the hour aperture in the bottom right is active. The time showing in this image is 10:30.
Potentially lost in the midst of such a bafflingly novel way of telling the time is the beautiful hexagon pattern seen on the dial and repeated on the strap. Hexagons are one of nature’s strongest shapes and are gaining a lot more ground in watchmaking as a decorative motif. I really like the effect and think it still feels fresh, despite its increasing ubiquity. The blue dial looks very good against the grade 5 titanium case that measures 39×46×12mm.
From the back, the HTL 205-1 self-winding caliber does not look nearly as complicated as it actually is. The Hautlence HL Vagabonde 03 is the third watch to feature this movement, which was first released in 2018. It follows the brand’s path towards creating new and engaging ways of reading the time. Based on the
H. Moser & Cie. HMC 200 caliber, the HTL 205-1 is born with the addition of a proprietary module.
I would never discredit the technical achievement of a movement like this, nor gripe at the intriguing aesthetic. I would, however, question the widespread appeal of a watch that, at some times of the day, feels like it’s being read backward. Basically, there is little that’s intuitive about the way time is read on the Hautelnce HL Vagabonde 03. While I prefer this watch to many of its antecedents, I couldn’t imagine wearing it as a timepiece.
It is absolutely a conversation starter and performs its intended role very well. Haute Horlogerie is less often about telling the time than perhaps it should be. That doesn’t make it any less fascinating to behold or analyze, nor should it be seen as a slight toward a brand that is developing new ways of doing things. This kind of research can only benefit us all. The Hautlence HL Vagabonde 03 is priced at CHF26,900. For more information, visit hautlence.com.