The Dark Side of the Skull

The watches from HYT are paradoxes, riddles wrapped in a mystery, enigmas not everyone grasps — the timepieces exhibit the highest watchmaking standards, while standing on the razor’s edge of technology.

Like nothing ever seen in watchmaking history, the newest watch from HYT uses liquid for the time display, with its bold black skull filling up the center of dial. The skull is made of a new type of Damascus Steel and it rests just above the high-tech bellows that push the liquids through the glass tubes that display the time.

You might not be ready for its latest watch, but watchmaking rebel HYT doesn’t care.

The Skull Bad Boy is here, combining the latest in technology advances with in-your-face design, and watchmaking will never be the same.

Liquid Inside a Watch?

Ever since the first mechanical timepiece was created, liquid has been the bane of existence for watchmaking. Companies across the industry worked on ways to keep liquids out.

Then, HYT turned all this on its head with its introduction of H1 back in 2012, which introduced liquid INTO the watch to display time. The reaction from the traditional watchmakers was sadly predictable — pretty much everyone thought it would never work. They forecasted that HYT would crash and burn — or better yet, drown in its own viscous liquid concoction.

Yet, four years later, HYT is still here, succeeding beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, and ready to take the next step to secure its future.

“The fact that no one believed in the technology was a key part of our motivation,” admits Vincent Perriard, co-founder and newly minted board member of HYT and Preciflex, HYT’s sister company responsible for the development of the technology. “We were sure it would work, but a lot of people didn’t believe in it. People were talking about us and they were actually helping us, spreading the word even more. Liquid has been the enemy of mechanical movements for 500 years and we were the first ones to say ‘No,’ which made us stand out. It really becomes a talking piece, when you have this on your wrist. It will generate discussion, there is real content behind this and this is what I love.”

Just recently, HYT announced that Perriard was leaving his post as CEO of HYT to focus exclusively on the development of new products and the marketing of everything both companies do. “I am a big fan of strategic work, the thinking process, so this is the responsibility I have taken,” Perriard says.

How the Technology Works

HYT’s timepieces display the time using liquid in a tiny glass capillary on the dial. The eye only sees the colored liquid, but there are actually two liquids in the glass tube; a colored aqueous liquid and a transparent viscous liquid, and these two liquids repel each other. Two bellows, powered by the sophisticated mechanical movement, control the movement of the liquids. The colored liquid returns inside the left bellow in a retrograde fashion when the time passes from 6:00 to 6:01 and the liquids’ voyage around the dial starts again.

The Skull Bad Boy is Born

The big challenge for the Skull series from HYT is having the capillary form the shape of the skull. “The skull series was a creative accident,” acknowledges Perriard. “In one of our brainstorming sessions, we wanted to create something unique. We asked, what if we do a skull with the shaped capillary? We worked hard to shape the capillary where you read the time. This became five limited editions and they have been wildly successful. We have found that this is a different type of customer that wants something really unique.”

Perriard thought that the Skull collections would only be for the Western world, knowing how superstitious Asian customers can be about death and skulls. However, 30% of the orders for the Skulls have come from the Far East. “The Chinese culture has a love and hate relationship with death,” Perriard explains. “The number four, for example, is despised, because it sounds like the word for ‘death,’ and this is why they thought we would never sell a ‘death’s head’ watch.”

Shaping the capillary was one of the first challenges HYT faced. In the beginning, with the H1 and H2 models, the glass was circular except for where it was bent at 90 degrees to enter the bellows. For the Skulls, the glass tube is bent into the shape of the skull, and the level of complexity skyrockets because of the eight bends needed to create the shape. Normally, when a tube is bent, the inside diameter is reduced, restricting the flow of the liquid (think of a kink in a garden hose, for example). To avoid this, HYT and Preciflex had to find a solution to counteract this reduction so as not to affect the precision of the watch. Their engineers worked together with glassblowers to fully understand how glass works, how it responds to heat, speed, angles and gravity. Thanks to mastering these factors, the brand’s engineers were able to reduce this undesirable effect to a minimum.

Another problem with angles is that when the liquid meets even the smallest hurdle on its course, it can create turbulence that can upset the meniscus — the line between the two liquids — causing the
fluids to mix.

Friction on the inside of the tubes can also mess with the meniscus. Preciflex has added a special coating, applied to the inside of the tubes, to stop one liquid’s molecules from sticking to the surface of the glass and being picked up by the opposing liquid.

A retrograde speed break was also added to stop the liquids from rushing back into the bellows. This restrictor forces the liquids to go back into the bellows over 50 seconds, instead of making  a one-second rush, which would cause  havoc with the meniscus.

Different Colors

HYT started out with a green-colored liquid, but quickly moved on to other colors (red in 2013, blue in 2014). Using a new color is not an easy task, however,  as it’s, of course, not as simple as just  adding a dye to the liquid. According to Gregory Dourde, new CEO of HYT (he is also CEO of Preciflex), it takes a minimum of 12 months to develop a new color. Preciflex’s in-house color chemists create the new color to ensure that it is compatible with all the different  elements in the timepiece. The new color also has to be as resistant as the rest of the watch — no small feat — and on top of all this, it can’t mix with the transparent liquid.

“We have two liquids, and the development is very complex, it’s like Coca Cola, a super-secret recipe,” explains Dourde. “The two liquids start out transparent and what we add into one of the liquids is a special dye. Finding and developing that dye is complex because we need a dye that will stay in one liquid and not migrate into the other liquid. Also, this color has to pass all of the qualification tests — it has to resist UV, temperature, etc. This dye and this new color will enter into contact with a lot of material — gold, ceramic, titanium — inside the system, and it has to be compatible with all these materials for a very long period, and the color cannot change. We use a very high-grade, high-quality dye. We are very close to specific dyes that are used in the medical imaging applications.

“In addition, developing a new color takes time — we have specific aging protocols that we have developed internally,” he continues. “When you have a standard watch and you want to make sure it will work for five years, you will do mechanical aging. We do this on the fluidic device and all the mechanical systems, but the liquids also have to be aged. To test all that, we have specific protocols, based on the Law of Arrhenius (if you increase the temperature by 10 degrees Celsius, you accelerate the aging by two). One month of testing at 70 degrees Celsius is one year at
room temperature.”

Each new color undergoes these lengthy tests before it is ready to be launched. “When people say that a new color in our watches is just an animation, it drives me mad,” says Dourde. “The technology and expertise to create a new color is extremely difficult.”

The Ultimate Color – Black

Developing the special black liquid used in the Skull series was a challenge unto itself.

“What is really unique in what we did is that the black liquid is completely opaque, so it gives a new impression of volume and indication of time in the watch,” Dourde points out. “The uniqueness of HYT is that you have more information compared to hands — the system is the best one, you have an understanding of where you are and you see the length of time that remains. This is a really powerful way of viewing the time. You can see at a glance exactly where you are. You also have a view of the speed of time. Time can go very quickly or it can go very slowly. You see this much more clearly with the HYT system.

“Working on the black color was special because you can’t see it at night, it just disappears,” Dourde adds. “You see the Super-LumiNova very clearly through the transparent liquid, which is a great way of indicating the time at night.” The new Skull Bad Boy incorporates a Damascus Steel pattern in the skull. Damascus Steel is an ancient technique where forged steel is folded back on itself hundreds of times, making it extremely hard and resistant and resulting in a beautiful pattern in the steel. HYT has worked with a foundry in the Neuchatel mountains around its offices to create a new material where multiple layers of steel and carbon are folded in on themselves a total of 256 times! This material is cast in batches of five skulls, no two of which will ever be identical and each skull has its own distinctive pattern.

“We are working closely with our foundry,” Dourde says. “Every single piece is unique, and everything comes together — the skull design, the Damascus Steel, the black liquid — in this great design.”

The Skull Bad Boy has a matte-black 51mm case, made from fully micro-blasted DLC titanium, attached to a brand-new buffed alligator strap with hints of slate gray. “The strap even has a Velcro clasp so that it can be adjusted to fit on a leather biker jacket,” says Vincent Perriard with a smile. The dial is made up on two half-moons decorated with the Clous de Paris stud pattern. The indices are in a Gothic font, complementing the Skull Bad Boy’s hard rock look.

Even the eyes of the skull are working parts of the watch. The power-reserve indicator is in the right eye socket, which gets darker as the piece reaches the end of its 65-hour power reserve, while the left eye socket houses the seconds disc, which is constantly turning.

The Skull Bad Boy is limited to 50 pieces for the world. “The Skull Bad Boy is one of the most successful launches we have ever had, it’s been amazing,” says Perriard. “We have more to come; we have an idea of creating a similar pocket watch soon. The potential for this line is incredible, this is just the beginning.”

Even in the Dark, HYT’s Future is Bright

With Perriard and Dourde leading the charge, HYT and Preciflex have no shortage of ideas. “We really have a pipeline of ideas for the next five years,” Perriard says. “In the watch industry, it’s not a surprise to work with a five-year plan, but in the small world of independents, it’s more complicated. We have to be much more reactive. We have a plan for the next five years and we want to grow. We need more creativity and we need a more attractive price level. This is what we are developing now.”

HYT and Preciflex are hard at work on a lower-priced, entry-level product that will be powered by a patented HYT in-house movement. “In January 2018, at the SIHH, we will present the first product at CHF30,000, a completely new line with our own movement,” pledges Perriard. “We already have the prototype of the movement. With that, we will be able to extend creativity and rationalize the brand strategy.”

This new watch will be smaller, making it possible to develop product for many more segments. “We are developing a watch which can be more affordable, wearable and in order to give the possibilities of a larger audience, unisex and women’s watches with this new development,” adds Dourde. “We are also working on diminishing the dimensions. We want to have it smaller in size, and to do that we have to make a smaller fluidic module. Making it smaller requires much more force from the movement to move the liquids, and the current movements don’t have the power we need. At HYT, we are developing our own movement with a very important innovation with a lot of  power. It won’t take up that much space, and it will animate the fluidic device. We have three patents on this new movement.”

In addition, Preciflex is working on a new product that will bring liquid technology to the masses. Neither Perriard nor Dourde are sure who will bring that technology to market, it could be a third party or it could be a new company within the HYT Preciflex group. In fact, HYT and Preciflex were just in the news, announcing the acquisition of CHF23 million in funding, and this money will be used to fund this and other new projects.

HYT is at the high end of the watch industry, and Preciflex wants to come into the true entry level. “Preciflex has a very important project which is developing new technologies and applications to address the larger market of watchmaking,” Dourde explains. “HYT is in a very high-end, niche market. What we want to address is really having a solution with liquid for CHF300. We will do an entry-level, fresh product, with specific codes, giving lots of opportunity to creative people. This is a very important project. The technology we have developed, we will be using in the jewelry industry as well. This new technology will not be used by HYT, we will do a partnership with a brand or we might go straight to the market with our own brand, a spin off from Preciflex.”

Lots of things are happening with HYT and Preciflex, with the Bad Boy Skull being just the tip of the iceberg. We’ve  become accustomed to expect the unexpected from HYT and they have never disappointed.

We here at Revolution can’t wait to see what happens next.

Photographer: Sidney Teo

Fashion stylist: Marie Lee

Digital imaging: Vion Teh

Fashion assistant: Carissa Marie Lim

Grooming: Andrea Razali using L’Oreal Professional

Models: Fabio T & Mary G / Ave

Special thanks to Triumph Motorcycles Singapore and Mr Eugene Mah  for the kind loan of the Triumph motorcycle used in this photoshoot.

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