We caught up with Christoph Behling, the London-based designer who, with his studio team, is responsible for creating some of the most iconic watches around today for TAG Heuer. Here’s what makes him tick.
You’re not a watch designer by trade – how did you get into designing for TAG Heuer?
It happened 10 years ago. TAG Heuer was looking to diversify into eyewear – sunglasses and optical frames – and they approached me.
After that, they decided that they wanted someone to design watches for them who wasn’t a watch designer. Firstly it was just the concept pieces, like the V4 but, by 2005, we had started designing for the core collection.
Why are you based in London? Have you ever been tempted to move to TAG HQ?
There is something lovely and fantastic about the Swiss watch industry in terms of that idea of local production, but it can be quite limiting in terms of creativity. Watches are worn on wrists all around the world and those other design influences can be missed if you just live in Switzerland.
You have to create objects that are of our time; that respect the past, but make it relevant to today. I love London because it is very inspiring in terms of trends. You can get insights from India to the Middle East without leaving London. I know what the cool Japanese kids are wearing but I don’t have to go to Tokyo, I can just go to Soho House. I love TAG Heuer and Switzerland for all its tradition and heritage, but I couldn’t live there.
TAG Heuer has recently launched its first Carrera collection for women – how did you go about feminising this rather masculine watch?
As you know the original Carrera was inspired by a race [the Carrera Panamericana Mexico Race]. It was this amazingly strange, dangerous gentlemen’s race, basically millionaires killing themselves on desert roads. Inspired by this raw era of motorsport, Jack Heuer produced this Swiss/German hardcore watch, with clean lines and no frills.
At the same time, Jack was also into a particular type of modernist architecture that was in California in the 1960s and you can see those influences in elements like the case design.
However, TAG Heuer didn’t capitalise on that second part of the story when creating the man’s watch, but they noticed that women were wearing Carrera because they liked its clean, uncluttered design.
By consumer demand we created a woman’s range and were able to draw on the second half of Jack’s inspiration to create that look.
What do you think women look for when it comes to watches, in terms of design?
When men buy watches, it is the universe and the story behind the product that inspires them. Things like whether it’s the fastest chronograph in the world or it’s the diving watch that can go the deepest. They like things that are real and engineered; where science, art and romance are merged together.
These narratives aren’t relevant to women. It is more direct – ‘I like it’ or ‘I don’t like it’. There is a much stronger confidence in the aesthetic decision. Because women have this confidence from a much earlier age than men, it means they will take bigger risks and just buy what they like.
Which TAG Heuer watch do you wish you’d designed?
I’ve never really thought about it because when you’ve lived with these designs it is hard to untangle the human inspiration from the product. I love the Carrera but then there is also the Monaco, which TAG Heuer created solely because it was really hard to do a square waterproof watch.
To me that is like climbing a mountain by the hardest route possible. There is no need to do it.
Heuer spent lots on this and it initially failed, even when it came out people still questioned it. However, if an object is created with enough passion then it is likely to succeed, which is probably why the Monaco is the icon it is today.
(Christoph Behling has been TAG Heuer’s lead designer for the past 10 years. The collaboration has led to the creation of some incredible watches including the Pendulum and the Mikrotimer flying 1000th. He now also designs the majority of TAG Heuer’s watches as well designing for companies in other industries including communication technology, luxury goods, and transport. Click here to find out more about the Carrera.)