Why watch designers are turning to the fashion world for creative inspiration
Cloth maketh the watch
Time was when a dial was a dial was a dial, and a strap was a strap was a strap. Nobody, not even watch designers, paid much attention to them. Dials simply came in silver, black, or white, and straps were either black or brown leather, and ladies' watches were always attached to white straps. These days, though, things have most definitely changed. Watch designers now regard the timepiece as a complete entity comprising case, bezel, dial, and strap, and of course movement. Each component affects the overall aesthetic of the timepiece and so it is only right for them all to receive the same amount of attention.
One of the strongest trends that emerged at the recent BaselWorld watch and jewellery fair is the presence of fashion cues in watch design. Specifically, watch designers have drawn much inspiration from the world of fabrics and textiles in formulating their aesthetic vision. This might strike some as incongruous to the tenets of traditional watchmaking, as — with the exception of a few sterling examples — horology and fashion have never really hit it off, so to speak. Horology and automobiles get on like a house on fire, but fashion, even high fashion, has never really made a strong impact on watchmaking — until now.
Not just the fashion houses or jewellery maisons like Dior or Harry Winston feature textile-inspired designs but even industry stalwarts like Chopard and Patek Philippe have taken a stab at it. But the brand that took this idea and knocked it way out of the park, though, is Hublot, with its collaboration with design firm, Italia Independent.
Together with Italia Independent and the Saville Row tailor, Sartoria Rubinacci, Hublot has made two collections of watches featuring vintage fabrics from the archives of Rubinacci's salons around Europe. For men, the Classic Fusion Italia Independent offers a selection of tastefully woven fabrics: Tartan, Pied-de-Poule, and Prince of Wales. Ladies who want a piece of Rubinacci can look at the Big Bang One-Click Italia Independent, which is dressed seductively in diamonds and velvet.
Dior presented the Dior VIII Montaigne Tissage Précieux, which translates to precious weaving, and that is exactly what the watches are about. In a collection of three watches, each limited to eight pieces, they are all about textiles and the inspiration that comes from them. One of Dior's fabric suppliers has been in the business for 150 years, and their work provides the foundation of these timepieces. The dials are decorated with fine gold threads woven in the classic Dior patterns: Cannage, chevron, and Pied-de-Poule.
Chopard presented an L.U.C XP that comes with a plush cashmere strap. This may be considered a men's piece but there's certainly nothing stopping ladies from wearing it, thanks to the svelte extra-flat case and classic, minimalist dial. Only the numerals are enlivened by a pop of blue, that just goes perfectly with the strap.
Extending its selection of watches featuring artisanal dials, Harry Winston introduces the Premiere Delicate Silk Automatic 36mm, which comes with a dial that's embossed with raw silk. According to a spokesperson of the brand, the silk that's harvested for these timepieces are 100 per cent naturally grown, with absolutely no intrusion by human hands. Dyed in four hues —royal red, silvery grey, pure white, and imperial pink — the silk is then put through an embossing process that fuses it with 18 or 22K gold, which is what gives it the three-dimensional effect. Another novelty by Harry Winston that was inspired by textiles is the sporty Z11, which has a calfskin strap treated with a denim effect.
Patek Philippe, too, has taken a leaf from the craft of silk weaving, in particular, shantung silk, but more figuratively. This is a style of silk fabric that comes from the Shandong province of China, and has signature criss-cross lines called slubs. Shantung silk has inspired the designers at Patek Philippe to create a new dial that bears its unique texture. Ref. 4947G annual calendar with moon phase looks truly iridescent, thanks to the silvery dial with vertical and horizontal satin finishing.