Language of Design: Pet Peeves

I have posted comments elsewhere that express a pet peeve of mine regarding how we describe the design of certain watches.  Most of us are not designers, architects, or art historians. We use imprecise terms to describe design elements that we like or dislike in watches.

Using architectural terms to describe watches is usually inaccurate. It is like nails on a chalkboard every time I see something described as Art Deco or Bauhaus. Not every vintage tank watch is Art Deco. Very few watches fit any recognized definition of Art Deco.  Here is one taken from the internet:

1934Front-IMG_4701.jpg

Rectangular shape, accented by curved elements, made before 1940. Yes, this could have been worn in Havana or Miami in the 1930's. (What is fascinating is that the Bulova designer knew to simplify the dial for such an ornate case.)

Pre-war watches are not necessarily Art Deco.  There are Craftsman elements that are just as strong in many of those designs.  And Craftsman is just a step past Art Nouveau and Belle Epoque (Mercedes hands anyone?).  Post-war watches are usually not Art Deco in any meaningful sense. Perhaps, they do not easily fit a particular style.

There is another recent thread on the merits of Nomos.  Nomos is minimalist, Bauhaus inspired, and definitely German.  Bauhaus was as much a design style as architectural one.  (You can have a Bauhaus toaster more than you can have a Prairie School toaster.)  As a movement it lasted decades longer than Art Deco. But like all trends it had an end, even if its influence had a longer tail.  Nomos interprets the language of Bauhaus, but it is a simulacrum. It is every bit a work of nostalgia as a Timex Marlin reissue.

I think that my objection is that we just categorize watches based on our limited understanding of design language. Perhaps, the designers and architects can help us out here. Perhaps, I am just wrong and need watch design patiently explained to me.

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I can definitely tell that the Seiko I'm wearing today was heavily influenced by late twentieth century cost-minimalism.

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hbein2022

I can definitely tell that the Seiko I'm wearing today was heavily influenced by late twentieth century cost-minimalism.

OMG, I'm dying laughing here!

Milk Out Of Nose GIFs | Tenor
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Another language discussion, so of course I am commenting. :) There is plenty of imprecision, for sure. I think it can be difficult situating watches given the way the individual objects cross time periods and localities unlike buildings that tend to stay put in place. Look at the Wikipedia entry for the Arts and Crafts movement. You will see within reference to Modernism, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and Craftsman design. There is so much spilling over and backward references from one to the other and then very localized versions of each. Time and geography play such an important point both in the source of design and in their interpretation.

With contemporary designs things become even messier because we don’t have a word for what we are in the midst of, but also because designers (both those who are knowledgeable of design history and those who are not) are constantly trying to reproduce and/or update ideas from the past. So, we get language applied to these new designs and then people use that to reference vintage watches, often making errors along the way. You know what they say about a little bit of knowledge. :) And not every eBay seller knows their design history or cares to and that can make search super difficult.

Something that I have found fascinating (and frustrating) about the watch world in this past year that I have been observing it is how so many watches have been built with little designer-y design involved. There are a lot of engineered designs (spec focused) in the contemporary space, particularly with microbrands, that seem to place little value in knowing the basics of graphic design when it comes to selecting a typeface, kerning, placement, etc. for the words and other elements on a dial or even the logo for a company.

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I’d like to throw in a few that I’ve had that I think are legit Art Deco.

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Davemcc

I’d like to throw in a few that I’ve had that I think are legit Art Deco.

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I’m sensing a trend… don’t tell me, I’ll work it out.

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Back on topic, I think this is something that has got worse over time. The general standard of watch content is declining, so it’s just laziness. Perhaps I’m just a miserable git, but it always feels someone sees “Bauhaus inspired”, and then whacks it into an op-ed and then it’s paraded around like a insignia without any thought or understanding what the designer was trying to achieve. It’s minimal innit? Yes, but why… Perhaps it’s the decline of form and function in watch making; I’m surprised at how many people are shocked at the suggestion of still using a watch to tell the time.

I also agree with the points about engineering over design. It’s a lost language, and a dying art. Take the new Omega mega super divery thing (I’ve forgotten the name) - I can’t read the damn thing, but it would survive on Venus. Beautiful. I also don’t care - complete apathy. This is the new crisis we are sleepwalking into. Boring watches with poor design choices marketed to people who don’t care what they are as long as they can post them on IG and flip them for the next hyped thing. How many BB58s, or ATs do we need?

I smiled to myself when someone re-dropped the sweet ironic parallel between Bauhaus mass-production and cheap drop-shipped watches, because it was lost on the majority and had got buried within the noise. Cracking take. 

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Davemcc

I’d like to throw in a few that I’ve had that I think are legit Art Deco.

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A few thoughts:

  1.  Solid Hamilton collection. If there was a prize for vintage Hamilton you would be in the running.
  2.  They make brown leather straps.
  3.   Examples 1, 3, and 5, fit my understanding of Art Deco.  The dial of #1 is from an earlier design school, but the chrome case puts it into Art Deco.  I will guess that is your earliest piece, perhaps early to mid-1920's.  #3 hits it all the way.  #5 is inching towards the 1940's with those applied numerals (I think that every American watch maker in the early '40's had the same supplier of applied numerals), however the stepped case puts it in AD territory.  To the extent that #2 and #4 used chrome and a combination of curved and straight lines they approach AD. You might convince me, but I am on the fence about those. I am guessing that only #4 and #5 date from the 1940's.

My original point was that Art Deco means more than old watch, just like Bauhaus means more than minimalist watch. Your examples are drawn from the decades when Art Deco held sway. Tank watches continued to be the most popular style into the mid-1950's when round watches took over. Most of those watches were transitional in design (like the one that I am wearing today), with some AD elements but with styling that was also more forward looking.

Now, show us your Bauhaus Daniel Wellingtons.

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There‘s only one Bauhaus I’m interested in:
 

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OlDirtyBezel

There‘s only one Bauhaus I’m interested in:
 

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We can now officially date 1978 as the official end of the Bauhaus movement. (I saw Love and Rockets, the successor band, in 1985 at Tipitina's in New Orleans.)

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Aurelian

A few thoughts:

  1.  Solid Hamilton collection. If there was a prize for vintage Hamilton you would be in the running.
  2.  They make brown leather straps.
  3.   Examples 1, 3, and 5, fit my understanding of Art Deco.  The dial of #1 is from an earlier design school, but the chrome case puts it into Art Deco.  I will guess that is your earliest piece, perhaps early to mid-1920's.  #3 hits it all the way.  #5 is inching towards the 1940's with those applied numerals (I think that every American watch maker in the early '40's had the same supplier of applied numerals), however the stepped case puts it in AD territory.  To the extent that #2 and #4 used chrome and a combination of curved and straight lines they approach AD. You might convince me, but I am on the fence about those. I am guessing that only #4 and #5 date from the 1940's.

My original point was that Art Deco means more than old watch, just like Bauhaus means more than minimalist watch. Your examples are drawn from the decades when Art Deco held sway. Tank watches continued to be the most popular style into the mid-1950's when round watches took over. Most of those watches were transitional in design (like the one that I am wearing today), with some AD elements but with styling that was also more forward looking.

Now, show us your Bauhaus Daniel Wellingtons.

The dates of these are:

1) 1931.  2) 1930.  3) 1937. 4) 1932. 5) 1937.

I have had a fascination with the differences between Art Deco, Art Nouveau and Streamline Deco. The problem is that every time I learn something, I forget it just as quickly. 

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I’ll add my two cents but I think @roberto probably has done a better job of it.

I think the language, terminology and labels we use are there to help us try to categorize that particular item so we can better understand it. The labels we use today to define a style are almost always retroactively created - and as such, there is always going to be examples where the definitions are much more generous and open for interpretation.

I haven’t studied watch design so when I attempt to understand their design motivations I naturally default to the language I use from my architectural background. I don’t feel this inappropriate. I am just searching for a shared language to help me better communicate/discuss a design. I would liken it to a sommelier describing a wine - grassy, jammy, etc. - breaking it down in a way so we can appreciate the differences and figure out what we like/don’t like.

Personally, I don’t mind if someone uses a term incorrectly to describe something. I appreciate they recognize and care to speak to design in the first place. It opens the door for more conversation, and most times I can see how they’ve interpreted one stylistic gesture and arrived at there conclusion.

With regards to Nomos, I think its a bit disingenuous to compare what they are doing to what Timex has done/is doing with the Marlin. Nomos is taking the design tenets/principles established during the bauhaus movement and creating new, modern designs. Timex is taking the original Marlin and making some small adjustments to give it broader appeal for today. They may both result in “minimalist” watches, but how they arrived there makes all the difference… to bring it back, it’s the difference between delivering a building and delivering architecture. It’s also what separates the chinese imitations and what Nomos is doing.

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bevelwerks

I’ll add my two cents but I think @roberto probably has done a better job of it.

I think the language, terminology and labels we use are there to help us try to categorize that particular item so we can better understand it. The labels we use today to define a style are almost always retroactively created - and as such, there is always going to be examples where the definitions are much more generous and open for interpretation.

I haven’t studied watch design so when I attempt to understand their design motivations I naturally default to the language I use from my architectural background. I don’t feel this inappropriate. I am just searching for a shared language to help me better communicate/discuss a design. I would liken it to a sommelier describing a wine - grassy, jammy, etc. - breaking it down in a way so we can appreciate the differences and figure out what we like/don’t like.

Personally, I don’t mind if someone uses a term incorrectly to describe something. I appreciate they recognize and care to speak to design in the first place. It opens the door for more conversation, and most times I can see how they’ve interpreted one stylistic gesture and arrived at there conclusion.

With regards to Nomos, I think its a bit disingenuous to compare what they are doing to what Timex has done/is doing with the Marlin. Nomos is taking the design tenets/principles established during the bauhaus movement and creating new, modern designs. Timex is taking the original Marlin and making some small adjustments to give it broader appeal for today. They may both result in “minimalist” watches, but how they arrived there makes all the difference… to bring it back, it’s the difference between delivering a building and delivering architecture. It’s also what separates the chinese imitations and what Nomos is doing.

My little quip about the Marlin was meant to provoke, not enlighten. You are right about the process. Oddly, my problem is not with Nomos, but with those who just lazily ascribe everything they do to Bauhaus, as though that is an unassailable answer. Artistic movements have fuzzy beginnings and endings, but they are still defined by time. Today, one can be Bauhaus inspired without being Bauhaus. The Vario 1918 Trench is inspired by a time but not of it. On the edges of watch design there are some using Dada principles but we don't call them such because, as watch consumers, we only know two terms: Art Deco and Bauhaus.

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Interesting topic, even if it isn't my particular area of interest. 

What I can add is this, every hobby/interest has three broad groups:

  1. Expert - a professional in the field of interest;
  2. Hobbyist - someone with a keen interest, that studies the hobby/interest in their spare time; and
  3. Everyman - average people with little to no knowledge of the topic. 

This conversation is pretty much all about  "expert" vs. "hobbyist" vs. "everyman" terminology. 

In meteorology(my career) this is something that comes up every day on TV, Radio, the internet, at the water cooler, etc.. There are "expert" terms to describe the weather used in forecast discussions, and aviation weather that the "everyman" would never be able to understand, and the 'hobbyist" would struggle to make proper sense of. So, in the interests of making the weather understandable, we use simplified terms that give a general picture of what the conditions will be for public forecasts. Eg. "sunny", "mix of sun and cloud", "disturbance", etc..

What watch media seems to be doing when describing things as "Art Deco", or "Bauhaus", is using "Everyman/Hobbyist" terms to give a general impression of the design style to people who aren't "Experts". 

Another example:

Expert;

METAR CYOW 222000Z 27009KT 240V310 15SM FEW045 FEW230 04/M06 A3023 RMK CU1CI1 CU TR SLP246=
 

TAF CYOW 222040Z 2221/2318 27010G20KT P6SM FEW040
BECMG 2221/2222 35010G20KT
FM230100 01008KT P6SM SKC
FM231400 08008KT P6SM BKN180
BECMG 2314/2316 08012G22KT
RMK NXT FCST BY 230000Z

Everyman;

A few clouds, winds out of the West at 20km/h, temperature 4 C 

Winds will become northerly 20 gusting 40km/h this evening, with increasing cloudiness overnight. Winds will change to strong Easterlies 20-30 km/h gusting to 40-50km/h tomorrow morning.