Many watch collectors would likely argue that they are always wearing art on their wrist when they strap on a beloved timepiece. While I’m certainly not going to argue this as I believe it myself, what if you could literally wear art on your wrist? Well, Schmutz Watches (pronounced sh-moots, for a history of the name, check out the video on their now complete kickstarter campaign) set out to achieve this goal with two lines of, well, wrist art-cum-watches. Framed within large, but elegant rectangular cases are original pieces of art, featuring either textured vinyl photo reproductions or actual handmade dials. When you choose a watch, you really choose the artist you like, all modern working artists, and depending on your budget, either the serially produced “print” version for $195 or the “commission” version for $375 – $575 artist depending.
There is so much to like and admire about these watches, but just to get it out of the way, the watch aspect is really secondary to the art. You wear it as a watch, it’s large enough that you wouldn’t wear it AND a watch, but the experience is not really that of a watch. The fact that it tells time is almost irrelevant. Sure, it gives the product function beyond displaying art, and perhaps a “reason” to be strapped to your wrist, but the point is to take art and the intellectual experience of art with you.
And from that perspective, these are really very unique. We’ve probably all had a handful of fun graphic watches in our day, from Swatch, Mr. Jones, Nava and the like, but none, at least that I’ve worn, have taken me to a different headspace when I looked into them. When you glance at the Schmutz on your wrist, you’re transported, for a brief moment, into a gallery. You can take in the art as whole image, or you can get lost in it. What Schmutz watches achieves that others don’t is a sense of the artist’s hand in each work. It’s about process, color, composition, the little moments where colors meet, textures change and the artist’s expression.
When you get lost in one of these pieces, it’s contemplative and soothing. Perhaps you have a favorite piece or collection hanging in a museum nearby or an artist whose shows you always go to (for me that would be the Clyfford Still’s at the Met or the Richard Serra’s at DIA). You know then how you can sit in front of a painting or sculpture, just one not even a series, and just stare. Minutes, hours or until an annoying tour disrupts you, you can just look at and appreciate the thing in front of you. The world around you disappears and you are taken in. Though perhaps not quite as extreme, I found myself having that sense of separation when looking at these watches. As an experience to take with you, that’s pretty neat.
The case design is meant to create this sort of interaction. Rather than the standard circular shape, they went for a tall and narrow rectangle, with rounded corners. Measuring 47 x 33 x 10mm (at the thickest point towards the edge), it has a commanding presence on the wrist as it’s nearly all dial. The case is very simple in design from over head, with relatively thin walls and no lugs. From the side, you can see that the case and case back are curved to hug the wrist. This was a smart move, as it keeps the watch firmly centered, not allowing it to slide around much. The dial is then set back a bit, giving a sense of depth and a clean surrounding for the artwork. The case here is quite literally a frame that is meant to present and not distract. In this, they were very successful with their clean design. Further emphasizing this are understated suede straps supplied by clockwork synergy available in tan or grey. Their clean tapering lines and subtle colors bring out the dials, add some style to the overall package and don’t distract from the watch.
I had the pleasure of spending some time with two original commissioned pieces, one by Ellie Newell and the other by Skye Dowell. The Ellie Newell is an abstract, mixed media collage. Made from angular cuttings from print as well as metallic paint, hints of forms are visible, but unidentifiable. The composition radiates out from the center of the dial, moving the eye from the hands to the case’s edge. Most of the dial is quite light in color, which brings out the subtle changes in elevation from the collage, and texture of the paper. From about 12 to 3, there is denser patterning and bolder colors, creating weight towards the top right corner. Overall, its a clean and graphic work, with a modern sensibility that speaks to architecture and technology. The dial was paired with a black case and a taupe/grey suede strap, for a clean and faded aesthetic.
The Skye Dowell dial is a much more amorphous and textural. The topography is the first thing that strikes you. It’s very organic with ripples and fibers crisscrossing every which way, all on a surface which is at no point flat. It’s almost as though a piece of stone was cut off of a cliff face and perfectly fit into the case. The coloring of the background surface is a washed out brown that fades to blue. On top of this surface in a rhythmic, but seemingly random pattern are swatches of yellows and reds that appear to be stitched on to the surface. The Dowell is like a view into another world, one that you’re only allowed a glimpse of, forcing your mind to create the rest. It’s very warm and almost primitive in its formal language, making for something unlike anything I’ve ever had strapped to my wrist. This dial is paired with a steel case and grey suede, for a harmonious palette.
If every watch collection has room for a diver, a pilot’s watch, a chronograph, a dress watch, etc… then maybe every collection could make room for a piece of art as well. This does not compete with other watches in its styling and purpose. It’s a watch that you wear when you want to bring an experience along. Job stressful? Maybe having some art to ponder will help. Want to break the ice with someone new? Show them the art on your wrist. We all know, unfortunately, how quickly non-watch people get lost when you tell them how cool your vintage watch is, because the movement is X, Y or Z, and so and so once might have worn the same model in a movie, etc, etc… A piece of visual art, however, everyone can appreciate.
So, if this sounds like something that interests you, Schmutz Watches do a great job delivering it. You also get to support young artists when you buy one, which is a reward unto itself. Lastly, these make for a very impressive gift. Imagine giving your SO a watch… Maybe they care about timepieces because you talk about them so much, maybe they don’t. Now, imagine giving them a piece of art you had commissioned just for them…a piece that no one else has, and that they can take with them every day. Pretty compelling.
by Zach Weiss