Every rookie watch enthusiast eventually learns that it rare to find a watch that combines exquisite design with solid watchmaking – that is a feat that renders a timepiece truly worthy of one’s consideration. Today we shall look at five watches that have been painstakingly designed and endlessly refined to work both as solid examples of great design, and also as outstanding timekeepers.
Everyone who loves watches and enjoys clean, yet detailed German design will know Nomos Glashütte. Nomos is a relatively small German manufacture that has made a name for itself through its tasteful application of Deutscher Werkbund styling in beautifully wearable and legible watches.
Nomos Glashütte considers itself a member of the Deutscher Werkbund, not to be confused with the better-known Bauhaus movement. Nomos’ official position notes that while its watches being described as “Bauhaus” isn’t entirely right, but isn’t completely wrong either.
That’s because Deutscher Werkbund was initial movement that preceded Bauhaus. Deutscher Werkbund was founded in 1907 by businesses, artists and architects with the philosophy of “Refinement of commercial work in collaboration with art, industry and craft.”
That is a relatively vague statement, so let us narrow it down further: today, along with Nomos, enterprises such as furniture makers Vitra and Deutsche Werkstätten Hellerau, as well as numerous galleries and architectural firms still count themselves among the members of this design movement. The Werkbund advocates combining craftsmanship and high-tech production methods; so that beautiful and functional products are created with the best production techniques, making great and unique-looking products affordable for the masses.
Nomos Glashütte Tangomat
Fellow German watchmaker Junghans, however, makes true Bauhaus watches. The max bill collection of Junghans is a proud and loud celebration of Bauhaus design, modelled on the work of Bauhaus scholar and artist Max Bill. Although the collection’s name is consistently written in all-lowercase letters possibly to further enforce their dedication to sleek, distraction-free design, that is only the beginning in what actually is a watchmaker’s study in Bauhaus.
Junghans is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the first Max Bill timepiece design – namely the 1956-1957 Max Bill kitchen clock with a limited edition set called “max bill Edition 2017,” another case study in utilitarian, functional, yet charming design. Limited to just 222 pieces and coming in a set that includes both a kitchen clock and a rather terrific looking watch, both timekeepers in the set feature a piece of Bill’s “grafische reihen” or graphic series, namely “variation 1,” in which the side of a polygon simultaneously forms the side of another polygon.
Junghans max bill Edition 2017
Art Deco might feel like a movement that long preceded the clean Germanic design, but in truth it came about the same time. The term “arts décoratifs” was invented in 1875 to give designers of furniture, textiles and other decoration official status – until the late 19th century they had been considered simply as artisans. It was in 1902 that the first international exhibition devoted entirely to decorative arts was held, but it was not until the mid-1920s that Art Deco caught on.
By definition, in Art Deco modernist styles meet fine craftsmanship and rich materials – could be a definition of a fine watch. And the most famous Art Deco inspired wristwatch is the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso, a simple rectangle characterised by horizontal fluting on each end, while being cleverly functional and reversible.
Conceived in 1931, the Reverso actually comes from a period of change in Art Deco, which was refined – or rather retreated – to being more subdued in the 1930s during and after the Great Depression. Art Deco is noted as one of the first truly international styles, made possible through its timeless, yet powerful exhibition of timeless good taste. If anything, it is surprising how Art Deco isn’t more popular these days – it’s a great thing, then, that the Reverso allows one to wear and admire an authentic piece of it any time.
Let us leave traditional design movements far behind and look at two watches infinitely confident in their outrageousness: the steampunk-inspired Vianney Halter Antiqua, and the retro-futuristic MB&F Legacy Machine 1 Alain Silberstein.
Although neither steampunk nor “retro-futuristic” are formal schools of designs, these two pieces are unquestionably worthy of attention.
Halter’s steampunk creation was one among those that helped turn the watchmaking industry upside down and inside out, pushing the limits of what was possible in the ultra-high-end segment. Oddly shaped yet incredibly well crafted, with dozens of rivets applied by hand, the Antiqua remains a remarkable watch.
Vianney Halter Antiqua
In tandem, Alain Silberstein’s funky creations produced between 1990 and 2012 have given a remarkably consistent look into how everyday watches can be both unique and genuinely entertaining.
MB&F teamed up with Alain Silberstein – who originally learned and worked as an interior designer in France – to create the Legacy Machine 1 Silberstein, a watch that in its very name and basic design was created to harken back to the beginnings of fine watchmaking over two centuries ago. Silberstein worked his magic and included his six trademark elements: three vibrant colors, red, yellow and blue, and three distinct geometric shapes, circle, square and triangle. The end result, especially in the 18k red gold variant, is a watch that merges the best of traditional and the funkiest of modern watchmaking in a way hardly any other timepiece can. This is MB&F and Silberstein at their finest.
MB&F Legacy Machine 1 Silberstein
From the strict and calculated lines of Deutscher Werkbund and its more liberal take in Bauhaus, through the eternal values of elegant Art Déco all the way to Steampunk and retro-futuristic, we saw how privileged we all are to have such a wide variety of well-made and thoughtfully designed watches available to us today.
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Victor Toth – Czech Republic
Victor Toth is a Prague-based, professional photographer-turned-watch enthusiast and freelance journalist, whose journey into the complex world of fine watchmaking had begun a number of years ago. Over this time it has become his passion to share his understanding of the finer details of beautiful timepieces, all in an effort to encourage a more thorough appreciation of this wonderful and complex universe of fine mechanics.