Four years ago, a frustrated creative took a chance and released two limited edition watches. Today, Matthew Waldman is the man behind Nooka, a fashion forward brand that has enjoyed a lot of love from the media and celebrities alike. He’s even featured in a new book called Design Enterpreneur by Steven Heller and Lita Talarico.
Recently, I got the chance to catch up with him:
Wrist: When I first interviewed you back in 2004, you had just parted ways with Seiko and were about to launch a limited edition Nooka despite some skepticism from some of the people around you. Looking back, How do you feel about your journey so far?
Matthew: The journey has been utterly amazing! I had no expectations when I produced the first 2,000 pieces and even thought that I might end up with a bedroom full of future gifts to give out the rest of my life! From that I now have a thriving business with offices in new york and tokyo, get fan mail, and have my designs on people I admire.
The Ikepod watch founder, Oliver Ike reveals the thought process behind his brand in an article he wrote for the David Report:
“..10 years ago I created a watch-brand called Ikepod. By picking one of the most en vogue ikepod designer at that time, Marc Newson, I differentiated the looks of the product from what was available in timepieces on the markets…” (link - scroll down to see article)
When 31 year old Felix Baumgartner met Jeweler Harry Winston’s Maximilian Brusser at the launch of his designer URWERK 103 in 2003, he was already on top of the world. His orbital cross movement was already getting a lot of attention. But little did he know that his watch was just a prelude. Fate was plotting and unbeknowst to him, he would soon embark on his most inspiring and challenging assignment yet – The limited edition OPUS V, a watch with the world’s first “satellite hour” display.
Much Recently, fate once again intervened and we got a chance to sit down with Mr. Felix and have a little chat:
Wrist: Congratulations on the OPUS V. How are you handling the reaction to the watch?
Baumgartner: The reaction has been intense, nobody seems to remain indifferent to the Opus 5 and the vast majority of reactions has been extremely positive.
Wrist: Now, when you proposed the satellite watch to Maximilian Brusser for the OPUS V, you had more than one proposal, didn’t you? Are you planning on working on them?
Baumgartner: No, We are not planning on using the abandoned project. We only had one alternative to the present OPUS 5.
UR-103.03 – A prelude to the OPUS V? The orbital cross movement has little hanging satellites that not only tells the time, but, thanks to a much larger open window, also shows the approach of the future and the passage of time long gone.
Wrist: You seem to seek inspiration from everywhere when it comes to designing your watches. For example, one of your pieces takes some of its visual cues from a famous airplane, the JUNKER 52 or another is inspired by the movement of the sun. Is this a hint that you’re interested in design in general and that you might be interested in working with something other than watches or am I reading too much into it and the world is really your muse?
Baumgartner: URWERK’s designer Martin Frei and myself work together on the concept. We share a similar fascination for modern art, space development and architecture. Our goal is to create and invent new concepts for watches and not copy what has been done before.
As far as working with someting else than watchmaking, I am a watchmaker first but we do however have projects to create watch related objects.
Designer Martin Frei and Watchmaker Felix Baumgartner
Wrist: You come from a long line of watchmakers. What was it like growing up? Was there added pressure to follow the same line or were you always fascinated with watchmaking?
Baumgartner: I’ve always been impressed by watches and clocks, ever since I was a little boy because that’s the environment I grew up in.
To grow up in a watchmaker family was for me the opportunity to learn very closely about history and the meaning of watchmaking.
Wrist: What about your experience working for such prestigious names as Vacheron Constantin, Svend Andersen and Patek Philippe? Was setting up Urwerk a reaction to your work experience at places like Patek Philippe and Svend Andersen? Did you seek more freedom and originality in your work?
Baumgartner: Working for these prestigious brands gave me the opportunity to learn about the traditional way of watchmaking. URWERK gives me the possibility to transform what I have learnt there, adding my own style and sensitivity.
Wrist: So are you going to be concentrating on Urwerk now? Or are there going to be more collaborations?
Baumgartner: No collaborations are planned for the moment because the development of URWERK takes up all of our time now. Future collaborations are however possible.
Wrist: Where do you see yourself in the watch industry? Do you think that your generation of new creative independent watchmakers are going to have an impact?
Baumgartner: In our opinion, the creative independant watchmakers have the great opportunity to create and infuse new ideas and ways to see watchmaking. The current state of the Industry is very interesting, because some companies hold on to old values as Tourbillon, minute repeater, and others try to find new ways to create haute horlogerie watches – The future will show us.
*The title, The man behind the OPUS V, is slightly inaccurate. Mr. Felix Baumgartner’s other half is designer Martin Frei. We regret not meeting him.
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.
Fellow Watchaholic, Wrist Watch Review, had an interesting interview with Mike Kobold, founder of the Kobold Chronograph and Watch company:
“What do you do when you’re 19, in a strange city, and hate school? While many of us would take to pizza, beer, and video games, Mike Kobold, founder of the Kobold Chronograph and Watch Company, decided to build and sell watches from his dorm room.
“I went to Carnegie Mellon, in Pittsburgh, to get my graduate degree in Economics,” said Mike. “A friend of the family’s, a Nobel-prize winner, actually, told me it would be a great place to go. I hated it, so I started a watch company at age 19 with $5000, my lifetime savings, out of my dorm room.”
“I probably would have hated any school,” he adds, not wanting to disparage his adopted city. “I didn’t want to go to school.” (continued)
By now most of us have probably been promised about the wonders of e-paper – flexible thin futuristic displays that could easily double as interactive wallpaper, and while the watch paper isn’t it, it still comes pretty close.
A fully functional clock, The Watch Paper is printed on ordinary paper and uses a heat sensitive coating to tell time. Each digit blurs from one into the other using the heat from the LED in the back which makes the coating transparent, or atleast we figured thats how it works.
Either way, its fiendishly clever and we decided to have a word with Hannes Koch, the creator and congratulate him about it:
Wrist: If there is a word i could use to describe both your paper-clock and the digital tape, it’s “Ingeniuity”. Both play on our perceptions of LED displays, and both seem so obvious, yet no one’s ever thought of it.
Koch: When developing our own “loTech” epaper, we went back to the almost “retro Style” LED Segment displays, because they are so easy to control and very familiar to everyone. Yet they are the perfect “vehicle” to demonstrate the area between digital and analogue which we are interested in. Dealing with the setup of the segment displays for a week day and night and in parallel marvelling at the qualities of tape in general, the signage tape came to mind. It seemed so utterly obvious that I was sure that someone’s done
it before, but I couldn’t find it. To this day no one has complained…
Wrist: How has the RCA helped you develop as a designer?
Koch: I came to the RCA as a product designer from a technical background (BSC Product Design, Brunel University. The unique quality of the RCA was that it challenged me to complement my technical knowledge with a more conceptual approach to design. As an environment it was (and is) extremely stimulating, because chances are that someone did “it” before. So most of the ideas (in the design area) are massively challenged and therefore
developed. It is not always a pleasant process, but it surely encouraged me to try and establish my own area within design.
Wrist: How has the reaction been so far? Would we see a commercial version soon?
Koch: The reaction has been absolutely overwhelming so far. The wallpaper clock today won an IF-Design Concepts award here in Germany and got me into the NESTA creative pioneer programme, which gives me the chance to seriously work on a business plan for that project and then apply for up to £35.000 funding to get it serialized. So yes, there is a very good chance that this will turn into a commercial version next year! Also I have been invited to show in an exhibition about german design during the Designmai 2005 in Berlin and in Tokyo’s Designersblock in October 2005. Apart from that we are looking for seed-funding right now to develop the next step prototype in the next two months. For us the wonderful thing is to be busy straight after graduating with a project which is completely our own…
Ever since man put a price on time, Timepieces have been judged for their horological or decorative values, but rarely for their aural experience, that is, until the much recent rise of the quartz movement. Ask any watch aficionado today about their mechanical collection, and they won’t fail to mention the sound and feeling they get when they wind up their mechanical watch.
With this in mind, I recently had a conversation with Douglas Repetto, the creator of the Sine Clock, a sound sculpture that keeps time with sound by encoding it in a set of sine waves:
Wrist: Your clock reminds me of how important sound is to the mechanical watch experience.
Douglas: I can understand that. There’s still something marvelous about the complexity of a mechanical watch mechanism. It seems so unlikely to work!
Wrist: Would you describe in detail how your clock works for our readers?
Douglas: It’s fairly simple. There are three sounds, low, medium, and high. Each one is pulsing at a certain speed.
The low pulsing goes from slow to fast to slow over the course of one minute, the medium pulsing goes from slow to fast to slow over the course of one hour, and the high pulsing goes from slow to fast to slow over the course of one day, so if you sit and listen to the low sound for a minute, you’ll hear its pulse slowly speed up for thirty seconds, then slow down for another thirty seconds. Then it starts again.
Because the speed of each pulse is constantly changing, each moment in the day has a distinct set of pulse speeds.
Technically it works perfectly…but in human terms, it’s difficult to actually tell the time. It’s easy to hear the passing of a minute. But for an hour or a day it’s not really possible to tell precisely what time it is.
But that’s okay, I was thinking more of the way we tell what time of day it is by the position of the sun in the sky or the passing of a train or some other environmental clue. After listening for awhile you get a feeling for the sound at different times of day, but you’re never going to really be able to say “It’s 3:37pm!”
Wrist: How intrusive is it compared to the tick of a watch?
Douglas: It turns out to be a pretty soothing sound. There’s one in a group show in a gallery right now here in New York, and the gallery people were a bit worried at first that the sound would be overwhelming or distracting, but really it’s a very quiet, calm sound.
There’s a short snippet of sound on the website. After a while I find that the sound sort of melts into the background, just the way a clock’s ticking does.
Wrist: How did you first come up with the concept?
Douglas: Almost all of my artwork involves physical or biological cycles, systems, or phenomena of one sort or another. I find natural systems endlessly compelling, and in my works I often try to find ways of making those systems more easily perceivable.
I also tend to work with sound, so I was thinking about our perception of time and started imagining different ways of marking the passage of time with sound. Sine Clock was the result.
Put all the digital watches in the world in a lineup and you’d be hardpressed to find one that really differentiates itself.
Enter the Nooka – A watch that tells time like you would read it naturally, not the way the local madarasa taught you.
Instead of the traditional display, the minutes are in the large box, the seconds follow and a bar on top shows the hour and how much of the day is left.
So all it takes is a quick glance.
We adored the watch so much, we sent our men to “borrow” Matthew Waldman, the designer.
And this is what he had to say after the truth serum kicked in:
Wrist:So tell us, what was the inspiration for the watch?
Matthew: My inspiration was a memory. I was sitting in a hotel in London waiting for a client when i noticed a large clock on the wall. It somehow reminded me of the clock on the wall in first grade. This brought back the memory of being taught ‘how to tell time’.
I then remembered being taught ‘how to tell time’ again in the fifth grade when digital clocks became popular.
I thought if one has to be taught how to tell time, how intuitive is it really? surely there are other models, once learned, that can be as intuitive as what we are taught.
That was my brainstorm. From that thought sprang forth a series of designs I now have patents for, of one which Seiko manufactured.
Wrist:You said you were going to be relaunching the watch with the original design.
Matthew: Seiko took some liberties with my original design, which is sleeker and actually easier to read. I have 5 design patents for timepieces, each one different, that i plan on prototyping and eventually producing.
Wrist:I would love to see your other designs. How did you first come to collaborate with Seiko?
Matthew: Tom Dixon of Habitat in London suggested I contact Seiko as they had approached him to do watches. Tom liked my design and said he would carry the watches in Europe as an incentive, but ultimately, Seiko Europe never marketed the pieces.
Seiko never marketed the watches, not one AD (advertisement -ed), not one event. Also, they used a steel that couldn’t be exported to Europe [shocking, as we discussed this as their largest potential market for the design].
Therefore, not many units sold and they deemed it an unsuccessful design.
Wrist:But I take it, it did very well at MoMa (NYC)?
Matthew: The contract I had specified that I could not market/sell the watches myself. After 2 years of inactivity, I got them in the MoMa shops as I was frustrated with their marketing department. MoMa was thrilled with them, sold all the stock I could get to them,then Seiko decided not to restock anyone.
The watch is no longer available at MoMa because Seiko quit production and active marketing over a year ago.
Wrist:So when should we expect the new proper Nooka launch?
Matthew: I am awaiting final paperwork from Seiko severing the license agreement, then i will feel comfortable sending you images of the relaunch which i will do on my own and a manufacturing partner in China. I hope to get them in stores by December this year, but that may be difficult. If not then, Q1 2005!