January 8, 2017
by Ariel Adams
The “Watch_Brotherss” are a duo of actual watch designers from Hong Kong who have done something artistically interesting and worth talking about. What they do is use their Photoshop and design skills to merge various watch models they like to form hybrid designs which range from cool and desirable to really weird and thought-provoking. I interviewed them in order to share a bit about yet another mysterious set of personalities on the often anonymous world that is social media – and because what they are doing is particularly neat.
The Watch_Brotherss aren’t real brothers (even though they actually do have the same last name) and share their work on Instragram under the @Watch_Brotherss name. I will refer to them as “L” and “J.” For not actually being brothers, these two talented guys have a lot in common ranging from both being trained industrial product designers to working for the same watch design company. Given the nature of the industry, they prefer to keep their identities (as well as their employer) confidential for now. According to them, the watches they design (which go into production) typically retail for a couple hundred dollars to about US $1,000.
The tagline on their Instragram page pretty much says it all, but their process and goals are worth exploring since they aren’t that obvious. The duo seeks to explore “what if the watch brand mixed,” and that is more or less what they do. Currently, they only have 60 images or so on their page, but each is an interesting work unto itself. The various watches and other designs they come up with typically combine 2-3 popular watches and seek to come up with something new. You’ll see a lot of repeating themes such as use of elements from brands like Rolex (they really love Rolex bezels), but this isn’t because they are being lazy. In fact, the use of repeated visual elements is done intentionally, and for a few reasons.
The expressed reason is very practical, and that is to gain attention from as many people on social media as possible. The average person on social media spends perhaps a second looking at each picture, so it is important to catch people’s attention right away. Thus, the Watch_Brotherss are intentionally using the most identifiable elements from the most identifiable brands such as Rolex, Hublot, Panerai, and others.
What I think people should stop and consider is what elements they are choosing and how those elements make certain watch designs more distinctive than others. You might ask yourself what makes a Rolex so identifiable, but not really be able to come up with an answer outside of, perhaps, “the name.” Well, a good answer according the work of the Watch_Brotherss is clearly the rotating bezel. In fact, looking at their work, one can immediately see just how important elements like bezels and crowns are when it comes to brand identification.
Take Panerai, for example, with their Luminor locking crown guard. They use this element to help people identify their watches. In fact, there is a form of trademark Panerai has registered for this design element. It’s no longer even close to being patent-protected, so what Panerai did was take the clever step of tradmarking it as part of the “dress” of the product which helps consumers identify its origin.
Such elements which are part of how we identify popular watches aren’t always obvious, but seeing the design combination work of the Watch_Brotherss really helps one understand that. What I particularly like about the duo’s efforts is the mostly refined and very skillful integration of parts. Not all of these are watches I would want to wear, but each is immediately interesting and thought-provoking.
In China and other parts of Asia, original design is observed far less than what I call “curated selection design” and replication. One reason for the popularity of fakes coming from China isn’t just economic, but rather cultural. The notion that someone can copy something else perfectly is actually rather valued. In this sense, many watch designs from China, Hong Kong, and Japan in particular often look like hybrids between popular looks in high-end European watches. To Westerners, this doesn’t always look great, but my understanding is that there is a lot of artistic and creative merit in these parts of Asia not just in coming up with original designs, but also original curation and merging of existing design elements from around the world. I’m saying this as a way of explaining one possible reason why the duo was drawn to this type of artistic expression.
In their own words, the Watch_Brotherss said they began playing with and merging watch designs in order to impress each other. Each design takes anywhere from a few hours to a day to complete, and much of the time is simply spent trying to figure out what to actually do. Given that the two spend a large amount of their time looking at watch designs as it is, doing this type of work is not a particular stretch, and I think they do it pretty well.
Even though L and J bulk their work together, you can easily tell their individual work as each design thus far is produced by only one of them. When they aren’t designing watches, L is an avid cyclist (uphill riding) and designs his own riding jerseys. J’s hobby is leather goods, and he produces wallets and other items he likes for the satisfaction of completing something tangible all by himself. They also have different watch tastes and design preferences. When you look at their Instagram, you can tell L’s work because the “@” symbol on his pictures is squared in the signature, while J’s “@” symbol is more traditionally round.
J also happens to really like the Apple Watch, and some of my favorite things he’s designed are “Watch What-If” versions of the Apple Watch. In fact, I’ve basically gone ahead and offered the Watch_Brotherss the role of leading the next series of aBlogtoWatch Watch What-If design projects, and if you agree, let them know in the comments. What fuels them? It’s really about the feedback from the community and passion that they can share with people who also care about watches. I think it is also safe to say that as watch designers they’d be pretty happy to start their own watch brands someday. Thanks again to L and J for chatting with me, and be sure to check out their Watch_Brotherss Instagram page here.