WRIST WATCHES brought a certain informality to portable timepieces that were once kept in a gentleman's pocket, often on a chain - or pinned to a lady's top. But the evolution from mechanical to digital has led to the avant-garde notion of "concept watches."
Some resulting timepieces are an "out there" take on noting the movement of time, where hours, minutes, seconds - and sometimes dates - are marked in ways that border on such obscure displays or codes, that only those in the know can comprehend them. Think abstract shapes, spirals, columns, chart-like read-outs, minimal lines and many others that could take the watch design or an intellectual interpretation - or both - as their raison d'etre. These are typical ideas behind so-called concept watches.
On other occasions a theme or concept is chosen and applied to the timepiece. This could be an experiment to include working elements of another piece of kinetic engineering, such as the gear chains of a bicycle or the moving parts of a motor engine.
Real objects are sometimes also taken as a starting point, and interpreted with much artistic licence.
This is seen in Canadian designer Luis Beruman's ZeroPointZero concept - a strikingly modern pair of watch handcuffs is easier to read, with its digital displays, and in a Japanese watch that loosely refers to the New York Subway train map form of display.
There may be a grey area in labelling "smart watches" as concept watches. However, as we are witnessing the very infancy of the former - that is, the notion of incorporating mobile phone and/ or internet communication, networking and information, some interesting tech elements are the focus of some new timepieces. Octopus account chips in your watch in Hong Kong may be old hat but from a few years ago, voice-command watches took off. Korean electronics brand LG pioneered James Bond-like touch-screen watch phones in late 2009, but more sophisticated and less showy refinements are found in small-production watch innovators such as US-based Martian (see below) that synchronises functions with the owner's mobile phone device.
In 2009 Cartier introduced its ID One watch. It took on the notion that with a new mechanism and high quality components that did not require oil, that it would never need maintenance or repair. Its second version builds on this.
Monaco V4 by Tag Heuer
Taking its cue from Grand Prix motor racing, hence the name Monaco, the French Riviera port that is home to one of Formula One's most glamorous street races on the annual calendar, this watch has a re-engineered mechanism.
The traditional pinion and cog workings have been replaced with a belt-driven movement that alludes to car engines. The 0.07mm section belts are 10 times smaller than any belt manufactured. Two pairs of V-shaped barrels are visible through the sapphire crystal face and back panels - and this is where the model name comes from. It also plays on the cylinder formation within car engines. This design took Tag Heuer watchmakers five years to fully develop.
Martian Voice Command Watches
California-based Martian Watches has been fusing personal wireless communication devices to wristwatches with Japanese quartz movements since 2007, experimenting mostly with low-energy Bluetooth technology. Its Martian Voice Command Watch line - due to be introduced in February next year - allows users to communicate directly through their watch, while leaving their mobile phone in a pocket or bag. Three chunky, shiny chrome-edged modern model styles house a neat analogue watch face above a small LCD display strip, which shows caller name and can scroll through social network, e-mail, weather and other online notifications and subscriptions. Powered by a rechargeable lithium battery, which can hook up to hard drive USB points, it is compatible with Android and iPhone voice-command features and apps, and it runs smoothly with Blackberry's general and MAP features. Martian is expected to work with Windows phones.
Ora Unica by Denis Guidone
In Ora Unica - a play on hora unica, meaning "Only Time" in Italian, designer Denis Guidone places just two squiggly spirals on the watch face. One is inside the other and traditional hour and minute hands the hands are formed by the ends of each line. In 2008, the watch won the Adam O'Eva Creations international design prize. Said by Guidone to represent a doodle in time, the striking monochrome design is available as white on black or black on white.
The steel case and leather strap is manufactured by Nava Design in Milan. Guidone has produced 12 watches for Nava - Ora Unika, available in either 36mm and 42mm face size, is arguably the most compelling.
Zero Point Zero by Berumen Design (top)
Before any assumptions are made that this is a fetishistic concept, Canadian designer Luis Berumen says his inspiration for this unisex set - that resemble a pair of handcuffs, is inspired by the premise that we are all slaves to time. Linked by a short chain, the two bracelets each contain an LCD display within stainless-steel casing. One displays hours, the other minutes. ZeroPointZero, though typically eye-catching and conceptually intriguing for Berumen Design products and graphic design, is its first foray into timepieces.
It has sparked a lot of international interest within design communities and publications.
Cartier has introduced a new way of thinking about watches with its ID concept watch initiative. And it's also changing the face of watchmaking in other ways. The world of high horology, outwardly at least, may appear mostly male, due more to centuries of tradition rather than any institutional bias. So it is refreshing to learn that the lead creative genius from Cartier is the unassuming Carole Forestier-Kasapi (right).
As the head of the Movement Creation department at Cartier, Forestier-Kasapi occupies an enviable position. The French watchmaker is the engine that drives much of the innovation behind the ID concept (ID stands for Innovation & Development). Having started watchmaking in her early twenties, Forestier-Kasapi went on to head watchmaking duties at the Ulysse Nardin and was recently cited by industry magazine HH Magazine as one of the top five watchmakers working today. The crowning glory came this year when she was voted Best Watchmaker at the industry Oscars: the Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Geneve.
At the launch of the ID One in 2009, Cartier turned the watch industry on its head by creating the world's first lubrication-free and adjustment-free concept watch, that is, the first watch that needed virtually no regulation. But if the ID One caused a stir, then the July launch of the ID Two heralded a revolution in watchmaking. If friction was the problem to be solved in the ID One, the ID Two took on another perennial problem in fine watchmaking, that of efficiency. With the ID Two, Cartier engineered new technologies such as a vacuum-sealed case, carbon-crystal parts and fibre-glass springs to create a watch that consumes twice as less energy than a normal watch, storing 30 per cent more energy to give an astonishing 32 days of power reserve.
With both ID concepts, Forestier-Kasapi says her team used new materials, rethinking the science of movements. However, ID One and Two may have changed the game but as Forestier-Kasapi stresses, the work is not only theoretical, the need to innovate was born of a need stay ahead of the game. The first fruits of the innovation unleashed by ID One will be available for purchase next year.