Many of you might be aware of my historical preoccupation with mechanical watches: it’s arguably what started me photographing seriously in the first place. Which is why after nearly two years in gestation (and just in this form) I’m very proud to present my latest project: the 17.01. It’s the first of a new line of watches designed by me, made in Switzerland and funded by a group of fellow collectors, but brought to life with the aid of individuals who’ve been in the industry for a long time. To avoid the bunch of cliches that are typically used during new watch launches: it’s an honest watch that tells the time reliably and has the benefit of experience behind it – nothing more, nothing less.
In watch collecting, as in photography, you tend to go in a big circle: there’s the endless chase for ‘more’ that inevitably results in either coming to yours senses, or a divorce and bankruptcy. Except in the horological world, the sky’s the limit – the top end of medium format barely scratches the entry point to ‘serious’. But there’s a disconnect here: for the longest time brands have been pushing ‘more is better’ (akin to the camera spec wars) – an unsustainable cycle if there ever was one, even from a creative standpoint. And once you have several of these things, to paraphrase fellow photographer and collector (and reader) Gary Getz: don’t buy a watch you cannot afford to break.
Here was our underlying logic: eventually, all of us in the group have moved back to simpler watches and better satisfaction value for the dollar – and for some in the group, it’s not even remotely a question of affordability, but just rather avoiding the sick feeling of diminishing returns and buyers’ remorse. There tends to be an oddly inverse relationship between satisfaction quantum and duration derived and money spent. Next, design choices have to be made regardless of whether the product is $50 or $500,000; why choose ugly other than out of ignorance or lack of care? Finally, with some intelligent understanding of the production process, materials, components and aesthetics: affordable doesn’t have to equal ugly. Our objective was to create something we’d be happy to wear, without reservations. I’m probably more biased than most, but my prototype hasn’t left my wrist much for the last four months since it arrived.*
*The eagle-eyed will have spotted it at various points in the behind the scenes video for the Koenigsegg shoot.
The upshot to all of this was a very steep learning curve, even though I’ve designed for others and had my own custom pieces made before. In production quantities, it becomes quick to see why certain things are not done: the costs simply add up. We landed up over budget by nearly a factor of 50%, but it was necessary to keep the concept intact and produce something integral rather than clearly compromised. Getting details right is expensive: quick release springbars that are also curved for a better strap-lug fitting, for example, are not easy to find. And to ensure perfect proportions, hands and crown etc. have to be designed and made from scratch (a lot of companies use standard parts catalogs). Even the buckle for the strap has the same level of attention to detail: it holds the strap flat with minimal creasing for both comfort and longevity. And these are the minor details – major ones, like a solid titanium case** – meant complexity in assembly. Our watch loads from the front, and has a functional bezel and special gaskets to prevent the titanium bezel, back and baseband from oxidising themselves fused; we have 100m water resistance because there’s a triple set of gaskets in the crown, and a much thicker sapphire crystal than is usually specified for a watch of this kind. It was of course designed to be used, and deliver confidence to the owner.
**Spacer rings common to most watches because the dial is larger than the movement diameter, and it’s simpler to assemble by loading the dial/movement from the back of the watch in one piece. The spacer ring is required to secure the assembly and prevent it rattling around.
There is/was unquestionably a photographic element to the whole exercise – aside from producing the images myself, having an understanding of light unquestionably contributed to the design process. You are more aware of all visual element – from the way in which different surface finishes interact under different direction and intensity of light, to the fact that some crystal coatings can leave undesirable color shifts due to transmission, to hierarchy of contrasts in the dial elements to ensure maximum and instant legibility. At the same time, having some idea of how light interacts with the watch means you can go a long way to ensuring the design itself is never visually boring.
You’ll notice I haven’t addressed the elephant in the room – photographing the watches. Where possible, I personally prefer not to use props as I feel they detract from the pure geometric beauty of any design, and tend to make limiting suggestions on your demographic – neither of which are good if you want the product to appeal to as many people as possible. On top of that, use of props tends to bring up sticky questions of branding, promoting other brands and associations that might not be desirable. And though you want to present the product in the best possible (perfect to the designer’s eyes) light, that may not always reflect what’s actually happening or possible under real conditions. At least any communicative disconnects with the designer could be left out in this case! What you see – including the ‘flying’ watches – are not composite images, they’re single shot captures with nothing added or removed and some rather creative use of glass and lighting directions. I have some much more creative lighting, but those were axed in favour of images that represented impressions of what you’d actually see in the course of wearing it and changing light conditions – which is also why you’ll notice quite a variety of finishes and textures to the dial. It’s a watch that was designed to only reveal its full personality with time.
For the watch enthusiasts in the audience, here’s a basic spec sheet:
- Functions: time only, hours and minutes
- Case, dial & hands:
- 38×9.3mm, grade 5 titanium case with solid caseback
- Polished bezel and lugs; finely brushed caseband
- Sapphire crystal with internal antireflective coating
- Rigid case without spacer rings
- 100m water resistance with triple crown gaskets and nitrogen filling
- Composite, multi-layer, three-part sapphire dial
- Dial available in blue or anthracite colour; limited to 150 pieces each
- Straps with 20mm lug width and curved case attachment
- Hand-winding mechanical movement Sellita SW210-1
- 42 hour power reserve
- 28,800 bph (4Hz)
- Hacking function
- Movement adjusted to five positions with a 250-hour test program
- Delivery package includes three calf leather straps (tan/dark blue/burgundy, curved case attachment, quick release pins, buckles fitted), a presentation box and a suede travel pouch
Those familiar with the watch market will know we punch way above our price point – and we have to, because it’s the debut effort from a new and unknown company that needs to get enough attention for the subsequent follow ups to happen. The next two of these follow ups are in the early prototyping stages already, with another six to follow over the next three years – it’s all systems go. Moreover, we’re doing things in much the reverse order to most of the watch industry: we are an openly Asian designed and funded brand that’s using Western production – a lot of the well known Swiss brands are actually produced in Asia now. The outcome will probably prove binary in the long run. Personally, I find being able switch between very different roles to be quite refreshing – creativity can be found in a way that’s both complimentary and not, but always needs variety and perturbation of information to generate results. I’m going to get off my soapbox now. Thanks in advance for your support! MT
More information on the watches and availability is here; there’s a much more detailed Q&A here for those who are interested, and you can follow us @mingwatches on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved