September 9, 2014
by Ariel Adams
Whether or not Apple decides to release an iWatch, iTime, iWhatever… smartwatch in a few hours or a few months (UPDATE: They did. See the Apple Watch here), we know that the accomplished Australian industrial designer Marc Newson will more than likely be a big part of the design process of this upcoming and highly anticipated wearable computing device. A few days ago, I discussed the implications and virtues of Apple’s decision to have Marc Newson join Jony Ive in designing products at the company. You cannot discuss Marc Newson and watches without talking at length about Ikepod.
Ikepod is a luxury watch brand and it is technically still around, but it really isn’t a big deal any longer – at least not like it was in the late 1990s and early 2000s. What happened? In addition to filing for bankruptcy in about 2003 and later being purchased by new investors, Marc Newson and Ikepod parted ways back in 2012.
Even though the company has had its ups and downs from the start, the biggest asset of Ikepod was serving as a very genuine funnel of what Mr. Newson sees as being the pinnacle of wrist watch design. While Newson didn’t have per se an executive role in the company, “he” designed their watches, and his word was (mostly) law.
Will Newson’s word be law at Apple? That isn’t likely to be the case, but compared to all the other big-name designers at Apple, he has the most watch design and production experience. Newson’s modern yet organic aesthetic also fits the theme of Apple products, and as far as I know, he is perhaps one of the best choices around when thinking about pairing a celebrity designer with Apple. Like many designers, Marc Newson’s work often follows themes and aesthetic preferences, so by looking at his past wrist watch-related work we can make a pretty good guess as to how his talents would translate in a smartwatch or wearable computing device product for Apple.
Of course, we don’t know per se if Marc Newson is involved in an Apple smartwatch that may or may not come out soon (UPDATE: while Apple hasn’t said so yet, it is very likely his design DNA is in the Apple Watch) – even though we know for sure he has been hired by Apple as a designer. In any event, it is highly likely that, if not now, then in the near future, Newson will play an integral role in the design of an Apple “iWatch” and other future products. I further suspect that Apple will invest more in “the internet of things” and have a range of household devices designed to play a part of an Apple curated smart (automated) home. A smartwatch device would more than likely be a part of that Apple ecosystem of interconnected devices.
I offered a hands-on look at a range of Ikepod watches here, back in 2011. So lets take a look back in order to help envision the future and discuss 10 important and interesting facts about Ikepod and Marc Newson’s history designing wrist watches.
1. Ikepod really began in 1993-1994, when Oliver Ike, a Swiss businessman who also worked in the furniture industry, hired Marc Newson to design wrist watches for a new “unconventional brand.” Ike had become familiar with Newson as a designer because of some of his furniture design work.
2. Marc Newson’s first wrist watch design ever was called the “Pod,” and it was designed by him when he was 23 years old in 1986. Apparently, Newson himself assembled 100 pieces of the Pod watch and it was then and there that he learned just how difficult watch design, production, and construction could be.
3. The “Ikepod” name was not only a simple contraction between Oliver Ike’s last name and Newson’s first watch, the Pod, but also a reference to Newson’s design obsession with “pod” and “capsule” style designs that define much of his work as well as many names of Ikepod products.
4. The very first Ikepod watch was called the Sea Slug, intentionally named for the exotic ocean creature. It was meant to set a tone that the brand was cool and different. I believe that it was priced under $1,000 when it was first released.
5. Ikepod quickly became a serious luxury watch brand with prices to match. While Ikepod had some Hemipode tourbillon-based watches, many of the most expensive Ikepod watches were made from solid platinum cases. Because the shape of the cases required such a large block of platinum to work with, they were for a time the most expensive platinum watches with a relatively simple chronograph movement, at prices close to $100,000 or more.
6. Marc Newson was an early fan of the “large watch” trend that quickly dominated the wrist watch market starting in the late 1990s and early 2000s. At a time when most men’s watches were sized at 38mm wide and under, Marc Newson designed watches such as the Hemipode that were 44mm wide – a size that would later become almost de facto for modern sport watches with bold designs.
7. Like Apple, Marc Newson is a huge fan of symmetry in design. While it is sometimes popular to play with balanced asymmetry in watch design, Newson for the most part was extremely interested in purely symmetrical case and dial designs. Newson often demanded that movements be used in his watches that could be modified to offer symmetrical layouts, which helped make the watches unique. Newson couldn’t however control (much to his chagrin, most likely) the placement of pushers and crowns around the case.
8. Marc Newson obsessed over ergonomics and comfort. As a result, he designed a totally custom an unique looking rubber strap to be used on most of his Ikepod watches, which was supposed to make them fit perfectly balanced on one’s wrist. The Ikepod rubber strap was initially released in 1996, and was the first result of Marc Newson dabbling in CAD (computer-aided design). UPDATE: The fluorolastomer strap on the Apple Watch looks very reminiscent of this design, and it is highly likely that Newson worked on it.
9. Smartwatches are increasingly round, but mostly square or rectangular, is that something Newson is comfortable with? Newson’s only angular watch for Ikepod was a rather strange looking timepiece called the Solaris, which debuted in 2009. It was actually one of the smallest watches he created, and it was designed to be reversible – with watch dials on both sides. Newson also designed a somewhat rectangular oblong watch for Ikepod known as the Manatee.
10. Marc Newson’s final timekeeping design for Ikepod was perhaps his most simple, and did not tell the time, but merely tracked parts of it. Marc Newson once again visited his fascination with the shape of an hourglass by actually designing one. The Ikepod Hourglass was released in 2011, was available in two sizes, and was filled with either steel, copper, or gold micro-beads (versus sand). It was priced from $13,000 – $40,000. marc-newson.com