The art of watch collaborations


By Deepa Narwani

When it comes to creativity, two heads are often better than one. Deepa Narwani reports on the influx of watch brands teaming up with everything from fast cars to fictional cats to create must-have limited runs.

If there is on thing that will guarantee a fashion watch collection flying out the door, it is the whiff of a collaboration, particularly if the collaborator happens to have a following in a field other than watches.

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The links between fashion designers and watch brands have been forged in steel – and plastic, and probably even gold – long ago, with the concept of fashion houses teaming up with watch companies spinning out into a whole product division of its own. Michael Kors, Calvin Klein, Versace, Dior, Armani, Hugo Boss; most major fashion labels have some sort of spin off.

But that’s not to say that a one-off collaboration with fashion designer can’t be exciting, as Swatch’s recent hook up with Chinese fashion designer Uma Wang for its Art and Fashion offshoot has proved, it just needs to offer that something special that will send the fashion bloggers erupting straight into accessory heaven.

Wang’s designs convey her love of contrasting textures and materials, the mix of subtle and flashy colours, and a love of prints, and while these fairly traditional inspirations have led to fresh, graphic print designs that are wholly commercial as well as interesting from a design perspective, what is truly intriguing from Wang is an oversized black satin watch – oversized in the proportions of the strap not the case size – that has been designed to mimic an evening bag draping over the wrist.

But watch collaborations are no longer restricted to tie-ins with fashion houses. Watch brands are casting a much wider net, searching for less obvious choices from the worlds of film, music and art.

This year Nooka has collaborated with the world’s most loved cartoon cat Hello Kitty for a limited edition run. Nooka’s patented Zirc display has been taken over by Hello Kitty with a silkscreen-printed graphic dial set against a white polyurethane strap.

Nooka founder Matthew Waldman says that there is a huge personal satisfaction as a designer to be able to work with an admired brand as it gives access to a new audience on many levels. “This collaboration is a truly unique watch,” he enthuses. “It presents numerous talking points to engage a customer. I am often asked in interviews the question ‘what do you consider great design?’ to which I usually answer, the international airport in Hong Kong and Hello Kitty. I believe this got me on their radar and Sanrio reached out to my office in Tokyo.”

The watch is targeted towards the fashionable crowd and Waldman says that the timepiece has enjoyed success in the US, Japan and Singapore.

Fashion watch brand O Spot has also been trawling through comic books for inspiration and landed a contract with Disney to create a series of interchangeable watches.

Rather than aim the range at children, which might have been the obvious choice for such a collaboration, O Spot is pitching the watches at adults. Its designers have created a contemporary adult theme that use sketches of the popular characters rather than direct images. These characters immortalised on O Sport watches include Mickey, Minnie, Pluto and Goofy, with more than 29 colour options.

Back at Swatch, the brand has released a limited-edition watch this year that features a cartoon character called Little Idiot. But rather than being plucked out of a cartoon publisher’s archives this collaboration has another facet; the alien character was actually drawn by recording artist Moby.

This watch has been limited to 7,777 pieces and is sold in packaging with prints of Moby’s hand-drawn Little Idiot character, who has previously cropped up in his music videos.

“I started drawing cartoon characters in the mid 80s when I worked in an underground record store,” reveals Moby. “Every bag that left the store had a drawing on it, and one of my jobs was to draw the cartoons on the bags. And since then the little cartoon characters have just taken on lives of their own. These watches have given a new context to the Little Idiot drawings and I really love the finished results.”

The colour palette features blue, white and a dash of yellow across plastic and silicone surfaces. Bold, quirky and fun, this watch would make an enticing purchase for a music lover.

In-keeping with the music theme, New York-based Flud Watches has collaborated with American singer, songwriter and producer Mayer Hawthorne for its special edition Tableturners timepiece. The watch features a heart shape on the dial, which is a symbol that he has often used throughout his career.

So that’s music covered, but what about film? Well the biggest blockbuster of the year has just hit the big screen with Christian Bale in the lead as Batman in Dark Knight Rises and watch brands have been quick to hitch a lift on that bandwagon.

At the fashion end of the market Diesel has created limited-edition watches based on Batman and villain Bane, played in the film by Tom Hardy. The timepieces are set to hit stores in October, timed to coincide with the DVD release of the film (yes, it’s going to DVD that quickly).

The all-black watches are perfect for the fashion-conscious shoppers, but for the luxury-loving Batman fans Jaeger-LeCoultre has created a special edition of its iconic Reverso that has been embellished with the equally iconic Bat Shield logo, which is only visible when it is reversed. And to seal the deal nicely, we should probably mention that Bruce Wayne himself dons a Reverso in Dark Knight Rises.

Surprisingly this is not the first time that Jaeger-LeCoultre has succumb to the powers of the Dark Knight; 17 years ago the limited Reverso Grande Taille series was created with the Batman logo engraved and lacquered on its solid caseback.

Swapping artists of the silver screen for artists of the computer screen, Swatch has teamed up with a series of graphic designers to create a range of quirky watches called The Graphic Designers Collection.

The range includes watches created by Italian designer Lorenzo Petrantoni who has created five monochromatic models. Using a stark palette of black and white, he uses an array of illustrative patterns and motifs, which he achieves by reassembling cut-outs from old books, almost like a contemporary form of patchwork.

“The watches were designed with decorations, characters and letters and symbols that date back to the 19th century,” explains Petrantoni. “For me it has been a fascinating, surprising and original project. The idea was to give life to characters and objects from our past once more, while they are often forgotten in dusty bookshops, and to make them modern and aesthetically beautiful.”

The Graphic Designers Collection also includes a collaboration with Japanese artist Hideaki Kawashima, who uses stylised images of women, portraying them as enigmatic and mysterious creatures. “When I designed these two wristwatches, I envisaged them having the character of a strange creature entwining around one’s arm, just like someone’s loving pet,” says Kawashima.

Taking us back to the birth of graphic design is RJ-Romain Jerome, which has created a watch based on the hit 1980s computer game Space Invaders, a move prompted by chief executive Manuel Emch’s past life as a game addict. This watch has, as all RJ-Romain Jerome watches have, a secret, very special element – it has been made using fragments of spaceship Apollo II.

Be it film, fashion, cartoons or even vintage computer games the world of watch collaborations is growing, just like its fan base.

This article was taken from the August 2012 issue of WatchPro magazine. To view a digital version of the magazine click here.



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