April 15, 2015
by Rob Nudds
The Max Bill by Junghans range does something strange to my brain. When you encounter a Junghans Max Bill watch for the first time, you might not know what to say. But why? They are not bizarre like an MB&F, Panda-piloted twin-turbine; they don’t perform an optical illusion a la Ressence Type 3; they’re not even made of an unusual material like a Richard Mille or a Schofield Blacklamp. No, it’s because it feels like you’ve seen them a hundred times before, only you’re not quite sure. They are almost a blueprint – a model of restraint. It’s so easy to “get it” immediately. This is because the Junghans Max Bill is, in my opinion, an example of excellent design.
This year, Uhrenfabrik Junghans has released eight new configurations for the Junghans Max Bill range. There are two ladies watches in bright, bold colors (blue and red) as favored by the late Swiss Maestro after whom the range is named, and a third ladies watch with a black dial and leather-backed felt strap. There is a new gents quartz watch, three new chronographs, and an automatic version as well, all with similarly clean and crisp dials that feature nicely weighted numerals and a respectful approach to space.
There’s a great deal of range consistency here, with each watch having at least one component in common with another watch. The cases are very trim, and the lugs unobtrusive and subtly styled. Simple, but sharp hands with a thin strip of luminous paint do their creator proud. This watch would have looked avant-garde in the sixties, but now stands out as a modern classic. It is not unique in its proportions, but it rubs shoulders with illustrious company.
Most pertinently, the design of the Uhrenfabrik Junghans Max Bill range brings to mind the Lambda by Nomos. This clinical, bauhaus-inspired, form-driven design is typically German, and something of which I am a huge fan. The layout is so easily digestible and so readily legible, it is almost invisible to the brain. Without the slightest distraction, it is possible to tell the time. But where did this classic come from and why should we care?
The design that is now so much a part of the Junghans brand, came from the mind of Max Bill, a Swiss architect, product designer, painter, sculptor, academic, and educator. In 1956, Bill collaborated with Junghans to launch the Max Bill Kitchen Clock. It was an instant classic and an enduring success. Further collaborations followed and a long, mutually beneficial relationship ensued.
And now, more than twenty years after Max Bill’s death, his legacy lives on through these watches. His ideals have been sensitively reworked in these latest offerings. The “Chronscope” is the chronograph of the range. The watch comes with either a white dial with black markers or a black dial with luminous yellow or green markings. Both dial colors are available on either a beige leather strap (on which the black dial has yellow lume), and the black dial with green lume is available on a Milanese bracelet as well. The watch uses the self-winding J880.2 movement, records the minutes (at 12 o’clock) and hours (at 6 o’clock), shows the day and date (at 3 o’clock), but not the running seconds, having been dropped in favour of symmetry. The case comes in at 40mm.
Three new ladies watches, one in blue, one in red, and one in black/gray felt are defined by their smaller size – the cases measure 32.7mm at their widest point. The quartz calibre J643-29 has a date display and luminous dial markings and hands. The gents version of this watch uses the slightly larger calibre J645.33 so it fits more snugly in the 38mm case. The male edition is effectively identical in design but for its engorgement, and more muted and traditional colorway of white dial and beige strap.
Lastly, there is the white-dialed, beige-strapped Junghans Max Bill automatic. Using a self-winding calibre j800.1, the 38mm case is a very elegant size. None of these watches stand tall on the wrist, but they posses enough breadth to be masculine while biding their time beneath the cuff of a dress shirt. A nice touch that really highlights Bill’s attention to detail can be seen in the closeness of the strap edge to the case. The way the case middle falls away from the bezel lip creates enough space to wedge a slim strap between unusually stout lugs given the case width. The result is a watch that wears a lot smaller than it looks, leading to gains in comfort and cool points.
There is a lot to like about the design of the Uhrenfabrik Junghans Max Bill range. The cool, clean lines, the wearability, the timelessness, the nicely finished in-house movement, and, most crucially perhaps, the price. The three ladies watches are a snip at $627. The gents quartz is only slightly more, with a price of $653. Next in line is the gents automatic, which comes in at $1,049.49, and is only topped by the Chronoscope, which is priced at $2,105.40 for the white dial version, $2,171.40 with the black dial, and $2,237.40 if you want the black dial on the Milanese bracelet. junghans.de