A Roundup of the Best Architect-designed Timepieces
Architecture & Design

Design For Life: A Roundup of the Best Architect-designed Timepieces

From minimalist masterpieces to high-concept creations, here’s a look at some of the coolest watches ever drafted.

By Rhonda Riche

When the brutalist beast (and I mean that in the best way), the B/1 by Toledano & Chan, was announced in early May 2024, it stirred up a lot of excitement among watch aficionados.

Its creators, artist and watch collector Phil Toledano and designer Alfred Chan, drew their inspiration from the former Whitney Museum building on New York’s Upper East Side designed by the Hungarian-born, Bauhaus-trained architect Marcel Breuer.

So, as I was reflecting on my visits to the building that was first once called “an inverted Babylonian ziggurat,” I got to thinking about watchmaking’s relationship with architects.

Over the years, there have been plenty of collabs with architects such as Frank Gehry and Michael Graves, but, if we’re being honest, most are on the over-designed side – like a pair of asymmetrical, multi-colored Alain Mikli glasses frames from the 1990s that simply scream, “Hey, look at me! I’m creative!”

But when an architect and a watchmaker collaborate to find the right balance of form and function… Well, that’s horological gold.

Here are six great wrist structures.

Junghans Automatic by Max Bill

The minimalism of the Bauhaus movement has left its mark on many classic timepieces. From Dieter Rams’ work for Braun to almost everything NOMOS Glashütte has ever released, the Bauhaus School’s defining principle was creating functional, beautiful, and easily mass-produced objects.

Watches and clocks were the perfect playing ground for exploring this aesthetic. The most famous timepiece to come from the Bauhaus school was designed by the multi-hyphenate architect, industrial designer, artist, and graphic Max Bill for Junghans.

Bill trained under Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee at the Bauhaus in Dessau in the late 1920s. Then, in 1961, Max Bill and Junghans introduced their first watch together, the Junghans Ref. 84/3963.

The first and the best example of the marriage between Bill’s sensibility and Junghan’s technical proficiency, the Ref. 84/3963 is still so perfect that the brand is still producing variations on this minimalist masterpiece today!

Grand Tour by Michael Graves and Project Watches

Architect Michael Graves (1934-2015) was a master of postmodernism – a movement known for its sense of humor and bold combination of three-dimensional geometry and vivid colors.

The prolific Graves’ work ranged from the Portland Building in Oregon to drawing up the plans for a post office in Disney’s mass-manufactured town of Celebration, Florida.

In the 1990s, Graves partnered with Target to provide great, affordable design to everyone.

Then, in his last decade, he became a passionate advocate for people with mobility issues and worked with CVS to make accessibility products. But one of our favorite and still ongoing Graves collaborations is with Project Watches – a design-forward brand based in Boston.

Called the Grand Tour, this dual-time watch comes in Orange and Black versions, and each is only $199. The innards of these timepieces are powered by a basic quartz movement (hence its affordable price), but, let’s face it, it’s the unique look of these watches that catches the eye. Its form follows function times fun.

Le Régulateur by Louis Erard and atelier oï

Simply one of the most visually arresting architect-designed watches we’ve ever seen. Manufacture Louis Erard and one of Switzerland’s most renowned design studios, atelier oï, teamed up to give the brand’s seminal Le Régulateur watch a new look.

A regulator watch is one where all the timekeeping hands – the hours, minutes, and seconds – display time from different places on the dial, with the minute hand centrally located.

Atelier oï decided to amplify that description by radiating from the center out. The result is a surface engraved with asymmetrical rays that create reflections and contrasts under the light.

In one way, the effect recalls the shadow play of a sundial. It also reminds us of the drafting tools architects use to draw lines.

Unfortunately, the limited edition Louis Erard and atelier oï the Le Régulateur is already sold out.

Rado’s True Thinline Les Couleurs Le Corbusier

The True Thinline Les Couleurs Le Corbusier nine-watch collection by Rado is not a collaboration, as such, but an inspired tribute to the visionary Swiss-born architect Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, a.k.a. Le Corbusier.

[Editor’s Note: For our American readers, we will be using the British “colour” for this entry. DO NOT FREAK OUT.]

This collection of unique, vivid timepieces (launched in September 2023) borrows from the designer’s legendary Architectural Polychromy colour theory.

Le Corbusier often described his buildings as “machines for living,” and as masters of hard-wearing colourful ceramic watches, Rado certainly captures this concept! Coming in eight different monochromatic versions, each with a slim 39mm case made from the brand’s High-Tech Ceramic.

Each colour is limited to 999 pieces.

Cauny’s Architects of Time

Since the 1950s, Swiss watchmakers Cauny were best known for its workhorse Prima – a series of accessibly priced timepieces, mostly marketed in the Mediterranean.

Spain and Portugal, in particular, are home to some of the most exciting structures in Europe, so the brand decided to reinvent itself for the 21st century with a series called The Architects of Time.

The collection is focused on featuring Pritzker Prize-winners (the Pritzkers are the Nobel Prizes and Oscars of architecture all rolled into one) and started by launching models with the esteemed Álvaro Siza Vieira and Rafael Moneo.

Cauny has challenged these architects to use the same vision they apply to their buildings but scaled down to create a meaningful bond between the wearer and the watch.

Then, earlier this month, Cauny released its collaboration with Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto Moura, who won the Pritzker in 2013.

These round, minimalist watches look like a traditional timepiece from a distance. However, up close, you can see that the indices incorporate Roman numerals, and the unique leather bracelet curves at the lugs to better integrate the strap into the stainless steel case.

This connection recalls one of his best-known works, Casa das Histórias Paula Rego, 2008, which incorporated two distinct pyramid-shaped towers of red concrete at the entrance of the building.

Louis Vuitton’s Tambour Moon Flying Tourbillon Sapphire Frank Gehry

In 2014, Pritzker Architecture Prize-winning architect Frank Gehry designed one of Paris’ most beguiling buildings, the sail-like Fondation Louis Vuitton, a private museum of modern and contemporary art nestled in the Bois de Boulogne public park.

Then, in March 2024, Gehry and Louis Vuitton joined forces once again for an even more intimate project: the Tambour Moon Flying Tourbillon Poinçon de Genève Sapphire Frank Gehry, a transparent timepiece informed by the Paris gallery and the sweeping glass edifice of his Louis Vuitton Maison Seoul building.

To figure out the form of this limited edition, Gehry crumpled up a large-scale photograph of the 2022 Tambour Moon Saphir and crumpled the paper to create the new model’s dial. Instead of glass, the rippling case, dial, crown, lugs, and hands were all cut from a single 200-kilogram block of sapphire.

One of the most difficult-to-make watches ever executed by La Fabrique du Temps, it took 250 hours to manufacture the Tambour Moon Saphir’s dial alone, which explains why only five were produced.

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