C’est ça! The Baltic Hermétique

I finally bought a mechanical watch! I have been saving up for like, one and a half, maybe two years1 and have been going back and forth on what I want my first mechanical watch to be2. But then life made the decision for me and sent me to France3. This trip has been an educational one for me therefore I had to buy a watch. Okay well the actual reason was because I just recently celebrated my birthday, but hey, I am studying French watchmaking this year.

This watch is beautiful, the perfect weight and size all that’s missing are the fun colors I love so much from Farer or Anordain, but that’s a pretty high bar. I am planning a full review for later, maybe a month or so because I have a lot of external feelings not related to this watch right now4, but I made the right decision. Below is a picture I took of the watch on my wrist in the Baltic showroom, thanks y’all!

Baltic Hermétique
  1. Crazy to think about ↩︎
  2. Nomos, CW, Farer, Tissot, Seiko, etc. etc. etc. ↩︎
  3. Study abroad ftw ↩︎
  4. Men… ↩︎

I Got A (4th) Swatch!

It should be no surprise to any of y’all that I am a big fan of Swatch1. At this point I have 4 working ones, and an old one that needs a battery and a new strap2. Now the MoonSwatch will always be my favorite Swatch ever created3, but this one has easily taken the silver. I don’t really want to write a review on this piece, but this watch feels right. Now I am incredibly biased as I am a huge fan of the Bauhaus movement, and thus am a big fan of Wassily Kandinsky4 and so I had to buy myself this Centre-Pompidou “Bleu Ciel” x Swatch when I visited the museum last week. I love the box, I love the watch, I love the museum, what else can I possible add? I can’t see myself buying too many more Swatches, but this one was necessary5.

One more thing, it isn’t related to watches but I feel it is important. Currently the state of Israel is committing a genocide on the citizens of Palestine. I want to make one thing clear, I am not calling for any violence against Jews, or Muslims and any harmful rhetoric or actions towards any of these groups should and will not be tolerated. What would mean the world however is if you happen to have some cash to spare, send it along to the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund. The world is all kinds of fucked up right now but there are many ways we as individuals can help, there are more resources on this page here and all over the internet. I don’t have much of a voice but I will not be silent with the little I have. Thank you and wherever you are in the world I wish you well.

Maybe it’s a bit too big for my tastes…
  1. See also: the rest of my blog ↩︎
  2. I’ll get to it soon, dad ↩︎
  3. Gorgeous yellow plastic ↩︎
  4. A bit upset that the entire collection was locked behind timed tickets… ↩︎
  5. And the next one, and the next one, and– ↩︎

New Baltic Tricompax

Well well well, what do we have here? Baltic has made a version of the Tricompax that I actually enjoy the look of! If you want an actual overview/review of this watch I would suggest Hodinkee or Monochrome Watches, both of these are great articles but I just wanted to say one thing. I wish that Baltic would sell a non-limited version of the stopwatch and dash clock by itself. And that’s coming from someone who genuinely detests cars.

The MoonSwatch is a complete and utter failure in every possible way

That’s right, a year after Swatch released the MoonSwatch, with numerous spin-offs that many people enjoy, I have to agree with, uh, “Lume Pip” which I guess is supposed to sound cool1, that Swatch has a complete and utter failure of a watch on their hands. Okay look, I don’t want to defend Swatch here2 but seriously, it has been a whole year and considering how many spin-offs Swatch has since released the MoonSwatch is just objectively not a failure3? I mean you do you, obviously if you don’t like the watch you don’t have to enjoy it, but can you at least stop making angry YouTube4 videos for no reason other than clout? I mean, what other reason is there to make a video about the MoonSwatch in 2024 other than getting hate clicks5?

  1. At least my name is alliterative ↩︎
  2. Blah blah communist blah blah ↩︎
  3. And I’m not even an economist ↩︎
  4. Derogatory ↩︎
  5. Swatch haters and “Swatch hater” haters ↩︎

Vintage Oris

I think it is important for me to quickly publicly declare my love for vintage Oris Big Crowns. For months now Instagram has been shoving vintage Iris down my throat, and I am not complaining. These are the only vintage watches that I can say I truly want. However, it always spurs some thoughts for me. One of my favorite YouTubers would talk about analogue audio gear in a very positive way, “good stuff stays good” and that makes me curious about how good these vintage Oris watches are, because they weren’t originally made to be luxury watches so will they still feel good on wrist. I am not expecting modern quality but I am curious, but unfortunately I don’t have that money to just spend. Anyways, how are you?

The Jewelry Watch

Against all odds1 I truly enjoy the idea of owning a jewelry watch, and trust me the odds are great. I align myself with designers, more specifically the designers who follow the teachings of the Bauhaus2 but every now and then, when the sun shines right, I fall in love with a fashion watch. So far that has only been thrice but still, I find this style of watches interesting.

When I was first getting into watches I was warned about the ‘Fashion Watch’ and too these watch reviewers credit, these cheap drop shipped watches are horrible quality3, and most likely also horrible ethically, however there is a lot more nuance. In the grand scheme of watchmaking the ‘Fashion Watch’ can actually be really interesting, brands like Cartier for example do almost entirely focus on making ‘Fashion Watches’ and tend to be absolutely beautiful. Cartier is full luxury, but what about SpaceOne, or Xeric4 which make more avant-garde standout watches but are just a bit cheaper. My favorite three fashion watches mentioned are the Bvlgari Serpenti, the brand new Reflection De Cartier, and the SpaceOne Jumping Hour.

The Bvlgari Serpenti was the first Jewelry Watch that I fell in love with5, and my personal favorite is the Tubogas Steel 101828. This particular reference has everything just right for me. The tail is long enough to be different, but it’s not too long, I personally don’t like gold on a watch unless it is in the context of a tiny vintage watch like a Universal Geneve watch, and the actual watch component is 35mm6, in one dimension kind of hard to figure out where they measured if I am honest. Also, just snakes, snakes are so cool I would love to wear a snake on my wrist. The only disappointment of this watch is that it only uses a quartz movement, and we know Bvlgari has some great watchmaking talent because of their ultra-thin Octo series. That is a problem I will get to later.

Bvlgari Serpenti Tubogas

The second Jewelry Watch I fell in love with in this personal timeline was the SpaceOne Jumping Hour7. This watch would fit incredibly well on my wrist, and something about the linework on this watch really satisfies me. I particularly love the brushed and polished version, it just looks cool. This one fits more on the Avant-Garde scale of things than the jewelry side of things but still, I enjoy it. Unfortunately I think I missed my chance with this model but I would love to wear this around for a bit and see how it really fits me.

SpaceOne Jumping Hour Brushed Stainless Steel

Finally in this timeline, the newest being the Reflection De Cartier Cuff. Introduced this year at Watches and Wonders, I first saw this through. Hodinkee Article and I immediately fell in love with the Rose Gold version pictured8. I would hate to try to read the time on this watch but I would love to wear this cuff, and this is one of my few exceptions where I actually love the gold. Specifically this image from Cartier, that I then took from the aforementioned Hodinkee post, really sells the watch for me9. That reflection of the dial on the blank side and seeing the intricate cut-outs in the gold it just makes me happy.

Cartier Reflection De Cartier Cuff

Okay so now that you all know which Jewelry Watches I do enjoy, there are a couple very large elephants in the room, one being the gem set watches10. These watches just look lazy to me, take an already good looking watch and add hundreds of little diamonds on it and see it for three times the price. That is just my opinion and I do think these gem set watches do deserve to exist but I will never like them, the other problem I have with these Jewelry Watches is the prices. These watches are made to be status symbols and therefore usually use a cheaper movement, or just use really expensive materials and then before you know it a really beautiful watch is marketed only towards morally bankrupt billionaires11. The ultimate struggle is enjoying art for arts sake in a world where only the rich and privileged can enjoy that art. I do consider myself to be privileged in that way, I am by no means rich but I am white and American and have benefitted on white supremacy my entire life, just right now I am on this incredible trip that so many people don’t have the opportunity to take. After all these words I have a simple(er) thesis for you all. Jewelry Watches showcase incredible artistry, but this artistry comes at a cost, and that cost is directly linked to the oppression that needs to be torn down. Yeah, that’s right, I’m still a downer.

  1. See the very last sentence ↩︎
  2. How I would (maybe) love to go back in time and study at the Bauhaus ↩︎
  3. Gucci, Armini-Strom, etc. ↩︎
  4. Not talked about here, but still interesting ↩︎
  5. It was genuinely eye-opening ↩︎
  6. Stainlesssteeli-locks ↩︎
  7. My last remaining bit of techbro ↩︎
  8. Still surprising to me ↩︎
  9. So whimsical ↩︎
  10. This has been consistent through all of my passions ↩︎
  11. Oh boy, here she goes again ↩︎

I Tried on Various Watches in France

When in France, you try on as many watches as possible. Well, unless you are like me and have social anxiety and feel a bit bad for wasting the persons time, but I tried on a few cool watches today that I want to talk about. One thing I have noticed throughout these last couple years is that my favorite watch I have ever tried on was a Tissot PRX1, and I have tried on some expensive watches. Today is no different, I tried on some expensive watches and while I liked a few, in general I honestly was a little bit disappointed, but that is a very case by case basis that I will get into per each watch. Alright, On y va!

The first watch I tried on was the Meistersinger 36, Azurblau2. This was a strong start, everything about it felt right. I wish I knew the exact lug to lug length but I would assume it is around 42mm, the main case size was great, you know I love a 36mm watch, and finally this beautiful blue with the striking black date dial and white hand was just so pleasing. At the end of the day it is still a dress watch and I have my eyes on a sport watch but I did enjoy trying this one on.

Meistersinger 36 Azurblau

Keeping with the Germanic theme I tried on a couple of Junghans, the Meister Driver Handaufzug, and the Max Bill Bauhaus. I’ve been a big fan of both of these watches for a while now so it was fun to try them on myself. Again I don’t know the exact measurements of the lug lengths but they both feature a 38mm case and both felt really nice. I personally was most drawn the Driver Handaufzug3, but Junghans also removed it from their website so I don’t think I’ll ever own this one unless I get lucky. The second one I tried on was the Max Bill Bauhaus, and I liked how it fit, and the casebook was beautiful, but I think if I were to put the money forward for one I would get the smaller hand wound one, or one of the versions with the Arabic numerals because the typeface is most of appeal4 to this nice enough dress watch.

Junghans Meister Driver Handaufzug
Junghans Max Bill Bauhaus

Next up was the Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Diver. I don’t think I have much to say about this, but it *technically* fit on my wrist5. Not for me, but it was fun to try on at least.

Bell & Ross BR 03-92

These last two watches are both dive watches and I was most excited for. First up was the Oris Aquis 36.56. This one was almost the winner but I don’t love the dials that are all available on these smaller models. It just felt lovely and like it was built for my wrist but with the recently released Aquis Caliber 400 models even if I had the money, it feels like a mistake to buy a non-update Aquis right now.

Oris Aquis 36.5

Finally, one of my most anticipated watches of France, the Yema Superman. And I was incredibly disappointed. Partially because I only tried on the larger size, so it didn’t quite fit me but also because the bracelet was complete shit. Normally I wouldn’t trust myself to be an arbiter of quality because in my opinion the Tissot PRX stands toe to toe with the Cartier Santos7, but for the first time I understood what a bad watch bracelet felt like. It was jangly, pulled on my arm hair, and the clasp was mediocre at best. When I get into Paris I really do hope to try on the smaller version with the Snake Scale bracelet and hopefully that’s better, but for now the $1,400 Yema is losing to watches that cost half the price, and I really want to justify owning a Yema Superman8.

Yema Superman Dato 500 41
  1. Maybe besides the Cartier Santos or Nomos Club Campus ↩︎
  2. I also learned how to say ‘Turquoise’ in French ↩︎
  3. Almost Art Deco ↩︎
  4. I don’t know why so few brands focus on their typography ↩︎
  5. It had to happen? ↩︎
  6. I need to try on the 39.5 next ↩︎
  7. It is an incredibly flawed opinion that you should not pay attention too ↩︎
  8. Maybe they can change my mind with the new Slim Micro-Rotor ↩︎

Rolex continues to be evil

Okay first of all, it’s not actually that deep, but Jean-Frédéric Dufour recently accused smaller watch brands of being “pirates” for setting up booths around Geneva during ‘Watches and Wonders’. This statement does really piss me off, because Dufour as well as other executives in the big brands are the sole deciders of who gets to show up, and if you don’t want people to be ‘pirates’ all you have to do is make them an official part of the show. I think the linked article basically says everything I want to say but still, seriously Rolex?

In Defense of Swatch: The Desire for More

Yesterday I went to the Swatch store in the neighborhood of the Arc De Triomphe. First things first, as soon as I exited the Metro I was greeted by the most garish Louis Vuitton1 thing (for lack of better words) that I have ever seen. But a quick five minute walk dodging crowds of tourists I finally made it to the Swatch store that sells the MoonSwatches I love so much, the Scuba Fifty-Fathoms that I fell in love with that day, and many more Swatches that I unfortunately really like2. The way I see this brand is that they don’t make watches for the normal enthusiast, they make watches for the Swatch enthusiast. I understand why people don’t like the colors, or the plastic, I for one can’t stand the noise these watches make. I mean, for the price of one “Gent” Swatch you could buy like, three whole Casios! Hear me out now, what if that value proposition is all backwards?

What even is the point of this?

Yes, I really do want a premium mechanical watch, as of this post I am currently saving up for a nice watch and deciding between eight watches, but there is a joy I get from wearing my MoonSwatch that I won’t get from wearing anything else. Yes, Swatches aren’t repairable but they can last a pretty long time still, and yes most of them are made out of plastic, but they are all so very colorful. That, my friends, is why I always want another Swatch. I love the Baltic Hermetique as much as the next person, but my MoonSwatch is bright yellow. Sure the Twelve by Christopher Ward has a purple dial3, but the Scuba Fifty Fathoms has an yellow case and a Nudibranch printed on the Sistem51 movement4. And let’s talk about that movement, when Swatch first revealed that movement it was hermetically sealed in the watch. In my terms, it was meant entirely to be disposable and for someone like me that wants a mechanical watch because it will last me my entire life that is just a no-go. But with the release of the Scuba Fifty Fathoms the case-back can come off, the Sistem51 movement isn’t repairable just yet5, Swatch will just replace it, but that’s still progress! On top of all of that while I’m here in Paris I have a rare opportunity to buy myself a Swatch in person, Scuba, MoonSwatch, or other. I can buy any Christopher Ward, Baltic, or even Studio Underd0g if I just pay attention to the preorder windows. The lines aren’t even that long anymore at these Swatch stores.

Swatch x Blancpain Scuba Fifty-Fathoms

I don’t know if any other company can offer the colors and collaborations that Swatch does, but those very collaborations are very important for me. Yes I enjoy the Blancpain Fifty-Fathoms, but the Swatch version comes in weird colors and features a Nudibranch6. Blancpain would never dare to do something like that. Omega will only ever release a yellow MoonWatch if it involves some weird hyper expensive gold alloy, meanwhile I am wearing a bright yellow MoonSwatch on my arm at this very moment! So here it is, unfortunately I may have persuaded myself to buy another Swatch even while I am currently trying to save up for something really nice and premium. But can you blame me? These colors make me so happy, in the winter I may dress in all black – and sometimes very very dark gray – but I am trying to slowly expand my wardrobe to allow for even more color and my summer wardrobe reflects that. As of today Swatch provides the easy going color that I cannot live without. That being said, what if instead of buying one expensive mechanical watch I buy a Scuba Fifty-Fathoms AND a slightly cheaper nice mechanical watch, like a Baltic Hermetique. Best of both worlds.. This is where I leave you, by April I will have something else for you all and even sooner I will be sharing my thoughts on the French tradition in art, design, and watchmaking from a French perspective. Au revoir!

  1. I was pissed off an unreasonable amount ↩︎
  2. The new Swatch What-If colors… ↩︎
  3. Unfortunately ceramic is the best option, but could we at least try? ↩︎
  4. Among other beautiful colors ↩︎
  5. They are so close ↩︎
  6. It also fits my wrist really really well ↩︎

On French Culture, Watchmaking, and Design

Currently I am in college studying design, art history, and eventually watchmaking. What you are about to read is my first long form academic essay discussing my thoughts on the current state of French design and watchmaking. This may be one to skip, it is 22.5 pages without the bibliography but I did put a lot of work into this and it may be my favorite project I have ever completed. This essay has gone through many stages of brainstorming, researching, and drafts and has been evaluated by my current professor, and I am immensely proud to write in such length and detail about a subject I am this passionate about. One final note, there are many social issues about design and watchmaking that many want to ignore, I want to mention that I am ignoring simply in the interest of time. Someday I should write about these social issues in design and European culture but I would want to dedicate a separate longer essay to that topic. That’s all, enjoy!

French history is absolutely fascinating, and nothing is more interesting than their history with design, art, and their culture with watchmaking. Since at least King Louis XIV the decorative arts have been celebrated in France, or at least they were, France was incredibly important for Europe’s watchmaking scene, and for a time has had a culture of design. However, countries like Germany or the Scandinavian countries have a much more unified design based off of the needs of their cultures. At a first glance the French history of design, decorative arts, and watchmaking is gone, or at least too scattered to make a real impact. That said, this topic is much more complicated than that, in this essay I will look at French and wider European history in an attempt to decipher and define a distinct design language in France that may not be visible at a first glance. 

Design as a description is incredibly vague, John Heskett wrote it better than anyone in his article Past, Present, and Future in Design and Industry. “Designers may know what they mean by design, but their understanding often is based on experiential knowledge, which is not easily articulated or communicated.” (Heskett 18) Heskett then provides a language example, “Design is when designers design a design to produce a design.” By now the very word is starting to lose all meaning, and all that’s been proven is the versatility of the word. 

While it’s a difficult word to define, this concept is important all of human history, the chair, one uses to sit in, the bike one uses to commute, and the laptop I am using to type on were all designed at some point, thus design, as a culture, must theoretically be the backbone of human society. However, designers, in their pursuit of creating an easier or more beautiful life tend to make one another irrelevant. In the progression of this journal, Heskett writes about an anthropologist, Lauriston Sharp, who discusses Yir Yoront society, how they designed stone axes, which were very significant to this old society, and the eventual fall of this society due to iron axes introduced by Christion missionaries. That is an old example of progress being made, designers out designing each other, and unfortunately in this situation being spread through conquest. 

More recently with the Bauhaus in the 1920s, design as a culture changed again. Before the Bauhaus, design was more of a fine art and objects like furniture were a bit more one of one and artisanal, but the school taught students how to create prototypes and make products for the common person. “The role of the industrial artist went through several stages of evolution in the nineteenth century and was given renewed impetus at the Bauhaus in the 1920s, which emphasized the artist-designer as a creator of ideal prototypes for industrial productions.” (Heskett 23) The Bauhaus did change design massively, and despite it being a German design movement has proven to be incredibly influential in France’s own design history. 

All of a sudden, an artist’s job was to provide or create objects for the better of larger society. This wasn’t the most popular perspective, Heskett writes that artists like John Ruskin and William Morris passionately opposed integrating art into industry, but their handcrafted artwork “fell into nostalgia” because of the efficiency of what the Bauhaus offered. Heskett conclude his piece strong: “Should designers fail to adapt, new competencies will emerge to fill the gap left behind. The evidence of history is that design, as a basic human ability, is constantly required to adapt and redefine itself to meet the needs of its time. We should expect no less for our age.” (Heskett 26) 

Is that what happened to French decorative arts? France does have art movements of their own, Art Nouveau was the international art style of France and Belgium at the end of the 19th century, John Keefe writes for the Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago in The art Nouveau in Belgium and France, 1885-1915. The Art Nouveau movement sought to abandon “the excesses and vulgarities of middle-class Victorian taste.” (Keefe, 3) Art Nouveau was inspired by ancient Egyptian, Islamic, Chinese, and Greek design elements, and most importantly for watches, helped to usher in the age of Art Déco. 

Art Déco coexisted with the Bauhaus movement but was vastly different. These movements are equally appreciated today, but Art Déco was an evolution, one to be appreciated with streamline sleek shapes, and vivid colors. (Hunter 4) Art Déco: The Last Hurrah paints an almost disappointing picture; Art Déco may have been the “Proud and final chapter in the history of French decorative arts”. I hold this idea very dearly, but that doesn’t mean it is fully correct. While Art Déco may have been the last unified French design style, it was not the last time French culture and design will intersect. In the 50s French furniture design gained massive popularity and is still sticking around today. 

Two notable designers from this era are Jean Prouvé, and Charlotte Perriand. These designers have similar backgrounds in architecture and moved on to designing furniture, and the respective artists designs in themselves have some similarities. (Wikipedia) Both designers’ pieces have natural wood featured prominently for table tops and arm rests. However, this is where similarities end. Charlotte Perriand’s designs where more avant-garde, featuring fewer natural colors, less symmetry, but sticking to modern ideas of affordable art for the normal person. Both of their designs were very fitting for the time but have aged. Today I would describe them as chic vintage, with colorful steel and the strongly featured asymmetry. I have no doubt these designer artists and their similarities almost entirely defined the aesthetic of the 50s and 60s, much like the Germans defined the 20s and the Italians will go on to define the 80s with the Memphis Group.

The reasons for these design differences are certainly just distinct preferences and sensibilities but may also have risen from their education. Charlotte Perriand went to “L’École de L’Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs” and afterwards to many department store workshops on industrial design, while Jean Prouvé was largely self-taught. (Wikipedia) Interestingly Perriand refused to work with any architect, besides Prouvé or herself and would eventually become an official advisor for industrial design for the Japanese government. Going deeper into Prouvé, we learn that he was not a big fan of the Bauhaus school and preferred different technical methods of working with steel. The final interesting philosophy that Prouvé displayed was his lack of a specific aesthetic, just looking at both his and Perriand’s pieces this becomes apparent in its own beautiful way. Many designer artists become well known because of their aesthetic, so is there some cultural reason that these French designers becomes known for their craftsmanship and technique rather than their own unique aesthetic? 

In discussing design and the mass industry that is formed around it, it’s essential to bring up the artist, or laborer and the rights they were given. France has a proud history of protecting these rights. This is evident in the French two-hour lunch break, or the copywrite battles many French artists have had due to industry. Artists don’t usually get paid what they deserve unless they are known almost worldwide. As stated earlier there were many artists that didn’t approve of rising industry, Katie Scott writes in the beginning of Art and Industry a Contradictory Union: Authors, Rights and Copyrights during the Consulat: “To Invoke the relationship of art and industry is, in some senses, to buck the trend of modern historiography in so far as mass production, a key term for historians of the industrial revolution, is that which art seems implacably to set its face. Typically, art stands for unique objects, superior quality, high prices and elite markets–industry for multiples, inferior quality, low prices, and mass markets.” So maybe French design is simply the lack of a unified design language, an appreciation for individual arts.

There is one more topic I believe to be important in this current context, and that is a piece called Why a Culture of Design in France Never Took Off written by Stéphane Laurent. Yes, I started this journey off being hopeful, and I still am, but this piece is very conclusive and does not have the most optimistic title. Laurent lists off many arguments, one is as follows: “In fact, in France we are still eager to explain design, while our neighbors are exploring and developing all of its refined and elaborated facets.” (Laurent 73) As demonstrated earlier, defining design is difficult all on its own even for just one person, how can we expect an entire country to define “design”. Laurent then writes about the fine arts, writing the same words I have found in every article. 

France has simply been much more welcoming to fine arts and independent artists than designers and “simple” design work, the fine arts were more exclusive and unique, and even thought to be better quality than any industrialized art. Laurent’s conclusion is the most interesting part to me, “Why, then, did such a successful exhibition on Art Déco get organized abroad? France undoubtedly has a long way to go to discover coherent presentation of design for the general public, as well as to meet international standards for achieving outstanding promotion and development of our cultural domain.” So, it looks like I haven’t really started but I have hit a dead end. Not only is it nearly impossible to truly define “design” but French culture is too focused on fine art to have their own design language. I would give up, but there is still more to discover.

                  During and after both of the World Wars other cultures were building up their own design languages. America had the Museum of Modern Art, and in the United States effort to combat communism after WWII they sent MoMA exhibits all around the world. Paris was the only city that saw the entire exhibit, and in all of their French-ness the people were skeptical. Gay McDonalds Selling the American Dream: MoMA, Industrial Design and Post-War France is an excellent piece displaying the globalism that France fights so hard against. 

The MoMA isn’t only for fine arts, there are exhibits for architecture, even at least one old Apple Mac, McDonalds writes on page 400: “The inclusion of such a diverse array of non-high art goods precipitated a controversy, not only amongst some elements of the French press.” This exhibit featured innovations such as Tupperware, today we don’t see plastic food storage containers as an art, but in 1955 when America wanted to glorify their own lifestyle, Tupperware must seem like a miracle. However, McDonalds notes that it really was a minority of the French press that disapproved of the MoMA. “…this format encouraged many French critics to use the exhibition as a kind of rosetta stone or key to deciphering American civilization. “ (McDonalds, 408) This exhibition did indeed help the French figure out American culture, at the end of this piece McDonalds writes: “Yet by proclaiming American mastery in the realm of mass culture or the technical arts, on socio-cultural grounds, one could reasonably assert that even receptive critics had effectively sealed off the possibility of American artists attaining mastery in the so-called ‘high arts’ of painting and sculpture, which by implication, remained the exclusive preserve of the French.” (McDonalds 409) I do have some more reasoning for the lack of a unified French design language, but first it is important to bring up one of the most important movements in industrial design history, the Bauhaus. 

Germany was the bad guy in Europe at this time, and even before WWI their unification was proving to be direct competition with France. The Bauhaus was about as far from appreciated in France as it could get, just due to Germany being controlled by fascism the Bauhaus itself was seen in a negative light. Roxane Jubert and John Cullars wrote an article for The MIT Press called The Bauhaus Context: Typography and Graphic Design in France. One important quote from this article that sums up the entire Bauhaus rise and fall is at the very end: “That was put very clearly, which reminds us that the typography of the Bauhaus and the new typography—whether one advocates them or not—are not the monsters that some have wanted to make of them. The monster was elsewhere. And it killed the Bauhaus.” (Jubert 80) This is just the conclusion of a great read, the article has many great examples of French thought towards the Bauhaus, specifically this quote from Jérôme Peignot: “As to what concerns the creation of printing house type, one may not omit the nefarious role of the Bauhaus.” Claude Mediavilla said the Bauhaus “…may be considered an artificial artistic movement.” Eventually Jubert writes that the Bauhaus was seen as a fascist movement. If I were to go deeper into the Bauhaus, I would describe that many of the students and professors were somewhat communist, or that the school had to relocate and reopen three times because the Nazi party did not like the Bauhaus school, but from the French perspective these harsh critiques do unfortunately hold water. 

From 1924-1944 Berlin was home to an early graphic design journal, going by the name of Gebrauchsgrafik. The original editor was a man named H. K. Frenzel, and under him the monthly journal reported on global advertisements, certain global economies and most importantly the new design-based industry. Unfortunately, during World War II the design journal was shifted to spread German propaganda, as Jeremy Aynsley writes in “Gebrauchsgrafik” as an Early Graphic Design Journal, 1924-1938. “Following the formation of the Ministry, the structures by which rights to exhibition and practice could be administered were announced. On September 1933, the Reichskulturkammer Gesetz (Reich Culture Chambers Law) established the Reichs-ministers ability to organize those active in the areas under his jurisdiction into corporate bodies (Koerperschaften). The ministry Aynsley writes about is called the “Reichsministeriüm für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda” in English: the Reich Ministry for People’s Enlightenment and Propaganda. The Gebrauchsgrafik journal was assimilated into this ministry and considering this was a journal on graphic design, and the Bauhaus had many teachings on typography, it doesn’t seem illogical to assume the Bauhaus was just another tool of the Nazis. Add to that the French artist culture and their disdain for mass produced industry, it does feel annoyingly right that even with outside influence French culture does not equate to a design language like the Scandinavian or Germanic countries have. The odd part is the French history with watchmaking.

The watchmaking industry’s history really is a story for the ages. In Watchmaking: A Case Study in Enterprise and Change David S. Landes writes: “There are few industries so independent of place as the manufacture of timepieces. The materials employed are so light in proportion to value that they may easily be transported over any distance without significantly increasing the cost of production, the more so as the raw material itself is worth little by comparison with the finished product. The value of a watch is in the labor that made it.” (Landes 2) In the mechanical watch’s heyday, that labor jumped all over Europe for religious reasons and economic reasons alike, weathered storms of global competition and is finally making a comeback to be a little of what it once was. It all began in France, and the south of Germany. To set the right tone, these first timepieces weren’t even watches, they were large clocks for the home or to stand in the middle of town. 

Eventually during the 16th century with advances in technology, (moving gears around, winding springs tighter etc.) the first wearable watches were created, they were to be hung around the neck or clipped to a waistcoat button. Landes describes these first timepieces as “…of crude manufacture, originally of iron, and [these] earliest watchmakers tended to be recruited from those who had already learned to work with iron…” (Landes 2) Eventually these tradespeople became more specialized in this work, and thus watchmaking became an industry. 

This will be more important later, but these first timepieces, similar to todays were only good for aristocrats and nobles to show off their wealth. In 1625 the idea of watchmaking was strictly German, but by the 17th century France overtook the Prussians. French timepieces were now artistic, many of these timepieces were simple, but artists in Paris and Blois have at this point mastered the art of painting on enamel. Meanwhile in Germany the timepieces were fragile and complicated. “…they outdid themselves in ingenuity, producing clocks and watches that went beyond ordinary timekeeping to provide calendar and astronomical indications. These masterpieces of complexity were the ornaments of palaces, a joy to princes; but they were necessarily costly and, more serious, were hard to maintain.” (Landes 4) This is hardly the stereotype of German engineering today, but if you are to put yourself in the shoes of the French or the British really does make Germanies advancements before WWI all the more unnerving. Speaking of the British, it was the 17thcentury that gave them a start in this new industry. 

They were early on innovations such as the balance spring, a little coil in a watch that keeps everything a bit more even, and reducing the watch movement’s loss of time from 30 minutes a day to as little as five, the British focused more on how their timepieces worked, rather than how they looked. (Landes, 5) The other issue that France ran into was the Edict of Nantes in 1594 (Stacey 10/16) Many of the watchmakers in France were Huguenots and when they had to leave much of the French watchmaking talent seamed to disappear. French watchmaking fell into a bit of a rut and British watchmaking fully took over. Throughout the rest of the 17th and 18th centuries the British had all but a monopoly on watchmaking, but that doesn’t mean the French weren’t trying. British watches were chunky, using tried and tested, and to their credit, accuracy insuring technology. Meanwhile the French were sacrificing a bit of accuracy for thinness, until the use of modern escapements at least. The British were slow to adapt but little did they know, it wasn’t the French they had to look out for but the Swiss. 

At this point in Swiss watchmaking, their watches were good enough relative to the competition but had a long way to go before the Swiss watch became as prestigious as it is today. As for how the Swiss became a key player in the game so quickly, their economy was poor, many had low wages and thus was mostly based off of mercenaries and farm laborers, add to this the Protestants who fled from France and other primarily Catholic areas, Swiss laborers learned how to make a watch quickly, and soon after started to innovate more on the tested formula. (Landes, 16) But before the Swiss would truly climb on top, they still had to beat the British and they weren’t good enough for that yet. “…They complained that numerous master watchmakers had become nothing better than commercial intermediaries, presenting and selling Swiss watches as their own work and even signing their names to them.” (Landes 17) Swiss watchmaking was so new, and it doesn’t really matter how quickly the skill was learned, Swiss labor was still cheap. 

Here is where watchmaking gets really tangled and busy, many people offer up new ways to make watches more accurate, like Pierre Frédéric Ingold with the general idea of machining parts in the 1840s. This idea will be important to the Swiss eventually, but it doesn’t catch on just yet. The British are too stuck in their ways, the Swiss don’t see it as beneficial, yet, and the French are astounded that someone would try to industrialize such a precious form of art. (Landes 19-23) In 1825, however, a man named Adrien Phillippe introduces the idea of using the watch crown to wind the movement, this impressed the Swiss and brought them one step closer to overtaking the British. The key moment in the history of watchmaking was in 1876, where watchmakers from all over the world met in Philadelphia to basically compare notes. 

Pierre Lamard writes a detailed overview of this specific conference in: Worldwide Phenomenon and Transfers of Technology: Swiss and French Watchmaking in the Face of the Centennial Exhibition of Philadelphia (1876). By the 1870s America was becoming a real threat, they were producing so many watches, and more importantly selling them but no one in Europe really understood what the big deal was. Or at least they knew about America’s techniques of using machines to make all of the tiny parts and having all of these parts be relatively interchangeable but the European watch companies just didn’t believe that these methods were actually good. This basic idea was brought upon the British, Swiss, and the French a mere 30 years ago but now in the 1870s the Swiss had developed 

pretty good relations with the Americans and wanted to maintain it. At first it was only the French that wanted to be known in America, and the Swiss were still a bit cold to the idea but eventually the Swiss caved and sent thirty exhibitors and twenty manufacturers. (Lamard 33-34) One of the men sent over went by the name of Theodore Gribi, and he discovered that the tools the American’s were using were actually quite impressive, even writing “On arriving at Locle (Switzerland) I showed this watch to one of our several adjusters … who took it apart. At the end of several days, he came to me and said, literally, I am astonished the result is incredible … One can understand by this example how it is that an American watch should be preferred to a Swiss watch.” (Gribi, Lamard 35) There was skepticism, especially among the French, “They wrote it was not possible to substitute hand made final work by machine tools even if that was true in most industrial areas.” (Lamard 36) but eventually in these late 1800s watches were machine made, maybe final bits of finishing were done by hand. 

By now I feel we are modern enough in European history that some small detail can be clarified, in Landes’ conclusion he explains that the Swiss textile industry was in the German regions, (Landes, 32) which explains why virtually every single Swiss watch uses French words to note the features and specifications of watches, words like: chronométre, or tachymétre. Landes also tries to explain why the British industry failed but the Swiss succeeded, but before that, the “Quartz Crisis” needs to be brought up. The 1970s is home to, in my opinion, the most important and tragic event in all of watchmaking’s history. Don’t worry, everything turns out okay in the end for the Swiss, but watchmaking has never been the same. 

At this point the watchmaking industry is really only between the Swiss, and the Japanese. Cécile Aguillame’s The Swiss Watchmaking Industry Faced with Globalization in the 1970s, has a tight focus on what is known as the “Quartz Crisis” the story goes that the Japanese needed to win once and for all, one killer product that would dominate the industry. Then, at that time, the Japanese watch company Seiko released the first quartz powered watch for sale in the 1970s, and then everything came tumbling down. A quartz watch is powered by a battery and has a little motherboard and a vibrating quartz crystal. This makes even the cheapest quartz watch more accurate than the absolute best quality mechanical watch and thus, Switzerland’s watch industry was all but lost with many of the names shifting to a more luxurious status, and many more going completely under. However, this crisis was a lot more complicated. 

For instance, Augillame reminds us that just a few months before the “Quartz Crisis” many manufacturers were already complaining about a lack of personnel to staff their workshops (Aguillame 190) Aguillame continues and explains that many of the Swiss didn’t even believe that the electronic wristwatch would succeed. By the 1960s, as Aguillame explains, the Swiss watch industry was incredibly disorganized. Most of the companies that exist create only one specific part of the watch, and the final brand that designs and puts out the watch usually didn’t control who sold the watch and how it was advertised. (Aguillame 192-195) Add to that these businesses were also mostly family run and not everyone is good at management positions the entire industry was very fragile and not susceptible to change. The Swiss did create the first quartz watch, but it was the Japanese that sold the first quartz watches, further the Americans were back in business creating digital watches. The problem, Aguillame claims, was the Swiss need for perfection. It was only in the 1980s when the Swiss had a successful quartz watch in the Swatch. These first Swatches were so perfect that many of them still work perfectly, provided the battery is replaced but they were too late. Aguillame finishes his essay reminding us that none of this is so simple, and that the Swiss watch industry is very much alive. 

Now if we go back and read Landes’ conclusion there is a lot of stress on the culture in Switzerland, specifically certain parts of the French speaking Switzerland. The Swiss have had to export resources since the early 19th century, at the very least, and finally Landes asks the question, “Is the cultural matrix still intact?” (Landes 39) Through the complex history of watchmaking, I learned that the French were very consistent with their disapproval of industry, and I am reminded that these changes take place over decades, longer than I have been alive. All of this history is fine, but what is the state of French watchmaking today?

Watchmaking is having a real comeback, Japan has gone from having one watch brand to at least three, German watchmaking is better than ever, and American watchmaking is having a rebirth. Most importantly, for this context, French watchmaking is having their own moment. Using some French specific examples, there is a term in the greater watch community for small upstart brands, “Micro-Brands”. Many of these brands have the opportunity to evolve into “Indie-Brands.” Brands like Baltic, a French brand founded around 2015, and Yema, another French brand that was around since the 40s, then failed, then a few years ago came back and is now manufacturing their own movements, are just two incredible examples of independent watch brands from France. Further, an incredibly promising project from a brand founded just around 2019, going by the name of Buci-Paris is one of the best examples of an excellent “Micro-brand”, side note, the founder is currently one of the first women of color to be in an executive position in the European watchmaking scene. As if none of that was enough, even very traditional French luxury brands have been making some incredible watches over the past few years. 

The three largest French brands with a stake in watchmaking currently are LVMH (Louis Vuitton), Hermes, and Cartier. Louis Vuitton was founded in 1854 and in 1987 merged with a champagne company, Moët & Chandon to form the venerable LVMH. This group has a long history of messy acquisitions and has only recently gained good faith in the eyes of the watch enthusiast. During the terror of the Quartz Crisis many old watch brands went under, LVMH bought one of these historic brands, Tag Heuer. After this acquisition Tag Heuer became sort of a joke, offering seemingly overpriced watches with cheap components, a legendary brand was thought to have collapsed. However, after nearly four decades of failing to catch the enthusiast’s eye, Tag Heuer, and the wider LVMH group hit their stride. Tag Heuer’s collection today offers many great racing inspired pieces for the watch and car enthusiast, and Louis Vuitton’s own watch collection has transitioned from less of a cash grab and more of a piece of the watchmaking culture. The other brand of note in LVMH’s portfolio is BVLGARI, their watches are fashion first, and thus not as loved in the wider watch community yet but have been getting better and more innovative with watches like the Octo Finissimo being the world’s thinnest watch for a while or the Serpenti being a jewelry focused snake shaped watch that in my opinion is quite beautiful. The final thing I want to touch on with Louis Vuitton is the LVMH Watch Week, which is a festival LVMH puts on to honor the watchmaking culture, showcase their properties work and even boost young watchmakers work on a large stage. 

Another big term in the watch community is the idea of the “fashion watch”. This term refers to a watch that is created only to look good, often sold by prestigious fashion brands but made in offshore factories using off the shelf or poorly made components, but still sold at the brands normal rates. All three of these brands has been at some point accused of being a fashion watch brand, and only recently has been getting the respect they deserve. The most recent success story has been Hermès. The luxury leather goods and textiles has been around since 1873 but only recently have they been catching the eye of the enthusiast. I first heard about Hermès through their collaboration with Apple making luxury watch straps for the Apple Watch, but recently has been making some really impressive watches. Their most recent watch is called the Hermès HO8, and the design is very sporty and modern, but the entirety of their catalogue is still very dressy and it’s a bit obvious that they are still one foot in one foot out on the fashion watch train. 

The most historic of this trio is Cartier. Founded in 1847 they started as a jewelry brand and released their first watch in 1914, it was a lady’s watch seeing as the wristwatch wasn’t popular for men until World War I, but later in 1919 Cartier released the famous Tank. From here one Cartier will release many sport watches with a very Art Déco aesthetic, among them is my personal favorite, the Santos Du Cartier, which was originally a pilots watch. Cartier’s style is truly legendary but for a while, since the quartz crisis, many enthusiasts ignored this French watchmaker. Cartier is more or less independent as a jeweler and a watchmaker although their quartz movements may be from another manufacturer, their website isn’t clear. The detail that many enthusiasts point to for their arguments that Cartier is strictly a fashion watch brand is their lack of transparency. While it is easy to find details on Cartier’s watch movements on 3rd party sites, they don’t exactly advertise the reference number for the movements used in their watches, even if many of their mechanical movements are in house. These design houses are incredible prestigious but lack a unified design language between them that many German design houses share. This is again pointing to the earlier assertion that French culture is still defining what design is, and not define what they need to design, or the disdain for a unified industry standard.

Smaller watch brands are pushing the entire industry forward but have a lot less heritage to draw on. Yema is one of the older independent micro-brands / indie-brands in the industry at the moment, originally founded in 1948 but shutting down eventually to be brought back to life in the mid to late 2010s. Their modern collection focuses almost entirely on the sport watch, and their little heritage. Their dive watch, the Superman, is iconic for its crown-bezel locking technology that was super useful back when dive watches themselves were useful. One step smaller is the indie-brand Baltic. Baltic has a split focus on dress watches and sport watches, and while not having any heritage of their own, they do draw on other’s forgotten heritage to make some beautiful low-cost vintage style watches. Up until last month the brand has used mostly Japanese movements but has just released a dress watch with a Swiss caliber. Before that they did release an impressive one of one perpetual calendar watch (a complication that will keep an accurate track of the date month and year for ~999 years accounting for leap years) for a charity watch auction. Finally I have to bring up Buci-Paris who remains one of my favorite watchmakers in theory, unfortunately their one collection they have released is not quite to my tastes. Unfortunately, these three brands also have scattered designs with little similarities between them, making it difficult to define modern French design.

I do have one more lead to go on, and that is a somewhat close examination of a couple of more recent French industrial designers. Alain Silberstein started his career as an interior designer, but since 1987 has become the watch industry’s sweetheart. Alain Silberstein is still alive, so there is an unsurprising lack of academic writings on him. However, there are a couple interviews from two watch enthusiast journalist platforms. Jon Bues from Hodinkee and Felix Scholz from Grail Watch both have had the opportunity of a lifetime to interview Silberstein, and both have concluded that Alain Silberstein is just getting started. Through these interviews I have learned that Alain Silberstein follows the Bauhaus teachings, and the design style of the Memphis Group from the 80s. 

A quick online search reveals that the Memphis Group was an Italian design group, and they basically formed all the stereotypes of the design of the 1980s. A longer online search however reveals that the Memphis Group like many modern art movements were fragile and not well liked in their time. The story goes an architect named Ettore Sottsass wanted to discuss the future of design and invited a group of young designers and architects all to be in one room and create the design language for the modern age. (Wikipedia) The group was born in 1980, and Sottsass left in 1985 before the group would disband fully in 1987. During the groups life however they made a lasting impact, many critics at the time described the Memphis Group’s furniture as loathed or “a shotgun wedding between Bauhaus and Fisher-Price.” (Wikipedia) This design of asymmetry and contrasting colors does live on and did define the design of the 80s. Most importantly, however, plenty of its influence does live on in the watchmaking and clock designs of Alain Silberstein.

In his interview with Grail Watch Silberstein claims that the Bauhaus is a teaching style, not a design style. That is a perspective I have not thought about before, but it makes sense. Many designers have tried to reinterpret Bauhaus design, but you can’t reinterpret design from a teaching style. In both his interviews with Grail Watch and Hodinkee Silberstein reveals his love for the Bauhaus graduate Wassily Kandinsky, who set up a questionnaire to determine that connection between primary colors and shapes. Kandinsky didn’t find any conclusive connection, but when Alain Silberstein first started designing watches, he took the questionnaire and determined his own personal connection. Silberstein’s designs feature the yellow circle, red triangle, and blue square prominently, and not just those shapes but the variations, typically the hands on his watches include a yellow “squiggle” a red triangle and a blue rectangle. Alain Silberstein typically designs watches for the most expensive of luxury brands, the type that call their watches “Horological Machines.” Even today this suggests that French designers still prefer one-of-a-kind art for art’s sake, not for industry. 

As if his perspective needed anymore explaining Alain Silberstein even compares himself to sculptors and painters in the Hodinkee interview: “Do you ask a painter or a sculptor who is their customer? I am designing watches for me. And it’s a true quest for harmony in the watch. There is a moment when you are doing a painting or a sculpture when you have to stop.” Alain Silberstein is a brilliant designer, but he’s more of a fine artist. 

The other French design I want to highlight is a legend among any professional designer, Philippe Starck. Phillippe Starck as a household name started when he worked at Adidas (Wikipedia) but founded his own design firm and nowadays designs Yachts and luxury hotels. I am not fond of this kind of designer and honestly when looking at his designs I can’t really find much in common between them, but he is a designer from France and has a long career of stereotypical luxury design. It is interesting, however, that he designed the interior of the International Space Stations housing module, and disappointing that he worked with a 3D software company to design a chair with the help of Artificial Intelligence. This is par for the course of successful designers, designing stuff for the sake of being cool rather than for the sake of being useful, which goes against my personal idea of design, but it again supports the argument that throughout much of French culture, design for industry and for general use has been, and unfortunately still is looked down on.

It seems that time is up, and I have not answered the question I posed. At least, just reading essays and sections of books isn’t enough. I hope that being immersed in Paris will lead to new discoveries, what do their buildings look like, what is their current fashion, and it’s not like Paris doesn’t have plenty of decorative design museums. For now, it feels. conclusive that trying to fit the enormity of French artistry isn’t so simple, and there isn’t an incredibly visible style. One could say that today many French watches happen to be sport watches, but there are also many dress watches from these French brands. Alain Silberstein has taken influence from and Italian design movement, and a painter from the Bauhaus movement, whereas Phillippe Starck has been designing yachts and luxury hotels, hardly for the common “citoyen” if you ask me. 

The last great design movement from France was the Art Déco, which I truly adore but it wasn’t until this project that I learned the Art Déco came from France in the first place. As with any and all cultures, this isn’t forever. Maybe, with the rise of new French watch companies they will stop trying to define design, and actually design. Or maybe design in itself will fall out of fashion, for any combination of reasons be it social, political, or economic. As of right now, French design might be defined by individual artists, underdogs if you will, who refuse to give into the big bad industry, constantly making beautiful art that doesn’t quite fall in line with each other, a lack of a unified design language. Or maybe this design has been in front of my face this entire time and I have been geographically too far away to see it.

Bibliography:

Aguillaume, Cécile THE SWISS WATCHMAKING INDUSTRY FACED WITH GLOBALISATION IN THE 1970s,Icon, Vol. 12 (2006) pp. 190-217 JSTOR

Aynsley, Jeremy “Gebrauchsgraphik” as an Early Graphic Design Journal. 1924-1938, Journal of Design History, Vol.5 No. 1 (1992) Design Issues, Vol.17, No. 1 (Winter 2001) pp. 53-72 JSTOR

Hunter, Penelope Art Deco: The Last Hurrah The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, New Series, Vol. 30, No.6 (1972) pp. 257-267 JSTOR

Keefe, John The Art Nouveau in Belgium and France 1885-1915 Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago (1973-1982), Vol. 70, No. 5 (Sep. – Oct., 1976), pp. 2-7

Landes, S. David Watchmaking: A case Study in Enterprise and Change. Business History Review, Vol. 53 No.1 (Spring 1979) Humanities Source

Laurent, Stéphane Why a Culture of Design in France Never Took Off. Design Issues, Vol 28, No 2 (Spring 2012) p. 72-77 Humanities Source

Lamard, Pierre WORLDWIDE PHENOMENON AND TRANSFERS OF TECHNOLOGY: SWISS AND FRENCH WATCH MAKING IN THE FACE OF THE CENTENNIAL EXHIBITION OF PHILADELPHIA.(1876) pp. 33-42 JSTOR

McDonald, Gay Selling the American Dream: MoMA, Industrial Design and Post-War France. Journal of Design History, Vol. 17 No.4 (2004) pp. 397-412 JSTOR and Historical Abstracts Archive

Roxanne Jubert and John Cullars, The Bauhaus Context: Typography and Graphic Design in France. Design Issues, Vol. 22, No.4 (Autumn 2006) pp. 66-80 JSTOR

Scott, Katie Art and Industry: A Contradictory Union: Authors, Rights and Copyrights during the Consulat.Journal of Design History, Vol.13, No.1 (2000) pp. 1-21 JSTOR and Historical Abstracts Archive

Schwartz, Vanessa R. Modern France: A very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press 2011

Silberstein, Alain. “Living Colour: The Life and Legacy of Alain Silbertsein” Interview by Felix Scholz. Grail Watch, April 26, 2022. Written. https://grailwatch.com/blogs/journal/living-colour-the-life-and-legacy-of-alain-silberstein

Silberstein, Alain “The 80’s Design Iconoclast Who Would Not Be Put In A Box” Interview by Jon Beus. Hodinkee, March 5, 2021. Written. https://www.hodinkee.com/articles/the-80s-design-iconoclast-who-would-not-be-put-in-a-box

Wikipedia contributors, “Philippe Starck,”  Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Philippe_Starck&oldid=1202889600 (accessed February 20, 2024).

Wikipedia contributors, “Memphis Group,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memphis_Group (accessed March 4, 2024).

Wikipedia contributors, “Jean Prouvé,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Prouvé (accessed March 5, 2024)

Wikipedia contributors, “Charlotte Perriand,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlotte_Perriand (accessed March 5, 2024)

Toxic Design Culture

Okay so what is design culture, and what is ‘toxic’ design culture? Unlike my next post, I don’t have any real academic journals to back up any arguments present, but I do have my experience and I will always have an inherent disgust for capitalism and wasteful consumerism. Design is incredibly complicated and fluid, changing depending on the designer and the desired outcome, for me design is about making lives better. For this reason I believe that design is and will always be necessary, but I argue that it is difficult to truly make our modern lives better through design, not impossible, just requires more complex thought. That leads to today, where design is more about the hype and profit margins and brands like Teenage Engineering or Apple exist, but the actual products have so many flaws for no real reason, hence, “Toxic Design Culture.”

I truly believe that the future is boring, flying cars are dumb for every reason, cities are constantly investing in dumb “tallest skyscraper” type projects and don’t even get me started on crypto. All of these ideas make the future exciting, so they make money, so the consumer is taught to fall in love. Many of the most world famous designers love to flex their skill with designing the most luxurious hotels, yachts, and watches. While these technical projects can be really cool and push architecture forward they are also a waste of time and money. When we could build infrastructure for healthy and sustainable farming or proper socialized healthcare in the US, many governments invest this potentially useful money into tax breaks for the rich first of all, but also in dumb passion projects that only look cool. I mean, how many times have tech bros tried to reinvent the train with stupid pods and vacuum chambers? This global dick size contest is all about trying to force the future to be pretty with, at the very least, flashy designs while not putting in proper work and money to actually design a good future.

This idea of a pretty outside but rotten insides is exactly what the Gilded Age was, and unfortunately makes great marketing for larger, often tech, companies. The MacBook Air I am currently typing on is so beautiful and thin and sure pretty good quality (unlike a certain design focused tech company also on the chopping block) but all of these devices are so insanely unrepairable, its almost as if Apple doesn’t want the consumer, who in many cases owns their device flat-out, to actually touch the thing. There are edge cases, like if I am paying off my phone or computer where I don’t actually own the device, therefore I shouldn’t be able to open, but in large all of the tamper stickers large companies are so fond of are borderline, if not fully, illegal. The worst offender, however, is Teenage Engineering. This brand started off with affordable and beautifully designed audio products but has ventured into the luxury audio space with their field line. I love myself an OP-1 but Teenage Engineering’s products have such a long history of poor quality control that it feels like a mistake to invest into a thousand dollar midi-keyboard. The EP-133, or K.O. II at first looked like a truly great music making device, but as soon as it actually got into consumers hands it turned out to be basically pre production hardware sold at a profit. All of these beautiful modern devices are so ugly on the inside, and the obvious answer is that these companies need to preserve their profit margins, but it’s difficult to come up with any reasonable answer to why this is the state of modern design legends.

So how does this relate to modern watchmaking? The fashion watch. Plain and simple many fashion watches from Fossil and associates take advantage of the trendy Scandinavian design language to make a watch that looks minimalist and cool, but just put cheap nondescript movement inside and sell it at a relative premium an you have a successful business. Arguably less ethically are the big luxury fashion brands who use the same techniques as Fossil, but just slap their name on the watch and charge even higher in some cases. To this day I haven’t found a watch that perfectly fits the aesthetic I enjoy so much, and it’s easy to say that if I want it done right I have to do it myself, but I’m still in college, my freshman year no less. This is where I’m stumped, why are there so few Scandinavian watches that work as well as they look, I can think of one brand that get’s close, Nezumi, but nothing that’s quite there yet. Are watches enthusiasts just too niche and traditional?

Someday I will revisit this topic, when I have more years of experience but for now I feel it is incredibly important to criticize the current toxic design culture, and the modern gilded age. Someday I will have a better grasp on sociology and will be able to connect firmly art issues with social issues, but for now I will just rage at the machine and hope someone hears me. That’s all for now folks, and keep an eye out for my next post, it’ll be a doozy.

Contemplating Design and the new Vintage

By no means am I prepared to write a fully academic article on culture of this scale, but I do have some thoughts and some background knowledge from a bigger project I am currently working on. For a while, or at least as long as I have been into watchmaking culture, vintage watches have been in style, the Tudor Blackbay 58, micro-brands like Baltic 1, the list goes on and I haven’t even really started. This trend can very easily be used to argue that watch companies are getting lazy right now, however I don’t see it that way. Modern culture is looking back, absolutely, and we are currently looking back with an intensity not really before seen, but that still isn’t the whole picture.

First let’s have an unprepared history lesson, Europe’s history is far from sunshine and rainbows, but it is history nonetheless and we need to get some things right. Fashion first truly began with Louis XIV, or The Sun King. The details aren’t really important but King Louis XIV was a big fan of the arts he was a dancer himself and eventually through royal decrees created the idea of fashion, which has now snowballed into the wastefulness of fast fashion that brands like H&M or Primark or Shein currently rest in. The other historical context on fashion has to do with colonization and ancient Greece. Ancient Greek art was beautiful and colorful, but so much of that original art has been whitewashed, all of the color stripped away, today it’s unfortunately all to popular that Greek art was “pure” and white natural marble 2. This idea has been perpetuated largely because of colonization. When European countries started colonizing African countries, they found lots of color in these cultures art, colors that European countries have gotten tired of. Therefore in the eyes of colonizers and white supremacists, they were more advanced and civilized than any African country. If you haven’t picked up on this, these ideas are extremely racist, and even if you want to ignore history, everything is about race.

Watches weren’t the center of that paragraph for good reason, much to the dismay of every hardcore enthusiast, their hobby isn’t the center of everything, their hobby revolves around the center of everything this includes watch enthusiasts. I see many commenters complaining about faux patina, whether it be the lume, or the dials, on top of that many commenters don’t like smaller watches. To give those folks the benefit of the doubt, some people genuinely prefer larger watches, and many watch brands are reinterpreting old designs instead of creating new watches, that’s not the case across the board. Look at the micro-brands like Baltic, they make vintage inspired watches but these designs are far from a simple reissue. Their latest release, the Prismic is incredible, and looks like nothing else on the modern market.

Okay finally after some background information and important historical context, let’s get to the actual point. watchmaking is always sort of looking back, but what if that’s not the whole story. Brown is just a little out of style right now but a few years ago it was THE color, and now purple is slowly coming back into style. What if watch brands aren’t being only lazy, after all there are more brands doing unique interesting stuff than their are surviving solely off of old designs. While yes, currently we are looking back in time, vinyl record and tape players are making a comeback, vintage stores are more popular than ever, but there is plenty off new in the world, especially where it counts 3. The reason I got into watches was because I am tired of the constant consumer culture surrounding technology, phones that only last a few years and such. Yes many enthusiasts do have a point, complaining about reissues instead of new ideas, but I think they are missing an important perspective, culture is moving forward in ways that don’t need new watches, but new watches do persist, just take the Formex Essence, which I like to think of as the most modern mechanical watch. Maybe, just maybe watches are looking to the future, the future is just more boring than some want. Vintage is in style today, but more than that color is in style, some people don’t like those colors and that’s okay, but that doesn’t mean designers are lazy or we are slowing down.

  1. Mon amour ↩︎
  2. Alt-Right Twitter debate-bros ↩︎
  3. 15 minute cities, not whatever the hell Apple is doing ↩︎

It’s Finally Here: Baltic Prismic

French watchmaking is fascinating to me, I just don’t know much about it 1 and honestly I don’t think anyone else does either. Right now I am in college and currently undertaking a massive project trying to create a stereotype of French design and in particular French watchmaking. later this year I will be experiencing France for myself, but for now I think Baltic has just given me a huge breakthrough with this watch. I am henceforth declaring the Baltic Prismic the most French watch in their collection. When this watch was first released it was pretty obvious we were getting a new dress watch, but what style was it going to be 2? What colors were going to be chosen? And was I going to truly enjoy this new watch? Rest assured I will try on this watch 3, but for now I think the pictures, surprisingly, actually do this watch justice. Before we truly get started, this is not a review, I do not have the watch in hand, and all pictures come straight from Baltic’s website. Cheers!4

Side Profile of the Baltic Prismic

As of my last post, the dial was the biggest mystery 5, and I truly think it was worth the wait. This dial really shows the craftsmanship that Baltic currently has, especially for such a young brand, there is a wide variety of finishing that goes great with the case. Guilloche, grainy, brushed, and that’s just the solid color of the dial. Speaking of the color of the dial, Baltic gives us four options, and all four of them are beautiful. The purple 6 is my favorite but there is also a copper, a grey-ish blue, and a green. Honestly the green variation is the only one I’m not in love with, at least in the photos. To accent the color and multiple sections of the dial, there are also raised silver indices and borders separating certain sections of the watch. Honestly, I don’t want to explain all of the details on this watch because, it feels like a spoiler. If you look at the watch yourself, you can explore it with your own eyes 7, and that’s going to be much more fun. This watch is sold with three straps, the integrated mess strap, and two curved leather straps, one in tan/brown and the other in black.

Close up of the dial

Now is for the less fun part, this watch is far from perfect. I had some pretty high expectations, and they were almost fulfilled but the 30 meters of water resistance and the crown give me pause. While I wasn’t expecting anything more than 50 meters of water resistance, I was hoping for it. This is a dress watch first 8 and since I wasn’t expecting anything out of the ordinary it’s far from a dealbreaker, but a girl can dream 9? The second “source of imperfection 10” is the crown, it’s not bad, but I would have preferred it to be a bit more of an onion style crown. Partially because I love onion crowns, but also I think the whole Art Deco vibe Baltic has going on for the dial would have been complimented well by a taller and rounder crown.

Peseux 7001 Movement

I do love this watch, and unless anyone releases anything cooler, this will be my first mechanical watch. While Baltic’s watches have been getting more and more impressive over the years, this one feels like it’s on a whole new level.

  1. German design, however ↩︎
  2. The sector dial was *almost* a given ↩︎
  3. As well as their entire collection, I won’t limit myself ↩︎
  4. Don’t worry, I’m not actually British ↩︎
  5. The crown didn’t help much either ↩︎
  6. Duh? ↩︎
  7. Besides, I may buy this watch for my own review purposes. ↩︎
  8. Points for a screw down caseback ↩︎
  9. The bill comes due ↩︎
  10. Too minor to be a problem ↩︎

Has Baltic done it?

For a while I have been saving up, and trying to decide, what my first premium watch will be. As of last night I was pretty confident in what that watch will be, 1 but it looks like Baltic has other ideas. Just this morning Baltic released a new post on Instagram 2 and updated their website to reveal the silhouette of a new watch, let’s go over the information we have. This watch will be in my sweet spot for sizing, 36mm diameter, 44mm lug to lug length, it will be 7.4mm tall without the crystal, 9.2mm with the glass. It will make use of an ETA/Peseux 7001 hand wound movement with a small seconds sub-dial 3. This new collection looks like it will have a variety of impressive finishing throughout the case, and it will be made out of steel and titanium 4. I promise we are almost done here, the watch will start under 1000 euro on a leather strap and finally, the watch will come in four dial colors (one will be purple 5) and will start with a 10 day pre-order period, the first 100 will be labeled, and eventually will be in the permanent collection without the pre-order guff 6. I can’t describe how incredibly excited I am for this release, we don’t even know what the dial will look like yet but I can tell it is going to be incredibly beautiful 7. Somehow this watch comes out in only three more days but we already have most of the information about this watch, I would say I hope this watch will live up to my expectations but let’s be honest with ourselves, it will be, I don’t need to hope. I’ll be back on February 15th to gush all about the new Baltic, don’t you worry.

One of Baltic’s three teaser silhouette images their website
  1. Farer my beloved ↩︎
  2. They changed their profile picture a month-ish before, called it! ↩︎
  3. The best complication, fight me ↩︎
  4. Delicious ↩︎
  5. Sounds familiar, I’m not complaining ↩︎
  6. I don’t have enough money to be first in line… ↩︎
  7. My favorite color! ↩︎

Timex Releases an Original Watch!

That’s right folks, you heard it here first, or fifth depending on how loyal you are*. The next watch Timex has decided to release in their popular Marlin collection is a sleek Jet-Age inspired daily wear-er. Erin Wilborn’s article on Hodinkee was great, even if I am a bit too young for the Jetson’s**. I would say this is an insta buy, but it is a Timex***.

*You wouldn’t really read other blogs now would you?

**I am a bit too young for anything to do with the 60’s really.

***See Ben’s Watch Club’s: “They Butchered The Most Beautiful Timex!”

The Best Watches of 2024!

Hard to believe it’s only been three days but Teddy Baldassarre has already released multiple posts of his favorite watches of 2024*!

*He just slightly changed his posts from 2023, 2022, and before calm down everyone

Announcement!

So I know I haven’t been very consistent with this blog here, but effective today I’m taking a an official break to work on another project. It’s not related to watches in any way but it is very close to my life. I don’t know how long it will last and I may occasionally post normal pieces if something really tickles my fancy but I need to focus on this bigger project. Stay tuned as I will be posting status updates here occasionally. Catch you later!

Ribbon

They / She

The new Nivada Grenchen, sort of

If you want a vintage styled premium watch I can’t think of a better brand to look at the Nivada Grenchen. Not only do they make watches that are wholly true to their vintage styling, but Nivada Grenchen also has the heritage to boot. Thank you Denis Peshkov, for making my first premium watch purchase even more difficult.

The age old battle: Rolex v Grand Seiko

I don’t actually have much negative to say about this article, it’s all just history of two great watch brands*. Mark Bernardo doesn’t take a side here, but I have a feeling everyone else will, including me. In case you’re too lazy to read the article** it’s just a comparison of the two brand’s collections, Rolex watches are great but too expensive***. Grand Seiko watches are cool but too big, and I’m still waiting for the right one before I would consider saving up for one.

*Grand Seiko is cooler than the other, sorry I don’t make the rules I just follow them

**Really? Why are you even following this blog if you don’t like reading?

***If only they were a quarter of the price I would buy one.

My love hate relationship with luxury continues

I really do hate luxury-luxury, not the Nomos Club Campus, but like Cartier. But I cannot deny my love for weirdo asymmetric watch designs, mostly because of the Salvador Dali melting clocks painting that probably served as the inspiration for the Cartier Crash*. Sylvain Bergeron, creative director of Breitling, and his wife Marie-Alix Bergeron have set out to create another melting watch! I hate it, but I love it so is the life of an artist**.

*My beloved

**Yes, I am getting ahead of myself, and no, I have no shame

James Bond got tired of his Seamaster

Daniel Craig attended the Planet Omega event in New Work this weekend and it seems like, along with his frankly adorable glasses, he was spotted with a brand new unreleased Speedy*. It looks to be based off of the Alaska Project Speedmaster without the aluminum outer shell**, and I do like it. It’s a real shame I already have a Speedmaster otherwise I would rush out day one to buy this!***

*Sorry dad, you can’t stop me

**Maybe the packaging will be based off of the original casing

***I would not rush out, I do not have the money and mine is a MoonSwatch

The new Marinemaster is so close

Seiko just announced a new smaller revival of the Marinemaster. For me, it’s too expensive*, but for others the 200m depth of water resistance is not enough. This watch does look beautiful, but it doesn’t have tool free micro adjustment** and I understand why people are disappointed about the water resistance. Oh and also, I agree with you Anthony Traina, the printing on the back of an exhibition case back is tacky***.

*$2,800 (I give up)

**Again, $2,800

*** Have I mentioned it costs $2,800 yet?

Bell & Ross goes less subtle.

Erik Slaven from Monochrome Watches breaks the news on this new limited edition version of the Bell & Ross BR-X5 which is…

actually gorgeous, I don’t love Bell & Ross for the usual reasons, their main design is based off of military instruments and what-not. Despite that the BR-X5 actually looks pretty solid by itself*, and with a tastefully properly lumed case, I don’t actually want to be snarky**.

*Solid for a luxury watch at least

** Okay, I lied, sue me

The Subjective Truth of Watchmaking

I love watches, I really do but we need to discuss some of these consequences of not the hobby, but of the wider industry. Buckle up this will be a tough read, but it’s also only my opinion hence the subjective truth of watchmaking. Hobbies never have to be logical, they are only for us as the individual, but some hobbies are are still more reasonable than others, and there is an immense amount of privilege to be able to collect own any watches, even if it is a Casio. Now I don’t want to write any more scholarly essays than I currently have too, but I do want to share these thoughts.

While I can’t actually confirm this is true, it does check out, but it is all too easy to draw a connection between the rise of the wristwatch and the rise of the dangerous hustle culture and prompted almost entirely by the industrial revolution. Right now I am taking a class about French history, and sure it’s mostly about Parisian art, but we have been touching a little bit on the French revolution and it is important to mention during this time of revolutions it became more and more important to the powers in control that the working class stays on time. Am I looking too deep into this connection? Potentially, I certainly don’t have any sources to site but in all my conversations about the dangers of captalism, in all of my research and classes about early forms of capitalism, there is a connection between modern industry and the push for the ever accurate time piece.

Watchmaking is an interesting career, and the community that built themselves around collecting watches is even more so. I don’t like to really call myself a watch enthusiast because I don’t agree with much of this community. It’s not bad in any way to appreciate the art of watchmaking, the precision to create these timepieces is fascinating, and the design work that goes into them is even more so. On top of all of that, the history of all of the watches that go have gone up to the moon or go down to the Mariana trench is really really cool, for lack of a better term, I don’t want to take that away, but maybe in a world with two atomic clocks on my lap, we need to reevaluate the importance placed on heritage.

The latest MB&F doesn’t look like a penis!

Okay, I know they only have one “Horological Machine”* that looks like that but it isn’t like the rest look that much better. The HM11 is “…not a far cry from Matti Suuronen’s Futuro house – the Finnish designer’s 1970 fiberglass-reinforced plastic design – which was met with some of the same hostility (or at least incredulousness) I often see for MB&F’s HMs” – Hodinkee’s Mark Kauzlarich. Do I need to say it? It’s a beautiful piece of art** but the cost, the “Horological Machine” all of it is so disgusting. It’s better to just ignore any watch above five grand, if you ask me***.

*Call it what it is, don’t call it an eggplant emoji

**I do have respect for the arts, but I still have my limits

***5k conveniently cuts off just below Omega