In-depth

A Fantastical Tale of Being Stranded on an Island with Fiona Krüger

In this imaginative short story, Watchonista contributor Barbara Palumbo takes us along on Fiona Krüger’s watchmaking journey by way of her own creative processes.

By Barbara Palumbo
Journalist

Editor’s Note: We’re delighted to introduce our new Watchonista short story concept. Barbara’s picturesque writing style is sure to delight. Enjoy! – Josh Shanks

It was something out of a Girl Scouts fireside story. Here we stood – two watch industry women, clothing soaked, torn, and tattered – staring at one another in disbelief that out of the dozen or so passengers on our capsized boat, we were the ones who made it safely to this patch of land somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.

“For a swimmer, you make one hell of a writer,” she spouted at me in her breathy Scottish accent, and I immediately thought to myself, if I were going to be a castaway with anybody, I’m happy as hell it’s Fiona.

The nightmare began for us when an unexpected storm sent a wave tall enough to flip our chartered boat upside down, smashing parts of it in the process (though, technically for me the nightmare began when I first stepped foot onto the boat and realized that I was surrounded by nine bearded young men wearing Warby Parkers and Sperrys).

I’m not the world’s best swimmer as Fiona pointed out, but I managed to cling to a floating door before hoisting Fiona up onto it with me – partially to save her life, and partially to prove to the creators of the film “Titanic” that Jack could have totally fit beside Rose. (Pssst. James Cameron. You suck.)

The beach we drifted onto was littered with shipwreck paraphernalia but any signs of human life were nonexistent.

“Ever watch Gilligan’s Island?” I asked her.

“No. Why?” she said.

“I just didn’t want you to get your hopes up.”

“Oh, we’re going to perish here, I’m sure of it. No question in my mind.”

As I nodded in agreement, we individually started collecting things that we thought might be useful. After an hour or so apart we met up in our original landing spot to compare treasures.
“Okay.” I sighed. “I’ve got three gluten-free Kind bars, two portable and fully-loaded phone chargers, one USB cable, a pair of Dior flip flops, a waterproof Bluetooth speaker, a GoPro, a travel watch case, a voice recorder, and this unopened biodegradable bag of sodium-free, gluten-free, flavor-free trail mix. If I didn’t think I was already trapped in my own Gen X hell, I have no doubts about it now.”

“Stop, that’s good stuff! All I found were these seven iPhones and this waterproof cooler filled with cans of mulberry and thyme-infused craft beer. Can’t you Americans just drink beer-flavored beer? And I want to know who invented a waterproof cooler that would survive a shipwreck? It’s a bit scary and yet also, ace.”

“I wouldn’t know. I don’t drink beer,” I said.

“SHUT UP. I DON’T, EITHER!”

“YEAH?! You know what this means, right?”

“That we’d rather dehydrate and die than drink a salad-flavored lager?” she asked.

“Well yeah, that, but also that we’re going to die together which means one of us won’t have to turn into a cannibal.”

((awkward silence))

“Most people think I’m a terrible Scot for not liking beer. Between the looks I get about that and the ones I get when I say I don’t like bananas, it’s a wonder anybody takes me seriously these days.”

“You’re saying I shouldn’t tell you about the field of banana trees I found about 100 yards back?”

“Yeah. Don’t. And don’t eat them around me. I can’t stand the way they sound when they’re being eaten.”

“Noted.”

As the sun centered itself in a teasingly cloudless sky, Fiona and I did our best to find shelter under some (non-banana) trees while toying with the technology we found to see if anything was in working condition.

“Oh, Fiona, I got this voice recorder working. I thought, you know, maybe we could record our last messages to our loved ones.”

“Bloody hell, that’s morbid. No. Let’s not use it for that... at least, not yet. Let’s have a little fun with it.”

“Okay. Karaoke?”

“Hmm. I have been listening to a lot of Bowie, lately. I mean, if you like the sound of a cat being swung around by its tail, then yeah, let’s go for it. But I was thinking something more along the lines of what we do for a living. You’re a writer. Get a little creative."
“Well, I could interview you. You know, get your take on your collections, and what your interests are. Plus, if we’re rescued in the next couple of days I’ll be able to meet my article deadline. BONUS.”

Fiona pondered the idea a moment before reaching into the waterproof cooler and cracking open a warm mulberry brew to wash down her meal of flavor-free trail mix and (what she believed to be) freshly picked papaya.

“Yeah. All right. Let’s talk,” she said, beckoning me to press the record button.

“Okay. (Clears throat before speaking into microphone.) This is Barbara Palumbo and I’m here on a deserted island somewhere in the Pacific Ocean speaking with Fiona Krüger about both her current and upcoming collections. Fiona, if you were to die tomorrow, what wou...”

“CAN YOU PLEASE STOP IT WITH THE DEATH TALK?”

“Sorry, okay, let me start again. Fiona, what do you want people to know about you and your collections that they may not already know?”

Fiona took a quick swig of her beer and winced before pausing to look out at the rippling ocean waves that had carried us safely to this oasis of eventual doom. Then, she began...

“What’s important for me is that people understand what the brand is about.”

She continued, “Subsequently, that will help them understand what each of our collections is about. We use the tagline, ‘An Artistic Approach to Haute Horlogerie.’ “Now, that wasn’t just to have some fancy mantra, and everyone loves to call their watches ‘pieces of art’ (which is a debate we could have for ages, though that’s for another tale) but that’s not what we did. That line is at the heart of what I do because my background is in fine art, so when I’m designing a watch I think of it in the same way I thought about the artwork I used to make. I could be creating a sculpture, or a painting; it just happens that instead of clay and paint my tools are mechanisms, and the incredible manufacturers and artisans I work with day to day. Does that make sense?”
“It does, yes. Go on,” I replied.

“So, the pieces come from a genuine place of creativity, and the design is developed out of a concept which underpins the whole collection. That concept must be relevant to the ideas of time and/or watchmaking. You know, something that I think ‘yeah, it makes sense to create a watch around that’ rather than any other item.”

Then, I asked Fiona if she ever thought about the concept of time itself; of it passing, or – as morbid as she’s insisted it was – of it running out.

“Yeah, I do think about it. Not all the time, but I think about it from a creative/artistic point of view; about how to visually convey that because it’s a universal idea. And I do think of it as something that’s running out for sure. It somewhat frightens me in that I never feel like I’m doing enough things quickly enough, though maybe that’s actually more of a motivating thought than a scary one. Just makes me want to do more, be nicer, spend my time being better with things that actually matter.”

Configure“Okay, so, since we’re here on some deserted island after a shipwreck – which is pretty much the beginning of either a made-for-basic-cable horror movie or the next Pirates of the Caribbean film – this next question seems the most appropriate to ask: why skulls?”

She looked at me and laughed a little as if to say, I knew that question was coming, took another sip of beer, then spoke...

“I think people’s biggest misconception is that the skull design was something I developed to be ‘trendy.’ But the design stems from horological history and the use of the skull and the skeleton throughout the centuries; from the skeleton who chimes the hours on the astronomical clock in Prague, to the skull-shaped pocket watch owned by Mary Queen of Scots which dates to the 16th century when skull-shaped pocket watches were a trend for ladies. [And here we are thinking we’re being edgy now!] There are many examples of the skull motif being used, and it makes perfect sense. The writer Faye Dowling wrote, The skull is the ultimate symbol of life, death and human experience. What more perfect symbol to use to create a timepiece? And then there’s the idea that a watch could be in any shape you wanted, which for me stems from my visit to the Patek Philippe museum in Geneva, where in their historical collection they have watches shaped like angels, musical instruments, animals, and so on. It’s only recently that the outline of a watch case has become very standardized [except if you look at the incredible pieces of MB&F and Urwerk, but let’s not go down that rabbit hole. I could wax lyrical about how amazing they are for hours!].”

“Agreed,” I quipped.

“To put it plainly, the design itself is something which is universally recognized, which means whether you are into watches or not, you can relate to it. That was important to me. And while I can’t say everyone likes the design – which by the way was never a concern when I was creating it – everyone recognizes a skull and a skull says something different to everybody. Of course, there’s also the personal inspiration which influenced the design; notably my childhood in Mexico and my memories of DÍa de Los Muertos. My memories of that time are so vivid, and that festival holds such a special place in my heart, so that has played a big role in developing some of my design choices.”

“This is wonderful information, Fiona. Truly. I think this is going to make for a great piece if we survive this situation. Now... how about we discuss what’s next?”

“Right. Let’s. So, the new collection will have its own concept, and therefore its own design identity and shape, which is not a skull. For me, it’s basically starting from scratch, and I’ve had the idea for this new collection in mind for about two or three years now; the first doodles go back at least a couple of years, and now I’m in full design and development mode. It’s a massive job as it’s not only the design in terms of the aesthetics of the piece but also the mechanics, then there’s exploring different manufacturers and artisans to see what they do, how they work, and which techniques could be a great match for bringing my latest designs to life. When I design something it’s only about 50-70% complete before I meet with all the manufacturers and artisans. I only finalize the design after having met with them, and talked to them about the project to get an idea of their skills, abilities, materials, and what they do and don’t enjoy doing. All those things help determine the final design. I try to highlight within my work what they’re good at or what they’re proud of, and that’s how we come up with the finished piece.

It’s a true collaboration, but that’s how you get the best product, in my mind, anyway.

Apart from that I can’t say much.” She said with devilish grin.

“OH, COME ON, FIONA! It’s not like I can tell anybody. Other than that massive spider behind you, although he did just crawl into your beer.”

“Please don’t tell me that. I’m morbidly afraid of spiders. Seeing Arachnophobia. as a kid destroyed me for life.”
Configure“Really? Well, tell me more about your new collection or I unleash Shelob from her beer can.”

“All right. I’ll tell you that it’ll be unisex, like all my watches are, because I don’t believe in ‘women’s watches’ or ‘men’s watches’ in the traditional sense anymore. I think those categories aren’t relevant, though that’s probably a very biased view based on my own work, but I’d love to see a definition of what a ‘man’s watch’ or a ‘woman’s watch’ should be. For me it’s just about creating a relevant design to the best of my ability - something that makes people dream and hopefully smile, and then whoever falls in love with it, falls in love with it. That’s it, though. That’s all I’m telling you.”

Fiona and I talked for what seemed like hours until we realized darkness was nearly upon us. As she prepared a place for us to rest for the night, I gathered some wood to try to start a fire. After fifteen or so minutes I returned to our base camp with the glow of roaring flames flickering behind me.

“How in bloody hell did you get it going so quickly?”

“Easy,” I said. “You didn’t find seven iPhones, you found six. One of them was actually a Samsung. All I did was attempt to turn the thing on and it blew up. BOOM. Instant campfire.”

Bananas, Boats, and Bowie: A Forged and Fantastical Tale of Being Stranded on an Island with Watchmaker Fiona Krüger

“I see you also got one of the music players working on one of the other phones, too.” She laughed.

“No. I didn’t. Why? What do you mean?”

“You don’t hear that? That music?”

I stood completely still and listened. Then... I heard a faint but familiar tune.

Feel a bit roughed up/Feel a bit frightened/Nearly pin it down some time

Red sail action/wake up in the wrong town/Boy, I really get around 

“Is that... does that sound like David Bowie to you?” I asked Fiona, looking at her with both relief and fear in my eyes. But before she could reply, the music grew louder and closer.

Thunder ocean/Thunder ocean/Red sails take me/Make me sail along

The voice was unmistakable, but where was it coming from? There were no instruments playing. No backup singers. Just a voice. One distinctly perfect, recognizable voice. And then suddenly, the fire blew out, and a strong wind whipped through the trees behind us. Then, the singing completely stopped.

My heart felt as if it had been cast in plaster. It was heavy and almost rocklike in my chest, yet it was beating with the consistency of a harmonic tremor. I was sweating, but not really breathing. And I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention.

“BOO.”

“AAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHH!” Fiona and I screamed as we grabbed one another and stared into the face of a madman.

“Wait! You’re David Bowie!” she said giddily, holding her hand out for a shake.

I stared in disbelief at what I was witnessing, jaw slightly ajar, and eyeballs close to leaving my face entirely.

“Well,” said the David Bowie-looking creature, “technically I was, yes. But I can’t shake your hand because, you see, I no longer matter.”

“Oh, come on, David... you absolutely matter. You matter a lot, especially to me. I’ve been listening to you constantly lately. Often when I’m working on the designs for my collections.”

“No, I’m sorry, Fiona. I meant to say I’M no longer matter, Get it? ‘Cause I’m a ghost? Sorry. Ghost jokes. Don’t always go over well with mortals.”

I shook my head, and needing desperately to hear my own voice to assure me I wasn’t dreaming, I said, “So, wait... what the universe is telling me right now, is that I’m standing on a deserted island where I’m stranded with Fiona Krüger and the ghost of David Bowie, and said ghost is cracking scientific ghost jokes. Fiona, there is no way in hell that was papaya we ate earlier. Not in a million years.”

“I know you’re both confused right now, but no worries. I’m not staying long. I just came to tell you lot that you need only to walk about four kilometers along the beach headed east and you’ll come to the Bora Bora Sofitel. It’s a lovely resort. Tell Henry behind the bar I told you to order the Ziggy drink but to leave out the Stardust. Not sure the two of you could handle it with all you’ve been through today. The rest of your shipmates are already down there. They think the two of you drowned, though they do seem a bit more concerned that they lost their watches and iPhones. Sad bunch, really. So many beards.”

Fiona and I glanced at one another with a mix of excitement and disbelief before GODB continued.

“Last thing... Fiona darling, would you please not sing my songs out loud anymore. Your neighbors are plotting to have you kidnapped over it. You really need to stick to watches.”

And with that, David Bowie’s ghost blew us a kiss, clicked his high heels three times, and flew away with the ocean breeze while singing the chorus of “Time.”

ConfigureAs we gathered the items we’d collected, we tossed everything into the shipwreck-proof cooler and headed due east, as David Bowie’s ghost suggested. I took special care of the voice recorder knowing that I’d need it to write this story. Fiona wrapped the iPhones in a large leaf so that they’d stay protected until being returned to their rightful owners. And we strolled along in silence on the sand that met the moonlit-bay, because after all we had been through, we knew nothing more needed to be said.

No matter where our lives brought us from this point forward, we’d always have our time on the island, David Bowie’s music, and that dreadful mulberry beer.

Which by the way, we left far, far behind.

All photos courtesy of Simon Cudd