For as long as history has documented, watches in general have always tended to be round save for a few early women’s models which were designed into jewellery and brooches. Then, there came a revolution, the world’s first square watch – not that it mattered because documenting such a horological milestone wasn’t really on the foremost on the minds of the manufacturers. Sans social media, there was no necessity to distinguish or crow about the achievement of a unique case shape, round or square the watch was a watch. Fast forward today, save for a few iconic models, how many of us can actually name the designer of our watch? If you owned a Audemars Piguet Royal Oak or a Patek Philippe Nautilus, it is highly probable you could name Gerald Genta but who else? What about horology’s other icons? The Reverso or the Cartier Santos? When did we start ignoring the designer?
Over the last two decades, watchmakers became veritable rockstars. After all, they made the cool movements, visualised the finishing, advised on the decorations and essentially made decisions as to what quickens the heart of a watch savant. But, in this pursuit of high horology, we often forget that design is often the first catalyst for our horological lusts. You disagree? We would like to prove a point.
Meet Two Women Watch Designers are Changing the Face of Time: Marie-Laure Cerede and Chadi Nouri Gruber
If you recall, not too long ago, there was a shaped watch which caused quite a stir in an industry that was primarily round watches. In 1972, Audemars Piguet unveiled the Royal Oak to the derision of all present and the criticism that the design would doom the company to bankruptcy. Far from it, the Royal Oak’s avant garde design not only saved the company but pioneered a whole genre of unique case shapes for the industry.
That said, some occasions don’t call for “break the rules” cutting edge design, instead, deep introspection of the brand’s design codes often unveils new interpretations of classic motifs while the blending of modern material and fluidic science allows for a new timepiece yet rooted in the brand’s most classical of animal motifs. Witness, Cartier’s Panthere.
Cartier Watchmaking Studio Creation Director, Marie-Laure Cerede
900 gold beads forms the motif of the Cartier Panthere, an outstanding artistic and technical challenge for Manufacture Cartier. In expressing the vision and design philosophy of the maison, you will find that our techniques are design led instead of being led by technical aspects. We spent a lot of time finding the right fluid that would allow the beads would fall at exactly the right speed, sliding gradually, instead of flowing all down at once.
The Santos is arguably the most well known of all Cartier watches. Since it is the anniversary this year, are you concerned that the limelight will only deepen public awareness of the icon and take attention away from the other models the maison has been developing?
That’s certainly true but I believe that on the feminine side, the Panthere does a very good job of holding its own as an equal icon. 900 gold beads forms the motif of the Cartier Panthere, an outstanding artistic and technical challenge for Manufacture Cartier. In expressing the vision and design philosophy of the maison, you will find that our techniques are design led instead of being led by technical aspects. We spent a lot of time finding the right fluid that would allow the beads would fall at exactly the right speed, sliding gradually, instead of flowing all down at once. We decided not to change anything much for Panthere because it was already a signature. In the Santos, we express Cartier’s masculinity. Fact is, the brand doesn’t have that many watches which expresses this masculinity.
It’s common perception that most consumers prefer a round watch to shaped forms, do you see a unique opportunity for the brand to do more in this genre?
I think it’s a unique opportunity and more importantly, it serves as a creative statement for the maison. Though we have a very beautiful round watch with the Ballon encoded in the DNA of Cartier, the first signature of the brand is clearly the extravagant shaped form.
What do you think it’s the secret of Cartier to entice people who previously preferred round watches to get their first form watch?
We truly playing on a unique Cartier signature. It’s not just a shape, it’s about working on the watch as a whole and creating something harmonious. Round watches are compact and easily harmonious but where Cartier succeeded is that we took this concept and applied it different shapes and even for something like the crash. The work of the maison is truly critical for us – for us, watch design is not merely a puzzle of putting together spare parts but in ensuring that all the lines, curves and angles flow in a way which creates visual harmony.
Cartier’s history has been rich in design and aesthetics but very little attention has been paid historically to movement design, has it been a challenge to overcome this? Do you aim to attract more women with the mechanical aspects of watchmaking?
It’s a challenge to give a sense of significance of our calibres to the end consumers. My view of female watch lovers is that they’re different and they seek different attributes than men. That said, they still recognise value and the calibre is a very big component of perceived value but at the end of the day, its design which resonates. It’s the attraction that sells before you want to discover what’s inside.
Both yourself and your predecessor (Carole Forrestier) are women in a historically male dominated profession, are women catching up in terms of this genre?
I’m a woman but I’m a minority in that I like my complications. I’ve always been very interested in high complications but I still feel that women are not very interested in this aspect. They can design very masculine watches like the Santos or very feminine watches like the Panthere but at the end of the day, it doesn’t mean anything. The product should be able to express its beauty naturally and if you have to explain, it really just means that your product isn’t that great. The immediate desirability of the brand must have impact.
Audemars Piguet Head of Product Development Chadi Nouri Gruber
“When most brands make ceramic versions of their watches, they tend to be decorated much simpler than their steel versions because ceramic is much harder to machine and finish. Audemars Piguet does the opposite, we apply exactly the same design codes and contrast finishing to ceramic as we do our steel models.”
Last year you released the black ceramic royal oak perpetual calendar and this year you released the RD#2 concept, any worries that you might encourage some buyers to adopt a “wait and see” approach for the day it becomes a production model?
No. They’re two different pieces. One is a world record holder and the other is undeniably attractive in black ceramic. For example, when most brands make ceramic versions of their watches, they tend to be decorated much simpler than their steel versions because ceramic is much harder to machine and finish. Audemars Piguet does the opposite, we apply exactly the same design codes and contrast finishing to ceramic as we do our steel models. The RD#2 is just a concept for now and while we do like to make dreams come through, we don’t know when in the pipeline that will be. We don’t even know what material it will eventually be in. We do know that we will want both calibres to live side by side.
I understand it was difficult to reduce the three levels to one, I am also assume it is remaining a concept watch for now because there are still things to be worked out, so what are the challenges you face currently?
Well, we are not really facing any more challenges, which is why we were confident to unveil the RD#2 piece. It’s basically taking a three storey house, compressing it into a single level while keeping all the furniture. We’ve merged functions inside the movement in order to reduce the thickness. We basically fused two functions into a single component – The end of the month cam is integrated with the date wheel and the month cam is integrated with the month wheel. So this allowed us to create everything on one plane.
Your classic Offshore Chronographs had smaller hour indexes so it didn’t distract as much visually, it felt it had better balance than the newer versions. I guess what I really want to ask is will the re-issue be a one-off or will you have a series of design tweaks to bring it back to more classic roots?
It’s not a one-off. The reason we did the re-edition was to show that the Offshore design was always timeless and peerless. We are distributing 250 pieces throughout 2018 and it will probably stay in our collection for the years to come. It’s like the re-edition of the 5402, the first Royal Oak and for the 40th anniversary, we released the 15202 as part of our regular collection. It’s something we are planning to keep.
Something that struck me was that there were fewer high jewellery pieces this year and more bejewelled Offshores, what was the rationale?
This year we decided to merge high jewellery with high watchmaking. This is why we focused on our first concept for ladies. By merging both worlds, I wanted to find a complication which still allowed us to play with the design. In this case, we felt that the flying tourbillon would be perfect, the first in the Audemars Piguet world. Then when we started working that, we decided to take it to the concept GMT for men; we made two versions for women including a baguette set diamond version with the invisible setting technique, the white gold frame virtually disappears, it’s a brilliant high jewellery piece because the stones look virtually suspended. As you know, at Audemars Piguet high jewellery and high complications are not mutually exclusive, we like to have a full collection to offer.
Not to assume, based on your joining of high jewellery and high complications, your counterpart over at Cartier, Marie-Laure feels that women have a long way to go towards enjoying highly complicated watches, do you agree with this position?
I don’t believe it’s a long way. The interest is definitely on the rise and I believe it’s our job to keep informing them and talk to them in their language, and that’s what we are doing with the concept watch and as you have seen in the Millenary. This year we are doing strap animations, we’re doing opal, we are frosting the case, we have incorporated a mechanical calibre which has taken us five years to develop. We want them to see the beating heart through the dial of the watch while having personal contact with the piece through daily winding of the watch. I don’t believe we have a long way. Women love to have choices – you can have a quartz watch or a mechanical piece, and if its communicated in the way they understand, they will appreciate. It’s not that we’re less interested in technical pieces, we are just less interested in technical words. It just needs to be communicated in a more romantic way.
How do you balance between creating what they want and creating a need that they will want?
This is what we do when creating a signature Audemars Piguet timepiece for both men and women. We are rule breakers. The difference between Apple and Samsung is that Samsung does focus groups to understand what clients want. Apple doesn’t ask, they just create things that people need. I believe that we are Apple of the horological world. Yes, we do look at what our competitors do to stay informed and then we decide what we can do that will be completely unexpected yet exactly what the people need. It’s not only in terms of movement but with design. Look at the Royal Oak Offshore 25th anniversary, it’s a totally design driven piece- case, bezel, strap, buckle, bridges, push pieces, push piece guards, we considered everything. Of course it creates some controversy, much as the original Offshore did in 1993. Look at where we are today.
Keep a look out for Part 2 where we catch up with other watch designers who have long toiled in the shadows of watchmakers.