“The hope of any designer, when you separate the business side from it, is to resonate with people. You want to bring good to people’s lives; to make their days easier or bring about a change in mood; make people happy. Or at the very least inspire a reaction, good or bad. When something is designed well, it is effortless; people embrace it, adapt to it and get on with their existing with it. When something is designed poorly or without proper care, it can be hard for a designer to recover from it. You are only as good as your last gig.”
Any number of things can be the difference between a good and a bad object; success and failure. What may seem like simple things actually have quite complex issues attached. A kettle with poor balance or inadequate grip can make the simple act of pouring boiling water very dangerous. Likewise a toothbrush that’s too long or a chair that’s too sharp. Things the customer doesn’t have to think about if they’re done right, but are intrusive if they’re done wrong. And that’s only the functional/operational aspect - before people start using the product, they have to want to buy it first. It’s the immediate emotional response - the thing that drives people to want something or not - that’s the most important thing for a designer to get right. It also happens to be the most difficult. How do you cater for taste, especially in a field as opinionated as watches?
Watches are really unique objects in that they bridge a few different worlds; product, utility, fashion, jewellery. And each sector comes with its own rules and hazards. There’s a lot of psychological, emotional and social decision and weight that comes with choosing a watch. Many don’t really care what brand it is or what history it was born from - they just like how it looks or it matches their wardrobe. But for some, what brand a watch is or the pedigree and history it draws from really matters.
As physical objects watches are discreet; from 5 metres away you couldn’t really tell what brand a watch is or who makes it. Watches are small and unobtrusive - you can easily wear a very expensive watch and no-one will be any the wiser.
In that sense, a watch is quite a complex object - it can convey everything from personal taste, style, status, opinion, wealth and knowledge. For many, a watch can be of great personal importance. They can mark special events in your life; getting married, having a child and investing in a watch to pass down. If you think about any object that is passed down through generations, watches are usually quite common. Watches are attached to people and are inexorably linked to their stories and experiences. Maybe it’s the human connection that makes a watch so much more than just a utility. It’s a really important object that can carry a lot of emotional weight. Then you have the psychological connection to time and what it means; the passing of time. The wasting of it. Time has its own grasp over each and every one of us, and a watch only serves to remind us of it.
So as a designer of watches, there’s a lot of things to consider even before a word is spoken about it. But when you finally do start putting things down on paper... you realise you’ve not even scratched the surface.
As most of you will know the name Coniston came about after we launched a competition for our followers to name our next watch - we received over 1,000 entries. The winner was the name Coniston after Coniston Water, which is linked closely to historical water speed records and the Campbell family. Sir Malcom Campbell held speed records on land and on water at various times during the 1920s and 1930s, and his son, Donald, carried on the family tradition by holding both land speed and water speed records - the latter of which he achieved on Coniston Waters in his Bluebird hydroplane boat, which is very distinctive. We can try and incorporate some of this history in to the Coniston design.
We launched the company with the Cherwell and to date that has been the most interesting of all our watches, even more so when people see them all side by side; everyone tends to gravitate towards the Cherwell. For the Coniston we wanted to really figure out what it is about the Cherwell that makes it so magnetic visually. If we can understand that then we can try and use some inspiration in the Coniston as well.
With each of our watch designs there’s always some predominant feature that people comment on, so we want to try and gather all these popular points and somehow weave them into the Coniston.
Before anything begins properly, the first thing we think about is the engine; the little machine that will power the watch. We’ve used a bunch of movements now and the most fascinating thing is to compare them over time and see which ones come out most accurate, reliable and robust over time. We’ve had experience now of all the main options available to us; Chinese, Japanese and Swiss. We both love the manual mechanical movement and it’s really great to have these engineering marvels in our watches; but the problem we are seeing now, especially as we approach what will be our 5th unique design, is that the choice of mechanical movements that meet our (now very strict) requirements, is quite small.
For a company like ours; one that doesn’t have the ability to manufacture our own movements, it means that we need to turn to the calibers available to us from other movement manufacturers. It’s a really niche end of the spectrum, and an expensive one too. As we start to think about what movement we want to use, we inevitably turn quite quickly to costs and this in turn narrows the field to only a few choices, depending on what we want to do. With the Haskell we went straight for the best Swiss movements we could get in ETA. But with Swiss ETA and other Swiss movements comes lofty prices. For the Coniston we really want to head back towards the Cherwell and Derwent area in terms of pricing, and as such that rules out Swiss movements for the time being.
For the Coniston we're working with a new manufacturer, so there’s a whole set of parameters to work out and finding how best to work together. It takes a little while to build up the relationship, finding the most efficient way to communicate what you want, what you need or what you think; we’ve found it has taken a few months of almost daily comms to get to a point where we are all on the same page.
We already have a Japanese Miyota movement inside our Derwent range and have been tracking its progress and abilities over the past 2 years - it’s been one of the biggest surprises in that the accuracy and reliability of that little movement is almost on par with our Swiss movements. For the Coniston we’ve decided to use Miyota again and this leads us to the bigger sibling of the Derwent movement, in what’s called the 8N33. We’ve had a number of these movements in our test-bed for the past 4 months now, checking reliability and accuracy to be absolutely sure this is the movement for the Coniston - and it’s performed brilliantly.
So we have the movement sorted - the thoughts now turn to getting an initial picture of what we want to do; where we see this new watch sitting in our current range; where we see the watch from a design standpoint - do we want it to be a classic type watch, or maybe a dive watch, aviation inspired watch? There’s so much choice for people out there and we have a lot of choice in our collection already, so we need to be clever and sure-footed about the design direction of the Coniston. We also want to reflect the history of the Coniston name and bring an essence of that in to the design.
All of our watches, from the Cherwell through to the Coniston are designed from the ground up. We have the facility to choose from parts already manufactured and this would bring the costs down significantly - pick this case, pick that dial and those hands. But this isn't the Marloe way. Before we started Marloe Watch Company we spoke for a long time about the direction the company would take and we really wanted to remain as design led as possible - cost restrictions will always invite compromise - but as much as we could, we wanted to design it all ourselves. Going down this path does cost a lot more but we can then do anything we want and design things properly, rather than relying on existing parts.
We are ready now to head in to the prototyping and production phases of the Coniston project. Pretty soon we will know if all the work in the design and development stage has been successful...
Part 2 - Coming Soon.