“I was much more interested in making things than in designing them.”
In a previous article, we looked at how there are few well-known watch designers. In clothing, furniture, or cars, for example, the designers have become heroes in their own right. This is not so much the case with watches, though there are some exceptions. We already celebrated the work of arguably the most famous watch designer of all time, Gérald Genta, in a previous article. This time, we will discuss the work of Marc Newson, a designer whose work is not limited to watches. Most people outside the world of watches probably don’t even know that he’s designed many interesting timepieces for Ikepod and Jaeger-LeCoultre. Let’s check out his work for Ikepod and see how he’s approached watch design as an outsider in the industry.
How Marc Newson Became the Marc Newson
Marc Newson was born in Sydney, Australia, which is a long way from both the heart of the luxury watch industry in Switzerland and the well-known design capitals of the world such as New York, London, and Milan. In 1984, he graduated from the Sydney College of the Arts after having studied jewellery and sculpture. In 1986, at the age of 23, he designed his first watch called the Pod. Apparently, Newson made each of the 100 Pod watches himself, allowing him to realize how difficult it was to design, produce, and construct a watch.
However, watch design is not how Newson made a name for himself. He became famous for his furniture and interior designs; his chairs, in particular, quickly built his fame and gained him respect. His famous Lockheed Lounge chair is one of the most sought-after design objects at current art auctions. In 2015, a Lockheed Lounge was sold at auction for £2.4 million. At that time, it was the highest amount of money ever paid for an object made by a living designer.
In addition to designing products under his own name, the Marc Newson brand has also been known to collaborate with other brands. Some remarkable collaborations include G-Star, the Australian airline Qantas, Alessi kitchenware, and luggage for the world famous brand Louis Vuitton. This goes to show you that Newson has become a world famous designer in the realm of product design. His style makes use of smooth geometric lines and tends to have an absence of sharp edges. You can see this in all his designs and it’s also what characterizes his designs for timepieces.
Starting the Ikepod Brand
In 1994, Newson co-founded the watch brand Ikepod together with his business partner Oliver Ike. The name Ikepod comes from the last name of Newson’s partner and the first ‘Pod’ watch Newson had designed and made in 1986. The name also reappeared due to the return of the pod shape in the watch designs and Newson’s obsession with pod and capsule shapes. Two years after starting the company, the first watch called the Seaslug was released. Though the watch has become a rarity and you may never get your hands on one, the design itself does not reflect the unique look that has made Newson’s designs stand out in the watch industry.
The Ikepod Hemipode: The Watch that Defined Newson
It wasn’t until the Ikepod Hemipode was released in 1998 that more people started taking notice of the brand, recognizing the unique outlook on watch design. The design of the Hemipode reflects Newson’s overall vision on product design. Its round curvy case, the symmetrical design of the dial, and the integrated strap are some characteristics that define the Hemipode. Even more than that, however, the Hemipode demonstrates how a designer who isn’t specialized in watches can find new ways of improving watch design by integrating his or her own philosophy.
The unique case of the Hemipode is the most distinct feature of the watch. It’s a monocoque design that can be opened from above and also features an off-center window opening on the rear that reveals the movement. Newson also perfected the silicone strap he’d introduced on the Seaslug, because he wanted people to enjoy wearing the 44-mm watch. This large size also greatly defined the watch. Back in 1998, a time where most watches were smaller, Newson made a pretty daring move by introducing such a big watch. The combination of the case shape and the material and construction of the strap, which is said to perfectly balance the watch on the wrist, makes the Hemipode a very comfortable watch for its size.
The Hemipode is powered by the calibre LJP 8206 movement, which is a modified version of the well-known Valjoux 7750 movement. The 7750 is a movement that can be found in many chronograph watches. Newson had a different take on using the movement, however. Instead of using the movement as the heart of the watch and building the case around it, Newson modified the movement so it could fit the symmetrical design he was aiming for. In order to achieve this, he removed the day of the week indicator and replaced it with a date dial. Newson further modified the movement by removing the 12-hour counter from the chronograph and replacing it with a 24-hour GMT hand. This resulted in perfect symmetry on the watch dial, bringing Newson’s watch vision alive; a vision that was widely recognized by critics and consumers alike.
Life After the Hemipode
After the Hemipode, Newson focused on developing the Ikepod Megapode, an even bigger watch measuring 47 mm with the same design features as the Hemipode. It’s the most technical watch Newson has designed and probably the least defined by a new visionary design. In 2002, Ikepod introduced a simplified version of the watch called the Megapode Date. It also carries the same characteristics as the Hemipode, but is the same size as the Megapode, hence its name.
In 2001, Ikepod introduced the Manatee, a watch that stepped away from the circular design the brand was known for. The Manatee is a rectangular watch with an inner bezel with world time zones marked on it. The watch did not create a buzz like the Hemipode and Megapode did, and it wasn’t until 2006 that Newson and Ikepod introduced a completely new model to the world. The Ikepod Horizon collection uses the familiar shape of the Hemipode and focuses on form over function. The unique dial creates an optical illusion of appearing convex, thereby emphasizing the three-dimensional volume of the case. The fact that it was a design piece instead of a functional watch, combined with its massively expensive price, kept it in the focus of passionate and wealthy collectors.
The last watch Newson designed for Ikepod was the Solaris, a totally different watch due to its smaller size and use of both sides to show different time zones. The double facing was inspired by the Solaris movie by Andrei Tarkovsky, which is all about duality. The watch is powered by a quartz movement for accuracy, but just like the Horizon watch, it is technically less interesting than the Hemipode and Megapode. However, the design philosophy is very interesting as Newson tried to create a very simple and elegant dress watch with a unique twist.
Newson left Ikepod in 2012 and as far as we can tell, the brand is currently inactive. Since leaving Ikepod, Newson has joined Apple, helping them design the Apple Watch to great success. It comes as no surprise that he used a lot of the same design features that can be found on different Ikepod watches. From the recognizable shape to the ingenious strap design of the Apple Watch, somehow you can see the influence of the Newson’s work for Ikepod.
Will the Ikepod Hemipode be an Industry Classic?
Looking back at Newson’s role as a designer in the conservative world of watches, we can say he has made his mark. The Ikepod Hemipode is widely recognized as a special watch combining flawless design with remarkable product features. Whether the watch will be a watch industry classic or a Marc Newson collectible remains to be seen. In the meantime, you just might be able to get your hands on one for a reasonable price and enjoy the unique vision of a man who is praised as the top designer of his generation.
Gérald Genta: The godfather of Watch Designers