Watchmakers Craft 3-D Designs
By Roberta Naas
In the watchmaking world, tech gurus continue to predict the onslaught of smart watches that will not only tell time, but also sync with phones and computers and—some say—will doom wristwatches forever. Thankfully, some visionaries have a more nuanced take.
In fact, certain horological brands are pulling out all the stops with the design of their watches, unveiling true works of art and architecture for the wrist. Not only are these brilliant minds turning to high-tech materials, but they are also unveiling unconventional and multidimensional watches that are stopping the naysayers in their tracks.
“We don’t necessarily need wristwatches anymore,” admits Richard Mille, founder and CEO of the brand that bears his name and one of the first to venture into the world of 3-D wristwatches. “So the answer is to make watches emotionally exciting. They should be artistic, technical expressions of creativity and usefulness.”
This new breed of timepieces clearly demonstrates a deft blending of classical watchmaking and futuristic design. Many of the multidimensional watches appearing on the market incorporate the most sought-after complications, such as tourbillon escapements and perpetual calendars. There is also great variety; some brands focus on creating watchcases that are architectural works of art, while others forge multidimensions under the dial, thanks to the use of various layers and spherical elements such as globes or multiple-tourbillon escapements.
“It is all about challenging ourselves to reinterpret watches as works of art,” insists Max Büsser, owner and creative director of MB&F, one of the more transcendent watch brands on the market today. Büsser, a lover of outer space and rockets since childhood, uses traditional techniques to create very distinctive three-dimensional offerings. The repertoire of MB&F Machines includes seven radical families of timepieces that run the gamut in design from spaceship-esque to, yes, froglike.
“Sure, we could have done this sort of design 20 years ago, but was the world ready for it? I don’t think so,” says Büsser. “It has come upon us slowly over the past decade thanks to brands such as Richard Mille—whose first watch looked like a UFO to us—and the Harry Winston Opus series watches. But these are not high-volume watches—they typically appeal only to the person who doesn’t give a damn what people think.”
In part, this new frontier in watchmaking has come to fruition thanks to advances in technology, microtechnology, and materials. Today, cases can be cut exactly to all angles using high-precision CNC (computer numerical control) machines, and the mechanical movement can be reworked to tell time in different ways thanks to the genius of master watchmakers and strong R&D teams that are now composed of engineers and scientists as well as craftsmen.
Generally these sci-fi-like timepieces are made with high-tech materials that come to the watchmaking world from other arenas, such as aviation, automotive, or medical fields. They include titanium, aluminum, carbon fiber, and even proprietary inventive alloys. Naturally, due to the complexity of their movements and cases, these watches typically are created only in limited numbers, often take months to make, and generally command prices well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. But they are an adventurous investment, one that helps propel innovation in the watch industry.
“When a customer buys into a small creative brand, he or she is actually participating in the creative process and changing the future of our [label],” says Büsser. “When you make 18 pieces a month, for instance, the money we get from a purchase allows us to reinvest it in the next four or five creations, so the buyers are part of the future.”
photography by jeff crawford/bigtop studio; styling by terry lewis