Max Bill Story
Max Bill was one of the principals of the Bauhaus design movement as an artist, architect, painter, sculptor, and a product designer. At the age of 16, he began his training as a silversmith at the School of Applied Arts in Zurich and had two of his student works selected for exhibition at the “Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs” in Paris. His personality as a growing artist and independent spirit had him expelled after only three years. He took his winnings from a poster contest with the Suchard chocolate manufacturer and moved to Dessau to join up with the work of the Bauhaus school. He studied for two years under the likes of Albers, Kandinsky, Klee, Moholy-Nagy and Schlemmer and carried the theory of minimalist design and principles of ethical art that he gained throughout his career.
In the 1950s Max Bill was invited to collaborate with German watchmaker Junghans, on a number of timepieces including wall clocks and watches. Max Bill and his students at Ulm designed the now famous ceramic “Max Bill Kitchen Clock” in 1956 that exemplified the clear philosophy of form follows function. The clock was bright and cheerful, but also highly functional with a built-in timer and a clean, minimalist design that prized legibility and quality.
The Original Küchenuhr
Max Bill had a weak spot for watches and clocks, as he explained “This must have been because one of my grandfathers was a watchmaker and we had beautiful old watches at home…….. Two of these clocks were especially dear to me from childhood on: a wall clock and a pocket watch. …… Again and again I had to compare all the clocks I came across with these two clocks from my youth. And only very rarely did I find clocks that could stand the comparison.”
When asked about the design, Max commented, “It was clear: the clock needs to have numbers: the hours on the minute tracks – and the minutes on the short timer. Why? The kitchen clock is often the only wall clock in the household. It teaches children to tell the time, to read the first numbers, the order of hour and day. And it should be bright and friendly, like beautiful dishes.”
Junghans manufactured thousands of Max Bill kitchen clocks, and they were commonly seen in German households. However, finding a pristine example now is considered a rare collector’s item.
In 2021, Junghans relaunched the original Max Bill collaboration Kitchen Clock from 1956 in light blue ceramic with a white glazed dial and featuring the gorgeous typography developed by Max Bill.
The case is crafted in ceramic in a cheerful light blue with a glossy glaze finish. Surrounding the dial is a thin chrome-plated bezel so reminiscent of the 1950s aesthetic. Behind the domed sapphire crystal, the dial is a clean white glazed surface with very little decoration or distracting detail. The black hands are minimal and precise, pointing out the stylized hour numerals that Max Bill first designed in 1956 for the original clock. An uncomplicated minutes track is printed just inside the bezel. The Junghans logo, printed just above the center of the dial, completes the quiet and purposeful design.
The case is elongated to include room for a mechanical 60-minute timer just below the dial, elevating the wall clock to another valuable kitchen tool. The clock is available in a choice of two movements. The first is the regular quartz-based J738, featured regularly in Junghans and Max Bill clocks. For those that want the next level of precision and reliability, another version uses the Junghans J761 movement which is radio-controlled and syncs within a 1,200 mile radius with the DCF77 time code transmitter in Germany.
A Timeless Classic
The reissued Max Bill Kitchen Clock would be a charming, vintage-inspired addition to any kitchen. As was intended, this wall clock provides the utility of a timer for cooking and accurate timekeeping as well as being attractive retro art for any kitchen.
It’s clear that Max created his designs with a timeless appeal, and he would be delighted to see how people around the globe continue to appreciate his thoughtful approach to form and function. In Max’s words “for us it has become self-evident that it can no longer be a question of developing beauty from function alone, but we demand beauty as equal to function, that it be equally a function.”
In the case of the Max Bill Kitchen Clock, form and function have come together to create a beautiful and useful tool for any home.
References: 377/1100.00 (Radio-controlled); 362/1100.00 (Quartz)
Case: Glazed light blue ceramic, chromed bezel (180mm x 252 mm x 56mm)
Movement: Radio-controlled movement J761 (reception from time signal transmitter DCF77 for Europe); Quartz movement J738
Functions: Hour, Minutes and mechanical 60 minute kitchen timer
Price: Radio-controlled version: USD 600; Quartz version: USD 550