January 31, 2015
by Ariel Adams
Jorg Hysek is one of my favorite watch designers. In addition to designing some really iconic watches over the last 30 years, Hysek is among the few designers today so strictly focused on the future while respecting those things that make the Swiss watch industry unique and traditional. Jorg Hysek even had his own “Hysek” brand, even though it was sold years ago and he is no longer associated with it. He then went on to start HD3 and later Slyde (hands-on review here) – an electronic luxury watch that was admittedly ahead of its time, which if begun today might have had a totally different trajectory. Jorg is now focused on the emerging world of smartwatches with the idea that real luxury smartwatches will not come from one source, but will be the accumulated efforts of multiple parties. More specifically, he feels that technology companies should work with Swiss designers and case/bracelet/strap manufacturers, and for the Swiss to not fear this new era of connected digital luxury watches.
Jorg Hysek has been spending a lot of time coming up with designs – something he does best – and we’d like to share some of his concept luxury smartwatches with you. I also took the time to meet with Jorg and discuss his thoughts about how the Swiss watch industry can play nice with smartwatch makers. These designs are really cool and we simply want them to be real sooner than later. Jorg was able to add a real emotional connection and sense of coolness to what, in many instances, are lacking designs in the smartwatch world. So here’s what Jorg had to say, and let’s hope some of these concepts will become a reality before long.
Jorg Hysek: The industry does not really appear to be concerning itself with this field for the time being, and therein lies the danger. It will indeed be threatened if it does not react swiftly. There is nothing comparable between the quartz crisis and the smartwatch revolution that we are about to experience. Quartz offered a higher-performance, more accurate yet less appealing approach to the same goal: time measurement. Smartwatch technology goes well beyond that and time measurement will represent only a minute proportion of the information that these new timepieces will be offering us.
Ariel Adams: Design and visual appeal are very important considerations consumers make when choosing to buy a product. Has the smartwatch industry to this point been getting it right? If not what mistakes are they making?
Jorg Hysek: Aesthetics is obviously one of the key factors for the consumer, as I am well placed to testify. To date, the smartwatch industries have focused on technological evolutions, somewhat like with the early computers. But once the technology has been stabilised, aesthetic creativity will soon gain the upper hand. It’s not hard for these electronic giants to recruit talented designers.
Ariel Adams: What do you think the Swiss watch industry can bring to the world of smartwatches that technology makers could not get anywhere else?
Jorg Hysek: Swiss watchmaking expertise is a given, and we have always been the pioneers of horological aesthetics and mechanisms. In an ever more global world, it is entirely acceptable to have a watch made by two industrial giants: one that makes the bodywork and another the smart mechanism inside. One can well imagine that in due course we will find multi-brand products bearing names such as Audemars Piguet-Samsung.
Ariel Adams: You began Slyde, a company producing electronic luxury watches with a digital touchscreen. Admittedly, ahead of its time, what did you learn about the challenges in producing high-end electronic watches?
Jorg Hysek: Slyde was launched three years ago on the markets and it’s a magnificent adventure that has taught me two things.
With a handful of shareholders and highly motivated team, nothing is impossible. The technological challenge was simply incredible, and two years after the first sketch, the Slyde watch was presented to the press in Geneva.
However, commercializing large quantities of a product that is ahead of its time calls for substantial marketing means. This being said, a small budget combined with a vast amount of human energy have enabled us to sell more than 10,000 units worldwide to date.
Ariel Adams: Some people say that many smartwatches are an answer to a question no one asked. I am pretty sure you feel differently. How will luxury consumers find value in smartwatches?
Jorg Hysek: It’s not a question nobody is asking; it’s simply a natural evolution of our modern way of life. The codes of luxury will of course not be the same as on a current mechanical watch (hand beveling, manual craftsmanship, etc.), but they will be more tailored to the world of luxury fashion.
Imagine a connected watch under the Cartier brand: it would unite all the codes of luxury.
Ariel Adams: When Apple announced the Apple Watch, they stated that it was the “most personal product” they’ve ever produced. This goes to the notion that smartwatches are technology you must wear, and they must be fashionable. What separates a “personal design” from an “impersonal design?”
Jorg Hysek: A personal design, as the term implies, reflects the sensitivity of a given person, depending on its creator or designer. In modern industry, the original design is all too often modified by technical and marketing constraints and these modifications are generally made by technicians themselves and not by the designer; the personal essence of the creation is thereby diluted, resulting in an impersonal design.
That’s how you can tell a good designer from a bad one: it is not enough to come up with a great design; one must be capable of imposing the design in collaboration with technicians, while taking all constraints into account and adapting the design, ensuring it does not lose its fundamental identity. This is often a very long road.
Ariel Adams: You’ve presented a lot of very interesting smartwatch concept designs with your HD3 brand logo. Tell us about some of these designs and what people might miss at a first glance?
Jorg Hysek: These designs created by myself and the designers in my design studio are above all the result of a thought process aimed at showing that it is possible to make smart watches while respecting the horological aesthetic codes that have always inspired us. We give free rein to the electronic functions of these designs; they will need to be adapted to the philosophy of the various brands, given that almost everything is or will become possible.
Ariel Adams: Is your goal to produce your own smartwatches or do you envision a more strategic partnership where electronic hardware makers working with talented individuals such as yourself to merge the best of both worlds?
Jorg Hysek: I cannot hope to work and develop single-handedly in this new universe; the challenge is too great. Only one or several strategic partnerships will enable us to achieve a successful blend of luxury watchmaking and tomorrow’s technologies.
Ariel Adams: Luxury products by definition are priced high and consumers want lasting value. How do you future-proof or lengthen the lifespan of a luxury smartwatch, given the reality that technology is a rapidly moving target?
Jorg Hysek: I see sustainable value as corresponding to about 5 to 10 years, as confirmed by the design of cars and of luxury watchmaking as a whole. Beyond this time frame, aesthetic sensibilities are inevitably altered by the new design codes of the moment, and with a few rare exceptions, the product becomes outdated, even though the differences are very subtle. By way of example, compare a Porsche or Rolex made 10 years ago with today’s models.
The same will be true of smartwatches. The bodywork will still be the same as the day it first caught your eye at the time of purchase, but the electronic part will evolve in step with the times via regular updates. That will make a huge difference!