Recently, I published a story (it happens). The comments, at least some of them, expressed frustration over a couple of things (it happens). The two things in question were the spate of very expensive watches recently on the site, and the other was at the frequency with which prices were reported as “available on request.” This tends to happen in the context of limited edition high complications and I am not entirely sure why the brands insist on the piece of theater that is price on request, except that perhaps it keeps them from committing to a market-specific price for a piece whose actual cost might vary by thousands of dollars, depending on whether or not there has been a FOREX hiccup.
Now, within that domain are watches that I like to call “hyperwatches” which have some analogies to so-called hypercars. They’re not just expensive – they are also, often, willfully complex, far beyond any demands of the practical and they are there to show what can be done with persistence, imagination, and often, a willingness to deploy technology previously unheard of in watchmaking (the entire Harry Winston Opus series was,more or less, hyperwatches).
HYT got a lot of early adopters amongst those who both love high complications but also don’t want to see another gal at the ball in the same dress. But it ran into technical issues as its watches went out into the world, and the company went bankrupt in 2021. However, unlike many high-concept hyperwatch companies whose demise proved final, HYT rose from its ashes under new management, with a new CEO: Davide Cerrato, formerly head of watch design at Tudor and Montblanc. HYT’s first watch under Cerrato was the Hastroid, and the company’s latest watch continues the themes of spacecraft and space exploration, and science fiction, with the recently introduced HYT Supernova Blue Moon Runner.
The HYT Supernova Blue Moon Runner uses the same basic technology found in every HYT watch. The capillary tube contains two fluids, one colored and one clear. The two fluids are immiscible – that is to say, they are composed of substances that naturally repel each other and don’t mix, like oil and water. The two fluids are propelled by a bellows system, in which one bellows expands while the other contracts to draw the fluid around the tube. The walls of the tube are extremely thin – less than a quarter of the diameter of a human hair, according to HYT. The expansion and contraction of the bellows are controlled by a cam and lever system.
The whole system won’t work unless the entire bellows and capillary system is perfectly hermetically sealed, and HYT says that the airtightness of the system is 10,000 times greater than that of a diver’s watch (whose seals do allow the ingress and egress of atmospheric gasses, albeit extremely slowly). The “fluidic modules” as HYT calls them, are permanently sealed.
Fluids also expand and contract with temperature changes and since a watch has to be expected to tolerate a wide range of ambient temperatures on and off the wrist, you need some sort of system for protecting the fluidic modules from malfunctioning if the fluid expands and contracts. To cope with this, one of the bellows has an internal thermal compensation system, which expands or contracts as the temperature changes in order to maintain the correct fluid pressure and position of the boundary between the two fluids. The cam and lever system must operate with extreme precision – an elapsed time of one minute equals an advance of the fluid by precisely 1.5 microns, so there is very little margin for error. It takes 12 hours for the fluid to advance once around the dial, and at the end of each 12-hour period the two bellows are instantly reset to their original positions and the cycle begins again. Minutes are read off an outer track on the inner flange of the dial. Two rotating disks, placed concentrically around the moonphase display at the center, let you read off the date and month from their position adjacent to an indicator at six o’clock.
The most dramatic feature of the watch, however, is the central hemispheric moonphase display, which actually manages to upstage the fluidic retrograde hour display (not an easy trick to pull off). I don’t know how many moonphase displays I’ve looked at over the last few decades, but it’s a lot – the moonphase is a lovely thing when done in the traditional fashion but there are a lot of ways to skin a cat, and playing around with moonphase display variations is something watchmakers enjoy, given the chance.
The moonphase display consists of the central hemisphere for the Moon and the aperture which shows how much of the Moon is illuminated. It’s straightforward to read and, in principle, no different from any other aperture-based moonphase display, but the execution’s unlike anything else I’ve ever seen and it gives the watch a visual impact that almost makes you forget the microfluidics, which for the first time at HYT are in the nature of a supporting cast rather than a featured player. HYT has also made excellent use of Super-LumiNova – including on the Moon hemisphere itself (which, like the moonphase aperture and its curved supporting bridge, is made of titanium).
This is partly a hyperwatch in terms of price (which is not on request, at CHF 100,000) and in terms of number made (a limited edition of 27 pieces). But mostly it’s an example of the hyperwatch as an act of imaginative mechanical design, and it’s in the same general category as watches by, say, MB&F. The price is not particularly of interest in most cases with this sort of thing, except maybe anthropologically, any more than price is relevant in evaluating a work of art as art, albeit it’s very difficult beyond a certain point to avoid conflating price with overall perceived value. HODINKEE’s former managing editor, Dakota Gardner, once wrote a story for us entitled “I Can’t Afford Any Of These Watches, And That’s Just Fine,” in which he made the perennially valid point that possession, or the potential for possession, is not the same thing as appreciation and is, in fact, irrelevant to connoisseurship. He wrote, “In my case, a watch could cost $10,000 or $100,000, and I will buy neither. So at that point, the watch becomes something beyond a commodity to be purchased. It becomes that which can be appreciated.”
In the several decades I’ve written about watches I’ve seen more watches that I can’t afford than not, and I’ve had a few bonfire of the vanities moments but those have largely been confined to dramatic disconnects in price and actual horological content as prices have gone up, often in what are essentially commodity watches. Hyperwatches, on the other hand, are a ton of fun to read about and look at, and occasionally even see in person, and what we get out of them, for the most part, is not what a dragon gets out of sitting on its gold (and I have never forgotten that Thorin, the dwarf in The Hobbit, says that despite their wealth dragons usually can’t tell a good piece of work from a bad one). What we get out of them, instead, is a horological world that’s more fun.
The HYT Supernova Blue Moon Runner: case sandblasted grey and blue titanium with titanium crown, domed sapphire crystal with AR coating. 48.00mm x 52.30mm x 21.80mm including the crystal; water-resistance, 50 meters. Movement, HYT caliber 601-MO, running at 28,800 vph in 43 jewels with a 72-hour power reserve. Microfluidic double bellows system for the retrograde hour indication; date and month on two rotating disks; minutes on the inner dial flange; hemispherical moonphase with titanium aperture. Black rubber strap with titanium buckle; price, CHF 120,000. Limited edition of 27 pieces, worldwide.