The Art of Time: Roger Tallon and the Lip Mach 2000 Chronograph

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Playfulness is an easy thing to forget in design, especially among the constraints of watches and other industrial goods. There’s an impulse to create something ruthlessly functional, classically beautiful, or futuristically game-changing, and it’s easy to get so caught up in that desire that the joy of a piece is lost. Life’s too short not to have fun, after all, and there’s a certain magic to a watch where you can tell the designer enjoyed themselves. This truth was never lost on Roger Tallon. Through a remarkably varied half-century in design, Tallon had a hand in everything from helicoid staircases to portable televisions to the legendary French TGV Atlantique bullet train—as well as the weird and wonderful Lip Mach 2000 Dark Master chronograph.

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Re-issue left, original right; photo credit: horologeforum

Born May 6, 1929 in the heart of Paris, Tallon seemed destined to be involved with machines. A childhood fascination with airplanes quickly segued into the smaller, more tangible world of household gadgetry, and at 21 he earned his engineering degree. For the first three years of his career he was a pure mechanical engineer, working for Caterpillar France and designing industrial machinery for DuPont. A chance meeting in 1953 with legendary industrial designer Jacques Viénot changed his fate, and later that year Tallon went to work at Viénot’s Technès design consultancy firm.

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Roger Tallon and his Duplex 8mm camera; photo credit: The Red List
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Tallon’s natural aptitude quickly showed through. A mere two years after joining Technès, Tallon gave the world the swoopy, avant-garde Derny Taon 125 motorcycle. With its smooth, unbroken form all the way from the headlight bezel to the rear fender, the Taon was utterly unlike any bike that had come before. Tallon, however, was no one-trick pony, and in the next ten years he created such varied work as the Duplex 8mm camera, the classically minimal “Wimpy” chair, and the creatively named Model M400 Adjustable Helicoid Spiral Staircase.

RogerTallon_2First introduced in 1964, the Model M400 may be Tallon’s finest work, and exemplifies his funky, playful aesthetic. Essentially nothing more than ten separate paddle-shaped chrome steps, spacers, and a central pole, the Model M400 adds modularity to the traditional spiral staircase, and takes this most functional of furniture pieces to the centerpiece of any room. The forms are rounded and organic, appearing almost like leaves sprouting from a central branch, and absolutely scream 60’s style. Without checking, I’m almost positive one was featured in one of the Austin Powers movies. It’d be right at home in Austin’s swingin’ bachelor pad. That said, they aren’t out of place in a modern art gallery either—there’s one in the permanent collection at MOMA.

After the Model M400, Tallon continued his streak of eccentric brilliance, penning the all-screen Teleavia P111 portable television which, oddly enough, went to market against his wishes. Convinced there was no market for such a product and disavowing the entire project, Tallon walked away from the P111 just in time to watch it revolutionize television design.

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Photo credit: customrodder.forumactif.org

A few years later in 1973, Tallon was approached by struggling French watchmaker Lip to design a new series of sport watches. His proposal, the Mach 2000 collection, featured a handful of strikingly beautiful watches, the most famous of which is undoubtedly the Dark Master chronograph.

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Mach 2000 “Electrique”; photo credit: electric-watches.co.uk

The Lip Mach 2000 chronograph boasts a design that garners strong immediate impressions. Looking equal parts modern architecture and expensive children’s toy, it’s impossible to mistake for anything else. Upon breaking the design down, however, it’s surprisingly minimal, almost sparse.

Take the dial, for example. White, equal-length hours and minutes markers form a smooth implied circle around simplistic printed sub-dials at nine and three. The hands are squared-off white sticks, and the chronograph functions (central chronograph seconds and a 30-minute sub-dial at three) are color-coded in yellow for easy visibility. An unobtrusive date window at six and a small Lip logo above it round out the dial.

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Photo credit: watchspot.co.uk

Taken on its own, the dial is incredibly restrained, calling Dieter Rams and Braun to mind. Put it into the context of the watch, however, and Tallon’s sense of fun shines through. That Spartan dial is well offset from the center of the blacked-out case (a full decade before Giugiaro did the same with his Seikos, it must be said), with the three o’clock edge of the dial just drawing level with the three o’clock hooded lug and allowing a flat side to the case at three. Taken from above, the case is a near-perfect half oval punctuated only by the cutouts for the crown and pushers. It’s very nearly slab-sided, with only a single wide bevel around the edge to break up the shape and draw your eye to the Mach 2000’s party piece—its pushers.

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Valjoux 7734; photo credit: watchspot.co.uk

Without a doubt, the bright, primary colored pushers are the first thing that grab your attention about this watch, and serve to put the other, more restrained aspects of the dial into context. These little colored balls–yellow at two, blue at three, and red at four–bring the whole piece to life and give it an almost toy-like quality. They beg to be pressed, perhaps more than any other set of pushers in the world.

The Mach 2000 is finished off with a Lip-signed integrated plastic strap, adding to the sense of visual cohesion. Overall, it’s a design that looks like it could have been made in 2016 as much as it does in 1973, and one that never takes itself too seriously despite its design pedigree. It’s one of the most fun, playful watch designs ever made, and simultaneously one of the most striking.

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Photo credit: The Red List

Life is hollow without joy, and design is as much a place to express that joy as any other. Roger Tallon understood that truth perhaps better than anyone. Through his work he created objects that were playful, light-hearted, and simultaneously beautiful, and nothing exemplifies that as well as the Mach 2000 series chronograph.

Featured image photo credit: giftland.biz

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
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  • Svetoslav Popov

    Amazingly beautiful. I really like this kind of articles on W&W!

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