From Time Machine and Brave New World to Star Wars, Blade Runner and The Matrix, we are fascinated by the future. Usually, these worlds are portrayed as post-apocalyptic nightmares where the human species is undone by their own doing. An everyman, our hero or heroine, bucks against the evil system in power to save humanity. Win some, lose some.
In these universes, technology plays a big role. All matter of machines and gadgets, including computers, weapons and automobiles have surpassed our current state-of-the-art. This alternate reality represents progress or regression, depending upon your point of view. But that’s another matter altogether. Within all these scenarios notice that we still cling to the concept of time. Can’t get away from the pesky idea. The ticking bomb always makes its appearance somewhere.
We’re always running out of time or trying to keep up with it whether we’re racing to beat the boss to the office or decimating the alien before he sucks our face off. And the gadget used to tell time? The watch, of course!
Watchmakers aren’t immune to dreaming the future. There are several out there who take inspiration from science fiction. Their timepieces provide a canvas of exploration and imagination. In some fashion these watchmakers break with tradition to synthesize a new dynamic of capturing the hours. A time not yet past…
URWERK is the company piloted by Felix Baumgartner and Martin Frei. When they founded the brand in 1997 their main mission was to defy convention. As Baumgartner says, “Watchmaking is not a dead science.” The two found inspiration in a centuries-old encyclopedia edited by Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert published in the 18th century. The text talks about imagining alternate methods and devising new machines.
URWERK’s watches look like little spacecraft that flew out of another dimension and landed on the wrist. The unconventional curved shape of the case plays right into a popular image of future transportation. For each new model released, URWERK keeps the DNA of the brand intact using the revolving satellite complication, but interprets the watch in a slightly different way. Most recently, URWERK brought their vision to a pocket watch called the Zeitwork UR-1001 that actually needs a custom suit to rest in its proper place.
An American brand, Devon Works stunned the watch world with the introduction of the Tread 1 last year and more jaws dropped when it was nominated at the 10th Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève in the Design and Concept category, though it didn’t win. It was beat out by the MB&F Horological Machine No4 Thunderbolt, another qualifier in the category that I’ll discuss too. The Tread 1 uses a series of belts to show the hours, minutes and seconds. It was almost unheard of for the Americans to punch through the Swiss curtain of the Grand Prix, but more so because they did it with a battery operated timepiece.
The recently released Tread 2 still runs on a series of belts but is in a simplified form that doesn’t eat up as much energy by getting rid of the running seconds. Though pared down from the Tread 1, the Tread 2 still maintains its rough and tumble look that would travel well to the future. I can see it on the arm of Colin Farrell in the upcoming remake of Total Recall. Open your mind…
Since its founding in 2002, DeBethune, founded by Denis Flageollet and David Zanetta, has experimented with different designs to showcase their advanced mechanics. They’ve already developed 12 different calibers and have 9 patents. Plus, they make everything themselves. Nope, they don’t outsource. Unbelievable for any company let alone one that only makes about 100 watches a year. After a decade, DeBethune has settled into an aesthetic that is nothing if not futuristic.
Most of the DeBethune watches foresee other worlds, like the DB27 Titan Hawk. The DB28, which won the Aiguille d’Or at this year’s Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève, perhaps most reflects a time afar. It has a crisp modern case in polished grade 5 titanium. Looked at from the profile, the DB28 appears to be a foreboding tank or perhaps even a sentient machine on the prowl to crush disobedient humans. The top view reveals a three-dimensional moon nestled in the case below 6 o’clock lighting up an undiscovered landscape of the sparse dial, composed of the plate featuring the DeBethune stripes. Another perspective conveys the image of a rocket ship poised for takeoff to find other cosmos.
Located in Neuchatel, the historical capital of watchmaking, Hautlence honors the region by taking its name in anagram form. The company functions from the premise that several minds can break the time barrier to come up with technical and design breakthroughs. The team in the “college” comes together in a brain huddle and emerges with a construct. The latest creature to emerge from the laboratory is the HL2.0, a piece that took over 3 years to develop.
On a technical level the HL2.0 is fascinating. Without using a tourbillon, the watch accomplishes the same feat of keeping the balance and escapement in a revolving motion. You can read more about the mechanics here.
But beyond that, the HL2.0 is just amazingly cool to look at. A moving hours chain, which drives the balance wheel and escapement, shows the hours through an aperture, while a retrograde minute hands flips every hour across half the dial. The mechanics are very Fritz Lang Metropolis.
Of course, a piece on futuristic watches wouldn’t be complete without including Max Busser and his company MB&F. Together with his “friends” Busser captures his visions in a watch. Calling his creations horological machines, he draws upon the sci-fi memories of his childhood, presenting a vision that can inhabit both the present world and one yet to come.
Though the HM4 and Legacy Machine 1 could certainly be counted, it’s really the HM3 Frog that stands out with its googly alien eyes that tell the time. We covered the Purple Frog here. Like all of the machines, the HM3 breaks the two-plane barrier giving a three-dimensional context to the timepiece. The “eyes” are actually indications of the hours and minutes rotating under the domes. An amphibious, otherworldly piece… Finding it on the arm of Sigourney Weaver’s character Grace in Avatar wouldn’t be unlikely at all.
Enjoy the journey!