Labyrinth by Hautlence Labyrinth by Hautlence

Time with Henry: When is a watch not a watch? Featured

We are all familiar with watches that tell the time, but some wrist-worn devices have very different functions. This selection presents five timepieces in which time is only a secondary consideration.


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26 October 2017

 Let’s face it, we don’t use our watches to tell the time. We have our mobile phones for that. Some watchmakers have used this freedom from functionality to invent some new wrist-held devices that do totally different things. These devices may look like watches at first sight, but they are closer to works of art, or games, or toys, than to timepieces.

A good example is Labyrinth by Hautlence, “an entirely essential yet fundamentally useless object,” say the brand. It is a game of skill that takes us back to our childhood, when time stretched to infinity and we could test our reflexes with simple toys like this. Labyrinth shares something of the complexity of mechanical watches: turning the crown operates a mechanical lift that feeds the platinum ball onto the maze made in gold. “Change the world, take your time, “ says brand ambassador Eric Cantona, and Labyrinth is one of those addictive games that helps you disconnect. Its mechanism is surprisingly complex, with 9 jewels and a visible movement.

hautlance labyrinthHautlence Labyrinth

A labyrinth also appears on the watch ‘Aventicum’ by Christophe Claret. Aventicum is the name of a ruined Ancient Roman city near what is now the Swiss town of Avenches. In 1939 a solid gold bust of Emperor Marcus Aurelius was found there, and it is reproduced, with a width of just three millimetres, at the centre of this timepiece. A brilliant optical device, known as a mirascope, magnifies it and creates the illusion that it is standing vertically above the middle of the watch. This object also tells the time, with two small hands peeping out from under the maze.

Related article: Discover watchmaking heritage in the Jura mountains on a day trip to La Chaux-de-Fonds

Christophe Claret AventicumChristophe Claret Aventicum

Like the Aventicum, Greubel Forsey’s Art Piece One presented in 2013 had a microsculpture enlarged by a powerful lens. Their new Art Piece Two is a different concept, in which the watch itself is the work of art. The most important visual reference on the dial is the power reserve indicator, while the double tourbillon provides a fascinating display of horological artistry, with its dual axes of rotation. To see the time, you press a pusher, and a sector window opens, revealing two circular discs showing the hours and minutes. The watch is signed by Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey, and it has another factor typical of artworks: rarity. Only a few pieces will be made every year.

Related article: Timely inventions by Greubel Forsey

GF webGreubel Forsey Art Piece 2

One of the most interesting watches of 2017 is Lady Arpels Papillon Automate by Van Cleef & Arpels, a watch that presents the scene of a three-dimensional butterfly amidst plants and flowers. The butterfly flutters its wings at intervals, and the frequency and duration of its movements depends on the wearer’s activity. You can also induce the butterfly to flap its wings by pressing a pusher, and it is a truly delightful scene. The insect is crafted in gold with wings in plique-à-jour enamel, and it seems ready to fly away from the watch. The piece is entirely mechanical, with a self-winding movement in which 417 components power the butterfly, while the hour and minute hands – which have only a secondary role on the dial –are driven by another 147 parts.

VCA webLady Arpels Papillon Automate by Van Cleef & Arpels
The final watch in this selection may look conventional, but Slim d’Hermès L’heure impatiente does something rather unusual: it expresses the concept of looking forward to an event. “Le meilleur moment de l’amour, c’est quand on monte l’escalier,” said French statesman Georges Clemenceau, and the L’heure impatiente watch achieves the same sort of anticipation by means of a system in which you set the time of the event on the subdial at bottom right using the second crown, and then, exactly an hour before the occasion that you’re looking forward to, the retrograde hand at bottom left starts its countdown from 60 to zero. When it arrives, the watch chimes once. Le moment de l’amour est arrivé!

web Slim dHermes Lheure impatiente havana alligator copyright CalithoSlim d’Hermès L’heure impatiente, photo by Calitho

For more Time with Henry, visit our Watches page.