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Thread: Watch designers?

  1. #1
    Master
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    Watch designers?

    This has literally just popped in my head whilst looking at the glorious Tudor on a very recent thread.

    I guess each brand has a design team of some sort, mostly taking a cue from classic models. Why aren't the people who came up with 'original' designs more celebrated? Who came up with the elegant clean DJ? The oh so smooth fifty fathoms and so on? Are they just a natural progression of previous years designs? Where did it start and where is it going?

    The wife is watching some crap on telly so I'm stuck on my phone hence the boring questions

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    Master Webwatchmaker's Avatar
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    Brilliant question !
    When I worked in CH I met one or two watch designers. One was freelance and the other designed his own.
    I myself would like to know much more about them.
    As a watch repairer I have cursed some of them and been totally in awe of others.
    I look forward to reading some better informed replies.

    Brendan

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    Craftsman Geralt's Avatar
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    Can't see many companies having their own 'design' team - it's likely outsourced on cost grounds (though I'm only guessing) unless a company produces lots of new models (ie Timex, Seiko, Swatch Group), otherwise they're going to be sitting around doing a lot of not much for a long time...

    I agree that vintage designs got much of it right from the get go - hence the popularity of those watches with a direct lineage and the 'inspiration' for many of today's offerings. Interesting that we tend to be conservative in our tastes - any new stuff with a strong vintage vibe is likely to be a winner. Could be argued that whoever came up with the original design is being thus celebrated...

    What bugs me is how much of the stuff today has obviously been designed by one or more idiots who overlook the details (ie short hands, date window placement, etc., etc.)

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    Master Alansmithee's Avatar
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    I would think most of the big ones have in-house design teams - I know that one of the Rolex guys used to work for lamborghini.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Geralt View Post
    Can't see many companies having their own 'design' team - it's likely outsourced on cost grounds (though I'm only guessing) unless a company produces lots of new models (ie Timex, Seiko, Swatch Group), otherwise they're going to be sitting around doing a lot of not much for a long time...
    I disagree. It's far more effective to have a full time team of designers, rather than subbing to an agency. I'd expect there would be a core internal team, but they'll rely on experienced consultants for challenging or new projects, to fill the gaps where the resources can't cope, or they need to buy in experience.

    Quote Originally Posted by Geralt View Post
    I agree that vintage designs got much of it right from the get go - hence the popularity of those watches with a direct lineage and the 'inspiration' for many of today's offerings. Interesting that we tend to be conservative in our tastes - any new stuff with a strong vintage vibe is likely to be a winner. Could be argued that whoever came up with the original design is being thus celebrated...
    Not all vintage designs got it right. For the single design which works still today, there would have been ten times the amount of 'on trend' at the time designs that looked great then, but didn't last over the years. You get this with most design, some lasts, but most doesn't. We tend to design for the now and any design that can still look fresh in 30-40 years time is a bonus. Good designers (can) reference history, because they see what has lasted and still works, however what will be interesting is to see what is considered early 21st century classic in fifty years.

    Quote Originally Posted by Geralt View Post
    What bugs me is how much of the stuff today has obviously been designed by one or more idiots who overlook the details (ie short hands, date window placement, etc., etc.).
    Watches first need to be designed inside, then out.
    Get the structural integrity right then work on the aesthetics. However, like most (design) things, there is a commercial and time issue. If you're designing a watch, then it will be cheaper to use existing parts (DNA) which are either already manufactured, or quicker to make because the tooling has already been done. Small hands might either be intentional, or existing parts. If you design a dial, you have a visible area, it often helps to draw the diameter of the hands then work the dial from those, rather than do the dial first then hands second.

    If you're looking at date windows, then most customers actually don't care.

    I prefer 6H or 4:30, not 3H but some hate 4:30. A watch design might not work for you but it will work for ten other paying customers....

    It's not about missing details, more working to a time sensitive a commercial budget. Design a watch yourself, rather than these 'idiots' and you may learn a thing or two :-)

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    Grand Master Carlton-Browne's Avatar
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    When you consider the number of watches that Genta was reputed to have been involved with it's a marvel there was any work left over to support any other designers. I find it difficult to believe but in the article linked to below he claims to have designed 100,000 different watches.

    http://www.veryimportantwatches.com/...g_rules_en.pdf

    Interestingly he also says in the article that he designed the Nautilus for women .
    Die Zeit verwandelt uns nicht, sie entfaltet uns nur.

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    Master Alansmithee's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by PIERS (UK) View Post

    A watch design might not work for you but it will work for ten other paying customers....

    Look at the Omega De Ville - you'd get the impression here (from how slow they are to sell) that they aren't popular, however outside the bubble they are highly popular...

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by PIERS (UK) View Post
    I disagree. It's far more effective to have a full time team of designers, rather than subbing to an agency. I'd expect there would be a core internal team, but they'll rely on experienced consultants for challenging or new projects, to fill the gaps where the resources can't cope, or they need to buy in experience.



    Not all vintage designs got it right. For the single design which works still today, there would have been ten times the amount of 'on trend' at the time designs that looked great then, but didn't last over the years. You get this with most design, some lasts, but most doesn't. We tend to design for the now and any design that can still look fresh in 30-40 years time is a bonus. Good designers (can) reference history, because they see what has lasted and still works, however what will be interesting is to see what is considered early 21st century classic in fifty years.



    Watches first need to be designed inside, then out.
    Get the structural integrity right then work on the aesthetics. However, like most (design) things, there is a commercial and time issue. If you're designing a watch, then it will be cheaper to use existing parts (DNA) which are either already manufactured, or quicker to make because the tooling has already been done. Small hands might either be intentional, or existing parts. If you design a dial, you have a visible area, it often helps to draw the diameter of the hands then work the dial from those, rather than do the dial first then hands second.

    If you're looking at date windows, then most customers actually don't care.

    I prefer 6H or 4:30, not 3H but some hate 4:30. A watch design might not work for you but it will work for ten other paying customers....

    It's not about missing details, more working to a time sensitive a commercial budget. Design a watch yourself, rather than these 'idiots' and you may learn a thing or two :-)
    An interesting thread.

    When I think about the design process, I also start to think about whether any studies into the psychology of watch use, ergonomics, etc. inform the designs. Which then leads me to wonder whether there is a ‘perfect’ watch design.

  9. #9
    Master
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    I don't think there can be a perfect design as it's so subjective. Some people would say a date window is essential, some would say it's clutter. Plus there's the use for the watch. Would a perfect watch be the perfect blend of tough and elegant or pure and dedicated

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    Master Webwatchmaker's Avatar
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    I once visited the workshop of the late Derek Pratt, a brilliant English watchmaker who settled in the Vallee Joux, up the road from FP, AP, JLeC. He is remembered for his twin balance wheel wristwatch.
    I remember a large draughtsmanship table where drawings of parts of his movements were laid out. About 1000x larger than the finished watch. Very impressive and awe inspiring.
    Below are a few ebauches I picked up over the years:

    Two Geneva unfinished movements dated around 1910. Notice the Wolf tooth gearing and Geneva stop for the mainspring. Very high quality movements. I would guess VC or PP ebauches:



    An English lever ebauche I picked up some years ago in Coventry, dated around 1900. This would become a fusee movement when all the various craftspeople had done their part:


    Incredible subdivision of labour in those times: Plate maker, screw maker, wheel, escapement, dial, hands, fusee, casemaker, polisher, engraver, etc etc...

    Brendan

  11. #11
    Master Webwatchmaker's Avatar
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    ...and my Rolex chronograph ebauche which I was given by Zenith in Le Locle:




    Brendan

  12. #12
    Craftsman willie_gunn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Webwatchmaker View Post
    I once visited the workshop of the late Derek Pratt, a brilliant English watchmaker who settled in the Vallee Joux, up the road from FP, AP, JLeC. He is remembered for his twin balance wheel wristwatch.
    I remember a large draughtsmanship table where drawings of parts of his movements were laid out. About 1000x larger than the finished watch. Very impressive and awe inspiring.
    Below are a few ebauches I picked up over the years:

    Two Geneva unfinished movements dated around 1910. Notice the Wolf tooth gearing and Geneva stop for the mainspring. Very high quality movements. I would guess VC or PP ebauches:

    An English lever ebauche I picked up some years ago in Coventry, dated around 1900. This would become a fusee movement when all the various craftspeople had done their part:

    Incredible subdivision of labour in those times: Plate maker, screw maker, wheel, escapement, dial, hands, fusee, casemaker, polisher, engraver, etc etc...

    Brendan
    Fascinating to see, but also to get an insight into how watchmaking has evolved.

    I have to admit I hadn't really considered the design element until reading this thread.

    Got me wondering who might be the watch world's equivalents to Giorgetto Giugiaro, Pininfarina and Arne Jacobsen and why they are not more well known?

  13. #13
    Must say, I'd love to know the rationale behind some brands choices, particularly Rolex. Deciding where to take the brand, what colours to use etc.

    There never seem to be many interviews/articles covering this.

  14. #14
    Master Webwatchmaker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by willie_gunn View Post
    Fascinating to see, but also to get an insight into how watchmaking has evolved.

    I have to admit I hadn't really considered the design element until reading this thread.

    Got me wondering who might be the watch world's equivalents to Giorgetto Giugiaro, Pininfarina and Arne Jacobsen and why they are not more well known?
    I'd love to know more myself. From what I can gather there are design departments in many major houses but the designers are very secretive.
    I will enquire through one of my Swiss pals who deals with ETA a lot to see if I can gather more information.

    Brendan

  15. #15
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    Excellent thread idea.
    From a case design point of view who ever designed the hublot cases needs to be taken outside and shot.
    Ignoring the looks, they are just so unnecessarily complex to assemble and take apart. Especially when compared to the simplicity of the Rolex oyster case.

    I love working on a movement or case that you can feel is well designed, it's like they assemble themselves.
    Some movements are just so complex and poorly thought out I wonder how they ever hit production. They certainly never got the opinion of the people who would end up servicing them.

  16. #16
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    Great Topic!

    I think the existence of multiple 'Paul Newman' dials made by Singer in chronographs of various brands suggests that design, in at least some cases, was not an integrated process carte blanche. Much like how movements were sourced from elsewhere so seemingly were dials, hands and cases. As an example, Universo (part of the Swatch group today) produced hands. I have no idea which now-famous designs they contributed to but from their website it seems like they are of some history (http://www.universo.ch/histoire.php). I recall as well that Squale produced cases for TAG Heuer if I'm not wrong. It is possible that designs were sent to component manufactures to produce. Presumably people had to decide the final choice of parts for assembly and whether they were constrained by commercial concerns or given expressive freedom this process would amount to 'design'. Certainly I think the synonymous Paul Newman dials meant that dials which were part-customised but with off-the-shelf motifs was used.

    There is an interview about the creation of one of the Hodinkee limited editions which I think gives an idea about the process of design and some of the constraints imposed by manufacturing and commercial realities. https://www.heuerchrono.com/heuer-wa...inkee-skipper/

    The fact that Genta is the only name remembered today may speak more of how he is credited with three prophetic designs in the Nautilus, Ingenieur and Royal Oak. Perhaps the sheer success of their designs has elevated him to renown and shone light onto his less well known creations. If the stories of him being a Journeyman designer in his earlier years firing off designs for a few Francs a time are true then it gives an insight into how mundanely they were treated. No wonder they were never celebrated. I'm not sure the above trio of models, when first released, were marketed as Genta designs either.

    Glaring exceptions today are the Max Bill series of watches and Nomos who cite the lead designers of their watches and make a virtue of their in-house design studio in Berlin (Mark Braun - Metro, Hannes Wettsein - Zurich, Susan Gunther - the original Tangente, Orion, Tetra and Ludwig). Speaking of which, I am really interested to know what happened to Gunther. She is responsible for the designs of the first Nomos models which are still virtually unchanged. Those designs are the strength of the company from which everything is built around.
    Last edited by Kallang; 15th October 2017 at 13:02.

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