Rado’s U.S. Design Prize Goes Au Naturel

You could argue that, in a sense, no design object is as inspired by nature as a watch. After all, its entire purpose is to measure the rotation of the earth as it orbits the sun, helping mortals plot their days according to the eternal movement of celestial objects.

It’s only fitting, then, that the theme of the upcoming Rado Star Prize U.S. design competition is just that: Design Inspired by Nature. The winner will be revealed in May, during the annual NYC x DESIGN fair. The contest is one of eight Rado Star Prize competitions held in design capitals around the globe, from Milan to Taipei. This is the third year for the U.S. edition, and the 10th for the contest overall.

Whatever the Star Prize gives up in tradition, it makes up for in variety. Past overseas winners include everything from a super-compact, bottom-loading office printer to a low-cost, lightweight portable chamber for sterilizing medical instruments in developing countries. The common thread?

“All the past winners have done something that our juries found to be truly original or inspirational,” says Matthias Breschan, the CEO of Rado. “Solving a design problem that we were aware of, or that we didn’t even know existed until we were presented with the solution.”

The men behind Sterilux, the innovative medical sterilization product and 2017 Rado Star Prize Switzerland winner.

For this year’s edition, Breschan expects the entrants to be similarly bold, even if the materials and inspiration are more earthbound.

“Successful design thrives on originality and seeing the same challenge from a different perspective,” he says. “By focusing on nature, we’re asking designers to use a true essence as inspiration and not something that has already been processed. We expect some really innovative ideas.”

The U.S. winner will receive $5,000 in funding, to help turn his or her concept into reality, along with a True Thinline watch from Rado. “Time is one thing that, as humans, we have no influence over,” Breschan says. “Time dictates so much of what we do and, since we can’t change it, the best we can do is work with it. At Rado, our take on that idea has been to make watches that will stand the test of time and that are designed to look good for a lifetime.”


UPDATE (5/19):

Rado Star Prize U.S. Highlights:

Winner: Felted Concrete by Susannah Weaver
Finalist: Argillite by Caroline Kable
Finalist: Pinched Ottoman by Ian Barsanti

The Biggest Little Car Shop in Texas

Hot-rodders around the world trust Dave’s Perfection Automotive in Austin, Texas. The shop’s owner has some words of wisdom for budding car collectors.

 

Dave’s Perfection Automotive might be one of the planet’s leading shops for hot-rodders and vintage car collectors, but it doesn’t go out of its way to advertise. There’s no website. It’s identified by a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it street sign, and you get there by driving down an unassuming alley. Call and ask for the proprietor, and you might hear the following refrain: “We don’t call him ‘The Phantom’ for nothing.”

 

Step inside, however, and you’ll see why collectors worldwide track these guys down. In one corner is an International Harvester Scout II, the pinnacle of 1970s off-road cool, and the vehicle that reps Liz Lambert’s famed Hotel San Jose, which helped make Austin a hot spot two decades ago. There’s a plush Cadillac Eldorado and boat-tail Buick Riviera on the lot, both belonging to a Frenchman who sent the cars Stateside for repairs. And then there are the men running this place, including a mechanic who has worked here for 30 years, and Steve Wertheimer, the longtime Austin scenester who took over after the shop’s founder, Dave Geddes, passed away.

“I was always one of those guys who liked to take things apart,” Wertheimer says. “Sometimes I could get it back together, sometimes I couldn’t.”

He grew up reading car magazines, but didn’t get into collecting until after he bought the Continental Club, the legendary South Austin music venue, in 1987. He befriended Jimmie Vaughan, the iconic blues guitarist and older brother of Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Charlie Sexton, a singer-guitarist and frequent tour-mate of Bob Dylan’s. Both men collected cars, and encouraged Wertheimer to do the same.

One night, Sexton introduced him to a local car enthusiast named Mercury Charlie, who, perhaps unsurprisingly, declared that Wertheimer should own a Mercury. He just so happened to be selling one, a parts car that needed to be restored from the ground up.

“I went out to [Mercury] Charlie’s house every night for it seemed like eight months, and we worked on this 1951 Mercury,” Wertheimer says. “And we basically built the car, put it together, and I’ve been driving that thing for thirty years.” Indeed, the car—curvy, streamlined, jet-black, unmissable—is parked in front of Dave’s most days.

Later, after attending a car show in Paso Robles, Wertheimer caught the hot-rod bug. His first was a 1930 Ford Roadster, christened The Continental Kid, which he still owns, and is powered by an engine he built himself. He founded the Lonestar Hot Rod & Kustom Roundup, a massively popular spring car show, in 2001, and took over at Dave’s in 2012. Along the way, he picked up a few more hot rods (with names like The Black Dahlia and Goldenrod) and became something of a local impresario.

Accordingly, there’s typically a two-month wait just to get your car in the door at Dave’s. When you do, Wertheimer says, the mechanics will likely discover there’s more work to be done than you initially thought. (Original components on older cars wear quickly, and most of the frames and bodies were made from steel, which is susceptible to rust.) From there, it may take months for your car to be finished; it’s not easy to track down vintage parts, and once the team does, it takes time to get them sent to Austin and installed correctly. As Wertheimer notes, “Most of the stuff that we have to deal with, you can’t down to O’Reilly’s or Pep Boys.”

Thinking about getting into hot rods? Wertheimer has a few pieces of advice that will sound familiar to anyone who collects watches. First and foremost, find an expert who can examine your potential quarry and assess its condition. “Don’t get all hyped up over the shiny paint and chrome and all that stuff,” he says. “Local dealer auctions are notorious for putting lipstick on a pig. They wind up over here immediately afterward trying to fix all the stuff that those guys covered up. It’s worth spending a hundred bucks to take a friend or a professional with you to go check out the car. It’ll save you a hell of a lot more money in the long run.”

Once your purchase is sorted mechanically, Wertheimer has one final piece of advice to offer: Drive the thing. Not just for pleasure, though that will be considerable—but also to keep it in good shape. Many of the cars in Dave’s Perfection Automotive suffer from simple lack of use, because owners are too nervous about taking such a beautiful vehicle on the road. (Wertheimer drives more than 20,000 miles a year.) And hey, if you still wind up needing some help, you know who to call.

“Seeing someone drive off, saying this car runs better than ever—that’s where I get the most satisfaction,” Wertheimer says.

Perfection, you might call it.

 

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Why the world’s most discerning wrists wear cuff links from Michael Kanners.


By Paul L. Underwood

The modern man has about as much need for cuff links as he does for, well, a watch. If you need the time, you can consult your phone. If you need to keep your sleeves together, consider the button. And yet….

Wearing cuff links, like wearing a watch, signifies not just a rich understanding of history on behalf of the wearer, but also an appreciation for craftsmanship, for taste, and for the eternal notion that what’s practical isn’t always what’s stylish, and what’s convenient isn’t always what’s right. It also demonstrates a more forward-looking kind of aspiration: Cuff links, like watches, are the kinds of things that get passed down from generation to generation. To wear either, or even both, is to connect yourself to both your past and your future.

Few men understand this better than Michael Kanners. A third-generation jeweler, he received his first pair of cuff links from his grandfather (a simple gold pair he still owns), and went on to create some of the most intricately crafted and exquisitely designed ones on the market. He learned his art collecting and selling vintage links, before he began making his own, 10 years ago. It was a decision born of necessity. “Customers were looking for vintage cuff links, but I could never find enough,” he says. “I had to make them because there aren’t enough around to keep everybody happy.”

The telltale sign of a Michael Kanners cuff link is a unique marriage of first-rate materials with first-class whimsy. Take his first pair: theatrical masks made from fine coral. (He still has them and, we regret to inform, intends to keep them.) Then there are his later designs: A polar bear with a paw backing. An incredibly detailed dog—wearing a fedora. A diamond crown atop a coral frog. Suffice it to say, few designers, if any—and certainly not those at the big-brand jewelers—are making such painstaking and original designs today, and certainly not to such exacting standards of quality.

Where does he get his ideas? Some are commissioned by his customers. Some are inspired by vintage links. And then some just come to him. “There are certain obvious ones that appeal to the collector’s mentality: vintage cars, boats, dogs—things where there’s a lot of variety,” he says. “There are some cars I’ve done that I think are just fantastic, because of the combinations of stones, where every detail is represented by a different stone.”

Once he has an idea, he sits with a stone cutter—some of whom he’s worked with for his entire 10-year run—in Italy or Germany and does some sketching. They’ll see what stones are available, with a particular eye for ones with a strong color variety. He’ll sketch his designs directly onto the stones, estimate the time and cost involved, and then cut them to his own very precise measurements. (His experience has given him a strong sense of what his customers will like—what he calls “the sweet spot” between too big and too small.) Because each pair is handcrafted, no two sets of cuff links are ever exactly alike.

Michael Kanners