Minimalism is a term that is broadly used to describe anything that is bare and simple. A minimalist room is one that typically comes with few or no decorations, a couple of pieces of furniture, and nothing else. A minimalist car is one that has simple lines and that doesn’t look sporty nor utilitarian. Although minimalism design is best known as coming from the German Bauhaus tradition—which codified the ultimate balance between simplicity and functionality using the right proportions—it can also be seen in different cultures over many centuries. And there are tech companies that are known to make minimalist stuff like Apple. Therefore, minimalism is everywhere and it is as trendy as it has ever been.
So, what does minimalism look like in watch design? What are some brands that are known for making minimalist watches? And are there other brands that can be seen as making minimalist timepieces? Let’s find out.
Key Visual Elements of Minimalist Design
One day I saw a movie or documentary about Steve Jobs in which he (or whoever played his character) explained that designing a minimalist object is ridiculously difficult. It requires removing unnecessary stuff all of the time and that in itself is a difficult thing to do for us humans. We always start by wanting more than we need—or more that is visually necessary—and we tend to not want to get rid of things. Creating something simple means we need to think about what it is that is truly essential and what is not. It’s a long process and getting it right doesn’t come on the first try.
A minimalist watch can be seen as being two things: first, as one that looks simple; second, as one that only comes with core functionality. From a visual standpoint, the case of a minimalist watch is often perfectly round, it has no crown guards, its lugs are straight, and it has even finish all around. The dial has painted straight markers and thin, stick-like hands. From a functionality perspective, it only comes with three hands and no complications. The latter guarantees that the dial remains uncluttered.
There are of course different ways to design a minimalist watch. I wanted, however, to suggest one general definition in order to set a baseline for what’s next.
Nomos: The Best Modern Example
Of all brands that currently exist in the world, I first think of Nomos (check out this link on the German Everest website) when I think of a brand that makes minimalist timepieces. The best example from the brand—and its core collection—is the Tangente classic. The dial is a masterpiece of simplicity: Bauhaus-style Arabic numerals and thin hour markers, long stick minute and hour hands, a sub-register for the running seconds at the 6 o’clock position, and a perfectly round case with polished surfaces all over. The Tangente also comes with minimalist dimensions that make the watch disappear on the wrist: 35mm diameter case with 45mm lug-to-lug distance and a case thickness (or thinness) of 6.6mm.
Other Minimalist Examples
While Nomos best represents modern minimalism in watch design, there are plenty of other brands that make minimalist timepieces—which here can be understood as “simple” and “essential.” Jaeger Lecoultre’s Master Ultra Thin is one example in its design and proportions, although it comes with a date and moon phase. On the more affordable side of things, Junghans makes super and affordable minimalist timepieces and even Baltic and its MR-01 model could be considered minimalist. At least, in their functionality. But as we saw above, when we talk about minimalism in watch design we first and foremost talk about aesthetics.
Sometimes, a watch can be minimalist in both aspects. A good example of that are single-hand watches in the likes of Meistersinger and Botta. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the two aforementioned brands are German. They display time with just one hand and generally with a dial that has a 12-hour graduation with hash marks delineating five-minute intervals. This means one can read time at one glance, however one will never be able to set the watch precisely like we normally do with a three-hander timepiece.
Minimalism in horology, therefore, comes in both how simple a watch looks and how few complications it has. Actually, mainly the one of telling time. Although we can define what minimalism is in different ways, we can generally agree that it means only having the essential. This is perhaps not everybody’s taste but there is a group of watch enthusiasts who particularly like this style of design. For my part, I like minimalist watches although I don’t see myself wearing them. And I would argue that watches, in general, used to be much more minimalist several decades ago.
What are your thoughts?Featured image: @mainspring.watch