Creative genius saved the mechanical watch industry and it’s going to take more of the same to satisfy the increasingly informed consumers of the modern market. Brands are coming up with ever more inventive ways to stand out, but gimmicks and grafted gadgetry are not sustainable lures. What brands really need is an identity like no other – a solid, unshakable set of core values and a strict, unwavering design principle. 2012 saw the commercial birth of HYT. Three years and five distinct models later, the hydro-mechanical horologists have released the HYT H1 Air RC44 to celebrate their new partnership with the RC44 Championship Tour, and we were there in the Italian seaside resort of Porto Cervo to go hands-on with it. In addition to the RC44 special edition, two more models, the HYT H1 Air Classic and the HYT H1 Air Black Pixel, have been released. Together, this range signals a new aesthetic direction for the brand thanks to the inclusion of a sapphire dial.
Chances are that you have very much heard about the brand before, but for those first encountering them, we will go over very quickly what put HYT on the map. Founded in 2012, HYT is best known for its use of specially formulated fluids to indicate the hours in place of a traditional hand. Two fluids – one coloured and one clear – are stored in two massive, cylindrical “bellows,” located towards the bottom of the dial. A traditional, hand-wound movement (the H1 uses a 28,800vph engine with a power reserve of 65 hours) powers the expansion and contraction of the bellows. As one contracts, forcing the stored coloured fluid through a glass capillary that encircles the dial, the other expands, drawing the clear fluid back into it. The two fluids occupy the same capillary and are separated by a meniscus that accurately marks the hours.
HYT have released five models in a raft of colourways, bringing their complete collection to almost 30 references in just three years. The HYT H1 Air RC44 is an update of the inaugural model that we debuted here. By adding a sapphire dial, the H1 Air family stands apart from its bare-faced brethren and is the ideal product to promote the new partnership with the RC44 Championship Tour – more details on the tour later, but first, let’s see the watch.
The HYT H1 Air RC44 is the flagship model in a range of three new watches from Swiss brand. Each watch is unique in its own way. The HYT H1 Air Classic model is aimed at lovers of luxury, crafted from titanium and 5N rose gold, the hours are marked by Roman numerals and the watch is presented in a rich brown palette. The HYT H1 Air Black Pixel has flashes of camouflage and a stealthy, industrial colourway that sets it apart from its peers. The HYT H1 Air RC44 variant features the event logo printed on the sapphire dial at 4 o’clock. All three watches have the same technical specifications and dimensions. The case is 48.3mm wide and 17.9mm tall, but comfortable to wear thanks to its incredible lightness. The distinctive blue case of the HYT H1 Air RC44 model is made of Alun 316, an aluminium composite that can be impregnated with any colour to give it a unique appearance. It is lighter and more resistant to corrosion than steel, and while it may not be in any way traditional, it is functionally very desirable.
Embracing material developments is obviously essential for a brand that has positioned itself at the forefront of innovation. You could forgive HYT for launching their avant-garde time-telling system in a more traditional case in the hope they might attract the old guard as well as the new but, as any and all their previous releases will tell you, this is not a company that believes in half measures. The products benefit from this kind of self-assurance. Although the case itself performs no revolutionary function, the materials used and the styling employed do give it a distinct identity. One of the most interesting angles from which to view the case is side on. The bi-colour housing shows its starkest contrast when the flanks are scrutinised. In the case of the HYT H1 Air RC44, blue borders gray – evoking thoughts of the ocean and sky and a sense of horizon. It is a particularly astute choice for a model so intrinsically linked to the sea.
One of the more surprising technical advantages of the HYT H1 Air RC44 is the fact it is water resistant to 100 meters. This may be nothing remarkable in itself, but to have that kind of security on a watch this luxurious is a real bonus. HYT may well be happy with fluid in their watches, but only if they put it there!
There are a couple of things that stand out about this launch from HYT. This is the first time the Hydro-mechanical Horologists have released a series of watches in one go. It is also the first time any of their wares have featured what could be described as a “classical” dial. The floating sapphire surface adds a new dimension to what was becoming a familiar aspect. The previous depth and openness of the H1 is slightly reduced by the presence of this semitransparent barrier, but it certainly improves the legibility and immediate digestibility of the face. The hour markers are sympathetically styled to balance the dial elements. They are larger towards the bottom of the dial to marry with the bulk of the dominating bellows, and they shrink as they approach the 12 o’clock minute dial, eventually disappearing behind the chapter ring, which is made of carbon on the HYT H1 Air RC44.
Having the hour markers so prominently printed on the dial (and applied with such expertise) makes this watch a lot more usable. It is now quite easy to tell the time at a glance. It does take a little bit of practice to interpret the dial, but it soon becomes second nature. In fact, the absence of an hour hand gives all of HYT’s watches a sense of space, despite there never being a dull or neglected area on the dial. The HYT H1 Air RC44 also presents extra information on the dial, with a nice touch of branding for the eagle-eyed enthusiast.
A going seconds disc is viewable through a cut-out in the minute sub-dial, located between 40 and 45 minutes. Five second intervals are marked on the smooth-running disc. The one exception to this numbering pattern is the “44” that replaces the “45.” It’s a nice little touch that took me a few looks to notice. Those are the kind of things I get excited about. It’s great when a watch demands you spend a bit of time with it to discover all of its quirks. That’s not to say complexity or busyness are desirable, but personality is.
The sapphire dial is actually “smoked.” This effect is particularly easy on the eye. At a glance, it appears almost solid in colour as it allows the eye to focus immediately on the numbers, liquid, and hand. Upon closer inspection, though, the workings beneath the smoked surface reveal themselves. Again, this is an important aspect in the forging of a relationship with the watch. When you come to set the time, you find a deeply satisfying connection between the rotation of the crown and the movement of the fluid. It is instantaneous and tangibly connected. The responsiveness of the time setting mechanism connects you to the fluid without ever being able to come into physical contact with it.
The watch is held on the wrist by a black, sail cloth strap, fastened by a DLC coated titanium fold-over clasp, which deploys without complaint when the two side-mounted pushers are depressed. This is one of those clasps that is a joy to operate. There’s been a recent industry-wide push to slim down fold-over clasps, which have been a little too bulky in the past. Utilising light weight and resistant materials such as titanium is a great way to achieve this. Aside from the weight saving properties, the slim line profile of this clasp means the strap, which itself is of standard thickness, does not sit in a mountainous pile on the underside of your wrist. When you actually look at the slightness of the clasp it hardly seems strong enough to hold such a large watch securely, but it fastens tightly and is not strained due to the levity of the watch head.
This watch is also very comfortable on the wrist. It is light and made of comfortable materials that feel soft and warm against your skin. The crown guard on the right hand side of the watch is made of titanium and protects a winding button that is given extra grip by a grooved ring of colour-coded rubber. The crown is also stamped with an “H” motif. It’s a really high-quality relief and is a very attractive crown; the only question is the longevity of the exposed rubber. The utilised calibre is hand wound so the crown is likely to get a lot of use (every few days if the watch is worn daily). It really comes down to the acidity of your perspiration. Some people burn through rubber like wildfire through dry twigs; other people don’t leave so much as a mark on the stuff after years of use. Less daring companies are often wary of using potentially corrodible materials on watch exteriors. Fortunately for the tactile and aesthetic properties of this watch, HYT had a vision and realised it without compromise.
We have established that the HYT H1 Air RC44 may just as well be the most comfortable piece from the H1 line, but now let’s see briefly where this collaboration with the brand and the Tour is coming from. Initially, I was surprised that HYT would invest their brand in an event that exists outside of the public consciousness… But I came to realize that there is something very special about these events, something that not only rings particularly true of HYT and their spirited ideology, but also of something all sports fans extol:
Competition for competition’s sake.