A number of years ago, I had the opportunity to acquire a watch from the high-end, independent brand Hautlence at a very competitive price. This unique situation came about as a result of calling in several favors (and promising several more in the future). Of course, many readers probably aren’t familiar with the name Hautlence. While the brand is certainly still around and active, I would say they probably hit their zenith sometime around 2010-2015. This was around the time they were acquired by MELB Holdings, which also owns H. Moser & Cie. While the brand may not be on your radar today, they were once one of the hottest and most innovative independent brands going, creating exceptionally complicated watches like the HL2.0, which featured a rotating, suspended escapement system.
Hautlence was (and still is) best known for its TV-shaped cases with unique jumping hour and retrograde minute displays. These were always equipped with in-house movements and featured very avant-garde styling. The challenge for Hautlence, however, like so many other luxury watch brands, was that their offering became a bit convoluted and pricing wasn’t in line with consumer expectations (i.e., the watches were crazy expensive). Following the change in ownership in 2012, they began to refine their portfolio and reposition the brand. Part of this new strategy included introducing their first model that wasn’t powered by an in-house movement – and this is where the story of my personal watch fail begins.
The Destination was the first series in Hautlence’s new “Signature” collection. The Signature label was essentially created so that the brand could collaborate with third-party suppliers on series-produced models driven by externally-sourced movements. This allowed them to make the watches more accessible in terms of price even though they still had the same level of finishing and flair expected from the brand. The Destination, for example, was powered by an automatic Soprod 9351/A10-2 movement, which featured a standard central time display with a dual-time complication.
Another important feature of the Destination was the return of the popular TV-shaped case. Hautlence had been experimenting with more conventional round cases at the time, but they didn’t have quite the same appeal. The case was available in either steel or titanium, with the option of DLC coating. It was the dial, however, that charted completely new territory for Hautlence. For the first time in the brand’s history, the hours and minutes were displayed using a conventional two-handed format; not exactly ground-breaking, but still a big deal at the time. A second time zone, complete with a day/night indicator, appeared on a transferred sapphire disc at six o’clock. It had a similar aesthetic to the jumping hours on the Origine collection, but without the complexity. A large date bridge and “floating” Arabic numerals completed the look and gave the watch a nice sense of depth. By and large, it was actually quite an attractive watch.
Overall, the Destination was a very well-made watch and the TV-shaped case was a big bonus, which is why I fell for it. The problem was, however, it wasn’t a real Hautlence – at least not in the purist sense. The brand was known for its jumping hour and retrograde minute displays powered by in-house movements. At the time, I had the option of acquiring a more complicated model, but I balked at spending the extra money. It’s not a regret I’ll take to my grave, but looking back, I really wish I had made a different choice. I had an idea in my head of what a Hautlence watch should be, and since the Destination could never live up to that expectation, I couldn’t fully enjoy wearing it. As a result, it spent a lot of time gathering dust in a drawer before I eventually removed it from my collection in a trade.
I can’t say for sure, but I think if I had chosen differently and gone with a jumping hour model, it would probably still be in my rotation today. But it’s all part of the fun. If nothing else, the experience taught me to really think about what I want from a watch or what really sings to me about a certain model before I commit to that all-important purchase.