We recently had an opportunity to do an interview with Oliver Ike, the man behind the Ikepod, as well as the resurrection of the A. Manzoni & Fils brand which is among the highest-end watches being funded on Kickstarter. Oliver’s watches have become instantly recognizable, and he looks to be shaking things up a bit in the luxury watch industry with his new launch. In the interview, we cover a variety of topics, including how Ikepod came to be, what Oliver has done since Ikepod, and insights into his new A. Manzoni & Fils Canopus Planner watch.
aBlogtoWatch (ABTW): Even if everyone doesn’t know Ikepod by name, they instantly recognize the designs, and can appreciate their unique and sophisticated looks. How did they come to fruition?
Oliver Ike (OI): I discovered the POD style of the Australian designer Marc Newson when I was working during my studies in the design furniture market. Nobody knew him, not even in the design trade in Europe. I saw the first publication of his work and was intrigued by the way he could read details. Mr. Teruo Kurosaki, the Japanese design pope (who also spotted Philippe Starck), discovered Newson and made him famous in Japan – and introduced him to Giulio Cappellini in Europe. I fell immediately in love with his design style that has something very Japanese about it.
At the time I also worked as a journalist with my wife in the architecture and design industry so I used an excuse to travel to Frankfurt Germany, to do an interview with Mr. Newson at his first European exhibition and after that we became close friends.
During that period, I had a contract furniture project with a hotel in La Chaux-de-Fonds, the French part of Switzerland, and it happened that the daughter of the architect was married to the son of a watch factory owner… That is all I remember and suddenly I found myself producing watches.
The collaboration between Newson and me unfortunately deteriorated as the brand Ikepod became more famous…it’s a pity, because we could have made the brand really big, but unfortunately it ended up in the hands of investor speculation.
ABTW: Of course, Ikepod – and now A. Manzoni & Fils, in its current incarnation – are relatively young brands. How did you come to find yourself creating watches?
OI: Just like in the answer before, by coincidence… I saw the potential of the lack of true industrial design in high-end watchmaking.
ABTW: What have you been doing since you left Ikepod and the start of this new venture?
OI: I have been doing consulting work in production and distribution for various Swiss and German watch brands. Unfortunately, I found out very quickly that even if they pay you a royal salary over various months, in the end you own zero percent of the company, so I decided not to reveal all my ideas for a new brand to a third party. I just did the work to stay in touch with the markets and innovations in the industry.
On the other hand I built up the Ike Branco SA, a company I run with my wife, a renowned architecture and design photographer. We made many photo productions all over the world of stunning architecture and design. This is how I stayed in touch with the world of design and over the years, I started putting together the ideas for a new watch brand.
ABTW: And now, on to the new project. How did you come across the A. Manzoni & Fils brand (and factory), and come to acquire it?
OI: I discovered an empty factory above Lugano by chance in 2006. Since I was living in Lugano while working in the Jura with Ikepod, I wanted to find a brand that had a connection to Lugano and its surroundings. When I researched the museum of horology in La Chaux-de-Fonds, I found out that the empty factory discovered in Arogno belonged to A. Manzoni & Fils and that they were producing sophisticated mechanical movements until 1978.
Then, back in 2009, I discovered the tooling of one of the movements that A.Manzoni & Fils produced in the past and which had been transferred after 1978 to a small village near Neuchatel. I thought the right moment had come to start my new venture. Thereupon I registered the brand all over the world and even met with one of the Manzoni grandchildren who still lives in Lugano. He, as many other people in the village of Arogno where A.Manzoni & Fils originates from, encouraged me to revive the ancient brand.
ABTW: Given the rich (and relatively long) history of the brand, do you anticipate incorporating elements of their earlier work – or perhaps an “inspired by” piece?
OI: Good question. Yes I already have an idea about a mechanism where I found a A.Manzoni & Fils patent, dating back to 1892. It has to do with a repetition mechanism, but I do not want to reveal much more just yet. And of course we want to redo table clocks with the 8 day power reserve mechanism that I discovered….
ABTW: How did you come to meet (and now work) with your new designer, Illka Suppanen?
OI: I met Ilkka Suppanen through a Swedish friend at a design conference in Malmö. I visited Helsinki several times and also met Ilkka again through my friends at the Ittala company, where Ilkka has done some amazing work.
ABTW: With the design of the Canopus, did you intentionally set out to reference cues from your Ikepod line?
OI: No, not at all. I only gave Ilkka a briefing of how the watch case should more or less look like in order to fit in the DNA of the new brand (never round nor squared was the design brief of the shape). I learned over the years that the shape of the watch case and the looks and details of the dial are 80% of what sells a watch. I like simple design and no ornaments and I wanted to see a bracelet that was integrated into the case without any horns.
The design details of rapid exchange mechanism of bracelet and leather strap plus the fine regulation mechanism from A.Manzoni & Fils, both patented, are though much more detailed and sophisticated than those of Ikepod. Ilkka and me have already developed another ladies watch in the Canopus collection and as well a table clock using our own 8 day power reserve movement. The Canopus Weekplanner is just the first one of the collection.