ANGUS DAVIES INTERVIEWS FRANÇOIS NUNEZ, HYT
Angus chats to François Nunez, HYT and learns much about the brand’s recent H0 and H20 families. The Vice President and Creative Director of HYT reveals what makes the brand special, the thinking behind the design language of the watches and the future direction of the Swiss firm.
In social situations, the conversation ultimately leads to enquiries about my profession. ‘I write about watches’ is my standard reply and this provokes looks of bewilderment on the faces of those around me. The customary comment is, ‘But a watch is a watch’. At this point, I remove my I-Phone from my pocket, show a picture of an HYT and explain how it works. One glance at the brightly coloured liquid circumnavigating the dial of an HYT usually does the trick. All of sudden there is a ubiquitous wave of amazement and the rationale for my work is vindicated.
Ever since HYT broke cover in 2012, I have been a fan of the brand. Beyond the ingenious depiction of time is mechanical virtue. The Swiss brand has needed to overcome numerous technical challenges to achieve precision and reliability. In September 2016, I spent a few enjoyable hours at Preciflex, the sister company of HYT. During my visit, I met Lucien Vouillamoz, the Co-Founder and Board Member of both companies. Having once worked in the chemical industry, I fired numerous questions to Vouillamoz, trying to establish if there were any inherent weaknesses with the micro-fluid technology employed. It seemed that there was nothing that had not already been identified and subsequently addressed. Since this visit, my love for HYT timepieces has grown exponentially and I doubt this affection is likely to wane any time soon.
A few weeks ago, I returned to HYT and interviewed the charismatic François Nunez, the Vice President and Creative Director of the brand.
Interview with François Nunez, HYT (FN) by Angus Davies (AD)
AD: What makes HYT special?
FN: We are still watchmakers but we are scientists more than watchmakers. We sit at the crossroads between art and science, between technology and craftsmanship. This may sound a paradox, however, we believe that where there is a paradox there is potential for creativity.
We are looking to showcase our design expertise, incorporating architectural influences and contemporary art.
AD: I was a fan of the H1 and H2. However, when you unveiled the H0 and H20, I was blown away and suddenly the H1 and H2 no longer appealed to me as much. After you launched the H1 and H2, I did wonder where you could go with the design concept. Now you have released the H0 and H20 and they are very different. Can you provide an insight into the design language behind these latest models?
FN: We named the H0 as such because we were returning to our origins, a bit like a prequel. When we were designing the H0 we were trying to make the fluidic indication part of the final shape of the watch. We wanted to differentiate our watch from other timepieces on the market because we are a very different company and the watch needs to reflect this.
The dial of the H0 is curved and resembles droplets of water landing on the surface of a fluid. Likewise, the case has no angles, it looks like a pebble which has been polished by water. These elements have been integrated with one objective in mind; to imbue the watch with a strong identity. The glass is also a very important element of this design. It’s transparent and reflective, like water. It also has a cloche-like glass similar to those used in museums or a laboratory to cover and protect objects.
When we released the H20, the public suddenly understood where we were going. It was with the advent of this watch that people realised that we were introducing a three dimensionality to our watch designs. With ultra-thin or super flat watches you take away one of the dimensions of your design. However, the audience we are appealing to are fascinated by three dimensional watch designs.
I do not have lots of sketches ready, but I do have a clear idea of where we are going. We will always incorporate three dimensionality into our designs. This is because you rarely look at the watch from the front alone, you often view it from the side. We want our watches to be sculptures, not paintings. Our desire is to create watches which engage with the wearer when viewed from different angles. We want to be a contemporary brand for a contemporary world and therefore be relevant to today’s generation. We don’t want to be nostalgic or futuristic. Quite simply, we are about the here and now.
AD: After launching the H0, have people moved away from the H1, which is a costlier watch that, I personally, don’t think looks as ‘cool’?
FN: Since launching the H0 at Baselworld 2017, it has become our best selling watch by far. However, much to our surprise, the advent of H0 has also stimulated interest in our other models, including H1. I think another benefit of launching H0 is that it proves to the world that we are here to stay.
AD: Historically HYT has made mechanical watches. In the future, do you envisage making watches incorporating electronics to pump liquids? Or is that not part of your DNA?
FN: We believe that mechanical watches are part of our DNA. We love the balance between craftsmanship and technology. The pumps and the movements are mechanical elements, only the time indications are fluid.
AD: One thing we see in the watch industry is companies creating entirely new products and thereafter ‘animations’ such as different case materials, dial colours etc. However, I know from my previous career working in the chemical industry, it is not a simple task for you to release new colours of fluids. I suspect the cost of R&D is colossal. How does that impact on your creativity as a designer?
FN: It is a major cost to us every time we unveil a new fluid colour. Prior to joining the company, I was not aware of the technical constraints which prevent HYT incorporating numerous colours. Shortly after joining HYT, I was told it takes 24 months to develop one new colour and it costs CHF 1M for each new colour, so don’t even think about lots of new colours!
There is always a willingness to push things forward and explore new ideas. I am not focussing too much on new colours. I am focussed on ensuring the brand makes sense. In addition, I think you can be more creative when there are constraints.
The colours that we already have are interesting. I love the green. However, it is not the colour we use which is the most important thing to me, but how we communicate the time using colour.
AD: Looking at the sapphire crystals fitted to the H0 and H20, they are different. It is very costly to design unique, three dimensional, domed-box crystals. I would have thought it would be financially difficult to launch five references each with their own sapphire crystals because, by the very nature of your market, you would not have sufficient volumes to recoup that investment. Therefore, this must inhibit creativity.
FN: I don’t look at it like that. Yes, there is a significant cost, however, whatever you do, you must do it right because it is going to be long-lasting and you need to recoup your investment. If we do a new sapphire crystal we try to make it suitable for more than one model.
Surprisingly, it is not difficult for me to work with these considerations. I met Gregory Dourde (HYT’s CEO) at Calvin Klein, where we worked together.
My history is that I am from the Vallée du Joux. While growing up, both of my parents worked for Breguet. My first job was working for Audemars Piguet where I was a product manager. Thereafter, I moved to Calvin Klein.
It may have been perceived as a strange move, going from ‘Rolls-Royce’ to a fashion brand such as Calvin Klein. I learnt much while working at Calvin Klein, in particular, I learnt about mass production. I had come from a company making tourbillons or the legendary Royal Oak Offshore and, as such, had an understanding of what customers expect. For example, craftsmanship was everything. In contrast, at Calvin Klein I had to learn how to master volume, which is equally as difficult as mastering craftsmanship. It is a different job, but at the same time one thing is common to both companies, the need to respect your customer.
The same thing happens here. After working with low-priced volume products, I now work with a company where the sky is the limit. My role is to give the right answers. This could be the right shape or the right idea. Therefore, returning to the sapphire crystals, I don’t perceive these things as a limitation.
AD: What are your influences? For example, architecture, sculpture, paintings or furniture.
FN: It’s everything, but everything that is now.
AD: Do you envisage offering any complications?
FN: We do offer complications. The fluidic indication is a complication and is soon to feature in a book about complications. This book was last published in 1954 and we will be featured in the next issue. Another complication which will also feature in this book is the mechanical lighting system, the dynamo system, used on the H4.
However, if you are asking me if we are going to make tourbillons and chronographs, then the answer is probably, ‘no’. The truth is, we make very accurate watches, however, performance is not our core message. We are considering complications, nevertheless, they must be part of our values and our vision.
AD: What is the future for François Nunez and HYT?
FN: I want this company to succeed. I want the company to be different, to be understood and to be relevant.
I always relish interviewing key figures in the watch industry and François Nunez, HYT lived up to my expectations. In his role as Vice President and Creative Director of HYT, François has expertly juggled ‘creativity’ and ‘commerciality’. One look at the H0 and H20 shows that he clearly fulfils his professional role with notable aplomb.
It was fascinating to hear the thought processes at play when conceiving the H0 and, subsequently, the H20. The brand has thought about the indication of time, not merely in terms of the dimensions of ‘x’ and ‘y’, but also ‘z’. This three dimensionality imbues the H0 and H20 with a breathtaking aesthetic along with a high quotient of practicality.
Clearly, an HYT watch comprises of expensive components, especially when it comes to the cost of developing various coloured fluids. Surprisingly, François does not view this as a potential barrier to innovation, but rather a source of motivation to be more creative.
HYT are watches for today. They do not seek to reference the past or appear futuristic, they are intended to be contemporary and timeless. To date, François Nunez, has shown his obsession for the ‘here and now’ with the modern designs he has conceived. The world of watchmaking is richer for this man’s remarkable body of work.
The styling of HYT watches may not appeal to everyone, but that is the consequence of the brand choosing to be different. It is this company’s novel approach to horology which distinguishes it as special and engenders affection in the hearts of many horophiles, myself included.