The Memphis Group was founded in 1980 and had disbanded by 1987, but if you grew up in the 80s or 90s, the architecture and design firm’s work likely lives large in your memory, whether you realize it or not. In addition to building design, the Memphis Group created furniture, metal objects, ceramics, and more in a signature, colorful, and abstract style. It was hugely influential, and the group’s use of color and geometric shapes would eventually be widely copied throughout the 90s. The group’s founder, Ettore Scottsass, worked with Tissot in 1988 to create a watch in his design style, and the end result became something of an icon of the period. (Be sure to check out this article from 2019 on the auction of some rare Seikos designed by Scottsass for a look at another chapter in his history as a watch designer). Now, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Memphis Group, Tissot is bringing the style back with a modern take on the original design in a small collection of limited edition watches. Let’s take a look.
For the new Memphis watches, Tissot is leaning into the motif of stacked geometric shapes that has always been a hallmark of this type of design. Each dial features a mixture of circular and rectangular hour markers that wouldn’t be out of place on a dive watch, but the hand stack is very much its own thing. The hour hand is a large rotating circle with a rectangle pointing at the correct hour, and it’s topped with a smaller circular disc in a contrasting color that both acts as a running seconds indicator and masks the origin point of the longer minute hand. There’s a chunkiness to the hands and hour markers that is really appealing – it’s a dial that has a lot of personality even though, on its surface, it’s quite simple.
The case, bezel, and sapphire glass mimic the stacking of the hands on the dial. The caseback and bezel are both beveled, which creates a step-like effect on both sides of the watch. This is also a lugless design – straps are attached via a rectangular connecting piece mounted on both ends of the case. Tissot notes that the straps are a synthetic, vegan leather. Each watch ships with a black strap, and includes a second strap in a bright color meant to contrast with the case and dial, and also to recall the height of Memphis Group’s influence, which always involved the adventurous use of bright colors.
There are a total of four watches in the collection, two with cases measuring 34mm, and two with larger 41mm cases. The smaller watches offer a choice between a steel case with a white dial, and steel with a yellow gold PVD bezel. The 41mm watches can be had in the same steel and yellow gold bezel combination, or a fully blacked out version with the only white elements being the hour markers on the dial. The 34mm watches are each limited to 1,700 pieces, with the 41mm watch in steel and gold limited to 2,500. The all black version will be made in an edition of 3,000. True to the watch’s heritage, all run on quartz movements.
At a time when we often lament that all new watches look similar to one another, it’s refreshing to see the Memphis watches hit the market. While they’re based on a historical design, it’s hardly a look that’s been tapped over and over again through the years. This feels like a niche product on the one hand, but also something that might resonate with watch lovers of a certain age who are looking for something that is genuinely a little different. Prices range from $375 to $395, and the watches are available now through the Tissot website. Tissot