How Mickey Mouse brought va­ri­ety to the world of watches

Yorkshire Post - Property - - PROPERTY - Robin and Pa­tri­cia Sil­ver

QUITE soon af­ter the Wall Street Crash, in 1929, Her­man Kamen was re­cruited by Walt Dis­ney to find new ways to pro­mote Mickey Mouse mer­chan­dise.

By 1932, he had hatched a plan with Inger­soll to pro­duce a Mickey Mouse wrist watch which was launched at the Chicago Ex­po­si­tion en­ti­tled “A Cen­tury of Progress”.

At the same time, thou­sands of shop­pers queued out­side Macy’s depart­ment store in New York and within two years, over two and a half mil­lion watches had been sold.

This not only saved the Inger­soll Watch Com­pany from fi­nan­cial ruin but also es­tab­lished a new mar­ket­ing phe­nom­e­non us­ing car­toon char­ac­ters (and later hu­man celebri­ties) to dec­o­rate or en­dorse ev­ery­day, house­hold prod­ucts.

The re­la­tion­ship with Dis­ney lasted for al­most 40 years and in 1957, af­ter sev­eral de­sign changes, the 25 mil­lionth Mickey Mouse watch was pre­sented to Walt Dis­ney him­self.

The Mickey Mouse watch was also the first nov­elty watch in the world and a year af­ter its launch, a Bri­tish ver­sion was in­tro­duced in 1934. It was vir­tu­ally iden­ti­cal to its Amer­i­can coun­ter­part but in­scribed on the face “FOR­EIGN MADE” be­cause it was man­u­fac­tured in the USA. Orig­i­nally cost­ing 15/- (75p), this is now a highly col­lectable and there­fore valu­able piece.

Fifty years later, on March 1, 1983, the first Swatch watches ap­peared. Man­u­fac­tured in Switzer­land but made of plas­tic with a then rev­o­lu­tion­ary quartz move­ment, th­ese watches could be sold at an af­ford­able price with quirky, colour­ful face de­signs. The ini­tial sales tar­gets were one mil­lion in the first year and 2.5 mil­lion in the sec­ond. Twenty years on, over 300 mil­lion Swatch watches had been sold and to­day the num­ber must be ap­proach­ing half a bil­lion!

De­sign­ers, ar­chi­tects and artists from all sorts of back­grounds and dis­ci­plines have cre­ated Swatch watches. The painter Keith Har­ing was one of the first and oth­ers in­clude the Ja­panese film di­rec­tor Akira Kurosawa, and the mu­sic-mak­ing DJ Moby. To­gether they have pro­duced an “art gallery on the wrist”.

Whilst thou­sands of nov­elty watches have fol­lowed in Mickey Mouse’s foot­steps, many ar­chi­tects have been keen to de­sign more se­ri­ous and higher qual­ity watches and one Swiss man­u­fac­turer, Pierre Junod, has es­tab­lished a string of re­la­tion­ships that pro­duces in­no­va­tive and dis­tinc­tive de­signs.

An ar­chi­tect will never be able to see all of a com­pleted build­ing, how­ever small it may be, in one go. It will al­ways be seen in parts and from dif­fer­ent an­gles. It is, how­ever, pos­si­ble to hold a watch in the palm of the hand and see the de­sign in its en­tirety and ap­pre­ci­ate its com­plete form. It is hardly sur­pris­ing then that so many ar­chi­tects and de­sign­ers like to work in this medium and to this smaller scale. The Echo watch was re­cently cre­ated by Fredi Brod­mann and is clearly in­spired by an archery tar­get and an echo sounder but also fea­tures a Swiss move­ment and a non-re­flec­tive sap­phire crys­tal glass lens.

Of course, th­ese de­signs are not nov­elty watches nor do they fol­low in the colour­ful Swatch pop art tra­di­tion but with­out that first gi­ant step by the mouse with the big ears and big feet, the sheer va­ri­ety of watches would sim­ply not ex­ist to­day.

HANDS OF TIME: The Mickey Mouse watch cre­ated by Inger­soll and Echo by Fredi Brod­mann.

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