I don’t claim to be a watch guru when it comes to technical performance and build but I do get excited about design and aesthetics. My inner artist-wannabe will geek-out at things like designer collaborations such as Swiss-made Rado’s True Square Designer Collection, created in partnership with designers from all over the world.
The collection features five uniquely different designs, each a representation of the creator’s artistic style and perspective of time. Aside from wanting to know more about their backgrounds — many of whom are award-winning — I’m equally curious to discover their ideation processes for watches since it’s not typically their usual form of media. Apparently, one of these watch models even clinched the coveted Red Dot award for Product Design last April.
Despite their very different design traits, all of the True Square watches remain united by their underlying specifications. A 38mm ceramic case created using injection moulding holds the Swatch group’s impressive Powermatic 80 movement, giving these watches 80 hours of power reserve. The lightness of the ceramic coupled with the perfect sized square for the watch-face makes True Square a joy to wear for both men and women.
While three models made it to market early 2021, the last two — “Over The Abyss” by Delhi artist duo Thukral and Tagra and “True Heart” by China graphic designer Yuan Youmin — arrived a little closer to Christmas due to manufacturing delays. So now that the full collection is here, let’s take a closer look and decide which one (or two) we like the best.
See also: The business of complications
This bright yellow timepiece won the international Red Dot Design Award for Product Design, created by Tej Chauhan, an award-winning British industrial designer known for his use of shape, colour and material to create objects that bring joy.
For his True Square timepiece, he injects futurist visions from popular culture, from movies to typography to colour theory, referencing the timeless stylings of filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, and designers Syd Mead and Herb Lubalin.
Rado’s high-performance material is presented here in matt yellow complemented by a bracelet consisting of cushion-like leather elements held by high-tech ceramic connectors. The radial dial pattern which features silver-coloured concentric circles in contrast to the lines of the hour and minute markers combined with the simple use of basic colours red, blue and white — all juxtaposed against a square face — is so well thought-out. Supposedly, the blue markers represent the time of day when things get busy.
Another tiny but relevant detail is the very retro typeface used for the date indicator which happens to be a bespoke typeface created by Chauhan’s in-house team. For me, this would be the watch I’d wear to social events to give people something to talk about!
Designed in collaboration with award-winning Studio Formafantasma, made up of Italian-Dutch design duo Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin, this light-grey almost-white timepiece draws inspiration from historical half hunter pocket watches, where you get a glimpse of time by peering through a small opening on the watch cover.
Part of the reason why pocket watches were built this way was to protect the delicate dial and mechanism inside. In the case of Formafantasma, this timepiece uses high-tech ceramic as the ultimate scratch-resistant protective layer in which a small window for the dial has been made. The bracelet is also matt light grey high-tech ceramic titanium with a comfortable 3-fold clasp.
The choice of light grey and tone-on-tone approach comes from the name of the design duo themselves. The ghostly appearance comes from both the monochromatic light grey construction and the ‘floating’ presence of the dial through the small aperture.
Of all the watches, this one seems to have the least practical use as a watch — the dial is simply too small to read for my old eyes — but it’s by far the most artistic of the lot and my overall favourite.
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Undigital by YOY
This eye-catching timepiece was created by award-winning YOY, a Tokyo-based design studio founded by Naoki Ono and Yuki Yamamoto. Their work can be found all over the world such as at the Museum of Modern Art.
The term Undigital means exactly that: an unapologetically analogue watch that maintains its ties with the digital age through a clean contemporary soft square design, all-black aesthetic, ceramic material and “digital” hands.
A truly smart and witty design, the matt black dial plays with the distinctive shapes of the seven-segment display of a digital clock and transfers them onto the hour and minute hands. If you look closely, both hands are the same length but the hour hand is “shortened” with one digital dash instead of two and brought to life with Super-LumiNova. This watch design, which is my second favourite, is extremely clever and absolutely undigital.
Over The Abyss by Thukral and Tagra
This next piece is done by New Delhi design duo Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra, founders of eponymous Thukral and Tagra. Their 18-year body of work is often described as social design because they revolve their creations around relationships and connectedness to community.
It’s almost poetic that their True Square design for Rado brings together people with a dial that represents all the different time zones of the world. It has 37 hands (18 hour hands and 19 minute hands) to reflect the different time zones, painted in a kaleidoscope of colours. To read your local time, you refer to the two hands that have SuperLuminova dots. It’s a bit hard to read but we appreciate the complexity and artistic meaning behind it.
Another fun detail is the caseback that features a surrealist painting by Thukral and Tagra called Dominus Aeries that explores visions from the future with references from the past.
True Heart by Yuan Youmin
Graphic designer, curator, art professor and founder of Studio0909, Yuan Youmin drew inspiration from the fascinating cultural history of China combined with modern minimalism.
He based this sleek black design on the classic steelyard scale — consisting of a rod with markings, a weighing tray and a movable counterweight — which has been used in China for over 2,000 years.
Youmin’s creation picks up on some of these elements stylised in his watch design. The recessed, round dial in the centre, for example, represents the weighing tray, the lever arms of the steelyard become the slender hands, and the traditional hexadecimal dot graduation serves as the basis for the design of the hour markings.
Auspicious yellow gold detailing traditionally stands for the pure heart and honesty of the tradesman working with the steelyard. The four segments that connect the round dial with the angular case feature polished black lacquer — a further classic Chinese technique. And for the caseback, Yuan chose the image of a phoenix to symbolise eternal rebirth.