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Q&A: Hautlence CEO Sandro Reginelli on the art of timekeeping

Hautlence has been making quite a splash in the last decade. Since its founding in 2004, the haute horological company has – time and again – disrupted the competitive Swiss watch industry by continuing to come up with daring and highly impressionable timepieces – from early pieces like HL04 and HL06 to the more recent and playful hits like Vortex Primary, Labyrinth (our favourite) and Pinball (Okay, this one too!).

And like a kid in a candy store, it just never seems to tire. Even when sales started to decline during the financial crisis in 2008, Hautlence continue to give us gold. In fact, the contemporary Swiss watch brand surpassed its own technical creativity with the release of HL2.1 (notable for its mobile bridge-type calibre and half-trailing hours displayed by a chain) just a year before filing for bankruptcy in 2012. But don’t worry, Hautlence is obviously out of the woods now, enjoying the support of MELB Holdings chief and former Audemars Piguet CEO Georges-Henri Meylan.

Just last week, we caught up with Hautlence CEO Sandro Reginelli, who recently visited KL to unveil its latest masterpieces Moebius and Vortex Gamma in Malaysia. He filled us in on the challenges the young brand has overcome, and the plans he has for Hautlence fans in Malaysia.

Hautlence CEO promises to bring haute horological products closer to Malaysian clients with the establishment of a distribution office in Hong Kong this year.

Lifestyle Asia (LSA): What led you to create Hautlence back in 2004?

Sandro Reginelli (SR): We were four friends, with three of us working at TAG Heuer. When we looked at the watch industry, we saw that there were many beautiful products but it was dominated by the traditional brands. Since we were in love with mechanism, design and architecture, we said: “Why not try to be a bit more disruptive and explode the codes of the Swiss watch industry, by telling time in a different way?” This was our main mission.

LSA: Hautlence has gone through so much in the last decade. What are some of the lessons you’ve learnt over the years?

SR: The luxury business is always cash consuming. There’s a lot of investing in marketing, and product research and development, and marketing because if you want to stand out from the crowd, you have to find ways to do it. All the details count. At the same time, customers are becoming more and more sophisticated. Sometimes, they know more than you on certain things related to the products and the luxury business. So, for me, it’s important to be close to our customers without losing sight of our identity as a brand. We have to be consistent with this.

LSA: Is Hautlence planning to create more playful models like its Labyrinth and Pinball watches?

SR: Definitely. We launched the Labyrinth at Baselworld 2016 and presented Pinball at Baselworld 2017 as part of our new Playground collection. We are going to continue with this but only as a satellite collection. This is in line with our mission to tell time in a different way. We always say that after 12 years there is a new cycle in the brand, so we have to come up with a strong and unique new idea. For us, this is it.

Hautlence Labyrinth is the first model from the Playground Collection. (Image credit: Hautlence)


LSA: What else is in the pipeline for the brand?

SR: We have the Moebius. We are very proud of the evolution of this product. It comes about five years after we introduced our HL2.0 movement, which is unique because of its jumping hour and retrograde minutes. We’ve created something that is beyond any superlatives in terms of complications, finishing, and mechanical art pieces. There’s a part of the movement that’s constructed in layers which we plugged with another part in a horizontal way. It’s something that has never been done before.

We also have our latest product, the Vortex Gamma. It has a double-axis tourbillon, with one that turns in 90 seconds and another in a cage that turns in 40 seconds — which makes it mesmerising, even hypnotic, to watch.

LSA: The economy is not doing particularly great in Malaysia. How does Hautlence stay relevant in a market like this?

SR: Customers in Malaysia have evolved. We are living at a time when the market is not doing badly, but it’s not booming like it used to. That’s why we’re adapting the company’s strategy to connect more with customers, and be at their service.

Hautlence Moebius features a double-axis tourbillon with an impressive one-piece, panoramic sapphire crystal case. (Image credit: Hautlence)


LSA: Based on your observations, how have consumers’ preferences evolved over the years?

SR: Times have changed quite a lot. Asian customers, in general, are becoming more daring and sophisticated. They’re also becoming more specific in their requests. I wouldn’t say their preferences have changed. It’s more like they’re getting more precise in what they want. I think it’s a normal evolution of taste.

LSA: Will Malaysia be seeing more of Hautlence?

SR: Absolutely. We’re actually the first independent brand to build a distribution office in Hong Kong, which takes care of distribution in the whole of Asia. It is a daring decision, but as a small brand, we have to invest. With Asia now as our main region to distribute, we’ll definitely be here more frequently.

Hautlence timepieces are exclusively available in Malaysia at Cortina Watch.