Hautlence is one of those bands that has a strong following amongst its die-hard fans and customers, most of who have developed a passion for this niche brand since its conception almost 10 years ago; but otherwise it goes relatively unnoticed- and wrongfully so in my opinion. In this post I’d like to share with you my recent visit to Hautlence’s head-office and atelier in La Chaux de Fonds and hopefully convince you to put this brand on your radar.
Hautlence, an anagram of Neuchatel, the canton and city where the brand was founded, is the brainchild of Guillaume Tetu, still in board as the current CEO, and Renaud de Retz, who has since left the watchmaking industry altogether. The original concept was to create contemporary high-end watches that provided alternative ways of telling the time. The first result was the HL 01 collection, which would set the trend for the brand’s later creations, using their unique jumping hour and retrograde minutes application.
In more recent history and after much turbulence in the industry stemming from the ’08 financial crisis, which needless to say greatly affected an independent brand like Hautlence with average retails prices of above $50k USD, the brand is getting back on track under the guidance of industry veteran and ex-Audemars Piguet CEO Georges-Henri Meylan, who has invested in the company under his MELB family holding group. And, since the brand will be celebrating its 10th year anniversary in 2014, you can expect big things.
Now let’s talk about the Hautlence atelier. In watch marketing terms, the word “in-house” is thrown around almost as much as “Swiss Made” nowadays. But what does it really mean? I guess that depends on your definition. In-house could mean that just about every component is designed and manufactured at a brand’s own facilities. But for Hautlence, as is the case for many other independent watch brands who simply can’t justify the costs associated with building a full-fledged manufacture for such small production volumes (we’re talking a two hundred watches a year here). This doesn’t bother me, as I believe that you should let the experts do what they do best. A brand can’t and shouldn’t have to do everything “in-house”. What’s noteworthy however is that 90% of the components in a Hautlence watch are sourced from the canton of Neuchatel, so I guess it’s all in the name really!
Hautlence’s atelier or Atelier d’Horlogerie Contemporaine As CEO Guillaume Tetu refers to it, was inaugurated in 2007 in the watchmaking hub of La Chaux de Fonds. Is where product and movement designs are concepted, where production plans and blueprints are formed, and where prototypes are created and developed.
The atelier is also where the movements are put together and the watches are assembled. And while the actual machining and finishing of components is outsourced, this is still true watchmaking.
In no other product is this more evident than the HL2.0 Series launched in 2011, where the proprietary movement was developed from the ground up at Hautlence’s atelier. I don’t think I need to point out the intricacies in implementing the chain hour display and revolving regulator organ. The Hautlence HL2.3 took no less than four years to develop, and that includes the methods by which the watchmaker would put the watch together.
I also got to see some of the finished watches during my visit. The most recent are the HL RQ series, which feature a round case with a more balanced and symmetrical display of the jumping hours done via a jumping tinted crystal instead of the actual hour wheel, and retrograde minutes linked by connecting rods.
From the Avant-Grade collection I also saw the HLRS 01, which features a rectangular case and more traditional jumping hours implementation.
I also saw one of the brand’s more feminine offerings, the Origine HLC 03 done in a round case with a mother-of-pearl dial.
2014 will most definitely be an interesting year for Hautlence, and I look forward to sharing with you their latest offerings and developments as they come along.