The year is 2012; the place, Baselworld’s Palace annex, where small, independent and often off-beat watch companies show their wares. Executives from a new Swiss watch company are holding a press conference to unveil their new creation. It’s a watch unlike any other: it shows the hours not via hands or digits but by fluorescent green liquid moving through a slender glass tube.
The company’s name is HYT. Its CEO is Vincent Perriard. Most journalists in the audience know him from his past posts at TechnoMarine and Concord, and, before that, Hamilton and Audemars Piguet. Also on hand are HYT’s chairman and co-founder, an entrepreneur named Patrick Berdoz, and board member and co-founder Lucien Vouillamoz, the inventor of the liquid time-telling system.
The journalists watch a video showing the liquid, actually two liquids, one antifreeze green and the other colorless, moving through the tube under the propulsion of a pair of pistons at the 6 o’clock position on the watch face. The fluid moves mysteriously, as if by magic. The hour is indicated by the position of the meniscus, the dividing line at which the two fluids meet.
This “fluidic module,” as HYT calls it, is wedded to a movement that powers the pistons and supports a minutes display at 12 o’clock, a seconds wheel between 9 and 10 o’clock, and a power-reserve display between 2 and 3 o’clock. The movement was designed by the high-end, avant-garde movement maker Chronode.
Much buzz ensues. The H1, as the watch is known, becomes one of the most talked-about introductions at the fair; everybody, it seems, wants a peek at HYT’s crazy concoction. The chatter doesn’t end with Baselworld: later that year, the watch wins the innovation prize in the annual Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève competition.
But there was one problem, as HYT discovered soon after the launch. The watch didn’t work. At least not as well as it needed to, given that the least expensive version was priced at $45,000. The company delivered 20 or 25 pieces, then stopped production. The H1 was sent back to the lab.
It was, of course, a huge letdown. HYT’s engineers had solved many liquid-related riddles: how to prevent the clear and green fluids from mixing together, how to prevent the green liquid from clinging to the wall of the glass tube, how to manufacture the tube, which has a diameter of less than 1 mm, in the first place. And on and on. How could there be yet more problems to solve?