R essence and Sotheby’s today unveil the Type 1 Slim “Ayrton & Finlay” – a completely unique watch inspired by the winning design of the #WatchAgainstCovid19 competition launched by the watchmaker and the auction house back in April. Fresh out of Ressence’s Swiss manufacture, the pastel blue titanium automatic wristwatch - named after the two children of the winner, Englishman Raymond Ramsden - will go on view in the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center on Sunday (5 July) , before being auction in Sotheby’s Hong Kong ‘Important Watches’ auction on 11 July. Proceeds from the sale will benefit KU Leuven University’s Covid-19 Research Programme.
Ahead of the auction, founder and CEO Benoît Mintiens sits down with Sotheby's in an interview to discuss the decision to launch this project, and also to share his views on what makes for successful and innovative watch designs.
Your background is in industrial design. Where does your passion for watches come from and how did you end up creating your own watch brand?
My passion for mechanical watches is older than my professional career… as a youngster I already kept magazine cutouts with special watches among other products. Watches are at the crossroad of my personal fields of interest. To create a mechanical watch, you need to be creative technically and at the same time consider the aesthetics, the ergonomics, the brand universe, the refinement, its pricing and manufacturing and the social interactions of people that wear the watch. This makes it a holistic ecosystem in which all the creative inputs need to convert to a coherent new balance. Not many products are as rich and can fulfill my creative appetite for so long.
Can you tell us a bit more about the brand Ressence, starting with the logo (a hand) and the brand’s philosophy?
“Our Mission is to make fine watchmaking relevant in & for the 21st century.” To do that the product must be reconsidered from its functional point of view. Because without function, a product is not relevant. So, what is the function of a wristwatch in the 21st century? Obviously a lot more than just give time. We have decided that our watches should help in making us conscious of the passage of time. We do that by applying the logics of an hourglass. On an hourglass you graphically see time that is passing by looking at the sand sliding from one chamber into the other. Our watches use the reading patterns of a "normal" watch and add this extra dimension of graphically showing the passage of time. The way the dial is animated is changing its composition all the time like on an hourglass. One can only observe the passage of time when things change.
Ressence has been credited with reinventing the wristwatch and has built its international reputation by revolutionising the way time is displayed on a watch. Could you let us know a bit more about your approach?
Our signature design is an answer to a physiological aspect of our body. On a Ressence, time-information is represented in one surface. On a "normal" watch the hands superpose each other and create a 3D layered information. As we have two eyes we can read 2D information much easier and quicker that 3D information. Imagine that the words in a book would float above the paper like the hands on a watch dial. Obviously it would make reading much slower.
For many in the watch industry, you bring a fearless, uncompromising approach to watchmaking. You worked with Tony Fadell, the “The "father of the iPod" and co-creator of the iPhone to develop one of your most recent models, the Type 2 e-Crown – a mechanical timepiece that links to your smartphone and is powered by the sun. Are you parting with the mechanical watchmaking tradition or is your ambition to combine the best of both the mechanical and digital worlds?
Adding IOT ( internet of things ) in a mechanical watch is still a taboo for many in our industry. What we do with e-Crown is automating the crown function, without interfering in the mechanical movement. Basically, what we normally use the crown for on our watch is taken care of by e-Crown. The Type 2 is completely autonomous and does not need any connection to a smartphone to deliver its full potential. It is easier though. Because instead of setting the watch manually, you can send a city into your watch from your smartphone in one action. We chose to improve the mechanical watch by drastically improving the crown. Even if Type 2 is a 100% mechanical watch, you never have to wind it or set it. E-Crown does it for you – if you want.
Finally, you initiated the “Time to Draw” watch design competition. What prompted you to launch this project?
Give a man a fish and he will eat for one day. Learn a man to fish and he will eat forever.
Obviously, in the face of what was unfolding beginning of March, we could not do much to prevent the social and economic tsunami. So we asked ourselves, what can we do to avoid this from happening again. For us the answer was easily found. Support research by financing it.
How did you decide on the winning design?
That was a difficult one. It was clear people took it close to their hearts. The designs we got were really well thought off. All had a message. If I count the latecomers, we nearly got 500 drawings from all over the world. It was a truly humbling experience. It felt like as if you give a concert where the spectators sing your song. We did not give many instructions apart from being "interesting." Finally we decided to take the ones that expressed optimism. Instead of directly picking the winner, we chose four designs we really liked, and we let social media democracy name the winner. Personally, I’m very happy with the elected design. It looks super optimistic, it is gender-neutral, it has a nice story, and faraway of what we would do as a brand. I think the piece will be very collectable because of its complete originality and its uniqueness. Like art cars today.
What is the next step? Can you talk us through the production process of this unique watch?
Colors is a complicated subject when applied to a Ressence watch. The components that form the dial need to be super precise as they are part of a mechanism. With the thickness of normal paint, the components would start to touch each other what obviously would blocs the watch. So we have worked out a new technology with our subcontractors to color the components within a few microns. The chosen piece is based on precise colors, so it was essential to be able to respect that.
What was your first impression when you saw the winning design?
When we first saw Raymond’s design, we gave it a few nicknames: the Mondrian-watch, the Super-Swatch®, the Lego®-watch, but the real watch is beyond any comparison: it stands out from anything I’ve seen so far in the watch world, both aesthetically and philosophically. It is fresh and vibrant; it pops. It has the fun-factor combined with the quality of a high-end watch - the whole thing animated by Ressence’s dynamic display. Above everything else, it shouts out a positive and optimistic message, which is very much what we wanted to convey through this initiative. I now just wish there was more than one watch!