French watchmaker MW&Co. has teamed up with the illumination icon Black Badger for a limited-edition watch known as the MW&Co. Asset Black Badger. Part of the larger Asset watch family, the Asset Black Badger is a highly limited-edition set of just 10 pieces that includes a series of luminant material inserts produced by Black Badger. The result is an unprecedented expression in futurism and fun, with a bold timepiece that, once charged by the light, will glow wildly on the wrist.
The highly complicated MW&Co. Asset watch case proved the ideal playground for Black Badger founder James Thompson. Working with a new luminous material he calls “Palladium Blue,” the Canadian working and living in Sweden found a series of artistic ways to incorporate his unique talents and compounds into the still-fresh Asset case design.
The Asset watch case alone has 77 parts and is inspired by the world of modern motorsports. Its 46mm-wide case features entirely original parts and is produced from mostly titanium. The unique technical elements of the case are the two lower-lug structures, which are designed like spring-loaded dampers. Each is made up of 14 parts and features a full-functional system to increase watch-wearing comfort. The visible springs (painted bright blue on this version of the Asset) are visible thanks to a sapphire crystal tube which makes up part of the lug construction.
The Asset watch was designed with a perforated middle barrel ring, the holes of which have now been filled with Black Badger luminous material. The glowing color is meant to match with the titanium gray and blue color theme of the watch dial itself. Other areas of luminant material exist on the watch, including the case, crown, pushers, and, of course, the dial. The resulting effect is a glow-in-the-dark watch that resembles an unearthly spaceship on the wrist.
Inside the MW&Co. Asset Black Badger timepiece is a Swiss Made automatic flyback 12-hour chronograph fitted with a bespoke automatic rotor (and visible through the sapphire crystal caseback). Attached to the case is a specially designed, handmade calf-leather strap. The watch is presented with an elaborate collector’s display box. Below is an interview with MW&Co.’s Alain Carrere and Black Badger’s James Thompson discussing the creation and completion of the limited-edition watch. Produced as a set of just 10 pieces, the MW&Co. Asset Black Badger has a price of 13,475 Euros. Learn more or order at the MW&Co. website here.
Interview with Black Badger’s James Thompson:aBlogtoWatch: When you were first approached with the MW&Co. Asset limited-edition watch project, what was your immediate reaction to the Asset watch collection, and what kinds of creative ideas immediately came to mind?
James Thompson: Well, the whole adventure started with simply wandering by the MW&Co. booth at Baselworld a few years ago. They were in the difficult position of being directly across from MB&F which must have been an intimidating piece of real estate to be occupying! I poked my head in their booth, and the first thing I noticed was a display of all the individual components that goes into the watch. It was a very attention-grabbing visual, as the amount of micro-engineering these guys take on was amazing!
I quickly began a chat there with Alain Carrere, and I think that initial “hello” chat went on for well over an hour! Alain is such an interesting person in this industry, as there is so much slick / image obsession behind the brands. Alain has this very quiet, but very cool, persona — like a rock star on a Sunday. With his beard and long hair, he looked like John Wick doing post-graduate research work somewhere. This was something I would find to be a common thread throughout the other guys in the company, a complete absence of ego or pretension. The watch does the speaking.
aBlogtoWatch: As a creator, you are starting to work with some big-name brands, but you continue to be attracted to working with hip, independent watch makers like MW&Co. Explain the attraction to these highly bespoke, small-production original watch projects.
James Thompson: I’m reminded of that line from the Ed Wood film where Johnny Depp says, “What’s that? I’m the worst director you’ve ever heard of? But you’ve heard of me?” Ha ha! The independents are the ones making all the noise these days. Not to step on toes but I have a hard time getting jazzed about a .00005″ difference in lug widths on a new Rolex release or another re-release of a “vintage” edition.
I don’t think it’s asking too much to expect the objects we allow into our little lives to excite us and entertain us. I think because I’ve always tried to keep myself outside the realm of the normal, it tends to resonate with like-minded people. Crazy smells crazy, right? Part of that drive is aesthetic-based but also it depends on advancements in the materials, as well. I mean what was apeshit crazy and extreme in 2015 is now rather prosaic and predictable. Simply put, if you ain’t down to clown, we aren’t gonna get along.
MW&Co. is challenging the norms in such a cool way, but they are such a thoughtful, intelligent collection of people that they aren’t overdoing it. When I went to see them in Toulouse, we bounced around from cafe to cafe, sitting under shade trees sipping espressos and enjoying life. Then it was back into the studio diving into some rather emerging technology, absolutely off-the-map kinds of stuff. Then back to the cafe. It was such a great vibe there.
aBlogtoWatch: For those who aren’t familiar with Black Badger and your special luminant materials, can you give novices a run-down as to some of the special materials and techniques that you are best known for?
James Thompson: Well, I’ve gone through several generations of materials since I first started around 2014. In the early days, it was a very commercially available lime material in acrylic-sheet form called Moonglow. Fun stuff but very limiting in terms of what you could do with it. When work started on the Sarpaneva and MB&F projects shortly thereafter, I was purpose-developing a new family of solid-form lume composites that would allow you to mill solid structures out of lume materials, rather than just surface coatings.
This was quite a game-changer within the industry, and it certainly turned some heads. I’d say I’m now on the 5th generation of photoluminescent materials now. I work directly with Super-LumiNova in Switzerland on an almost daily basis. We bounce off each other in terms of developing new material applications. It’s a fantastic relationship, as I help them open up new avenues and they work as a terrific force-multiplier for me. I’m a one-man company, so I can be much faster and more adaptable than a giant archaic corporation with endless committees and such.
My Badgerite is essentially a recipe book at Super-LumiNova of proprietary developed colors and applications that I use across the range of my projects. For example, we specially developed the Palladium Blue used in the Asset Black Badger to be something that has exceptional lume performance but also has a desirable daytime color. The Palladium name is a bit of a fun wink at the fact that Iron Man himself (Robert Downey, Jr.) wears a few of my rings, ha ha.
As far as special materials, I’ve run the range from making dials out of coffee or 50-year-old lumps of industrial car paint to researching previously classified magnesium alloys and titanium foam. Hell, I just released a watch with Arcanaut of Denmark whose dial is made from rocks I put through an industrial espresso grinder, rocks I broke off the fountain in front of the building where I live in Sweden.
aBlogtoWatch: If you were to explain the MW&Co. x Black Badger watch to someone standing next to you while they were examining the piece, what would you tell them about it? What are the most important details you’d want them to notice and remember?
James Thompson: It’s a piece that is absolutely unapologetic. It’s not for everyone, and that’s perfectly fine! This piece is the most audacious expression yet of who I am and what I have to say. It’s something that is pushing the limits of what is possible with emerging materials and methods but retaining a sense of aesthetic. Just like a modern supercar, it can do amazing things, but it also has to look cool while it’s standing still. Our efforts with this piece were to maintain that sense of “double life.”
aBlogtoWatch: What types of wearers and in what types of scenarios do you hope the MW&Co. x Black Badger watch will be worn in, and by whom?
James Thompson: I know that everyone is supposed to say something like, ‘We’d like to see Beyonce or Bono or someone like that wearing the piece.’ But that always felt like a bit of a cop-out to me. Like, if I need Tom Cruise to tell you my watch is cool… if the watch doesn’t tell you that itself, I don’t think I’ve done my job. That said, the type of wearer I’d ideally imagine would be the late, great Anthony Bourdain — an absolute badass who travels the world and has seen it all.
If you could capture the attention of that type of client, you have done something well. Daft Punk would be pretty damn cool, also! Formula One drivers who are given one just for being an F1 driver doesn’t really impress me all that much. Some crazy-ass, inked-up food truck chef who’s rocking the system in his or her own way — I’ll take that any day of the week.
aBlogtoWatch: The Asset watch collection has so many interesting details and original design elements. What is the genesis of this timepiece, and what are some of the key features that you hope all watch enthusiasts notice about the timepiece series?
Alain Carrere: When we first started the project, my three partners and I were watch collectors with varied backgrounds who were really motivated to try a different approach. Even though there were already plenty of amazing watches on the market, they generally looked the same to us. We were also of the mind that French excellence and savoir-faire were not adequately represented in the current watch market. And so, we started MW&Co. from scratch using our own savings. With a lot of sweat and dedication, we are now an independent company with total creative freedom. Many aspects of our pieces hearken back to the pioneering French design of the 1970s; we felt that being totally design-oriented was very legitimate and organic. Furthermore, 88% of our production is in France, and the majority of the suppliers involved in machining our parts are French.
It is the combination of attention to functional details and our fun, somewhat unorthodox aesthetic that defines our product and our brand. Romain Mussato, my partner and the watchmaker of MW&Co, noticed over the decades he spent servicing watches that there were recurring problems with the way the lugs were usually attached — the spring bars would always get twisted from the continuous movements of the wrist. So, his idea was to solve that technical problem but also add a cool design-oriented visible feature, now embodied by our jack lugs system dubbed “dampers.” It took us two years of R&D and prototyping to validate our process. These dampers work like shock absorbers, providing comfort and safety. Actually, ASSET stands for Adjustable Super Structural Extensible Timepieces.
We took some inspiration from racing when we came up with this design, which led us to develop a totally unique architecture for the watch case. In order to create, you must first destroy, and that’s exactly what we did! The 105 tailored parts required for an ASSET watch are assembled around the case as if it were a car chassis. We designed the see-through dial as if it were a car radiator’s front grill. When you look at it “head-on,” as it were, you see the brightness of the calibers holding plate underneath, but when you see it from a side angle, you get that Californian curtain effect, making the dial completely black.
Besides the damper lugs, another noticeable aspect of our signature piece is the perforated circular ring surrounding the case, a wink to vintage mufflers. This is really all about enhancing aesthetics and personalizing the design since the ring coatings or material can change or be customized. For example, we made one in 18k solid gold for a unique piece upon the request of French rap artist and actor Joey Starr.
So while our focus on minute details brings a lot of emotion to our pieces and make them recognizable at a glimpse, a lot of our parts also require hand finishing. For example, each damper’s circular sapphire crystal is hand polished for 4 hours to obtain perfect transparency — our fresh take gives them verve in what is traditionally a very serious and cerebral industry.
aBlogtoWatch: Collaborations with other creatives are a big part of the brand strategy and personality. Why are these types of relationships particularly conducive to creating compelling products for today’s watch-lover hobbyists?
Alain Carrere: Once again, our driving force is, above all, passion, and the ability to share and to transmit this passion with customers as well as other artisans, both watchmakers and non-watchmakers. I presume that we wouldn’t have faced so many challenges if our disciplined and original approach hadn’t felt so genuine to watch enthusiasts. Every collaboration we’ve done so far has been pretty organic — when you meet people and you can instantly sense that you’re on the same page, it offers great perspective. Besides, we are a young independent brand, so we aren’t control freaks yet!
We love it when someone, a partner or a customer inquiring about a bespoke order, comes up with a new idea, or has a vision about our piece that we would have never thought of ourselves. This is when things become really interesting, and you are bolted out of your comfort zone. The creative process is all about seeing where things take you and just letting the magic happen. Of course, at a certain point, you hope that customers are going to like your pieces, and hopefully buy them, but it is also essential to remain true to yourself, to continue to develop something out of the mainstream standard. I think this is what watch lovers expect from independent watchmaking.
I mentioned before how it is possible to customize our signature part, the perforated circular ring surrounding the case. Actually, we have been working for a while on a capsule collection featuring enamel work named “The Art of Time.” My partner, Romain, has always been fascinated by enamel work on Bassine watches and wanted to come up with a contemporary approach. For this new enamel collection, we are working closely with two artists, one who does the original drawing, and one who applies enamel to our unique curved ring around the case, an incredibly difficult feat considering the nature of enamel. The process includes applying enamel to a ring made of gold and palladium (so the enamel can stick to it properly), then firing it in the oven for up to 10 rounds. Delicate in nature, enamel can crack at any moment during the numerous firing rounds if they aren’t carefully monitored, at which point the crafter has to start over.
Once the enamel has properly settled, it is possible to paint over it — and this is the part where we are able to facilitate the fusion of contemporary “street art” and an ancestral technique. Most brands use enamel on an inner part of their watches on a flat dial, but we wanted to use the architecture of our ASSET, especially the ring that surrounds our watch case, so that artists can then paint a fresco over it in a “street art” style over the curved surface. Only 10 artisans in the world have the skills necessary to execute the painstakingly minute work, using techniques rarely seen in this industry. We are currently working with one of them.
Each piece in this upcoming enamel collection will have an original fresco painted on the enamel, effectively making each watch a pièce unique. Undoubtedly, every owner will possess a work of art on their wrist.
aBlogtoWatch: How did the decision to work with Black Badger come about, and what were some of the original hopes for what the product might look like or be like?
Alain Carrere: What started as a work collaboration ended up in wholehearted bromance.
We first met James during Baselworld 2019. We were exhibiting in “Les Ateliers,” and he stopped by the booth. We were instantly seduced by ….let’s call it the “Badger effect.” There he was, this half-Viking, half-Canadian, cowboy-ish looking fella, a maverick and a gentleman, complimenting our work. Actually, I recall the exact words he said: “You guys are MW&Co! Man, I love your work, honestly, I’ve been around the entire exhibition and I noticed your ASSET model, and I can’t get it out of my head! You’ve got the coolest design ever!” Then, he started waving the mini-, super-cool titanium flashlight he always carries with him and began to illuminate his fingers, and of course, he had his awesome glowing rings on at least three fingers — I guess we both instantly knew we’d be getting into something.
It was his way of saying, “Wanna play with me?” It would be incorrect to say that we worked with James; you don’t work with James, you play with him! Once we had decided on the scope of the work that had to be done, he came to visit us in Toulouse in our workshop, and the fun really began. We considered so many options for illuminating the watch, such as which colors would have the intense captivating effect we were looking for, and which parts should be either liquid-filled with Badgerite (Black Badger proprietary lume) or made out of solid lume casting (we use these two application methods for the ASSET Black Badger). We were super-excited, and we literally had to hold James on a leash so that the entire piece wouldn’t only be made with luminant material!
James and our young talented designer Florian Cayrouse would do these sorts of engineer rap battles since so many ideas would arise at once, and they had to validate their technical ideas but I had to translate everything because, like he says himself, Florian can understand English perfectly, but he can’t speak it! I still doubt that, though, haha!
Our creative drive led us in so many directions! But finally, the end result totally fulfills and exceeds our initial expectations. This watch is really amazing.
For both parties, this collaboration is a match made in heaven. We designed the watch, and James added his magic touch to make it incredibly special. We love all of our creations, of course, yet with the Black Badger edition, you get that feeling of fantasy, a superhero ambiance, recalling glowing stuff from your childhood like laser guns — it is really thrilling. When we assembled the first prototype with the team, the second we got it in our hands we would charge it with sunlight and go hide in the dark for a while to see it glow, just like kids.
So, having fun has been central to the process for this piece. James ate and drank his way through Toulouse and much of the French Southwest. When he finally left, we even received a thank you letter from PETA, who said his departure would preserve the lives of a bunch of French cows and snails!
aBlogtoWatch: What were some of the most challenging technical or creative issues MW&Co. and Black Badger encountered in the pursuit of creating this ambitious project? How well did the final product represent the original ideas everyone had when starting the project?
Alain Carrere: For this kind of project, it is of the utmost importance to keep an open mind and to be able to think outside the box. We explored countless options and really thought about how luminant material could be incorporated in certain parts of the watch without causing any technical issues. Initially, we thought that having glowing damper springs would be awesome. But, however interesting aesthetically, using a luminant material for the springs could never ensure the damper would have compressive strength. Surface coating was another option, but unfortunately, since the springs are in motion, it would be impossible to make it stick properly. Besides, to have a real impactful glow, you need at least 0.3mm-thick luminant material surrounding the spring, which would of course modify the spring performance and would ultimately crack.
The luminance also didn’t fit in our existing damper transparent circular sapphire crystals. On our other models, the rings around the case have a 0.95mm thickness, and all the holes are totally milled, fully perforated. For the Black Badger edition, since we have to liquid-fill every hole, having fully perforated holes was no longer possible for two reasons. First, having exactly the same amount of liquid Badgerite in each hole was not manageable, and we wanted to maintain a perfect luminant material unity. And second, the liquid lume would have spread on the backside of the ring, which would evidently be an issue during the assembly process. This is why, ultimately, we had to adapt and come up with a new design for the ring featuring half-milled holes which permitted filling liquid Badgerite on a 0.5mm-thick hole, involving new setup programs for our machining operations.
Another challenge was that, compared to what James had done previously, our piece required the most ambitious use of his “lumicast” process. In order to get the greatest light emission possible, instead of only using surface coating on an existing part, we have to make a solid master out of bronze and then fill it with Badgerite, such that the resulting piece is fully made of massive lume.
And of course, the pandemic and ensuing lockdowns have presented many challenges for manufacturing and release. For our BB edition, the original plan was to release it last year, but that had to be postponed, as all the watch fairs were being canceled. For a small, family-run company with limited cash flow, after brainstorming with Robert Henri Fourtalin, the CFO of the company, we knew we had to adapt. We decided to take a full digital turn and sell this limited edition exclusively in our online store. We are currently conducting a pre-order campaign, asking for deposits to ensure that people who will reserve will be serious customers.
aBlogtoWatch: Now that the visually stunning (and glowing) MW&Co. x Black Badger watch has arrived, what are some things about it that you wish to incorporate into future MW&Co. watches?
Alain Carrere: Having James as a full-time consultant would be a good start! But anyway, he is already part of the MW&Co. family, and we are glad we can count on his expertise for lume-related and other projects. He is that kind of very creative guy you can solicit whenever and will always back you up.
Once again, produced as a set of just 10 pieces, the MW&Co. Asset Black Badger watch has a price of 13,475 Euros. Learn more or order at the MW&Co. website here.
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