Products need only last as long as a glimpse at Instagram, so what does good design mean now? For Dieter Rams, it has always been about purity, ever since he started his industrial design career during the mid-1950s. Rams, who recently turned 86, served as the Chief Design Officer of Braun from 1961 until 1995; his famed “Ten Principals of Good Design,” and its influence on everyday objects, especially technology and electronics, remains unparalleled. An upcoming auction at Wright in Chicago (July 12th) celebrates the German’s prolific career and continued legacy, sending more than 130 of seminal products by Rams’ and his Braun colleagues across the block.
Nearly everything in this collection, sourced from Los Angeles connoisseur-and-dealer JF Chen, is fascinating. Here, Watch Journal narrows the scoping, picking out a few favorite lots to illustrate Rams’s “Ten Principals.”
Dieter Rams: The JF Chen Collection, Chicago, July 12, 2018; wright20.com
If Malcolm Gladwell did motorsport commentary, he’d likely say Formula E was approaching its tipping point. The four-year-old series—in which purpose-built, all-electric race cars scream around diabolically tight courses often carved from a city’s own streets—has many things breaking in its favor. One, it has lured some of the most prestigious car brands on Earth. Two, it has secured a multiyear title sponsor, ABB, a Swiss builder of robotic systems. Three, it continues to cultivate strong driver talent.
Also, man, have you seen the new car?
Indeed, the 2018/19 season could mark the inflection point at which Formula E graduates from the experimental music tent to the main stage—and not just in audience terms. Once the province of electric-vehicle component suppliers and a few intrepid, early-adopter automakers, the series has since on-boarded the likes of Jaguar, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz, with more manufacturers being announced every few months. (That’s to make no mention of the star power; celebrity team owners include Leonardo DiCaprio and Richard Branson.)
With global consensus growing around electrification and battery power as a viable replacement for internal combustion, Formula E can already claim to be the most future-forward motorsport series. Given a few more years to mature, however, and it may legitimately threaten Formula 1—its closest analog, and a decidedly carbon-belching one—as the world’s premier plutocratic spectacle on wheels.
Not only is Formula E coming for Formula 1’s excitement, but also for its yacht slips in Abu Dhabi, magnums of Mumm, and impeccable haircuts. The electric series will even race through the streets of Monaco next year. Consider that a bold statement of intent: Monte Carlo is the crown jewel of the Formula 1 schedule, and Formula E is mounting an electron-fueled heist.
A number of confluences, some expected, others not, have led Formula E to this point. The biggest shock has been the addition of Audi and Porsche, both brands having announced their race entries simultaneously with withdrawals from Le Mans prototype racing. With class victories at 10 of the past 11 runnings of the eponymous 24-hour endurance race in the French countryside, the German manufacturers’ sudden pivots have been viewed by some pundits as tactical—and less charitably, cynical—chess moves.
After all, Volkswagen Group, the corporate parent of Audi and Porsche, was caught in 2015 cheating on diesel-engine emissions tests, leading to billions in fines and a cascade of indictments. Even without that stain, skeptics can deride the involvement of Porsche, Audi, and others in Formula E as tantamount to greenwashing: a way to launder profits derived from gas-guzzling SUVs and sports cars in a virtuous spin cycle.
Even a jaundiced eye can’t help but twinkle, though, when the Gen2 car enters into view. Wholly redesigned for the 2018/19 season kicking off in the fall, the second generation of Formula E’s race car debuted at the Geneva Motor Salon. As a so-called “one-make” race series, Formula E dictates that all teams use this chassis, and the response from insiders and social media gawkers alike has been overwhelmingly positive.
“At first glance, the season five Formula E car looked to our design team like an EV-powered supersonic bird in flight,” says Alfonso Albaisa, Nissan’s senior vice president of global design. The Japanese automaker, another new entrant, hasn’t participated in top-tier racing since its calamitous attempt to run a prototype racer for Le Mans. The car was uncompetitive, and its design was heavily criticized. For Nissan, like Porsche and Audi, the foray into Formula E represents something of a fresh start.
To that end, next season got off to an auspicious beginning, as Albaisa’s “Doppler effect” paint scheme for the Nissan car was met with acclaim. Armchair engineers will note the slippery lines of the chassis underneath, an inheritance from endless wind-tunnel work; design pundits will appreciate the clever use of color, emphasizing the body’s various convex and concave surfaces. Fans will just think it looks damn good. Formula E could always claim it was the most future-forward race series. Now it has a strong claim to being the most beautiful, too.
Q+A: Richard Mille
The visionary watchmaker (and Formula E sponsor) talks about Richard Branson, the future of motorsport, and the possibility of a special-edition timepiece inspired by electric racing.
How did you get involved with Formula E? Were you approached by Jean Todt?
Times change, and Formula E is the future of Formula 1. The category of all-electric cars has taken a radical turn since the beginning of the championship. My friend Jean Todt, president of the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) climbed aboard, excited by the work of Frenchmen Eric Barbaroux and Pierre Gosselin, creators of the first 100 percent electric single-seater race car. I have known Jean-Paul Driot (owner of the Renault e.dams team) for over 10 years, and I wanted to support him from the very beginning of the adventure. Also, the technological approach meshes perfectly with our own avant-garde philosophy. For someone like me, who loves a challenge, being in on Formula E seemed like an obvious choice. And what I liked about Formula E was the noise! It is unbelievable!
Richard Branson, who sponsors a Formula E team, famously said the series would be more popular than Formula 1 by the year 2020. Do you agree?
I feel that 2020 is perhaps a bit too early. Not due to the teams or the cars, but due to the fact that people and fans need to get used to this new field. I do, however, believe that that day of acceptance will come when the time is right. We are seeing commitment to a green economy because this is the reality we face. Technological advances will do a lot to make the sport ever more popular in the coming years.
Over the past two years, several major automakers with strong motorsport traditions—Jaguar, BMW, Porsche, Mercedes—have started Formula E teams. Which automaker would you like to see join the series?
The engineering of electric racing cars is becoming and more advanced. Within the next two years, Formula E cars will only rely on just one battery per race, instead of two. This means one car instead of two. That is what convinced new automakers to join the Formula E Championship, in fact, you quote some of them!
When designing race-themed timepieces, watchmakers usually draw inspiration from mechanical motifs—gears, camshafts, pistons. Electric race cars don’t have those parts. If you made a Formula E watch, what would it look like?
Formula E car construction is not simple at all! Even electric drive cars have steering systems, wheels, axles and thoughtfully designed bodywork—and that’s to say nothing of the fact that a lot of their materials already being used in Formula 1 construction, with new ones continually in development. Formula 1 and Formula E have strong similarities. There is a real interest in transposing everything we have learned in F1 to the electric universe. After all, they both contain everything related to acceleration, G’s, vibrations, lateral and longitudinal shocks. In short, everything it takes to kill a watch!
In the past, you’ve dedicated pieces in your collection to Sébastien Loeb, Felipe Massa, and Alain Prost. Which current Formula E driver deserves his own Richard Mille timepiece? The various celebrities who embody the (Richard Mille) brand aren’t ambassadors, but rather friends. We work with them because they are outstanding in their professions, and because they are good people. We sign long-term contracts together that go beyond any consideration of results or their careers. We don’t commit lightly, and we’ve built a strong relationship with the Renault e.dams team. This includes drivers Nicolas Prost and Sébastien Buemi, and they actually are wearing Richard Mille watches during each Grand Prix. All in good time, all in good time!
When Maximilian Büsser opened the original Mechanical Art Devices Gallery in Geneva, in October 2011, he never expected to sell any of the artworks on display.
They were simply meant to contextualize his watchmaking collective, MB&F, and its experimental Horological Machines line of timepieces—“to demonstrate our path of thinking,” he says. But the gallery proved an incredible success as a showplace for fantastical kinetic art. So successful, in fact, that it spawned two satellite locations: Taipei and Dubai, which opened in 2014 and 2016, respectively.
For Büsser, a veteran of the watch and jewelry industry, the M.A.D. gallery led to a second professional life, as a curator. It’s a role he never expected but very clearly loves. His newfound passion for fine art and fascination with machinery meet in “For the Thrill of Speed,” a rare static exhibition at M.A.D. Geneva. It encompasses a collection of auto racing photographs by the late French racing photographer René Pari, which were painstakingly resurrected from damaged negatives by artists Daniel Berque and Serge Brison.
Before the grand opening of “For the Thrill of Speed” in Geneva, Büsser spoke to Watch Journal about the origins of the gallery, what he looks for in an artist, and why he prefers co-creation to inspiration.
What was the genesis of the gallery concept?
Most retailers didn’t understand what we were trying to do with our Horological Machines. They’d look at our pieces and say, ‘This is not a watch.’ I thought maybe our pieces should be presented in art galleries, so I went to see some art galleries, and they said, ‘Well, this isn’t art, it’s a watch.’ Clearly, something wasn’t working.
I realized I needed some sort of hybrid concept. It had to be an art gallery which was specifically catering to mechanical or kinetic art, so people would understand what we were trying to do. Initially, it was like a decoding machine. If you understand Frank Buchwald and his incredible machine lights, then maybe you’ll understand our Horological Machine. If you want a motorbike, you go get a Ducati, or a Harley Davidson; if you want a work of art, you get a Chicara Nagata. By the same token, if you want the time, you buy a Samsung or an Apple Watch. If you want a piece of art, you buy an MB&F.
What do you look for in an artist and where do you find them?
Initially, we were scouring the internet. Remember, we had a blog, “Parallel World,” on the website, and every week for ten years we had a post always talking about things that amazed me—things that I wanted to share. In doing this, I bumped into a lot of incredible creations and creators. We were very active at the beginning looking for artists we’d be proud to showcase; now we have a certain amount of artists who contact us.
I always say the M.A.D. Gallery is an orphanage because virtually all of the artists we showcase are either misunderstood or shunned by traditional galleries. Because traditional galleries are usually interested in paintings, photos, mixed media. Kinetic art is something ninety-nine percent of galleries don’t understand or want to deal with.
Who are some of your favorite artists?
Definitely Damien Bénéteau, who does these incredible light sculptures. There is of course Bob Potts, the American artist who does these flying machines, which are so beautiful—real kinetic art. There is this incredible Turkish artist, Server Demirtaş, who had a solo show last May. He does these android robots who come to life and they’re mind-boggling. And we introduced an English kinetic artist called Ivan Black who created what looks like a lamp, which is actually a kinetic art piece that starts moving, and does incredible choreography. And I’ll finish with Nils Völker, who does choreography—we’re very much into choreography these days. Artists who create pieces that are beautiful to look at but when they start moving, they’re like a ballet.
Do you find yourself inspired by the artwork when creating timepieces for MB&F?
I’m sure I am, but it’s not something very blatant. It’s not like I love Frank Buchwald’s machine lights, and then say, “Let’s do a watch that captures his style.” I wouldn’t have much pride in copying something that exists from someone who’s created something incredible. It actually infuses me. There are times when we’ve co-created, as with the LM1 Xia Hang, which has the little alien who falls asleep as a power reserve indicator [a collaboration with Chinese sculptor Xia Hang]. So we will sit down and say, “Why don’t we create something together?”
How do “co-creations” work?
The first co-creation we did was with Reuge, the music box company. It happened because we had some Reuge boxes at the beginning of M.A.D. Gallery; I loved them but they didn’t speak to me. So I went to them and we made MusicMachine 1 [an unconventional music box]. Then we started doing the clocks, the Caran d’Ache pen [known as the Astrograph]. All these clocks, music boxes, and pens very much have in mind creating 3-D kinetic art for the galleries. So it’s sort of, what goes around comes around. The gallery was there to make people understand MB&F and now MB&F is creating objects for the gallery.
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.”
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.”
The famed architect (and watch designer) sounds off about Hermès timepieces, the evolution of inclusive luxury, and why he’s “never belonged” in the world of design…
You designed the Hermès Carré H eight years ago, then redesigned the dial for a special re-release this year. When you conceptualize a new timepiece, do you have an idea of what you want, or do you start from scratch?
The initial brief [in 2010] was very open. It was by Jean-Louis Dumas, the former CEO of Hermès, who since passed away. He was just like, “What would an Hermès mens watch be for you?” The idea of the square wasn’t even there. It was supposed to be a chronograph.
I’d never done a watch before, only architecture. I told Jean-Louis Dumas, “I think that when it comes to a men’s watch, it’s always an incarnation of your hero, like an actor or sports star.”
To me, the hero for Hermès would be someone who inspired you to do new things, this kind of character, like an explorer. We started trying to define this person. It felt like a mission. We used to joke about Saving Private Ryan. Like we have to save Hermès by finding the identity of this watch.
So who’s idea was it to revisit the Carré H?
I started to have discussions with [Hermès artistic director] Pierre-Alexis Dumas, the son of Jean-Louis. We had a conversation about bringing back this watch, making it more consensual. The first one was maybe, at least in the shape, a little bit edgy. This one is more easy to approach, more seductive, and in 2015 we began work on it.
When you renew a model, the first solution is to follow the trends. I was really interested in looking at it [in terms of] evolution, an evolution of the world and society in the wider sense, which brings us back to the explorer. The world is getting more and more diverse; people are traveling, exchanging. I experienced this through my architectural office and my own creation, but also through my family. I come from a long line of “perfectly French” people … I now have a grandson who is mixed race.
The first [Carré] was for a small group of initiated people. The second incarnation … it’s a wider expression for people connecting to it. It’s [still] this man who travels, who is curious, who will cross cultures, but [now] he doesn’t have to be from such a small group.
As an architect, do you ever have the desire to go back and change a building?
This has happened to me, yes. I was in charge of the architecture for Galeries Lafayette [department stores], the French equivalent of Saks Fifth Avenue. To go back and move an escalator, just to move these mechanical stairs, was more complicated than being at war. I’m a very technical architect and very passionate about [protecting history], but at the same time [open to change], due to my career path, because I went from architecture into design. Especially in France, we’re like, “You’re a doctor, and you’re going to be a doctor. You did this kind of study, and you’re going to follow it.”
The fact that I switched, I never belonged completely. So when I’m with technical people, they consider me a poet, because I have this designer side. And when I’m on the side of the designer, I’m also not enough, because I’m an architect. It’s like I passed from one world to the other my entire life.