Hautlence was founded back in 2004, and I’ve been following the brand since the early days. There are two things about Hautlence that immediately came to mind when I read about the release of two new watches and the start of a new era for the brand. The first was the complicated anarchist HL2.3 PUNK with its 84 spikes from 2019, a seemingly lawless creation made for the millionaire Sex Pistols fan — check it out at the end of this article. The second was how the two founders Renaud de Retz and Guillaume Tetu made me choose between a fancy or a fun dinner when I visited them in Neuchâtel — I chose the fun one, which meant cheese fondue and lots of white wine. The brand is now gearing up for the next chapter in its life. The new Hautlence Vagabonde Series 4 and Linear Series 1 watches are impressive indications of the changes made.

Here’s a fun fact: the name Hautlence is an anagram of Neuchatel. Clever, isn’t it? Since its inception, Hautlence has always had something rebellious that fascinated me. The watches never quite followed the traditional rules. Hautlence’s creations circumvented established watchmaking conventions through innovative and sometimes completely unconventional techniques. And what was true for the watches was also true for the brand’s founders.

Hautlence Vagabonde Series 4

Hard-rockin’ Hautlence

During my casual visit to Hautlence in 2008, we listened to Metallica’s new album Death Magnetic in Guillaume Tetu’s car as we drove from one site to the other. I remember Tetu (who is now the COO of Ralph Lauren, Watch and Jewelry Co) apologizing for the metal that started blasting out the speakers when he started the car, but since I also just bought the CD — those small, shiny discs, remember? — I told him to keep playing it. He did, but he also told me not to broadcast the fact that he listened to heavy metal as it could be frowned upon in the world of exclusive Haute Horlogerie. Well, now the cat is out of the bag, but I doubt Ralph Lauren will read this, and even if he does, I don’t think he’ll storm into Tetu’s office to fire him for his hard-rocking musical preferences.

Hautlence Vagabonde Series 4 and Linear Series 1 — Ready for a new era

In 2012, Hautlence was bought by Swiss investing company MELB Holding. Following the anagram at the beginning, I bring you an acronym — MELB stands for “Meylan Edouard Léonore Bertrand”, the names of the children of Georges-Henri Meylan, former CEO of Audemars Piguet and the founder of the holding. MELB — which is based in Le Brassus in the Vallée de Joux and also owns H. Moser & Cie. — has the philosophy of passing Haute Horlogerie to the next generation, not building a brand and then selling it. Prime examples of that philosophy are the new Hautlence Vagabonde Series 4 and Linear Series 1 watches.

Vagabonde Series 4 and Linear Series 1

Now in 2022, Hautlence has eight in-house calibers in use and a scheduled annual production of 200 watches. The brand has been completely revamped, meaning a new positioning in the market. The latest creations exist in both a new technical and design universe, and the new company structure sees Samuel Hoffman at the top. Hoffman is a Swiss-American who loves to restore vintage cars — no word about his musical preferences in the bio, unfortunately — and during his 14-year career in watchmaking, he has worked at Ulysse Nardin, TAG Heuer, and MB&F. Now, finally, let’s move on to the new watches.

Hautlence Vagabonde Series 4

Vagabonde Series 4 — Wandering into the future

Inside the Vagabonde Series 4 (reference AB30-ST00) with its wandering hours beats a new in-house movement. The ambitions of the revamped Hautlence brand show themselves in the B30 self-winding caliber, a manufacture movement designed in collaboration with H. Moser & Cie. The 3Hz caliber has a power reserve of 72 hours and comprises 197 components. The movement is equipped with a high-tech version of the famous star wheel systems that are named after the star-shaped disc driving wheels inside. The all-new movement in the heart of the 43.0 × 50.8 × 11.9mm steel case (which is water resistant to 100 meters, by the way) reconnects with the roots of Hautlence. When the brand started in 2004, one of its ambitions was to tell time differently. And the new Vagabonde Series 4 (€34,500) is firmly in line with the brand’s founding philosophy.

Hautlence Vagabonde Series 4

Jumping, trailing, and spinning

Hautlence already gave us a watch with a jumping hour disc, a micro-industrial half-trailing hour chain, and a jumping hour that spins on a sphere. Now, the brand presents a linear retrograde jumping hour that shows the hour on three satellites. The minutes are displayed on a central disc. Is it easy to read? Pretty easy, I would say. The digital hours are easy to find and the minutes that trail the hour indicator are right next to it.

Vagabonde Series 4

Describing the Vagabonde Series 4 as a watch with a central sapphire minutes disc with three hour satellites located inside of it makes it sound very complicated. And it is technically and mechanically complicated, but it’s also surprisingly easy to read, wear, and use. Not only does the case sit nicely on the wrist thanks to its generous yet balanced proportions and supple rubber strap, but it also is a feast for the eyes.

Hautlence Vagabonde Series 4

What’s on TV?

Thanks to the large TV dial, the wearer can enjoy the “show” in great detail. And what details there are! The background is formed by a rhodium-plated brass base dial with a frosted finish — like the static on a TV but also completely different. The sapphire minute dial adds depth and space as it hovers above the three blue circles that house the digital hours. The way the hours rotate around the central minute disc as they turn on their own axis is poetry in motion. Blue and gray horological poetry, that is.

Hautlence Vagabonde Series 4

The Vagabonde Series 4 is a poet of sorts, yes, but it’s not the kind who wears a beret, smells of tobacco, and has red wine stains on his corduroy suit. On the contrary, it most certainly has a sporty side to it. The Vagabonde Series 4 looks fit! No, I wouldn’t go running with it, but it sure does give you athletic vibes — like a tracksuit made by a famous fashion house, perhaps? Because its appearance isn’t too in-your-face, this latest Hautlence is a watch you can wear on many different occasions. It will both highlight your artistic side during a vernissage and empower you during a business meeting.

Linear Series 1 — Provocative in the right shade of blue

The new €67,800 Linear Series 1 (reference AD50-ST00) is a 43.0 × 50.8 × 11.9mm time object for the wrist. In a world where retro rules — the amount of retro-inspired field watches at Fratello HQ right now is staggering — the Linear Series 1 is a breath of fresh air. Well, for me it is. It is a provocative watch that stirs discussion. It also polarizes. This new Hautlence is a love/hate affair that, in my case, swings to the love side. It may sound simple, but it starts with the colors of integrated rubber strap that seemingly swoops into the nicely detailed, beautifully finished, 10 ATM water-resistant case.

Color can be a difficult thing to get right, but Hautlence nailed it here. The blue is prominent, but it doesn’t smother the watch. The blue details on the crown and the TV-screen dial — a typical Hautlence design feature — match the blue strap and create a fresh look. There’s even an extra industrial flavor thanks to the different gray tones of the dial, movement, and case.

What time is it?

There are a lot of Nouvelle Horlogerie creations that tell time but do so in a secret language only spoken by its creators. The Linear Series 1 speaks Esperanto. At first, it takes a bit of effort, but soon enough, reading the correct time becomes instantaneous. The minutes are shown on the round, traditional display, albeit with a chunk of it missing in order to show you the flying tourbillon of the automatic caliber D50. And the hours are on the left in a vertical, sequential digital display in blue with a white marker. And this hour indicator is of the retrograde type that spectacularly shoots back once it’s 1 o’clock. The 3Hz caliber D50, by the way, comprises 239 parts. It utilizes a module made in collaboration with Agenhor and has a power reserve of 72 hours.

Wearing the Hautlence Vagabonde Series 4 and Linear Series 1 watches

Both watches feel the same on the wrist. The explanation for that is simple: they use the same 43.0 × 50.8 × 11.9mm steel case. The size and weight are quite formidable, but the watches are not uncomfortable at all. The shape suits my wrist very well, so both timepieces fit like a glove, so to speak. The difference is what’s on the generous TV dial. I do like the three visual elements of the Linear Series 1. That watch makes your eyes wander from the tourbillon to the vertical hours, then to the minute hand, and back again. But the Vagabonde Series 4 is a more balanced watch overall. The blue rubber strap also makes more sense on the sportier, more distilled-looking Vagabonde Series 4. And if you like, you could also call the wandering hours the “hiking hours” if you want to reassure yourself that it is a sporty watch.

Hautlence 2.0’s “hike” in the very competitive world of creative Haute Horlogerie is off to a flying start with the Vagabonde Series 4 and Linear Series 1 watches. I’m really curious to see how the brand will fly under MELB flag. If it’s going to be similar to how fellow brand H. Moser & Cie. operates, the future could very well be bright.

The promised picture of the HL2.3 PUNK and a question

No, I didn’t forget that I promised you a picture of the HL2.3 PUNK. Here it is. And while you’re looking at it, answer this question for me. If Sex Pistols singer Johnny Rotten is perfect for the HL2.3 PUNK, who is the ideal ambassador of the new Hautlence Vagabonde Series 4 and Linear Series 1 watches?

The Vagabonde Series 4 and Linear Series 1 watches are both limited to 28 pieces. For more information, please check out the official Hautlence website.

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