Haute Time Asia met with Guillaume Tetu, Co-Founder and CEO of Hautlence to discover the brand’s latest watch over lunch at the newly opened La Ventana restaurant, hosted by Sharon Lim, executive director of Pacific Time. Cortina Watch is Hautlence’s exclusive distributor in Singapore and Malaysia, and Tetu hopes they will take the brand to Thailand too. South East Asia is one of the most important markets for the Switzerland-based independent watchmaker currently, who visits this part of the world every two to three months. Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia is the golden triangle market for Hautlence.
Tell us about the new Concept D’Exception, Vortex.
It was a lot of fun designing this watch. When you see the mechanism moving, you understand that it’s a crazy watch. We have a chain displaying the hour like a bicycle with 12 links, and when you reach the 60 minutes, you jump back to zero. So, it’s like a jumping carousel linked to a chain – this is unique! A patented movement. Everything is different about this watch – even the back-case is on the side actually, it’s like a slide! We made a watch that doesn’t look like one. There are no hands, and no caseback. Nothing on it comes from the watch industry. It’s all coming from something else. Architecture inspires me. My two godfathers in architecture are Norman Foster and Jean Nouvel. The transparency of the new buildings in this era inspired the design of this watch. One building in Hong Kong, the HSBC bank’s headquarters is my favorite building because you can see through it, all the structure and frame is transparent. Even though it’s a strong building, it looks really light. This was the goal of the new Vortex watch, as it is very light having just the weight of the titanium to make it strong, yet everything is transparent where you can see the movement and the mechanism through an amazing TV screen shape. My goal was to come up with a watch that has a wow-factor. Ten years ago we had it with our first watch and now we have it again.
You have decided to come to Singapore to unveil it. Why is that?
We are really proud to be in Singapore to present the Vortex to the press and a few VIP customers and friends. The official launch of the watch will be in October-November, when we will be back in Asia, for the worldwide presentation and delivery of the product. Since the launch of the brand in 2005, this is the next chapter, because this watch is as strong in terms of design as the one we launched in 2005. Thus, there is a lot of emotion involved as I am here to present this concept timepiece. I started my journey with Kuala Lumpur, now I am in Singapore, next is Hong Kong and then I’ll fly to Jakarta, as we have our own boutique there.
How important are the Asian markets for Hautlence?
Asia is the second biggest market for Hautlence since the beginning. Historically, Russia has been our main market. The Singaporean area: Indonesia, Malaysia, even Hong Kong and Thailand is a very important market and I know a lot of customers here. Especially Singapore, it is a very special market in this region. Here, we have the most interesting collectors that we can find in the world, their knowledge and taste is really very open-minded here.
Why do you think Singapore has the best big watch collectors, globally?
I think it’s a mix of a few things. For example the retail network has been qualitative for a long time thanks to the Tay family (of The Hour Glass), the Lim (Cortina Watch) family and those big players in the distribution, because without distributors the brands would not exist. They have been investing a lot with media and that is why Singapore is such an educated market. The Singaporean people have a chance to love beautiful things and they have the money to afford it. When you put all these elements together, it makes the Singaporean market more advanced by 10 to 20 years than any other market. You are able here to already have your classical watches and then to be able to move on to the more creative independent watches. This is one of the most dynamic markets in the world. Today even though there is a crisis in the world – my main market (Russia) is really down because of the economical situation – everything is doing well in South East Asia.
How many pieces does Hautlence manufacture for worldwide distribution?
We were making 100 pieces per year, but now we are reaching higher numbers. Last year we made 300, this year we are on target to be making almost 400 and the goal with the new collection (the chronograph) is to continue to develop crazy time-keepers because this is our DNA. One day we hope we will be making around 1000 pieces a year, and have 50 point-of-sales in the world. Today we can already count between 20 and 25.
What is the essence of Hautlence?
If we summarize the 11 years of Hautlence’s existence, we define ourselves in a few words. We are a ‘Gentleman Rebel Club’. ‘Gentleman’ because you have to understand what we are doing, as it’s quite new and complicated. ‘Rebel’ because when you have a Hautlence on your wrist, it shows you have your own taste and that you are not following your friends, and ‘Club’ because we produce such few watches, making it a really private members’ club. Hautlence timepieces always link a mechanical heart to an interesting architecture. We always try to display the time in another way, by pushing boundaries.