Do you recall a moment when you realised that all things horological, and particularly watch design, would be your calling?I’ve been into art and creation from an early age, thanks to my family. I developed a deep passion for cars and wanted to become a car designer. Growing up and attending a design school in Milan, I actually understood that what I was interested in was the creative sparkle generated by the design process, rather the object itself. From then, I spent all my efforts focusing on designing objects I felt a connection with, expanding my interests well beyond cars.
Then I had the opportunity to work for a watch manufacturer in Italy, and although watches were already something intriguing for me, I’d never actually imagined designing one before. But the moment I discovered the incredible richness of the horological universe, I realised that the excitement of being able to create these mechanical marvels from A to Z is something quite rare in the design universe.
With watches it’s possible for the designer to manage the whole creative process and look at the physical result within weeks. That’s something amazing when you compare it to the car industry, for example. Anyhow, from that moment I kept designing watches and the fascination kept growing as I understood the power of these little mechanical marvels. Their technical depth, the endless mechanical complexity, not to mention the symbolic meaning with which people view watches, made it to my eyes a very powerful and extremely intriguing field of expression.
In your capacity as a designer, when presented with the prototypes for a forthcoming collection, do you have an immediate gut instinct as to what’s right about it and what could be better?
Experience is extremely important and checking a new product is a very delicate task. You’re facing elements and details that are unknown and your eyes are not used to them. You need to be able to understand the balance of all elements and the proportions among parts.
Sometimes, what looks amazing on a sketch or a rendering does not look the same in reality. It can be a matter of tenths of millimetres for a surface not to reflect light the way you imagined. Or the thickness of a line could be too eye-catching compared to the dot beside it on a dial. But as you said, the very first visual impression, the gut feeling, is very often the most powerful indication and having the courage to listen to your instinct is very important.
What are the examples of the kind of tweaks that elevate a watch-in-progress to the next level, design wise?
Balance on a watch is the key. You have a very small surface to express so many things. You need to be a very sharp alchemist to use the correct doses of all the elements in your possession and sometimes you have to create a new one from scratch.
On top of the stylistic approach, the technical and ergonomic constraints are incredibly challenging. A good designer can play and deal with all of these factors. But at the end of the day, what in my opinion really matters is that a watch be beautiful to look at, comfortable on the wrist, readable and time-proof. We create objects that are meant to last for decades and more. A great watch design is one that lasts and can be perceived as a classic or, even better, as an icon.
What is it about the sport-classic chronographs of the late 1960s and 1970s that resonates with you so strongly?
I’ve been passionate about cars and motorsport since I was a child. I can vividly recall the Tag Heuer logo on the most iconic racing cars. That fascination drove me to dig into vintage sport watches and collect them for years.
That precise epoch – the 1960s and 1970s – saw the most incredible development of the watch industry in terms of variety, shapes, experimentation and functions. It was a period when creativity was free from industrial strategies and marketing approaches. Synergies, collaboration and competition were mirrored both in motorsport and in watchmaking. The introduction of the first automatic chronograph happened thanks to the collaboration and competition between several companies, and that event opened the way for the conception of some of the most iconic timepieces ever made.
Shapes, colours and proportions were spectacular and it’s not by chance that today we call them classics. These are example of watches being time proof – they are still very powerful designs. They represent the ingenuity of a very poetic and nostalgic universe where the human factor and analogue techniques reached their apex. We saw similar designs emerge in the automotive world too, like the Porsche 911 and the Ferrari 250 GTO.
Why do watchmaking and motorsport make such suitable bedfellows?
The two worlds are inextricably linked. The watch is often a racing car’s judge: your car may look beautiful and sound amazing but the chronograph is the judge of whether it is fast or not. Fastest laps, sector times, qualifying, average speeds – all these components of the racing world need time-keepers. This was part of the rationale for our reimagining of the chronograph. The time of day is not your priority when you’re on the track – what’s important to you is elapsed time – so we placed the chronograph functions centre-stage in the Track 1.
Precision also links the two worlds. In the Track 1 there are 477 individual components housed in a case 34mm across. They must all work correctly whether the watch is hot, cold, inverted, submerged or subject to g-forces. Like a mechanical watch the car must bring together and package precision components, and then they must endure whatever the driver and the conditions throw at them.
Done correctly, both worlds offer the chance to do all of the above and still deliver a piece of design that has an emotional connection, something that is beautiful. In everything we do at Singer we try to pay equal attention to both dynamic and aesthetic performance. That’s the definitive design that links a sports chronograph and a sports car – a type of mechanical art.
What different elements do you, Rob and Jean-Marc bring to the table?
Rob and I met because of a shared passion for cars – more precisely because of my admiration for his work with Singer. I would say we share the same vision when it comes to accepting no compromises about the maniacal refinement of details and the relentless pursuit of perfection for the objects we create.
Rob brought his vision to life, reimagining an icon, by respecting and elevating the original codes through optimising them to the highest possible level. I made this concept mine and applied it to the watch universe, designing something that would be spectacular and born from the same philosophy as Singer’s automotive work. The result was a chronograph reimagined: a completely new approach bringing together iconic design with cutting-edge engineering.
Jean-Marc made this dream becoming reality, thanks to his genius and his watchmaking ingenuity. The three of us envisioned this venture like a human encounter first. The business side was only very marginally considered as the three of us were fully focused on the experience and the fundamental innovation of our idea. Track 1 is a watch that came from shared passion.
We’ve definitely caught the interest of very discerning collectors – people who don’t always want to follow convention and who understand the innovation and depth of engineering behind a timepiece.
The success of the recent record sale of the Track1 in the Phillips Geneva Watch Auction XI indicates the watch is being seen already as an instant classic. Our clients are spread all around the world and what they have in common is their love for sophisticated mechanical engineering, refined and distinctive design and the taste for something that is genuinely rare and absolutely exclusive, as well as being the first of a new breed of chronographs.