Watches of the Future

“Foresight is the key to survival in a world of disruptive innovation,” explains Tim Mach from The World Future Society. There are many secrets to success, but one of the most critical skills in today’s fast-moving world is being able to predict what lies ahead, a skill that was previously the domain of Mystic Meg and her crystal ball, while today it is referred to as strategic foresight or future science. This new discipline is becoming increasingly popular as businesses study alternative futures so that companies can navigate change swiftly and efficiently, making the right decisions at the right time.

So what is the destiny of horology? Will we all be wearing wristwatches connected to the Internet, or will connected watches remain a niche in the market like fitness watches? Will we have both a fine timepiece and a connected watch, or will the master watchmakers of tomorrow find a way to offer us complications with applications? It is all largely guesswork right now, so we decided to ask a panel of designers to come up with some alternative future timepieces for what you may be wearing in the year 2050.

Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man

Octavio Garcia

When I started to ask Switzerland’s top watch designers whether they would be interested in my editorial project to imagine the watch of the future, most of them were either too busy or too wary that someone might steal their ideas. And the question of doing a quick sketch, as I was optimistically calling it, was rapidly pointed out to me as being anything but a “quick” affair.

So it was with a little trepidation that I ran my idea by Octavio Garcia, who was Chief Artistic Officer of Audemars Piguet at the time. But Garcia is not your average Swiss designer (he is originally from Chicago for starters), and not only did my idea intrigue him, he also instantly agreed to do me a “quick” sketch… actually he did three, but more of that in a bit.

Garcia was born and raised in the US before coming to Switzerland  to study industrial design at the Art Center College of Design in Vevey. He got his first taste of designing watches with Omega in Bienne before moving to Audemars Piguet in Le Brassus, where he worked for over a decade on all elements of design for the brand, including the famous Royal Oaks, the Millenary Collection and the brand image as a whole.

Garcia loves to sketch, so pen and paper were his medium of choice when communicating his visions for the future of watchmaking. “Drawing, for me, is one of the most important languages of a designer,” he says. “It is a very academic type of sketching, but this is where you can make mistakes, as well as deform and generate many ideas.”

At first glance, his ideas don’t appear to be particularly futuristic, but Garcia believes that the future of haute horlogerie may not necessarily be where we expect it. “I believe that for high-end watchmaking, the watch of the future will continuously push noble materials to the limits in terms of precision and scale. Scale will be a new frontier of experimentation as we will be able to create smaller and smaller things while maintaining the authenticity of true watchmaking by using the same cogs and levers that make it all so magical. We will be able to integrate so much more into a small space,” he notes. “For the exploratory, blue sky ideas of the future, I think people will still need a watch to express themselves, so the watch as we know it will still exist. I have seen ideas where you can have things implanted under your skin and projected onto it, but the watch is an important thing, especially for men, as it is one of the only jewellery pieces that a man can wear.”

For his concept, Garcia presents an elegant, ultra-thin perpetual calendar with a number of fascinating, state-of-the art features. To start, the bezel activates a Full Function Select “gearbox” for intuitive calendar setting at any time of the day. Secondly, both the movement and the case have been manufactured and finished using 3D printer laser technology. Lastly, the crocodile strap features a rubber sheathing – that has also been produced on a 3D printer – whose production follows the scanned dimensions of the client’s wrist for an optimal fit. There is also an innovative magnetic deployment buckle that completes the design. With technology advancing at such a rapid pace, Garcia’s ideas could see the light of day sooner than the year 2050 – we certainly hope so.

Jones & Bowen

British-based Darren Jones and Jonathan Bowen both have Master’s degrees in car design from Coventry University, one of the world’s most recognised universities in the field. From university, they went to the renowned British car-maker Jaguar where they worked under the designer Julian Thomson. From Jaguar, they went on to work for a high-tech facility that created concept cars. Here, they led a number of design projects and were responsible for the creation of three production cars. After a number of years of specialising in car design, the pair decided to extend their creative skills to other luxury products and in 2005 set up their own design consultancy studio: Jones & Bowen.

“Our interest in watches started in the early 2000s with the arrival of concept-type designs, such as Richard Mille and Urwerk. As the watch industry became more competitive and there was an increasing emphasis on design, we felt that our car design skills and background would be attractive to the watch industry, which appeared to lag behind in terms of design,” explains Jones.

Now with extensive experience working in a wide range of industries, Jones & Bowen have worked with niche haute horlogerie brands including Maîtres du Temps and Grönefeld. “We can take a multidisciplinary approach to design, thanks to our experience in a wide range of industries that span everything from automobiles to artisanal leather,” shares Jones. “This cross pollination of practices results in increased creativity, inspiration for ideas and a superior and more fundamental understanding of aesthetics.”

The duo pride themselves on their unique work philosophy: “For design to be full of emotional resonance, a clear branding and design strategy is required,” explains Bowen. “Before lifting a pencil, we first learn about, and immerse ourselves in, the client’s story and intent.
It is our thoroughness at this critical point early in the process that allows the design stage to be more focused and more efficient.”

Between working on two high-performance vehicle projects – one for a Swiss race car chassis designer and the other for a British electric supercar team – as well as working on their own co-owned jewellery brand, XiN with the Cartier-award-winning designer Xin-Ran-Lu, Jones & Bowen agreed to take time out of their busy schedule to brainstorm with us on the future of timekeeping, and their ideas attest to their incredible creativity.

Not content on giving us one design, they provided us with three very unique ideas, the first of which is a biodynamic watch. This intelligent timepiece is part of the nervous system and supports its user by helping to control his or her attitude and appreciation of every given moment. It works metabolically (heart rate monitor and all the usual activity functions) and neurologically (they recently found neurons performing basic cognitive functions in skin and fascia cells), and it is connected to the user’s nervous system through the wrist. It senses solar levels, knows the time and the season, and helps to control the user’s circadian rhythm and govern his or her metabolic rates to ensure overall wellbeing. It judges physical, as well as emotional, stress and helps to control hormonal releases that change levels of attention and focus. It could do more unusual things by affecting the consciousness of the person by raising and lowering the heart rate, or by controlling the release of hormones through subtle beat patterns into the soft tissue, or by emitting a low galvanic charge, for example. This could have a calming effect for relaxation or sleep, or it could bring about a state of hyper-focus on demand. The watch features a three-dimensional holographic display which features a 3D form representing your conscious being.

For their second idea – the Technical Art Piece – Jones & Bowen predict that the mystique of fine watchmaking manufacturing, with its levels of precision and finishing, will be irrevocably eroded by the proliferation of 3D printers, and that by 2050 we will be able to print tourbillons at home. The next type of wristwatch will, therefore, come from a new generation of technology that creates visual effects and more conceptual statements about time. Users will be able to put things like a tiny black hole or a plasma tube torus on their wrist. “The power in a movement isn’t great enough to power or displace much at all at the moment, but once we master the power source, then things are going to get really exciting,” predicts Jones.

The third watch is not a watch at all but a personal drone that flies around the user, monitoring and interacting with him or her. The top of the dial rises up when its name is called and it films and records the user’s life on demand. It could look around corners, act as a personal trainer, run errands and even physically protect its owner.

“I think that our conceptions of time and how we relate to it will change fundamentally in a few decades. I would like to see time less as the measurement of passing time used to manage man, but rather a conscious related technology that enhances our experience of life,” explains Jones.

“It is clear that our lives have and are being radically changed by tech. I think it is rather easy to see where things are going in the short term, being led and driven by a handful of tech companies and supported at a governmental level, personal tech will soon be an integral part of our daily lives. It is for that reason that we expect a counter-culture reaction to this level of tech that will sustain some level of watchmaking,” he concludes.

Kaja Solgaard Dahl and Thomas Missé

There is no better place to start discussing the future of design than with young designers. Kaja Solgaard Dahl from Norway has recently graduated from Lausanne’s University of Art and Design (ECAL) with a Master’s Degree in Design for Luxury and Craftsmanship, while her partner/designer-in-crime, Thomas Missé from France, has just completed internships at Formafantasma and Mathieu Lehanneur and will be finishing his diploma at the Design Academy of Eindhoven later this year.

Together they decided to take a look at the very communication of time by developing a specific language unique to each timepiece. They foresee that the future of haute horlogerie will evolve in a poetic and communicative way, enhanced by the use of precious materials. They have imagined two very different timepieces – the Magnetar and the Lithos – that are aesthetically diverse but that follow the same unique philosophy.

Both timepieces will have elements that change position to indicate the time, but reading them won’t be intuitive like it is with watches with analogue or digital indications. Instead, the wearer will learn how to read the time by understanding the language of his or her watch.

The idea behind the Magnetar is that gemstones on the two white metal disks will shift and change shape indicating time with a system of magnetic mechanics. One side will indicate the day, night and hours, while the other side will represent the minutes. Like with the secret watches of the past, the timepiece looks more like a piece of jewellery than a timepiece, allowing the wearer to discreetly read the time without anyone knowing.

“We imagine that this growth of understanding through time will build a stronger bond with the timepiece, as the reward doesn’t only exist in possessing the object, but that a special relationship will grow as the user understands the specific language of the timepiece, with the owner possibly being the only one able to master it,” explains Solgaard Dahl.

The time on the Lithos is revealed by reading the position of the two precious black stones as they move and tilt across the face of the watch, again creating a very special relationship between the timepiece and its owner. The movement remains mechanical and can be perceived behind the black stones as they shift.

“Discussing the existing world of wristwatches and the future of watchmaking, we believe that the smart watch will continue to evolve in the functional, medical and entertainment domain of watchmaking,” shares Missé, “but we foresee that mechanical watches will develop through poetic, communicative and material values.”

This intriguing concept takes the relationship between the user and his or her luxury timepiece to a whole new level by creating something unique between humans and their timepieces – a true bond.

Alexis Tourron

Alexis Tourron is a Swiss industrial designer and materials researcher from Lausanne who also studied at ECAL, as well as the Kolding Design School in Denmark and the Ecole Supérieure d’Art et de Design d’Orléans in France. His work spans a large range of luxury products, including leather goods, furniture, chinaware, interior swings, a children’s teepee and an interior gardening kit with organic Lego-like bricks.

One of Tourron’s most recent projects was the creation of a luxurious leather backpack called Aventure Romantique. The project was brought to life thanks to an invitation by watchmaker Vacheron Constantin and ECAL to develop an object that would combine Tourron’s artistic creativity with the work of experienced craftsmen. Tourron was one of 12 students selected for the project that saw the creation of a dozen unique objects using traditional artisanal crafts in a contemporary way.

For our watch of the future project, Tourron has developed an idea for a connected timepiece that has tactile and vocal inputs and displays information in a holographic way. The technological evolution of the watch will enable the management and interaction of a person’s surroundings, connecting ecosystems seamlessly. He has started his interpretation of this vision by focusing on the design of the strap and bezel.

Tourron explains his philosophy: “My vision regarding the future of the timepiece begins with an observation based on its heritage: a precious tool used for the organisation and showcase of time. Throughout history, the wristwatch has evolved from a ubiquitous commodity to a luxury object – a mechanism intricately manufactured with time and patience by the highest skilled craftsmen to become a jewel in its own right.”

“In the near future, I imagine that the timepiece will become a true heir of its contemporary status – an accessory that will adopt a new archetype through the advancements of technology, both technically and aesthetically speaking,” he adds.

Tourron is currently setting up his own design consultancy called Officine with studios in both Geneva and Los Angeles. Together with designers Rodrigo Caula and Stefano Panterotto, they pride themselves on taking a contemporary and multidisciplinary approach to design and consulting by creating unique stories and personal experiences for clients and customers through the creation of objects. Their approach places a strong emphasis on aesthetics and emotional impact, with a style bridging between the lines of product and fashion design. A focus on close collaborations with both heritage and luxury brands allows the studio to reinvent and disrupt classic products starting from fresh and unlikely points of view.

Watching the Future

No one knows what the future holds for watchmaking; although, since the launch of the Apple watch, it is certainly one of the watch industry’s hottest subjects for debate. Some watch companies are branching out into their own versions of connectivity, while others are convinced that it won’t change a thing. Maybe in 2050, we can ask our personal drones to predict the future, but, for now, we are just going to have to wait and see.

Back to Top