The cre­ative stu­dio of the iconic au­to­mo­tive com­pany cre­ated the first watches in ti­ta­nium, and the first with a com­pass! Their in­no­va­tive mas­tery is be­ing re­ju­ve­nated once more as Porsche De­sign re­turns as an in­de­pen­dent watch­maker.

Plaza Watch International - - Contents - WORDS JOSH SIMS

The iconic car com­pany also ex­cels in the world of lux­ury watches.

Juer­gen gessler con­cedes, per­haps a lit­tle re­luc­tantly, that black is a cool colour. “But black wasn’t cho­sen be­cause it’s a cool colour, or be­cause it hadn’t been used be­fore,” coun­ters the CEO of Porsche De­sign. “Black was the log­i­cal con­se­quence of sup­port­ing the func­tion­al­ity of the watch – black is best from a de­sign per­spec­tive. It helps though that black is a cool colour...”

That was a mo­ment in watch de­sign his­tory – back in 1972, Fer­di­nand Porsche, most famed for his 911 su­per­car, founded Porsche De­sign as a spin-off from his au­to­mo­tive work and se­lected black for his Time­piece No.1 (Chrono­graph 1) for the max­i­mum leg­i­bil­ity it gave.

And not just for the dial but for the case too, and in matt – be­cause shiny cases re­flect light and so im­pede the view – and not just painted on but us­ing a spe­cial process that bonded the colour with the metal be­neath, a tech­nique that started to ap­pear in car de­sign sub­se­quently. And yes, if Porsche might not be the first name in watches to spring to mind, all the same it can claim that in­no­va­tion.

In­deed, it can also claim to have cre­ated the first watch in alu­minium too – com­plete with a com­pass, in 1978, and, af­ter testing the ma­te­rial in space, the first in ti­ta­nium too.

Then, in 2004, it pro­duced the In­di­ca­tor, the first watch with a chrono­graph func­tion and me­chan­i­cal jump­ing dig­i­tal dis­play – the prod­uct of three spring bar­rels, a gov­er­nor and some 800 parts – mak­ing it one of the most com­plex watches around at the time.

Cer­tainly given such sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tions to the progress of watches –

some 50,000 Time­piece No.1s were sold – it is a won­der that Porsche De­sign is not much big­ger in watches. “Of course, hav­ing that sur­name in the first part of our name helps in terms of recog­ni­tion,” notes Gessler, whose in­dus­trial de­sign ca­reer started out with Mercedes and BMW. “But un­for­tu­nately not ev­ery Porsche driver is a Porsche De­sign owner, or, see­ing as the car com­pany makes 186,000 cars a year, we’d be one of the big play­ers”. Rather, four decades of work­ing in part­ner­ship with ex­ter­nal, third party watch spe­cial­ists – in­clud­ing Eterna, which Porsche owned for a while – has kept mat­ters low-key. “Work­ing that way in­vari­ably leads to dif­fer­ent in­ter­ests, over-pric­ing for ex­am­ple, and ideas you want to re­alise that are dif­fer­ent to those of your part­ner,” says Gessler, diplo­mat­i­cally.

But all this is about to change. Porsche De­sign has put much into buy­ing back li­cences and, as Gessler puts it, “get­ting a bet­ter grip on the prod­uct”, and is now re-launch­ing its watch­mak­ing busi­ness as a fully in­de­pen­dent one. It is based in Switzer­land, un­der Pa­trick Kury, the man be­hind the In­di­ca­tor, and over­seen by the Ger­man par­ent com­pany in Lud­wigs­burg, with the de­sign process for each watch start­ing at Porsche De­sign’s stu­dio in Zell am See un­der the charge of Chris­tian Sch­wamkrug. He worked with Fer­di­nand Porsche on watch de­sign back in the 1970s, so he now has the master to trump.

Its first of­fer­ing will be a re-imag­ined, limited edi­tion ver­sion of the aus­tere, dec­o­ra­tion-free Time­piece No.1 – “a rem­i­nis­cence” of it, Gessler calls it. It’s a quite de­lib­er­ate nod to the com­pany’s his­tory in watch­mak­ing, both as a re­minder of the in­no­va­tion it has achieved in decades gone by, and as a state­ment of in­tent. It is a call­ing card, an un­der­scor­ing of its cred­i­bil­ity. The self-wind­ing chrono­graph has a ti­ta­nium case, with a Valjoux 7750 move­ment, in­clud­ing an ex­clu­sive ‘en­ergy-op­ti­mised’ ro­tor, black rub­ber strap and sap­phire crys­tal case back – black­ened, of course. The case is still matt black too.

“Yes, ev­ery com­pany has a black watch now,” Gessler notes, “but as we grow it’s go­ing to be­come more of our sig­na­ture”. June sees the re-launch of the Chrono­graph Ti­ta­nium – watch No.2, in limited and un­lim­ited edi­tions – and in Au­tumn an all-new piece – watch No.3. And so on, with 2017 likely to see Porsche De­sign’s first women’s watches, al­though Gessler says the em­pha­sis is likely to re­main on pieces for men. “Watches are the men’s prod­uct cat­e­gory and most im­por­tant for Porsche De­sign to fo­cus on,” he says. “And we have lots of ideas we want to see re­alised.”

Gessler prom­ises some big new con­cepts too, for two rea­sons. First is the fact that over half of Porsche De­sign’s de­sign­ers’ time is spent work­ing on projects for other com­pa­nies in other in­dus­tries; they don’t op­er­ate in a Swiss watch­mak­ing bub­ble. “That means we have con­tact with new ideas, ma­te­ri­als, tech­nolo­gies, which is an im­por­tant as­set and very in­spir­ing,” Gessler says.

“Yes, ev­ery com­pany has a black watch now, but as we grow it’s go­ing to be­come more of our sig­na­ture”

Se­condly, he be­lieves the time is right, in part due to the ad­vent of the smart watch. “They’re go­ing to in­flu­ence the mar­ket in the way watches look, in the way they’re used,” he says. “But we also be­lieve there’s a lot of po­ten­tial for in­no­va­tion in watches – look at them and they’re much the same in terms of treat­ment of the dial, crown, and so on – they’re quite con­ven­tional. You can see a lot of these young, in­de­pen­dent watch brands com­ing through now and suc­ceed­ing pre­cisely be­cause they’re tak­ing a new ap­proach to watch de­sign. There are more brands with more ideas be­cause that’s what cus­tomers are ask­ing for.

So there’S room to de­velop what the watch can be. “It’s quite a state­ment but there’s the chance to rev­o­lu­tionise the watch,” Gessler adds. “And es­pe­cially since more men, not just watch afi­ciona­dos, as was the case in the past, have more than one watch now. Men used to have one safe style of watch for life. Now they’re ready to be ad­ven­tur­ous and wear dif­fer­ent watches for dif­fer­ent oc­ca­sions.”

In­deed, it’s Porsche De­sign’s claim to a ‘form fol­lows func­tion’ ethos that gives its watches the anti-op­u­lent air of tools rather than toys – “and not just form fol­lows func­tion, but form sup­ports func­tion,” Gessler adds. But Gessler stresses that the watch is more than a tool today, as might have been more the case 40 years ago, and all the more so when, he reck­ons, most peo­ple now prob­a­bly look to their mo­bile phones for the time. “That means watches can now be more than in­for­ma­tion tools, but also ex­press some­thing about the wearer,” he says. “Ev­ery watch brand has its po­si­tion and ours is now more about a cer­tain de­sign lan­guage that ap­peals.”

Not to all tastes as it is, this is still why, as Sch­wamkrug has noted, you can iden­tify a Porsche De­sign P6752 World Trav­eler from 50 me­tres away. A readi­ness to push bound­aries is, ar­guably, why so many Porsche De­sign prod­ucts are dis­tinc­tive, from the pipe to sun­glasses with a unique lens re­place­ment sys­tem (swap the lenses ac­cord­ing to the ideal light con­di­tions for the ac­tiv­ity at hand), a foun­tain pen with a sys­tem that pre­vents the nib from dry­ing out, and a brief­case de­signed fol­low­ing re­search to un­der­stand ex­actly what typ­i­cal users might want to carry with them and how, rather than pro­vid­ing a de­sign with end­less com­part­ments, none of them are the right size for good use.

And yes, one of the first Porsche De­sign prod­ucts, un­der Fer­di­nand Porsche, was a pipe: one with a ribbed effect, ac­tu­ally an in­te­grated cool­ing sys­tem – akin to that used in mo­tor­cy­cle engines – to en­sure the body is al­ways com­fort­able to hold but the op­ti­mum tem­per­a­ture for the to­bacco is main­tained. Such in­no­va­tive think­ing has won the com­pany over 120 pres­ti­gious Red Dot and ADI Mi­lan de­sign awards.

ex­pect, in other words, Pan­erai and IWC to be look­ing on very care­fully at Porsche De­sign’s next moves. In fact, maybe IWC will be feel­ing that it missed a trick. Af­ter all, it was a meet­ing be­tween Fer­di­nand Porsche and IWC’s then CEO Gunter Blum­lein, back in 1978, that re­ally in­spired the for­mer to start push­ing for­ward with the un­con­ven­tional in his watch de­signs – the likes of the com­pass watch he’d sketched two years pre­vi­ously, a slightly nutty no­tion, but also, given the im­pact of most met­als on com­pass nee­dles, a tech­ni­cal chal­lenge. It was why the two-layer case was, in the end, made of a mag­netic alu­minium. “Things ex­ist in the imag­i­na­tion be­fore they can be con­structed in re­al­ity be­cause the tech­ni­cal means are not there yet,” as Porsche him­self pointed out.

Per­haps the last word should go to the man whose name graces the di­als still today. “Not ev­ery­one needs a com­pass ev­ery­day,” he also con­ceded. “But some peo­ple need one from time to time, and then they re­ally need it. For me as a de­signer, that was a de­ci­sive step to­ward my ideal: de­sign as func­tion and tech­nol­ogy.”

Pro­fes­sor fer­di­nand a. Porsche

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