Cars and watches… it’s a combination that always works, simple as that! Both worlds share many common points: precision mechanics, passionate fans, a toys-for-boys reputation… Such partnerships can range from classic cars to luxury supercars and sometimes even race cars. In the case of HYT Watches, the latter felt like a natural choice, with both worlds aiming for performance, innovation and using materials worthy of a spaceship. Today, we are sharing with you our experiences during an ELMS race in Estoril, with HYT Watches and Panis-Barthez Competition, the brand’s latest sports-oriented partner.
The race, Panis-Barthez Competition and that smell of oil and gasoline…
If you read Monochrome on a regular basis, you’re probably already aware of a rather crazy, bold and unique-to-the-market brand named HYT Watches. This young manufacture plays on the technical side, with an indication of the time via a fluid-driven device (what! liquid in a watch…? Yes, see here), a movement shaped like no other in the industry and the use of innovative, ultra-light and ultra-technical materials.
Now for such a futuristic company you could hardly imagine a partnership with an old-fashioned brand like Rolls-Royce or Morgan – all due respect to those two splendid brands but they just don’t fit with the rebellious behavior of HYT Watches and its team of equally rebellious people. No, HYT needed something different, something more technical, younger and sportier. The answer came in the form of the European Le Mans Series (ELMS) and a brand new team, Panis-Barthez Competition.
Panis-Barthez Competition was created at end of 2015, in order to participate in the 2016 season of ELMS. Now I’m sure most of us are already aware of the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans but this is only one race which forms part of a larger championship, with many other events in the calendar. European Le Mans Series (ELMS) is a European sports car racing endurance series inspired by the 24 Hours of Le Mans race and run by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO). Several different categories race simultaneously during the ELMS, including super-fast LMP2 prototypes, mono-type LMP3 prototypes and several GT cars (pros or amateurs).
Panis-Barthez Competition takes it name from its founders, two emblematic figures of French elite sports. Olivier Panis is the last Frenchman to win the Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix and Fabien Barthez is the one and only goalkeeper who led the French football team to its World Champion Title in 1998 and UEFA European Champion Title in 2000, before becoming a racing driver and team manager. The team is competing in the ELMS category with two cars, one in LMP2 and one in LMP3.
What about the race… In these times of eco-awareness and reducing fuel emissions – which led to the creation of Formula-E (electrical Formula-type cars) – it was truly a joyful experience to hear powerful engines screaming, to smell the oil and gasoline and to feel this unique atmosphere surrounding the race. Sorry for those who are keen on the environment, but there’s nothing like watching 750hp prototypes running at 280km/h on a race track… The race we were invited to was the last episode of the season, at Estoril (a race track near Lisbon, Portugal) and lasted for 4 hours. On top of having the chance to watch the race from inside the pits, we also had the opportunity to experience the preparations and the explanations of Panis-Barthez Competition before the race started.
And what about HYT Watches…?
That’s a good question. What is HYT Watches doing in the middle of this race-car world? To be fair, most luxury watch brands do use sponsorship agreements as a promotional tool. Nothing strange about that. Likewise this partnership with Panis-Barthez Competition is not the brand’s first, we’ve already told you about the RC44 and Alinghi sponsorships – for which specific watches have been developed. Both of these partnerships are related to the world of sailing, something that might seem rather far away at first from the concept behind HYT – although once explained and explored they make sense. However, when it comes to race cars, the link with the Hydro Mechanical Horologists is clearly mapped out.
As we’ve seen, the world of cars and racing is one that is heavily populated by watch brands and manufactures, each claiming its own special “relationship”. When it comes to HYT however the connections are pretty obvious. Both Panis-Barthez Competition race cars and HYT watches share a number of common points, in fact probably more than the many simple chronographs used to time a race. Sure, a HYT Watch won’t be used as the official timekeeper of a race (it’s not fitted with a chronograph for a start) but if you look at things that actually matter, like design and the use of advanced technology, you quickly find deep links.
HYT Watches are all based on the same technology: a capillary filled with 2 liquids (one colored, one transparent) that work in opposition to indicate the hours – check out the H1, H2, H3, H4 or Skull to see what I mean. To make this unique display function two massive bellows push the liquid like a standard movement would rotate a hand. It’s these two bellows / pistons, proudly exposed on the front of the watch, which make the visual link with the race cars. The movement appears exactly like a race engine, with a combination of mechanical elements exposed and the fact that it runs on fluid, just like an engine uses oil and gasoline. So there may not be a link in terms of complications or features, but visually, it’s hard to make a timepiece that bears such a close resemblance to an engine. For me, this felt like THE definitive partnership to go for.
Then, there’s the materials. See, a race car such as a LMP2 is a properly complex machine, combining titanium, magnesium and carbon fiber. And in fact, so does a HYT Watch. Look for instance at the combination of titanium and coated parts on a H1. Even better, I’ve noticed something quite stunning, when exploring the cars in details. The case of the HYT H4 is made from the same kind of TMTP Carbon fiber as the brake pads of Panis-Barthez Competition’s LMP2 car… Once again, a close link that was not expected.
Finally, there’s the human story behind this partnership, the recognition by both parties of common values… even if hard to explain, it is very enjoyable. Two young teams, two wishes of being better, more efficient, more visible, two visions of independence… So, will we see a race-inspired HYT soon? Indeed, the brand is actually working on a Panis-Barthez Competition piece, which will be launched for the 2017 Edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The only thing we know is that it won’t be another chronograph, like most brands would have done! hytwatches.com.