GEARHUNGRY: "True wooden watches are few and far between, but even fewer are those that really cast a lasting impression."
Three years ago we decided to design and produce a great wooden watch. Wooden watches were not a totally new idea and there were a few around; but we couldn’t find one we liked. Most of the examples we found felt compromised. We began to design our own, wanting to create a product that was a joy to own and totally unique. The contrast of organic materials, full of character, with high-precision engineering materials, designed to last and function flawlessly, really appealed to us. We wanted to keep the design as simple as possible: this allowed the unique and tactile characteristics of the materials to be the focus.
The specification of the watch was fairly simple. There were three main goals that we wanted the design to achieve:
- The watch must be durable
- The components must knit seamlessly into a single, simple form
- The watch must be water resistant to 5ATM
We had a clear vision of what we wanted to achieve and, after choosing the right movement, we designed everything from scratch. At no point were we going to ask a generic watch supplier to re-brand an existing design with our logo.
During the development process we discovered that making a wooden watch using the same construction as that of a metal watch is not good enough. The design of every component needs to be considered to see which material is best for its intended use. We wanted the watch to be enhanced by using unusual materials, not compromised by them. By applying this kind of process to every component with many concepts and samples we arrived at our final design.
Element24 is launching with 4 great models. The first is a special edition version just for our Kickstarter supporters. We will only be producing this model once, with accents in Kickstarter green. As a special treat, this model will be individually numbered so each one will be unique. The three other models use our standard colours with the second hand and cord in red. There are great combinations of matte stainless steel, PVD grey, maple, and black walnut. All models are unisex and use colours that complement the simple design.
Cord The watch is held together by a single piece of very high quality cord. This cord has a phenomenal strength and is non-stretch. The ends are sealed to prevent fraying. The cord is gripped by two hidden stainless steel screws. Excess cord is fed back into the links staying out of sight.
Case The case is water resistant to 5ATM. This has been a significant challenge to package neatly without compromising the overall aesthetic.
Buckle It is very unusual for a watch brand to design a new buckle. We felt we had to. Our buckle keeps tension on the cord and provides a very secure closure to the watch. The mechanism is intuitive to use: simply push the 2 halves together to close and lift the latch to release. Not adding a generic clasp underlines our integrity and approach to the product.
Materials Wood is a natural material that is naturally warm. It has a character to it that makes it intrinsically interesting and tactile changing over time and adding to the appeal. Metal components are made of 316l marine grade Stainless Steel. This grade is very resistant to corrosion, and is strong enough to deal with daily wear and tear.
Finishes Timber components are CNC-machined before being delicately sanded. They are then coated with matte PU lacquer to protect them whist looking great. Metal components are finished with an extremely fine sand-blasting process. This gives them a very fine matt sheen. The PVD option is a step beyond where a finish is chemically applied under vacuum. This is an expensive process that creates a uniform and highly durable coating.
Sizing The sizing of the watch is completely flexible by adding or removing links. It is supplied an average size which fits a 195mm wrist size out of the box. Extra links are provided to take the size to a maximum of 220mm and change the size in 2mm increments.
Movement The movement is supplied by Miyota, one of the largest worldwide manufacturers, owned by Citizen. It is battery powered and quartz based with a seperate second hand.
Crystal The watch lens is made of extremely hard sapphire crystal. This is a material with fantastic optical clarity, and is very resistant to scratching.
Water Resistance The watch is 50m or 5ATM water resistant. This is a feature unheard of before on a wooden watch. It means you can use the watch without worrying about it getting wet or being delicate.
Hands The face design is very simple. The hands mirror this so that the time is easy to read. The second hand is separate and painted in a contrast colour that matches the cord.
Laser Etching The back of the case and buckle is laser etched. This process marks the graphics into the surface of the metal, meaning they will never come off. The Kickstarter special edition watch is also individually numbered in this way.
Design Process in Detail
The design and development of the watches began in earnest in 2010. The main problem with other wooden watches is that they had not considered how wood moves. It expands and contracts as it absorbs and exhales moisture. If you need the wood to have a good fit for functional elements, such as the pins in the band, you are going to have problems. The wood will either crack and break if the tolerances are too tight or the clearances for the pins will need to be so big that the fit is too loose. This is why we had to take a different approach. We wanted the watch to be able to handle the wood moving, and getting knocks and marks, without the watch failing. We want our watches to last a long time.
We wanted to design a subtle system to hold the links together, without compromising the integrity of it being a wooden watch. We looked at systems using moulded silicone, wire, fabric, plastics and wooden joints. We took a lot of technical inspiration from the climbing industry, where components are as simple as possible, with tactile mechanisms. A lot of time was spent on this research stage.
A lot of our discussions were around what is acceptable to ask the wearer to do. Can they change the band themselves? How often would someone change the band length? Would it be acceptable to cut the strap? Should we use an off-the-shelf clasp? Mechanical or Quartz movement? These questions often led to more discussions and concepts. We would often criticise each other's concepts, quite harshly, playing devil's advocate to pick out any compromises and see if they are acceptable. All of the solutions had to solve our three main design goals. Waterproofing a wooden watch is not easy!
We like the idea of a bespoke, tailored suit. Everything is perfectly sized for you, and as a result feels very special. On most watches there are extra holes or positions always visible on the watch strap. These don’t feel very special to us - they are just there for someone else. Taking this concept further we felt that customers may accept a little more effort to size the band once, if the result is a perfect fit for them. Especially if this is a process they can undertake without specialist tools.
Our watch is held together with a single piece of extremely high-quality cord. The cord runs through every component and the two ends of the cord come out of the buckle loop. They are secured by two grub screws. These can be loosened so that the buckle comes off and links can be removed and added. When this is done, the excess cord feeds back into the links, remaining out of sight. When sized, there is no way to tell the watch hasn’t been made just for you. Using cord allows the watch to have a degree of flexibility previously unseen on linked watches. The watch links follow the contours of your wrist in a very natural way.
All of our ideas started out as very rough sketches in notebooks. Here quantity and quality of the ideas was most important, not the presentation. The sketches are all very loose as they followed the discussions we were having. Take the discussions away and the sketches look very abstract! If one of us felt that an idea may be good we developed it immediately using 3D CAD. Its the only way to prove an idea before committing to samples. The 3D models were used to create renders to see as realistically as possible how the watches would look.
We started with paper prototypes to check scale but quickly progressed to samples using a very high quality Objet 3D printer. This allowed us to refine dimensions and tolerances very quickly. It also allowed us to check that the concept of using cord worked. Once we had made changes and revisions we made a final drawing pack specifying every component to our manufacturing partners.
We commissioned full samples from our the main suppliers, investing around £5000. All the parts were individually CNC machined. We produced many samples of the wooden components, with incremental changes. This provided a proper evaluation of each iteration as all parts had to be right.
The hand and face tooling was made as these cannot be accurately sampled. We had already proven that the concept worked using 3D printed parts so these final samples were used to decide on colours and finishes. They also allowed us to finalise the tactile elements, like the buckle having the right click.
We set out to develop a wooden watch, but have ended up with a platform that can cater for other interesting materials too. We expect to introduce these as they are developed and refined. Suffice to say we are very excited about the possibilities, and there is a lot of potential to use diverse materials un-seen before in watches.
We have worked on this project around our normal jobs as professional product/industrial designers where we are responsible for multi-million pound products and product categories.
Ben works as a lead industrial design engineer for a medical company. He develops and leads teams to develop and produce market leading medical devices that are used in hospitals around the world. These products have to meet the most stringent technical, safety and usability standards.
David is a product designer experienced in bringing innovative products to the high street. He predominately works in furniture, but has also brought travel luggage and woodworking machinery to market, so very experienced in getting real products made and working with suppliers to develop production products.
We are both perfectionists and spend an enormous amount of time getting seemingly small details right. Throughout the whole 3 year period that we have been developing these watches, there has been constant temptation to dilute the concept to settle for a lesser quality but easier solution. The engineering choices, even on parts that may never be seen, have been considered to an equal standard as those constantly on display. We don’t feel we ever compromised our values, and as a result have a product that we’d be happy to own.
Risks and challenges
The complete watch is made by three main suppliers. This has been narrowed down from hundreds of potential manufacturing partners. The high precision metal and time keeping components are made by one of the premium Far East watch-makers. We wish we could reveal their other branded customers, but suffice to say they are usually producing watches at a significantly higher retail price. Their quality is superb. The wooden machined components are produced by specialists that understand the wood needs special treatment and each part is CNC machined to ensure high accuracy and a totally unique aesthetic for wooden watches.
If the campaign is successful it will allow us to immediately place orders with our suppliers and commission tooling.
This is a 3 month process from receiving the order to having finished watches ready for inspection. We have then quoted another month to iron out any QC issues and despatch the watches to you door. In total we expect production to be 4 months from the time our Kickstarter campaign finishes to watches being received by customers.
The only thing we have not revealed to you yet is the packaging. It has been designed, and is due to be sampled. We expect it to enhance the presentation of the watches.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (33 days)