While it might seem odd to describe a style as obvious as the minimalist watch as a trend, the sheer extent of burgeoning creativity in all directions between 2000 and 2010 resulted in ever-narrower pigeonholes into which to classify various types of workmanship – and an ever-deeper focus within each of these categories.
As a result, rather less showy watches became deliberately less and less cluttered and more and more discreet, until their dials came to have no features at all. The Patek Philippe Golden Ellipse popularised this quest for less as early as the 1970s, embodied in this instance by its aesthetics being defined solely in terms of the case shape. Several new versions over the past twenty years have led to the brand becoming established as a major player in the ethos of the pure and simple. Over and above this quest, Piaget has added the pursuit of ultra-slimness, accompanied by soft, smooth, round cases, creating an entire constellation of almost completely bare watches: the Altiplano family. Along much the same lines, the Patek Philippe Calatravas, Chopard’s L.U.C XPs, and several generations of Zenith Elites have all stood the test of time.
Calatrava © Patek Philippe
German aesthetics, in particular those of watchmakers A. Lange & Söhne (and their neighbours Glashütte Original) provide both examples and counter-examples. Both brands are capable of revealing almost everything a watch can do in plain sight on the dial – and of keeping almost everything concealed, as is the case with the Saxonia line. But there can be little doubt that H. Moser & Cie. has taken this approach further than anyone else, in two stages. First of all, the Purity series got rid of the logo on the dial, a move that marketing professionals recognise as a tell-tale sign of the most powerful brands: those that can be recognised simply by their design. Later, the Concept series did away with hour-markers, display windows, minute circles, and other tracery, resulting in faces on which the only means of expression is the colour (more especially, shades of colour which the brand refers to as “fumé” or “smoky” in English) and sunray brushing. Pushing the envelope still further – as watchmaking invariably seems to these days – others have produced new versions of watches with a single hand. Meistersinger has made the feature its trademark; Jaquet Droz is one of several brands to have launched similar models.
Endeavour Centre Seconds Concept (2015) © H. Moser & Cie.
Without going quite that far, the uncluttered look has enticed many brands seeking a certain universality and sobriety that stands in stark relief to the excesses of the past. One undeniable bonus is that a virtually empty dial leaves very little for anyone to complain about. That said, it’s worth bearing in mind that while venturing into this territory is not very risky in terms of design and general acceptability, it can soon become repetitive. The whole exercise has been made possible by the huge strides made in dial manufacturing techniques, as a result of which textures, lacquers, and the few details that remain have become sufficient in and of themselves.
Saxonia Thin (2016) © A. Lange & Söhne
*On the occasion of GMT Magazine and WorldTempus' 20th anniversary, we have embarked on the ambitious project of summarising the last 20 years in watchmaking in The Millennium Watch Book, a big, beautifully laid out coffee table book. The Millennium Watch Book is available on www.the-watch-book.com, in French and English.