HYT Interview with Grégory Dourde
HYT’s CEO is spearheading a change in philosophy at the brand. He tells WorldTempus all about it.
At this year’s Horology Forum in London you were a speaker on the panel entitled “When David clocks Goliath”, which discussed the rise of independent watch brands in the face of the bigger and more established brands. What were your conclusions from this panel?
I’m not at ease with the comparison between David and Goliath. In an ecosystem there is room for cohabitation between the different players. One good example between of a win-win scenario is the SIHH and its decision to incorporate the Carré des Indépendants. The SIHH helped to provide an interesting environment for collectors, trade and the press. Brands both big and small have benefited from the new dynamism of these shows, but so have the smaller ones.
The biggest risk I see is the watch industry taking the same path as the car industry. I recently read a report that claimed there were 350 watch brands in Switzerland. In the car industry there might be around 20 or 30 worldwide. Now, the regulatory framework is completely different, of course, but the barriers to access technology and investment are now so high that the possibilities for newcomers are very very limited. I see a risk for the watch industry because we are seeing increasing concentration, with a handful of the biggest brands representing around 80% of the industry’s sales. The collective responsibility of the Swiss watch industry is to make sure that projects by smaller brands are still feasible.
During the panel you made a comparison between HYT and Tesla. Can you elaborate on this?
Tesla, and Space X for that matter, arrived in mature industries. They brought with them visions of something new. But Tesla is more than just a technological adventure, it actually changes people’s views on transport in general. This is extremely powerful and there is indeed a good parallel with HYT, because our project is not just technological either. Yes, we use a new technology, which we had to develop ourselves (and like Tesla, it was not without difficulty) but it is an adventure that offers a new perception of time. Tesla offers a different form of interaction with your car, HYT offers a different interaction with your watch and the notion of time in general.
How have you shaped the company since taking over as CEO?
Since we launched the H0 at Baselworld 2017 and the H20 this year we have seen an evolution at the brand and an adaptation of our communications strategy. The watches have evolved in a return to the very roots of the project. The idea was to be able to offer a different kind of interaction with a watch because of the fluids. HYT was born from this desire to push things forward in watchmaking history.
H0 models unveiled in 2017 © HYT
If you look at contemporary indicators, for example on cars and even on the Apple Watch, you see more and more gauges and fewer hands. Think about your phone and your computer, any kind of duration, whether it is for battery life or downloading a file, is in the form of a progress bar. We asked ourselves why they don’t use hands and we realized it is because you need to educate people to read them (see our editorial on this), because it is not intuitive. On the other hand, everyone can understand a gauge and a progress bar. The history of timekeeping started with the clepsydra, which is a water clock. It used fluids! So the idea dates back thousands of years, long before the advent of the mechanical watch movement.
H20 © HYT
More specifically, how has the collection evolved over the same period?
The H0 was deliberately designed to hide the movement from the top. It has a slick look but nevertheless has seven individual elements to the dial. You can still see the core fluidic elements but we added a large sapphire dome to show off the three-dimensional view of time that we offer thanks to the capillary and the fluids. We also removed the part that hid the central element, where the capillary emerges, which is the very essence of the watch. We have now opened this up so you can see the fluids emerging. It’s something we used again on the H20 and it makes the watch more understandable. The case without lugs is also a step towards a more fluid design and also makes the watch more comfortable on the wrist, as does the pebble-shaped crystal, which also evokes the idea of having been smoothened by the passage of a liquid – water.
H0 X Eau Rouge and H0 Gold © HYT
The Skull 48.8 has a smaller case and we can see that there are still many possibilities for developing the skull further. While the H0 is now our best seller in volume and value the skull remains very successful and one of our favourite models, because it allows us to express our philosophy to the full. You can still read the hours, but because we have removed the minutes it forces you to take a step back and think about “memento mori” and reflect on our mortality. After all, the skull is one of the best symbols of time passing.
Skull 48.8 © HYT
How do you see HYT developing over the coming years?
We consider ourselves as a laboratory rather than a “manufacture”. I don’t think it makes any sense to vertically integrate production of some all of our components. Take the bellows: given the volumes we need it would require huge investment. Our suppliers partners also work for NASA so they are a very good reference. Furthermore, I don’t want to vertically integrate anything that is easy to do. You can find plenty of suppliers who can do machining, for example. If you visit some watch brands you just see halls full of CNC machines. You won’t find any of that at HYT.
But there are some key elements in our watches where we simply cannot find the expertise anywhere else. We had to develop it ourselves. We have thus become experts at fluid injection, because we have to inject our fluids into a capillary that is 10,000 times more watertight than a normal wristwatch without leaving the slightest trace of air bubbles. We also manufacture our own fluids. We don’t simply buy these off the shelves. We could buy them in with a purity of 99.9%. Our main problem is the remaining 0.1% that nobody masters but which could cause us real problems. Bending the glass was also a headache. We tried many different solutions but in the end we decided it was better to invest in doing this ourselves.
Can you give us some hints at what to expect at the SIHH and Baselworld next year?
We will have a lot of announcements between now and Baselworld, including a couple of big ones. As in 2017 and 2018, We we will not be attending Baselworld next year, but we will nevertheless be presenting something spectacular at during this periodBasel in 2019. And we are already thinking about pushing the idea of fluidic time even further.