Watches You Cannot Trust

Adnan Arif

Not a day goes by without another watch advertisement hammering in the notion that it tell us more than just time Yet, despite that, it has remained fairly conservative, maintaining its age old status quo as a symbol of prestige and personality.

Enter London based Designer Crispin Jones, who set out to investigate the cultural messages that the watch espouses – If the watch really is the purveyor of personality, could it be more than just a status symbol? Could it instead express some of the negative aspects of a wearer’s personality? Could it even change it?

With some help from fellow designers, He developed seven working concept watches – three of which focused on subverting the personality i.e. Summissus (Video) – A watch that fosters humility in the wearer by constantly reminding him or her of their demise, Adsiduus (Video) – uses the psychological practice of auto-suggestion to affect a change in the wearer’s personality i.e. “You’re an amazing person!”, and Fallax (Video) – a watch that projects the wearer’s honesty instead of their wealth and style.

While the remaining four focused on how to tell time differently: Docilis (Video) – It would train the wearer to live without a watch by internalizing it using a small electric shock at regular intervals, Avidus ( Video) – that would make time personal, by making it pass more quickly or slowly depending on the wearer’s mood, Prudens (Video) – enabled the wearer to check the time without looking at their watch, and Inveteratus (Video) – A watch that referred to a more culturally appropriate timescale than the movement of the sun to tell time – the television schedule.

We sat down with Mr.Jones and asked him a few Qs:

The Adsiduus – More at home as a prop in a Chuck Palahniuk Novel

Wrist: How did you come up with the project and some of the individual ideas behind the watches?

Jones: Some of the initial impetus for the project came from finding the led displays that are used in two of the watches in a junk shop in Ivrea (Italy) when I was working there. I managed to buy up around 30 of them (I think they date from around 1979/80). From there I started thinking about watches and what it would be interesting to make with them. I’m always quite drawn to subliminal aspects of products – for example the way a nice watch affirms you as you look at it during the day. I also thought about the way that the railways created a need to standardize time and what a contemporary cultural form for this might be (the tv seemed to be the most allied to time today).

I was also interested in the idea of auto-suggestion after I read an anecdote about Glenn Hoddle (the footballer) where he revealed that he carried a mantra in his wallet which said ‘You are the Lord of the Manor’ and that seemed to me to tie in with the subliminal aspect of the watch.

With Ross Cooper and Graham Pullin, we came up with the rest of the series and fleshed out the existing ideas. Graham for example is very interested in design for the blind and from this we worked on ways that a watch could work in a similar way to braille – i.e. Not trying to replicate the existing representation directly, but to make something more appropriate. From then it was simply a matter of building them circuits small enough and working with Anton Schubert to design and produce the cases for the watches.

Docilis – A watch that would have made Pavlov proud

Wrist: Could you tell us a bit about your background? What is your design philosophy and how has that influenced your approach?

Jones: I originally studied sculpture and then later computer related design. I think that my original fine art background really informs how I think about design. In my work I try and use the form and language of design to be provocative and suggest alternative paths for products. I studied at the RCA and although I wasn’t directly taught by Tony Dunne his writing about design is a strong influence on me. I really think the spaces he opens up in terms of critical design suggest a genuinely new approach for designers. I worked for Philips for a short time (about 1 year) and was fairly bored with the politics and general slow pace of getting anything done – now I teach to support myself and try and concentrate on making my own projects (another hang-over from my fine art days). I’m a very firm believer in actually building things that work – I didn’t have any background in electronics before studying at the RCA but through working on a number of projects I’ve gradually built up my skills in this area.

Wrist: I noticed you did some work on the Fluid Time project. (Related Post: Fluid Time)

Jones: For that project I designed and built the three physical objects which communicate the time based information. I studied with Michael Kieslinger at the RCA and really enjoyed working with him on the project – for me I wanted to use the research as a way of exploring some physical representations of digital information. I think that one of the most challenging and exciting things about digital technology is the way that it can be adapted to different representations (unlike mechanical technology which is generally pretty limited on it’s outputs / representations).

Wrist: Would it be fair to say your interest in watches and time was peaked by the Fluid time project?

Jones: Hmm maybe – for me the initial focus of the project was looking at the wristwatch and thinking about what it represents socially. The watch is really the oldest form of technology that we still use regularly and as such it often gets taken for granted.

The more culturally appropriate Inveteratus references the tv schedule instead of the movement of the sun. After all, many of us today structure our own time around the television.

Wrist: What sort of commercial product do you expect?

Jones: I’d love to see some sort of production of one or more of the watches in the series, although I’m realistic about the amount of effort it will take to get the watches into production. All I can say at this stage is watch this space!

Wrist: Does the pursuit of the future play a role in your work?

Jones: To be honest I’m not so interested in a pursuit of the future – I think that technology today already has so much unexplored opportunity that we really need a period of consolidation. The disposable nature of objects / design depresses me and I hope that the future will see more products designed for long term use, more a model of bespoke technology than mass market. Probably this is naive though…

Related Links

Crispin Jones: Watch Project
Crispin Jones Website
Wrist Fashion: Fluid Time
Fluid Time Project