It’s always interesting to see what a renowned industrial/furniture designer will come up with when tasked with designing a watch. From Karim Rashid’s Kaj for Alessi to Jasper Morrison’s r5.5 for Rado to Marc Newsom’s designs for Ikepod, “designer” watches tend to have an aesthetic that speaks to a broader design sensibility. They always touch upon standard watch design motifs, but quickly veer off into something more specific to the designer’s own body of work. With the new Block Watches by British designer Tom Dixon, all of the elements of a classic 3-hand watch are apparent, but the design speaks wholly to Mr. Dixon’s interest in raw materials and manufacturing processes.
The Block Watches are Mr. Dixon’s first series of watches. Consisting of three Swiss quartz powered models, brass, steel and rose gold, they are an exercise in simplicity. Part of his Eclectic line, which consists of objects “designed for the eccentric collector’s cabinet, the modern architects table and the British tearoom trolley.” Each watch is made of a single piece of stamped metal, either brass or steel depending on the model. The dials are then made of matching materials to give a monochromatic look and the sense that the watch is made of a single piece of metal.
The indexes of the dials are not printed, but rather deeply etched into the material, which adds texture and further emphasizes the materiality. The indexes themselves are fairly detailed, featuring hours and minutes integrated into one index, and a full seconds index on the angled chapter ring. The only hint of additional color on the whole watch comes from the hands, which are white, black and orange.
The Block watches measure 40 x 40 x 6mm making them sort of a strange size. Since they are square, with relatively sharp corners, they likely wear fairly large, though 40mm isn’t too big. Yet, they are only 6mm thin. As you can see from the ¾ view, the body is less of a block and more of a plate. This clearly helps keep the weight down and make it a more wearable watch.
Aesthetically, the watch is quite interesting. It is at once brutal and chunky, yet not overwhelming or dense; minimal, yet a touch flashy given the amount of metal exposed. It’s clearly not aiming to compete with the aesthetic of a typical watch, yet it doesn’t feel so unfamiliar as to be shocking. The metals chosen also give the watch very different character. The brass version ($325), which comes on a brown leather strap, is the rawest and perhaps most masculine. The fairly simple and unadorned strap emphasizes the simplicity of the watch’s design. Also, I imagine this version would gain a wonderful patina by wearing it.
The steel with steel mesh bracelet version ($450) is then a touch more elegant, as the material itself is lighter in appearance, yet still holds on to much of the boldness of the brass version. Lastly is the rose gold (pvd) version ($490), which is clearly the most decorative of the bunch.
The rose gold adds warmth and some decadence to the design. While the rose gold is very appealing, at first glance I thought it was copper, as that is a material that Tom Dixon is known for working with. Rose gold is the more logical choice, but copper, or a copper alloy, would have been gorgeous.
All in all, the Block Watches are a very interesting new series for the museum / designer watch fan. Tom Dixon did a great job of creating something unique that speaks to the design vocabulary of his furniture and other designed objects. I was particularly glad to see that he didn’t try to re-invent the watch, as designers often try to do. Instead, he kept it simple and focused on form and material.
By Zach Weiss