Debuting today on aBlogtoWatch, I’m proud to share with you a very compelling, contemporary timepiece that comes from Timex but is really more than just a model within the storied American watch brand. This is the Giorgio Galli S1 Automatic, and it bears the name of its designer — in the tradition of many of today’s finest timepieces and brands. It also happens to be a remarkably cool timepiece for the price even though it deserves to be further refined down the road. Giorgio Galli is the Italian-born Design Director of Timex and has conceived watches for a number of brands. This is the first watch that bears his own name (and the Timex logo, of course) and the first of its kind for Timex. Below, see a short interview with Giorgio Galli about the S1 Automatic and the project.
About a year-and-a-half ago, I recall sitting down with Galli at Timex’s headquarters during a trip to Connecticut. “I want to show you something,” the soft-spoken (though very deliberate) design director said to me. On his computer screen, he showed me what was to be the S1 Automatic watch — and I remember the first thing that came to mind was, “Cool, a watch with your name on it.” And then I recommended something to add to the design… which I am proud to say made it to the final production version. More on that below.
Having a timepiece with his name on it, even though it is openly produced by Timex is…. let’s just say, an experiment. What it allows Timex to do is try something entirely new without the product awkwardly attempting to fit within the “canon” of the Timex universe. These days brands spend so much time having to justify their creations, it can get truly exhausting to be honest. When you give a designer complete control and tell them that their name will go on the resulting timepiece, you know that what you are going to get will be original. Anything original in the world of watches is an experiment, and the mere exercise of giving carte blanche to a design director is also a novel thing for Timex (and pretty much all other established watch brands, for that matter).
Mr. Galli conceived the S1 Automatic as a casual dress watch for today. Inspired by modern architecture (another love of Mr. Galli) and modern consumer devices, the Giorgio Galli S1 Automatic is a traditional watch meant to exist today. It is not a traditional watch that likes to pretend today is still yesterday. The S1 Automatic really comes to life in your hand because of how well it plays with the light. It could take years for this watch to be properly appreciated, but in a lot of ways it is the first of it’s kind. Apple products come to mind when you handle the S1 Automatic in your wrist, especially when it comes to neat strap closing system where the excess strap has a divot that snaps into a groove in the strap against your wrist, so as not to flop around.
The dial is meant to be simple and legible, but modern in its aesthetic. Galli wanted to actually focus a lot of the visual interest on the 41mm-wide steel case. In a number of ways what the S1 Automatic does best from a design perspective is how it uses light and reflectivity to its advantage. Even though the overall shape of the watch is highly classic, the entire way Giorgio Galli decided to render a working dial concept into something very technical and futuristic almost is to be noted. A watch like this deserves to be studied in a design class at some point in the future.
Galli also designed the S1 to flirt a bit (if you will). From the front looking at the dial straight-on, the S1 Automatic looks traditionally elegant, and from the sides you can see the interesting skeletonization at work — that is done using a still-uncommon manufacturing technique for watch cases: injection-molded metal. This is what helps keep the cost of the watch so low. Most of the time, when a case has detailing like this it is because each individual case is CNC-machined — which is comparatively much more expensive. Here, the case shape is created via an injection-molding process, with the resulting product needing only finishing. I cannot imagine even the most hardened snobs not being able to appreciate what Timex did with this case at this price.
The case is water resistant to 50 meters and has a domed (and AR-coated) mineral crystal over the dial (yes, sapphire crystal would have been preferred). The case has an exhibition caseback that allows for a view of the movement, and the straps use a quick-release bar system to allow for simple strap changes. I think if Timex allows for upgraded versions of the S1 Automatic watch in the future (consumers would easily pay more), this could turn into one of the great design icons of today with enough marketing backing.
The strap itself is a thing of beauty and feels more like something you’d find on a hip smartwatch than a mechanical timepiece costing under $500. The black strap is produced from high-quality synthetic rubber. I bet the watch would look equally nice on similar straps offered in other colors. Notice how there is an interesting groove along the side of the strap – as it is meant to be a continuous harmonious line with that on the side of the skeletonized case work. Speaking of skeletonized case – this is the only watch I’ve ever seen that comes with a small brush (like those that come to clear electric hair groomers) – which I believe is meant to help the wearer of this watch clear away debris that may collect in the watch’s structural grooves.
Over on the dial of the S1 Automatic, we have an exercise in what I call “complicated minimalism.” The dial has scant few unnecessary features, but the features there have more design and detail work than would be expected. The hands are actually skeletonized (with almost merely symbolic amounts of luminant) and so are the hour markers themselves, offering harmony with the stripe on the case and on the strap. Just notice how Galli expertly took that notion of a “cutout line in the middle” and applied it to the case, strap, hands, and hour markers so elegantly.
Now I have to plug myself for a moment because I’m proud of the fact that the set, round-shaped red synthetic sapphire on the dial was my idea. From what I recall, this part of the dial was empty and I felt it needed something. I also felt that the watch needed to evoke a sense of mechanical-watch romance as much as it also needed to be a modern product. So, I recommended that a small ruby or similar stone be set there, so as to remind mechanical watch-lovers about mechanical watch movements. I’m really happy with how this small detail came out and am honored that Mr. Galli felt it high-quality enough to go on his first eponymous timepiece.
Speaking of mechanical movements, what is inside the Giorgio Galli S1 Automatic? An automatic, of course. Timex here uses a higher-end Japanese Miyota (Citizen Group) caliber 9039 that here only has the time with no date window (offers more desirable dial symmetry). This is a Miyota 9000 series movement, which means that it operates at 4Hz, has 42 hours of power reserve, and has a pretty nice decorated aesthetic when observed through the rear of the case.
My problem with this movement is related to by biggest gripe about the S1 Automatic and that is the sound of the 9039 movement. Other Miyota movements such as the 8000 series also suffer from loud rotors. Yes, ironically the annoying sound isn’t audible ticking from a regulator but rather the swooshing of the automatic rotor as it moves around the year of the movement. Swiss movements don’t typically have this problem, and it is an interesting engineering challenge to determine what causes it. The 9000 series movements have ball bearing mounted rotors, so it isn’t that. What I believe is happening is that the out parts of the automatic rotor are scraping against the movement causing the noise. To fix this, Miyota would have to create a rotor so rigid that is would not bend when moving, along with an equally rigid ball bearing mount. This would avoid the scraping noise. I am not entirely sure what ETA does to avoid this, but do not believe their rotors float and for whatever reason make less soft scraping noises.
It is fantastic that Timex was able to produce such a handsome watch for this relative bargain price. I am pretty sure Galli wanted the watch to be more high-end. In fact most of the license-partner brands he designs watches for are more expensive and do include Swiss Made ETA movements. My suspicion is that in order for Timex to go ahead with the S1 Automatic, they wanted to keep it at a particular price point – that makes sense. With that said, Giorgio Galli probably knew that to get all the details right, the price point would need to be a bit (Maybe $200 – $300 in my opinion) higher. So if the market likes the product I believe Timex will have a strong incentive to keep investing in it. Though both the market and Timex need to take a risk on its potential. Well-designed watches that are also original require market mind saturation before they are as well-received as they can be.
I personally think that the Giorgio Galli S1 Automatic is a hip watch with a neat design and a compelling wearing experience that will satisfy a broad spectrum of collectors. It does however in this debut form beg the question of “when will Timex add these features or refinements” – making it clear to seasoned enthusiasts like me (and Mr. Galli) that the S1 can keep getting better without requiring too much imagination. Timex should be commended for approaching such a project with an open mind, but they will never realize its potential unless they invest in at least several generations of product along with backing it up with some type of marketing personality so as to attract the many mainstream consumers who I think would really enjoy such a timepiece.
Now let’s hear from Mr. Galli about the S1 Automatic:
Ariel Adams (AA): As a professional watch designer, you don’t often have your own name associated with a production timepiece. Knowing that the Giorgio Galli name will be on this product, what did you want to absolutely make sure it did well and said to the world?
Giorgio Galli (GG): I designed the Giorgio Galli S1 Automatic knowing it would have to represent both myself and be an extension of the Timex DNA. I wanted to create something entirely new, something forward-thinking with a simplistic aesthetic, not overdone, thoughtful and well designed.
AA: Contemporary watch design, as I see it, is an exercise in taking a tool from the past, ensuring it remains a tool, but rendering it with lots of emotional value for today. Tell me a bit about your design process that allows you to successfully imagine products that satisfy this often tricky aesthetic and emotive formula?
GG: You’re right in that designing a timepiece can seem confining, given space limitations, but I look at every surface of the watch as an opportunity to do something different, to tell a unique story. In the Giorgio Galli S1, the result is a timepiece rich with hidden, innovative details and technical mastery that still embraces the thoughtful simplicity that makes this watch unique. The S1 bends the rules of classical watch design into an avant-garde interpretation.
AA: As an Italian working for an American watch brand, what do you find different about the American approach to producing and selling timepieces these days, as opposed to the more traditionalist mentality of the Europeans?
GG: There are certainly more cultural and perceptual differences than design differences between the two continents, however, both continents share a similar appreciation for fine watchmaking and craft. Although It can’t go without saying that the U.S. has a rich horological history, and Timex is rooted deeply in that DNA.
As an Italian based in Milan, working on an American brand I get to blend these differences and similarities to create timepieces that work globally. Of course I have to consider its positioning in the marketplace, price and overall level of design but the outcome is the same, a thoughtfully designed, quality watch.
There is a new generation of American watch enthusiasts who are very similar in taste to European consumers but, to me, are much more curious. Take aBlogtoWatch for example, a global site with a global audience that shares a similar view and appreciation for watches, a strong indication of the evolution of the American audience.
AA: The S1 watch is very much “you,” but I say that as someone who knows you. Help people who don’t have that benefit to understand how some of the various design details really comment on your tastes, background, and personal sense of style.
GG: My design approach and aesthetic is derived from my love for photography, namely the study of light and its influence on an object’s visual perception. This holds true for graphic design and architecture, as well. I find inspiration everywhere, often in the subtle details of an object. Being able to channel that inspiration into watch design is one of my greatest joys.
Thanks to Galli for speaking to the aBlogtoWatch audience.
My understanding is that Giorgio Galli S1 Automatic watch will be available exclusively online (via the Timex website) for the time being. Who is it for? Well, with its aggressive price and high focus on design, my hope is that the S1 Automatic will be next year’s must-have cool mechanical watch that comes without the pretentious vibe that many luxury timepieces do. At a price of just $450 USD, this is a lot of watch for the money as a fresh and savory wristwatch risk from Timex. Learn more at the Timex website here.