Birth of a Watch

February 2003

Through the example of work carried out by Giampiero Bodino, we take a look at the phases involved in a watch design that seeks 'excellence' and a direct relationship with the forms of the past that provide a sort of DNA of the brand.

The ongoing debate on the 'strategic' transformation from the concept of 'luxury' to the concept of 'excellence' (see Letter from Italy in this issue) generally concerns the most advanced and the most sensitive sector of haut de gamme watchmaking. The notion of excellence refers above all to the models themselves before being a notion of marketing. Therefore it directly affects any project aimed at creating a watch.

The importance of this debate can be emblematically illustrated by the Richemont group (owner of Cartier, Piaget, Baume & Mercier, Officine Panerai, Vacheron Constantin, Alfred Dunhill, Van Cleef & Arpels, Jaeger-LeCoultre, IWC and Lange & Söhne), which is perhaps the best example of a 'luxury group'. The discussion was init-iated some time ago by Franco Cologni himself, and for our purposes, is continued by Giampiero Bodino, the famous designer who was recently appointed as 'Art Director' at Richemont.

Create for total 'excellence'
During a conversation with Bodino, we were able to clarify concrete details and results of this new way of working as well as to understand what goes into the watch creation process that embodies the emerging principle of 'excellence'.

“In creating a watch,” explains Bodino, “we must express a strong personality within a small volume. At the same time, we must satisfy a whole series of practical functions. This sums up the major challenge that a designer faces today when he begins to imagine a new timepiece.”

The watch is thus a synthesis of the different elements of personality and function. To that can be added the identity of its brand. This is an important supplemental characteristic. “Having the specific elements of the brand in your mind is the starting point for all creative acts,” declares Bodino, “especially in the case of the watch that is both a minuscule object and a strong symbol whose power to represent the brand must pass by a series of extremely precise and coded characteristics. We can conclude that a model is a success from the moment it is able to preserve all the features of the brand while exploring new frontiers.”

Importance of detail
It is sufficient to attentively examine any model to understand the extraordinary importance of the slightest detail, such as, for example, the precise form of the hands, the disposition of the numbers around the dial, the volume of the case or the types of functions that indicate its usage (sports versions to elegant pieces, with everything imaginable in between).

The functional or stylistic details are already present in the DNA of each brand in the haute horlogerie sector. The duty of every good designer is to find the correct balance between the hereditary requirements and his creative liberty. In this regard, the operations carried out by Franco Cologni and Giampiero Bodino for Officine Panerai are truly exemplary. It is also the subject of greatest satisfaction for Bodino (not only in words, but in actions since Panerai is the watch he always wears). “With Panerai,” he says, “we have succeeded in keeping all the expressive strength of the original model intact while giving it new life. We were not content to simply produce a remake. The limits we respected were many, all dictated by the profound nature of this essentially military style model. I sincerely believe that this forms the basis for the success of the new Officine Panerai. The historical watches were truly fascinating pieces but a little brutal in the look of their military functions. The current watch is, on the other hand, rather sophisticated while maintaining its strong and evocative power. Helping us greatly in the laborious creative process of this new design was modern technology, both in watchmaking proper as well as in CAD.”

New and old Panerai
The birth of the new Panerai was therefore accomplished with the assistance of new technologies that were actively used in the precise elaboration of new dials. While conserving their original black background, a feature of military watches of the period, the cardinal numbers were redesigned with better proportions and curves that favoured quick and easy reading. An essential detail is that the hands, as well as the indices, are made in such a way that the wearer can immediately see the minutes, hours and small seconds.

The characteristic horns are large and solid, prolonging the blunt profile of the large bezel, and attach the bracelet with a special screw system. Another new design feature involves the patented pawl that protects the crown and ensures water resistance. “Those used in the historic models,” explains Bodino, “were more square in shape. Among the many varieties that we studied, we finally kept the one that complemented the softer silhouette of the case.”

The work of stylization, perfectly expressing the ideas of Giampiero Bodino, were developed from a detailed study and understanding of the original model. After an initial design phase, during which ideas were born from pencil sketches, the final stage was conducted using engineering tools and computer technology. A bit unromantic perhaps, but this step offered incomparable precision and efficiency.

For Bodino, the work on Officine Panerai (and his earlier work with Gucci Timepieces or Versace jewellery) has already been put into the past. Today, he is working on updating the Alfred Dunhill collection and rethinking the design of Van Cleef & Arpels. The nomination of Bodino to supervise the creative undertakings for the brands of Richemont says a lot about the major importance accorded to renewing the forms of each watch while respecting the original characteristics of each brand.

The person who purchases an upscale watch (this applies to cars or home decoration as well) wants to acquire his 'dream' and with it the vision of the world as represented by his particular brand. Bodino understands this desire. Being a man of great curiosity himself, he looks for inspiration not so much in other watch designs (“They have already said what they have to say.”) but in all facets of life, whether in fashion, decoration, history, period jewellery or a simple gadget.