Watch out, Mario!

Nintendo is teaming up with Tag Heuer on a Mario-themed watchThe Verge
The site doesn’t list any details on pricing, but from what I can tell, most Tag Heuer watches cost at least a grand, so it seems likely that this Super Mario watch won’t be cheap. And I have to say that the collaboration isn’t one I’d expect to see from Nintendo, which I wouldn’t consider a luxury brand. But I’m definitely curious as to what this watch might look like, and I’ll be keeping an eye on the official reveal next week.

Are watches too expensive? Revolution
Through the sound of wailing and gnashing of teeth from people who dreamt ten years ago that they’d save up for a Rolex, it all seems a bit bleak. And it would be, were it not for brands like Hamilton, Longines and Maurice Lacroix. With over three-and-a-half centuries of experience between them, they’ve got what it takes to right the balance and rewind time on watch prices.

Watch the numbers

For things that can cost so much money, you wouldn’t think anyone would want to cut corners…

The case for better watch typographyHODINKEE
[O]nly a small and decreasing number of watchmakers go to the trouble of creating custom lettering for their dials. More often, watch brands use off-the-rack fonts that are squished and squeezed onto the dial’s limited real estate. Patek Philippe, for example, has used ITC American Typewriter and Arial on its high-end watches. French brand Bell & Ross deploys the playful 1980 typeface Isonorm for the numerals on many of its timepieces. Rolex uses a slightly modified version of Garamond for its logo. And Audemars Piguet has replaced the custom lettering on its watches with a stretched version of Times Roman.

That watchmakers use typefaces originally created for word processing, signage, and newspapers highlights a central paradox of watch design: These tiny machines hide their most elegant solutions under layers of complexity, while one of the most visible components – typography – is often an afterthought.

Of course, it’s not all like that.

Our favourite uses of typography in watchesA Collected Man
Good typography should be almost unnoticeable. Blending seamlessly into the rest of the design, it should tell you everything you need to know, without you being aware of it. Despite the many restrictions that are applied to dial layout, the creativity that can be seen in typography across horology is quite staggering. To put it simply, typography is the art and technique of arranging type to make written language legible and appealing when displayed. As the dial is the main point of interaction with a watch, it is arguably one of its most important parts, and certainly one that can produce the most emotion. This is why typeface can play such a vital, yet subtle, role in how we experience and feel about a certain piece.

A rather unexpected instance of a brand using a completely different typeface for just one model is the Patek Philippe 5212A weekly calendar. Perhaps designed to reflect the singularity of the rarely seen complication, this reference was printed with a handwritten typeface that, when studied, almost looks shaky. While this could appear like a mistake at first, it was revealed that the typeface was in fact chosen by their design team to “recall an epoch in the not too distant past when notes were still written by hand in paper diaries.”

Here’s more on that “handwritten” watch.

Complications Ref. 5212A-001 Stainless SteelPatek Philippe
Patek Philippe introduces a new complication to its calendar watches: the weekly calendar, a semi-integrated mechanism displaying the current week number, in addition to the day and date. A particularly useful feature for the modern businessman.

I love that, “the modern businessman” indeed. Like this one, you mean? But anyway, it’s not occurred to me until now that, for these watchmakers, typography is more numerical than alphabetical.

Breguet numeralsBreguet
Some Breguet watches display the distinctive numerals that A.- L. Breguet designed. Although he himself was no calligraphist, Breguet’s Arabic numerals show his flair for combining function with elegance. Still used today, particularly on watches with enamel dials, Breguet numerals first appeared before the French Revolution when they shared the dial with tiny stars to mark the minutes and stylised fleur-de-lys at five-minute intervals. By 1790 they had assumed their definitive form.

You can see these Breguet numerals on the Dubuis watch above, as well as the Patek Philippe in the header image. But manufacturing limitations also play their part in watch typography. Have a look at these 4s.

Decimal fontsFonts by Hoefler&Co.
Watch lettering is printed through tampography, a technique in which ink is transferred first from an engraved plate to a spongy, dumpling-shaped silicone pad, and from there onto the convex dial of a watch. To reproduce clearly, a letterform needs to overcome the natural tendencies of liquid ink or enamel held in suspension: tiny serifs at the ends of strokes can create a larger coastline, to help prevent liquid from withdrawing due to surface tension; wide apexes on characters like 4 and A eliminate the acute angles where liquid tends to pool.

Hence that flat top 4. I hadn’t noticed them before, but they’re everywhere.

Plenty of time

We should always take the time to appreciate well-designed details. Designer and Apple fan Arun Venkatesan has done a wonderful job here explaining the context behind some of the Apple Watch design cues and references.

The iconic watches that inspired Apple Watch facesArun Venkatesan
[T]he analog faces reveal what Apple does so well — taking the familiar and making it their own. Over the years, they have released quite a few faces with roots in history. Each one started as an iconic watch archetype and was remade to take advantage of the Apple Watch platform. … Let’s dive into five Apple Watch faces — California, Chronograph, Chronograph Pro, Count Up, and GMT.

The intricacy of these old watches is amazing, so sit back and relax to some smooth jazz whilst this rusty old Rolex is repaired.

Restoration of Rusty Rolex – Water damaged 1996 GMT Master IIYouTube
This 1996 Rolex GMT Master II suffered badly. Soaked in water, it spent two years in a drawer. The amount of rust was unbelievable. Actually, apart from the case and bracelet, only 8 of close to 100 internal parts were preserved. But the core challenge was to preserve the mainplate: the very base of the watch that holds all components together.

Not a lot of watch for your money

You can never have too many watches, I say. I used to have a very thin one, a Swatch Skin possibly? It was nothing like this one from Piaget, that’s for sure.

Altiplano Ultimate Concept WatchPiaget
Altiplano watch, 41 mm. Cobalt alloy case. World’s thinnest mechanical hand-wound watch : 2 mm, a total fusion between the case and the Manufacture movement. Manufacture Piaget 900P ultra-thin, hand-wound mechanical movement. Winner of the prestigious “Aiguille d’Or” watch price at the 2020 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG).

It’s only 2mm thick? Yep.

The incredible inner workings of the world’s thinnest watchWired UK
The Piaget Ultimate Concept first launched as a show-stealing proof-of-concept in 2018; now the watch is now in fully commercialised form (confusingly, still with the “Concept” nomination). It’s a mere 2mm-thick whisper of mechanical virtuosity that’s unlikely to be trumped in thinness any time soon […]

Made to order, the watch is described as “price on application”, though WIRED understands it to be well to the north of 300,000 Swiss francs.

So what’s 300,000 Swiss francs in sterling? Perhaps it’s one of those hyperinflated currencies like the Zimbabwe dollar and this amazing watch is within reach after all.

(For instance, did you know that a German 5 Million Mark coin, worth about $700 in January 1923, was only worth about one-thousandth of one cent by October 1923. And in Hungary, their highest banknote value in 1944 was 1,000 pengő, but by the end of 1945, it was 10,000,000 pengő, and the highest value in mid-1946 was 100,000,000,000,000,000,000 pengő.)

OK, maybe not.

A timely refresher

Following on from that post about watchmakers, here are a couple of videos explaining how mechanical and quartz watches work. In this opaque and bewildering hi-tech world of ours, it’s refreshing to find something complex yet still understandable.

First, this 1940s explainer from Hamilton. (I love the narrator’s accent!) Ironically, the pacing for this short documentary is a little slow by today’s standards, but I found that quite helpful.

How a watch works (1949)
A simple demonstration of the basic design and operation of a watch, including stop-motion animation showing a watch being assembled from many parts.

Science YouTuber Steve Mould brings us up-to-date with this look at quartz watches. I didn’t realise how similar they are to mechanical watches, in a way. 

How a quartz watch works – its heart beats 32,768 times a second
Quartz watches have a tiny crystal tuning fork inside that vibrates at 2^15 Hz and there’s a really clever reason for that. This video also talks a bit about how mechanical watches work.

Keep an eye on the time

A mesmerising, meditative film introducing us to Faramarz, a London-based Iranian watchmaker. The world may seem chaotic, but “everything is in exactly the right place.”

The Watchmaker: A philosohy of craft and life
Filled with the pulses of numerous ticking watch hands, this short documentary from the UK filmmaker Marie-Cécile Embleton profiles a London-based Iranian watchmaker as he muses on the delicate and temporal nature of his work. As Faramarz meticulously polishes wood, shapes metal and positions springs, his personal philosophy emerges – one that values the minutiae of moment-to-moment experiences, and finds craft in all things.

Mitka Engebretsen is another watchmaker working in the UK. Here’s his set-up, somewhat shinier, though no less hypnotic.

Mitka’s vintage watch service

He lets us follow along on his blog when he’s servicing his clients’ vintage watches. The intricacy and precision is wonderful to see, however out of my reach they may be. Not that there’s anything wrong with my current watch — I love it!

What would he make of this video from Watchfinder & Co on the level of expertise that goes into producing fake watches these days, fakes that will still set you back £1,000.

This fake Rolex is the most accurate yet
Two years ago, we investigated just how far fake watches have come when we compared a real Rolex Submariner with a fake one. For anyone thinking that fake watches were the easy-to-spot domain of the seaside tat shop, we demonstrated that it’s harder to spot a fake than you might think. Two years on, and it’s got even harder.

One way round that, of course, is to not have a watch at all.

A Norwegian city wants to abolish time
“You have to go to work, and even after work, the clock takes up your time,” Hveding told Gizmodo. “I have to do this, I have to do that. My experience is that [people] have forgotten how to be impulsive, to decide that the weather is good, the Sun is shining, I can just live.” Even if it’s 3 a.m.

Time for a drink?

We’re used to the idea of pairing the right wine with the right meal. But with the right watch?

Analog Watch Co. designs a watch with wine-dyed cork bands
When you think of wristwatches, your mind probably doesn’t go to wine, but that will change after taking a look at The Somm Collection. Designed by Analog Watch Co., the same brand that created watches out of wood, marble, and plants, the collection of watches feature real cork bands that were dyed with actual wine – cabernet and blueberry wine to be exact.

time-for-a-drink-2

Wanting something even more unique?

The Sony FES Watch U’s main function is fashion
Although Apple and Android watches permit a degree of customization, the Sony FES Watch U raises the stakes to a notable degree by allowing wearers to upload and convert nearly any image from their smartphone via a compatible Sony Closet App to crop and position into a monochromatic design that stretches from watch face all the way across the length of the straps. This bit of customization magic is all made possible thanks to the same display technology found inside the Amazon Kindle e-reader.

time-for-a-drink-3

Check out the accompanying video. We’re used to ridiculous watch faces, but it’s so strange seeing the strap change too.

Vision of Fashion Entertainments

Nice time guaranteed

One of my favourite art and design websites is branching out into the watch-making business, it seems.

Timex x It’s Nice That watch
Timex have teamed up It’s Nice That to design a new watch that updates a military classic with a positive, contemporary twist. The watch is sealed with a sun-like roundel, containing a positive pledge to each person who wears it: Nice Time Guaranteed.

Some background on its design and typography.

Nice time guaranteed: introducing the It’s Nice That x Timex watch
The watch has gone through several iterations to get to the final product. From playing with a positive pledge to promote, to refining the typeface before deciding on the second heaviest weight, then working on one of the smallest possible products, printing out mock-ups to make sure it’s readable and just right. “There’s just loads of things I hadn’t considered coming into it,” Ali reflects. “How the hands would overlay on letters, you’re never going to see the words as a full sentence so you have to make sure you can always read them. Or the difference that the glass on top of the watch makes – it changes the sense of space you thought you had around the edges.”

nice-time-guaranteed-1

Time for type: Camelot on designing a typeface fit for a watch
This design decision helped Camelot harmonise the tone of It’s Nice That and Timex. As the original Timex lettering was built of “simple geometric shapes,” the foundry used it as a framework to build “a lively and distinct character,” in details as delicate as the extended flick of the number one on the watch face. “It was a great joy to almost cartoonize the numbering so that each number became an individual by itself,” Katharina explains.