How do you know when a watch is well designed when beauty is often in the eye of the beholder? We look at some differing options to see if we can find an answer
The very idea of “good design” is a slippery one. We all know when something adheres to certain aesthetic principles but start to articulate why one thing looks right while another doesn’t and you find yourself floundering. It is partly down to the element of subjectivity – one man’s chintz is another’s Charles Eames – and when you’re talking about taste it’s hard to sound objective.
With watch design it is even harder to explain. You will find yourself describing why the layout of the dial is subtly different, how the slight incline of the numerals lends a baroque flirtatiousness to the steel case but you’ll eventually admit defeat and end up saying,” it just works, alright”.
Chanel Première Camélia Skeleton is a revelation in combining mechanics and feminine design
When it comes to exquisitely designed women’s watches Chanel has form – the Premier, which it launched 30 years ago, has become an icon then there was the runaway success of the Boy.Friend. Every woman who wore it loved it and it also won an Eve’s Watch Award. This year it was its Première Camélia Skeleton that blew everyone away and took home another Eve’s Watch Award for best design. For starters, it housed the brand’s second in-house movement the Calibre 2, which doesn’t really sound like much to get excited about, but which is another incredible feat of watchmaking – a skeleton movement that is in the shape of a camelia, one of the many well-known symbols in Chanel’s iconography.
Note it is a “skeleton” not “skeletonised” movement because the Calibre 2 was never a complete movement out from which pieces has been removed, they were never there in the first place. Instead bridges have been shaped into a camellia and then the wheels placed within that structure to create a three-level floral pattern in which the mechanics are hidden.
And it is a beautiful watch. The instantly recognisable angled form of the now 30-year-old Premiere case, which takes its outline from the shape of the Place Vendôme and here is diamond set, acts as a contrast to the looping, almost hypnotic, DLC-coated bridges of the movement.
It is a quintessentially Chanel piece – feminine but without being overtly girly and unlike anything else.
Corum Golden Bridge Ladies Ronde is one of the most iconic designs in contemporary watchmaking
Also like nothing else around is the Corum Golden Bridge Ladies Ronde. It has echoes of the Chanel Première Camélia Skeleton, with its openworked movement that almost exists as dial decoration, but this is bolder in its colours and dimensions.
The Golden Bridge has been an icon for the brand since it first came out in 1980 but this year’s iteration, with the coloured precious resin panels framing the mechanics, is its best yet. The panels frame the linear mechanism emphasising its unusual structure, but also add vibrant colour pop. Placing the rectangle of mechanics in a round watch creates a clever juxtaposition of styles that shouldn’t work on paper but does on the wrist.
Manufacture Royale ADN Street Art is a true fusion of watchmaking art and design
Colour, especially when it’s bold, has the potential to illicit a Marmite situation – in interior design terms there are people who would rather live in a white box and those who think hot pink is a neutral. It is the same with watches – there are those who think a dial should be in a tasteful neutral and then there’s the people who are no doubt on the creative team at Manufacture Royale. Inspired by the echoes of graffiti on the New York subway after the municipal painters have tried to conceal the scrawl, its ADN Street Art watch is bold, brilliant and probably not to everyone’s taste.
The bridges are coloured using a technique involving computer-printed film that is dissolved in water into which they are then dipped. The imprint is so unique that Manufacture Royale approves each design with the future owner. After that it almost seems incidental to mention that this is also a flying tourbillon.
Bulgari Serpenti Twist Your Time! shows how design can endure, whatever the era in questions throws at it
It’s an amazing piece of art but it might have a way to go before it becomes as iconic as the Bulgari Serpenti. Being afforded the status of icon is a sure sign that you’ve hit on something when it comes to a beautifully designed watch. Bulgari’s Serpenti design has been a part of the brand’s design lexicon since the 1940s.
This year’s iteration has been given a modern update with the introduction of interchangeable straps but it is also a scaled-back nod (all puns intended) to the time in the late 1960s when the Serpenti first got its reptilian head. It is a perfect example of how design can endure, whatever demands the era in question throws at it and goes to show that good design is often a question of superlative breeding.