The Cyborgs are Coming! Since Seiko pioneered the marriage between self-winding rotor mechanism to generate electricity with a piezoelectric quartz crystal as its timing element in a watch introduced during BaselWorld 1986, the world of horology has been polarized. The AGM (or Automatic Generating System technology – now called Kinetic) was supposed to provide the advantages of quartz without the environmental impact of batteries. A sound technology, it was adopted by a number of manufacturers such as ETA SA in their Autoquartz caliber (1996) as well as Citizen’s Eco-Drive Duo caliber (1998), among others. Unfortunately, the feedback from real life experiences of the technology has been mixed which expanded the gap between lovers and haters of the mechanical-electric system. This caused the proliferation of such technology to wither away especially in Europe.
Since then, no other significant watch manufacturer has followed up on the convergence of the mechanical-electric system except for Seiko. From a technological point of view, many interesting complications that require some form of electrical input to operate can be introduced. Unfortunately, due to the strength of the advocates of “mechanical watches should remain mechanical” movement, no major progress could be seen coming from Europe.
In 2013, Urwerk introduced the EMC Watch which has an electronic module that acts as a rate measuring tool. It was deemed as a “breakthrough” by watch enthusiasts although I don’t think you will get the same level of assessment from all the enthusiasts if Urwerk also decided to use the electronic module to be the timing mechanism in the watch. Some form of bigotry at work perhaps?
Now is the turn of HYT to jump into the bandwagon. The H4 Metropolis is a rather large watch with the sole purpose to be awe inspiring. The primary operation of this new watch is similar to its first offering the H1, with its unique liquid based time indicator. However, the H4 is also equipped with a small electrical generator to power up a light source.
This interesting complication is located between the 4 o’clock and 5 o’clock position and manipulated by a large crown in that same position. By rotating the large crown, the generator, like a traditional bicycle dynamo, converts the mechanical power to electrical power and saved into a capacitor. Pushing the crown releases the saved electrical energy into two LEDs that then lights up with a blue glow. The capacitor has enough energy to power the LEDs for approximately 5 seconds.
As highlighted earlier, the dimensions of the watch is on the plus size. Measuring 51 mm across and with a thickness of 17.9 mm, the watch is made out of titanium. Only the bezel and the two rubber-clad screw-down crowns were given an additional black DLC coating. The top crown sets the time and helps wind the movement.
The HYT H4 Metropolis has the reference 512-TD-45-GF-RN and only 100 pieces will be produced at a price of USD94,000. For that investment, on top of the unique light complication, you will also get the HYT hand-wound movement that beats at 4 Hertz or 28,800 bph, a power reserve indicator on the dial that shows a maximum of 65 hours at the 3 o’clock position, a black rubber strap with integrated canvas plus black DLC titanium folding buckle and sapphire crystal glass – front and back – to appreciate the mechanicals. The whole package has a water resistance limit of 50 meters.
What’s the verdict from watch enthusiasts on this particular arrangement? Overwhelmingly positive feedbacks were seen from reviews of this watch. Nevertheless, niggling doubts on the feasibility of adding an electrical input into a mechanical watch is still seen in the reviews. Comments about; “…hope that HYT stress-tested the light system as much as possible…” or “…biggest ‘taboo’ of the dynamo light system is that it is electronic…” must stem from a very deep-seated fear of the unknown. This fear is so subtle that you can even see it in the structure of their sentences. For example, “…H4 Metropolis is equipped with a light source but one whose origin is purely mechanical…” – I could also say the same about my car battery since it is charged mechanically by the alternator or the electricity to my house is also mechanical in origin since it is generated by a hydroelectric plant. Why the need to emphasis the word “mechanical”?
Surprisingly, the same watch enthusiasts would also rave about the virtues of the Casio’s G-Shock or Citizen’s Eco-Drive watches knowing full well there are virtually no moving parts apart from a large circuit board. No niggling doubts about electronics and electricity at all. Why is it now acceptable for this class of watches?
I believe the root fear is mortality. A mechanical watch can theoretically last forever if taken care of. To replace an old spring or a worn-out gear from a 500-year-old watch is not difficult as you can make them with commercially available tools. However, to replace a circuit board for a 500-year-old quartz watch is something else (hypothetically). Psychologically, buying a pure mechanical clock is like buying immortality (case in point: just look at Patek Philippe’s advertising slogan).
I personally feel this fear is misguided. Yes, the LEDs will burn out, the coils on the dynamo will need replacing and so would the capacitor, eventually. However, we are now living in a global village where parts like circuit boards and such are standardized. We now have 3-D printers. In 500 years time, we should have something like the replicator machine from Star Trek where you can make anything by just telling the computer. Replacing some worn-out items, even circuit boards will not be a problem at all.
For now, let us enjoy the H4 Metropolis. The unique way it uses liquid to indicate the time and the distinctive way it generates light when you need it. All this packaged in a beautifully crafted casing that sits prominently on one’s wrist. If money is no object, I’ll be the first to queue up for this piece.
For more info, please visit hytwatches.com
MEOR AMRI MEOR AYOB – CONTRIBUTING EDITOR
Meor Amri is a passionate watch collector from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Having bitten by the horology bug in 2010, he has written extensively about the watch scene and has assembled a large collection of watches (excessively!!!) on his own free time. His blogs on the same subject are: Eastern Watch & Western Watch Read his articles here