Tuesday, September 22, 2009

a class of their own: PROJECTS watches

When it comes to watches, I admit I’m not especially impressed by the luxury brands – Rolex, Bulova, and whatever timepiece is currently in James Bond’s favour. Sure, they have undeniable cachet, but in the end they confuse the ostentatious with good design. They’re status symbols, in other words. There are exceptions. The sophisticated Movado museum watch, for example, is rightly a classic and enduring design. At over 500 dollars, however, with some pushing $1000, Movado holds a rather lofty perch for us mere mortals.

Back here in reality, Fossil offers a solid line of street-saavy products, although they really shine with their designer line. They don’t have the Frank Gehry designs anymore, but Fossil deserves props for their Philippe Starck watches…lovely, lovely things, they are. Flirting with funky are cutting-edge brands like Tokyo Flash, whose high-tech, unconventional timepieces defy the usual analog and digital displays with gimmicky, even fussy but intriguing readouts. Think watches for the sci-fi cyborg era. More approachable, but similarly breaking out from the usual ways to tell and read time is 01 1he 0ne. From binary to add-the-bars displays, they offer unique, streamlined designs…I own a Kerala Trance and I love it, even if my wife finds it amusing I still struggle with reading the binary display.
(High Museum designed by architect Richard Meier.)

But without knocking down any of these other brands – they have their strengths – I just discovered a design collection that belongs in a category of class and design of its own: PROJECTS watches. The motto is “architecture you can wear,” and with good reason. PROJECTS stands out for watches designed by established and recognizable architects like Richard Meier, Michael Graves, Thom Mayne, Maya Lin, and many others. Says the man behind PROJECTS and CEO of the Marcuse Corporation, Jack Markuse:
We are a company that has been commissioning architects to design first: housewares then outdoor accessories and now watches…we undertook a project called BUILDING TIMEPIECES about 10 years ago. We commissioned approximately 20 well known architects who had all designed museums. Their mission was to design a watch in the image of the museum; other literally or figuratively…From there we developed not only other home furnishings
As Mr. Markuse goes on to explain, PROJECTS watches fall in three different categories:

Architect Designed Watches: These are watches designed by architects. These watches have a three-dimensional aspect to them. They deal with color, structure and each element of the watch “plays” off other aspects of the watch. Simply put, what you see is what you get meaning that its appeal is to an educated, upper class, American consumer. I say this because the American architect designs for the American taste. This differs significantly from the European designer. Not to say there is a value judgment here, but rather just a fact that American taste is different than European taste.

(Chroma designed by architect Laurinda Spear.)

Interactive Watches: These are watches that direct themselves to the 18 – 35+ market. It is our newest and fastest growing segment of the market. These are buyers who would normally depend upon their cell phones or IPODS for the time and buy the watch for mainly its design element. The only caveat is that the watch must do something; interactive, if you will.
(Reveal designed by computer graphics pioneer Daniel Will-Harris.)

M&Co:
The M&Co Watches represent our third category of watches. These are significantly different than the other two, but, none less important as it addresses a significant portion of the market. These watches were all designed in the 80s by Tibor Kalman, the founder of M&Co. They are thin watches that play upon witty graphics such as the Onomatopoeia, “5” to the 10-One-4 which is included in MoMA’s permanent design collection. This Collection is the “darling” of the graphic design world as these details are the language of the buyer.
(Onomatopoeia designed by M&Co founder Tibor Kalman)

Seven years of close contact with architecture doing marketing for an architecture firm definitely influences my excitement but the designs are as accessible to everyone as they are reasoned and artistic reflections of the architectural practice. The pieces in the collection are varied, intriguing, clever witty. They are, in short, examples of well-conceived, thoughtful, comprehensive design. I mean, great googly moogly these watches are both intellectually and aesthetically beautiful. Brains and beauty! With designs for men and women, I’ll bet a piece or two (or three, or four) will rank as a must-have for just about anyone’s wardrobe. And here’s the shocker: these aren’t priced at what you’d expect. $500? $ 300? Nope. Would you believe the price range is approximately $90-$135? That’s absolutely gobsmacking and yet another reason why a PROJECTS watch goes straight to the top of the must-have list.

See the full collection of PROJECTS watches here, and click here for an interview with Jack Markuse.

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