Sunday, July 8, 2018

Wrapping Up Seven Days with the HD4 – Steel

In keeping with the spirit of the World Cup, we ran into extra time on this one, but now it's time to wrap this one up.  I have spent the last week wearing and truly enjoying Humbert-Droz's HD4.

Courtesy of Humbert Droz
The HD4 is not a straight forward proposition.  It is a unique blend of digital and analog laid out on the horizontal.  It is at once modern and retro, mechanical and space age.  And it is made by a family company based in one of my ALL TIME FAVORITE places, Besançon!

So first and foremost, this is a self-winding, mechanical watch.  It is the realization of the three current generations of the Humbert-Droz family.  The Humbert-Droz family has been involved in the watch industry in Besançon since 1956, but they only recently decided to create their own brand in 2016.

Needless to say, this is an unusual watch, but in my opinion it is not merely a novelty.  

But I am getting ahead of myself.

It's Hip to be Square!

The case is stainless steel, and is emphatically not round.  It is perhaps easiest to think of it almost as a TV screen.  There have been several watches out there that have taken stabs at this, but (and again, just my opinion here) this is the first one in recent memory that actually delivered.  

The dial, if that is what you would call it, is comprised of three different "portholes" of sorts that read from left to right, with a second hand dial placed in for good measure.  Essentially, the dial is silver, with cut out spaces for hours & minutes, day and date.  These apertures are enhanced by crystal magnifiers. 

So reading left to right, the time is 6:05 and (approximately40 seconds).  And as for the day?  Well one of the charming aspects of this watch is that it is a French language day indicator.  So today is samedi (that's Saturday to you).  The date, or day of the month is the 7th.

What's Old is New Again!

The movement is not exactly something you order directly from the supplier.  It is German, created by Bernhard FÖRSTER.  

For those of you unfamiliar, Bernhard FÖRSTER was based in Pforzheim, making cases, assembling watches, and finally their own movements.  The folks at Humbert-Droz managed to secure the movements, got them up to better-than-new performance, and here we are.

Self-winding, 25 jewels, and a movement that you are highly unlikely to run into too often.  This is special.  

And for those of you accuracy obsessed, relax!  This one is as good as I've seen in a self-winding movement for some time.  Setting is  a wee bit different, and I had a bit of trial and error with getting the date set, as my wife Wendy's French language education failed to brief her and her classmates on the esoteric linguistic points involved with setting a watch ; )  But it was actually pretty easy once I figured it out.  As with most watches you will have at least two crown positions (for non screw-down crowns).  Position 1 is when the crown is flush against the side of the case - i.e. the position while wearing the watch.  In this position you can hand wind the watch (should you be so inclined).  Position 2 is the setting position - i.e. you pull the crown out and set the hands.  But what if you don't have hands???

Well, simply imagine the two discs in the far left window to be hour and minute, but instead of the big hand counting minutes, it's the BIG number indicating the hour, and the smaller disc counting the minutes.  Which is pretty easy to get your head around as you are reading digital time - perfect for all of those UK school kids currently being challenged by a traditional clock face ; )

This still leaves the task of getting the right day and date.  You simply advance the time in sufficient stages to get to the correct day of the week (make sure you are keeping track of the hours so that you are in the correct 12 hour cycle (AM/PM), and then...

What I think is the coolest part of this movement, the date advance.  It couldn't be simpler - while in position 2, gently pull the crown out again and it will advance the date indicator one day per (GENTLE) pull.  Another interesting point about the date function advance - it will NOT let you advance the date if you are in the so-called date advance danger zone (that wonderful stretch of time just before and after midnight when certain delicate little parts are preparing for the date indicator to change).  If you have, like me, parted with some of your "disposable" income to have your friendly neighborhood watchmaker repair your watch, then patiently explain to you in the same tone of voice that might be used to explain to a 6 year-old that eating crayons is probably not such a great idea, you will appreciate what might be referred to as a "Henki-proof" feature.  Needless to say, I would not recommend that you take it upon yourself to test just how well this feature works.  Take the hint, and advance the time until your are in the clear.  And if you are adjusting the time and date à la Frank Sinatra (In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning), get the time right, and wait until a more reasonable hour to adjust the date (for example, when you are more likely to be clear headed).

This One is Just Right!

The case, as previously mentioned, is made of stainless steel, and as near as I can tell, it is 2 pieces.  

The top portion is the majority of the case itself, coming up from behind and enveloping nearly all of the top of the watch, save the dial display, covering the remainder of the watch face.

And for me this reinforces why this watch is unique.  It is somewhat industrial/futuristic looking, but it also clearly indicates that this was a design choice, not merely a case that was grabbed off the shelf.

The case back itself is fairly straightforward, secured by 4 screws, with a display back.

The measurements are rational and realistic - 40 mm x 35.  The thickness is 15 mm.  

This one falls into the Goldilocks size - it's just right.  The temptation would be to come up with a Godzilla-like case because as everyone knows, bigger is better!  Well, not always ; ) 

It fills the wrist, but does not overwhelm.  And moreover, it really keeps in the spirit of the watch.  

Overall, this is a bold idea from a young brand.  There are quite a few ways that Humbert-Droz could have gone with this concept, but I don't think it would have resonated the way that this one has with collectors and fans.  While for some of us, it reminds us of a time where "atomic age" design was all the rage.  But this is a watch that I honestly think anyone can be enthusiastic about, whether they are a watch fan or not.  It's just cool.  Having said that, I realize that this one is probably not for everyone.  Well, to quote my Mee-Maw, that's what makes a horse race.  Here's what I can say, prior to BaselWorld most of us had not been aware of Humbert-Droz.  I can also say that as I write this review, I am looking at the Instagram and Facebook photos of both writers and collectors proudly sporting their HD4s, this is a watch that has very clearly caught the public imagination.  So while you might not have heard of Humbert-Droz before,  remember the name, because you are going to be hearing a lot more about them in the future.  

As for me?  I am a full-fledged convert.  For me this watch evokes a visceral reaction, something that is challenging to put into words.  While I can cite the interesting movement, the fact that it is assembled in a magical city (Besançon), the competitive pricing, I have to be very honest that for me it's the whole package.  When you look at this watch on your wrist, it just makes you smile, and isn't that a nice experience to have?  

A wonderful watch at a fair price -  540,8

Here are the pertinents, direct from Humbert-Droz -

Case: Polished and Satin Stainless Steel with rectangular shape 40mm / 35mm Thickness : 15mm.
Crown: Notched steel with logo
Glass: Mineral with 3 magnifiers.
Movement: Automatic and from the German brand Bernard Förster.
Dial: Matte black or silver or imitation wood or dark green.
Hands: Discs for minutes and hours, Red second hand.
Bracelet: Genuine leather color black, tan brown, grey.
Bracelet buckle: Stainless Steel folding clasp with logo
Caseback: Exhibition caseback with mineral glass
Water resistance: 10 ATM
Functions: Hours, minutes, date and day
Warranty: 2 years
Serial number: 1 to 400

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