The Art of Time: Giorgetto Giugiaro and the “Folded Paper”

Part of what makes the world of watchmaking so great is its breadth. Not only is it a showcase of engineering knowledge, but an art form in its own right. Great watch design is a blending of beautiful forms with real functionality, and the masters of this have earned their place in the history books. Names like Gerald Genta and Taro Tanaka are rightly revered for their designs, but often some of the best designs come from outside the industry. A designer used to working in fashion, architecture or cars can bring a fresh perspective to watchmaking, with unique results. One of the best examples of this is Giorgetto Giugiaro.

Giugiaro_1Born in the town of Garessio outside Turin on August 7, 1938, Giugiaro was surrounded by creativity from the beginning. As the son of a painter, young Giorgetto’s artistic impulses were nurtured and allowed to flourish throughout his early childhood. In 1952, at only 14 years old, he moved to Turin to enroll in the prestigious Golia design school. By the end of that year a chance meeting with Fiat engineering chief Dante Giacosa netted him an apprenticeship at the Italian auto giant. In seven years of employment at the Fiat Special Vehicles Styling Center, not one of Giugiaro’s proposals were adopted, and in his frustration the 21-year-old Giugiaro submitted a trial proposal to the legendary design house of Bertone in 1959. Bertone was immediately impressed, and the trial proposal became Giugiaro’s first car–Alfa Romeo’s flagship 2000 Sprint.


alfaromeo_2000sprintBy the mid-‘60s, Giugiaro was in the midst of a legendary run for Bertone. In the span of a few short years, the designer penned the BMW 3200CS, Ferrari 250GT Bertone, Fiat 850 Spider, and a sleek re-bodied 1965 Ford Mustang concept before being booted out the door in favor of an even younger Italian hotshot by the name of Marcello Gandini. Incesed, Giugiaro headed to rival design house Ghia on a single-year contract in 1966. During that one year run, he produced only a single design. That design, the revolutionary De Tomaso Mangusta, would help to define design standards for decades to come and would serve as the basis for Giugiaro’s signature “Folded Paper” aesthetic. Gone were the flowing, rounded curves of previous iterations, replaced by flat surfaces and razor-sharp edges. Designs became more geometric than organic, a trend that would continue throughout the design world until the 1990s. This angular look became the basis for Giugiaro’s own Italdesign studio in 1967.

De Tomaso Mangusta

Italdesign immediately made a splash with wild, unique concepts like the Bizzarini Manta and Alfa Romeo Iguana before attracting the attention of newly-appointed VW head Rudolf Leiding. Leiding contracted Italdesign to sketch a replacement for the wildly popular but ancient Beetle, and the result was perhaps the most important and lasting car design of Giugiaro’s career–the 1974 Mark I Golf. The Golf took the angular “Folded Paper” philosophy out of the realm of supercars and into the driveways of everyday people, creating one of the best-selling cars of all time in the process. The Golf and later Italdesign creations like the VW Scirocco, Lotus Esprit, Maserati Quattroporte, BMW M1, and the movie-star DeLorean DMC-12 helped define the look of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

1974 VW Mark I Golf and Giugiaro’s “Folded Paper” aesthetic.

In the mid-‘80s, Giugiaro himself was a living legend, branching out into industrial design with the Nikon F3 camera and a few short years away from the Apple Figaro concept computer. His first foray into watches, however, came in 1984, with a phone call from Seiko. The 7a28 quartz chronograph was still relatively new, and while initial sales were high the Japanese brand was looking for ways to further separate the world’s first analog quartz chronograph from the pack.

Seiko’s caliber 7a28.

Giugiaro’s approach to the problem could be boiled down to one word–ergonomics. Each of his three 7a28 Speedmaster designs featured his trademark “Folded Paper” angular aesthetic, but adjusted for comfort and ease of use. The unsung hero of the group, the 7a28-5000, combines ruggedness and versatility into a one-of-a-kind truncated oval case. A tall, screw-down rubber bumper dominates the outline, standing well above the case sides and providing impact protection. With the cutouts on this bumper and the overall case shape, the look is reminiscent of a squared-off steering wheel, like those in sports prototypes or Formula 1 cars. The original strap takes a strange, unprecedented approach as well; it’s actually four pieces–two short rubber segments attached to the case end in wide PVD rings that mimic the case shape, connecting them to the main body of the strap. Even more unusually, this rubber strap features a butterfly deployant clasp and small grooves for easy cutting to length. Once again, the overall impression here is aggressive, sporty, and oh-so-’80s, but utterly unique.

Seiko_7a28-5000 (1 of 1)
Guigiaro’s Seiko 7a28-5000

Tempering the extravagance of the case and strap design is a minimal, restrained dial. Colored dots form the hour track, simple stick hands are provided all around, and the 12-3-6 subdial layout sit all together on a sunken t-shaped section of the dial.

The other two Giugiaro 7a28s are far more familiar to most watch lovers, thanks in large part to their roles in James Cameron’s classic Aliens. The 7a28-7000 “Ripley” is a W&W favorite, and our own Zach Weiss has talked at length of his love for the unique bar-pusher design and simple dial (read our review of Seiko’s reissue here). Like the 7a28-5000, it’s an unmistakable design, and it’s earned its adulation in collector’s circles.

The iconic Seiko “Ripley” 7a28-7000 chronograph
Sigourney Weaver’s “Ripley” wearing the 7a28-7000 in Aliens.
Spirit Smart SCED035–Seiko’s reissue of the 7a28-7000

However, my personal favorite of the three is the middle child, the 7a28-6000 “Bishop”. The off-center case is immediately eye-catching, and is surprisingly comfortable on the wrist. The bracelet is light and similarly well-executed, but what really stands out is the use of color. The original is stark, with an all-PVD black case at a time when PVD was still a rarity, cut through with burning scarlet red. This, together with the wide red indices and simple white stick hands, gives off serious aggression and a sense of timeliness that perhaps no other watch can match.

GiugiaroSeiko_BishopThe Bishop embodies the mid-‘80s in so many ways. It’s high-tech, angular, sporty, and eminently flashy. It’s Darth Vader, KITT, and, of course, the android Bishop rolled into one. On top of all that, Giugiaro couldn’t help but imbue the design with a little of his own automotive flair. The sunken dial cutout, stark white subdials, needle chrono seconds, even the outer minutes track all feel like dashboard instruments in a Giugiaro-designed sports car. There’s nowhere this watch would feel more at home than behind the wheel of a Lotus Esprit or DeLorean.


Since the initial three 7a28s, Giugiaro has been responsible for many more Seiko chronographs over the years. Some, the 7a38s in particular, are interesting designs in their own right, but none have quite captured the magic of the originals. Those three remain a textbook example of the value of perspective, and of the creativity an outsider’s eye can bring.

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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. He is also the Feature Editor and Videographer for Speed Revolutions.