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Complications inside needn’t mean complications outside

Masters of simplicity

Complications inside needn’t mean complications outside. Simon Willis explains

Complications inside needn’t mean complications outside. Simon Willis explains

Simon Willis | October 26th 2017

Many watches wear their redundancy on their face. Very few of us need to know the phases of the Moon or the schedule of the tides or to have a nifty way of navigating a light aircraft. Fewer still need to know several of those things at once. The value of watch faces which cram in extra dials and hands and indices is not utility but exhibitionism: you can display adventurousness on your wrist even if the rest of you is clad in a business suit.

Face off
LEFT Endeavour centre seconds concept purple haze watch in white gold with kudu leather strap, H. Moser & Cie/Harrods, £19,100/$26,500. RIGHT Altiplano 60th anniversary limited edition watch in 18k white gold with alligator strap, Piaget, £23,000/$25,200

Simply ticking
LEFT Tonda 1950 watch in stainless steel with black alligator strap, Parmigiani, £7,950/$9,900. RIGHT 1966 watch in white gold with black alligator strap, Girard-Perregaux/William & Son, £12,850/$17,257 

To many designers, though, redundancy is a cardinal sin. They begin by asking not what they can add, but what they can take away. In the case of watches like the Piaget Altiplano or the Parmigiani Tonda 1950 little remains but the hands and the straight lines that mark the hours, all set against plain backgrounds. “We went as far as removing the logo, removing the indices, removing everything that is unnecessary,” says Edouard Meylan, CEO of H. Moser & Cie, a Swiss watchmaker. Among his influences is Max Bill, a Swiss architect who also designed watches for Junghans, a German company which, like Moser, specialises in elegant functionality.

Not that simplicity on the outside equates to simplicity within. “It should look like a three-handed watch,” Meylan says, “even if it’s a perpetual calendar, an extremely complex mechanism with over 400 parts.” The point is a balance of complication and practicality. Turn the watch over and you can see its highly engineered inner workings. But on the front, you just see what you need – the time.

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