The Art of Time: Marc Newson and the “Pod”

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What makes a design modern? If there was a defining factor to making an object look contemporary, stylish, or even futuristic, it’s streamlining. The idea of smoothing, rounding, and simplifying a form has worked its way to every branch of design, and it’s been a defining trend of the last 25 years.

One of the best workers in this movement is undoubtedly Marc Newson. In his 26 years of design experience, Newson has created a variety of items—from furniture to concept cars to pens to a unique one-off shotgun—but the works of his you’re likely most familiar with are his watches. Not only is he jointly responsible for the Apple Watch with Apple design chief, Jony Ive, but Newson’s design sensibility was once a driving force behind his own watch brand—Ikepod.

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Marc Newson; photo credit: designophy.com

Newson was born on October 20, 1963 in Sydney, Australia. In the early ’80s, he attended the Sydney College of Arts. His time there was spent not as a design student, but as a jewelry major. It was here that he learned to make things, and he soon found himself constructing sculptural furniture.  His early work, however, was impressive enough for the Australian Culture Council to give him a major grant in 1986.

Newson eventually relocated to Tokyo, a move that would change his life forever. While in Tokyo, he began experimenting beyond pure form with a focus on shapes with purpose, ultimately developing what would come to be his first industrial designs.

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Newson’s earliest designs would come to define his visual style, becoming touchstones for all his creations since. The standouts among these are the chairs: the Embryo Chair and the Lockheed Lounge. Both are design icons in their own right, and both interpret the streamlined, simplified form in slightly different ways.

With the Embryo Chair, Newson took his inspiration from organic forms, translating the chair into a bulbous, ovoid structure that calls to mind a dividing cell. Adding an additional biological touch is the neoprene rubber upholstery. Not only is the material extremely hard-wearing, it gives the slight sheen of amphibian skin or a waxy leaf. Completing the nature-inspired theme are thin, insect-like legs giving the Embryo Chair a wide, stable base.

Marc Newson - Embryo Chair
Embryo Chair; photo credit: Marc-Newson.com

The later Lockheed Lounge, as the name suggests, takes its design cues from a very different source—aviation. Formed from aircraft-grade aluminum and fiberglass, the Lockheed Lounge was a riveted, streamlined love letter to the airplane. Beyond the obvious aircraft forms, however, other complexities appear. There’s a touch of the human form here with a markedly feminine curve along the back. These complexities certainly weren’t lost on the world, either. The Lockheed Lounge made a star turn in Madonna’s 1993 “Rain” music video, and in 2015 it became the highest-selling piece of furniture ever from a living designer when it fetched over $3.2 million at an auction in London.

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Lockheed Lounge; photo credit: Marc-Newson.com

Newson’s first expression of these forms and ideas in a watch came in 1986 with his Large Pod watch, a 60mm aluminum wristwatch intended to be worn over clothes. Though largely impractical, the design cues seen here would eventually make their way over to Newson’s future adventures in horology.

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Newson’s Large Pod Watch; photo credit: Marc-Newson.com

Newson came together with prominent Swiss investor Oliver Ike, and the two together formed Ikepod (a combination of Ike’s name and Newson’s “pod” design aesthetic). Beginning in 1995, Ikepod produced some of the most avant-garde watch designs of the ’90s, launching many of the trends we’re still seeing today.

One of the best examples of Ikepod’s design is also its first—the Sea Slug diver. At first glance, all the diver hallmarks are there: big, lume-filled markers, large easy-to-read hands, and a rotating minutes bezel. Here, however, they’re all streamlined and rendered in Newson’s signature, organic style. The hands taper, stem-like, from the center, reaching out to golf-tee shaped cutout hour markers. The effect is undeniably aquatic here, with hints of sea anemone, sea urchin, and even octopus all coming to the fore. The case, meanwhile, is oversized and lugless, rounding down into a bowl shaped case back. The only thing allowed to disrupt this smooth bowl is the crown at two, and even this is deeply recessed.

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Seaslug on the wrist; photo credit: Gerard Nijenbrinks via Flickr

As for the diving bezel, it continues the seamless curve of the case, discarding a coin edge in favor of small drilled holes along the edge for grip. If the dial and handset are all marine animal forms, this is more inspired by submersibles and high-tech diving equipment. Together, the two create a wholly unique take on the diving watch that served as a springboard for the brand.

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Seaslug profile; photo credit; Marc-Newson.com

With that said, Ikepod’s later work isn’t any less impressive. The Hemipode—another icon and perhaps Ikepod’s most famous model—features a stunning, disc-shaped monocoque case design with an integrated rubber bracelet that has since become a hallmark of the brand. The Hemipode was produced in many variations since its inception, with the dual-time chronograph being one of the best regarded. Ikepod later developed the Megapode, an pilot-oriented offshoot of the Hemipode line featuring a destro chronograph configuration, a scaled up case, and an internal slide-rule.

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the Hemipode; photo credit: Marc-Newson.com

On the strength of his Ikepod resume, Newson was hired by Jony Ive in 2014 to Apple’s world-famous design department. His first assignment was translating Ive’s signature Apple aesthetic to the brand’s now Apple Watch. Several iconic Ikepod touches show through in the final design, most notably the symmetrical, ergonomic case shape and the integrated rubber strap—an Ikepod mainstay.

Through the Apple Watch, Ikepod, his furniture designs, and the rest of his brilliant catalog, Newson’s drive to simplify, streamline, and smooth remains apparent. And in a very real way, this look has helped define the present and future of design, in watches and beyond.

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Hailing from Redondo Beach, California, Sean’s passion for design and all things mechanical started at birth. Having grown up at race tracks, hot rod shops and car shows, he brings old-school motoring style and a lifestyle bent to his mostly vintage watch collection.
seanpaullorentzen
  • Jonathan Ferrer

    Big fan of Marc Newson’s work and evolution! What a refreshing read for today.

  • Mike Margolis

    Mr. Newson still sells the hourglass that he created, through http://www.hg-timepiece.com

  • chenpofu

    Love the seaslug, wish they still make them.

  • JC

    I remember seeing these Ikepod advertised in Wallpaper magazine back in the late ’90s and it kick-started my interest in watches, again. Dude was designing oversized watches 10 yrs prior to it taking over all of watch-dom.

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