Every watch company likes to think it is doing something original, producing products quite unlike those made by its rivals. Watch design is a lot freer than its automotive counterpart, as you don’t have to worry about trifling matters such as keeping your occupants safe in the event of a collision. The only thing a watch needs to do is remain attached to your wrist while providing you with a hopefully reliable and legible reading of the time.
Nevertheless, the design DNA of a handful of groundbreaking pieces in the hundred-year history of the wristwatch is so powerful that most companies find it difficult to stray from the templates already laid down. In short, lots of watches are not original recording artists – they are tribute bands trading off the success of the true stars.
It probably helps that the designer of the rather lovely piece pictured here does not come from a watch background. Benoît Mintiens is a Belgian industrial designer who previously worked on projects as diverse as high-speed trains, medical devices and leather goods.
In 2010 he formed Ressence and began producing watches that use heavily modified Swiss mechanical movements that display the time via a series of rotating discs. Having the hours, minutes and second hands positioned separately had been done before – this type of display is called a regulator, referring back to the clocks displayed in watchmaking ateliers. These had a large, separate minute hand as a clear reference point for all the watches being assembled and tested.
But on the Ressence the hands are not merely separated, they move together around the dial, with the three subdials displaying hours, seconds and days of the week moving around full-circle every 60 minutes as they are “chased” by the hour hand. The latest model is the Type 1 Squared, which is the first Ressence to have corners, all the others being round-dialled. It has no crown; an innovative case back has a lever that pulls out to allow manual winding and time adjustment. Add that to Ressence’s patented revolving dial and you are left with a very rare thing: a true original.
H Moser & Cie
The Swiss watch company H Moser is very angry, and has chosen to display that anger in a very original way: making a watch out of cheese. It announced recently that it would be removing the “Swiss-made” label from its watches this year in protest at what it sees as a watering down of the regulations that govern how the label is applied. The Swiss government now says that 60 per cent of the value of a watch must be made in Switzerland in order for it to qualify as Swiss-made. Previously it was 50 per cent, so at a glance this may seem like the regulations have been tightened up, but crucially it is now possible to include R&D costs in the 60 per cent. So theoretically you could have a watch entirely built in China that could be labelled Swiss-made.
H Moser has decided to emphasise its true Swiss-ness by making a watch that has a red fumé dial, Swiss cowhide leather strap and a case made from composite of resin and Vacherin Mont d’Or Swiss cheese. The case is apparently durable and will not smell. At more than a million Swiss francs (nearly £900,000) this one-off is unlikely to start a trend. It is merely a very Swiss way of making a point.
Berluti has been making beautifully crafted leather goods since the late 19th century, and devotees of its shoes include Andy Warhol, Frank Sinatra and Robert De Niro. Berluti’s LVMH stablemate Hublot is a relative upstart, making its first watches in 1980, but rising rapidly to become a favourite of the watch press as well as legions of well-heeled customers. The latest creation marries the expertise of the two companies in the creation of limited-edition version of Hublot’s Classic Fusion series.
The Fusion series has made a virtue of combining contrasting materials such as titanium and gold. This model takes the concept in a slightly different direction – the platinum case contains a dial made from tobacco-coloured calfskin produced using the same mineral and vegetable tanning rituals as Berluti shoes.