When we think about watches, the first thing that probably comes to mind is someone sitting at a bench with a loupe to his eye and working on a movement. Certainly, watchmakers are an integral part of making and repairing a timepiece. They understand the mechanics involved in a watch’s function. But a watch is more than just an engine. It’s a whole unit composed of elements including the dial, case, strap and also involves making decisions about style and color. There is someone coming up with those concepts and he or she is a watch designer. And though a watchmaker and designer collaborate, it’s the designer who guides the aesthetics, what we first see when we lay eyes on a timepiece.
Nicolas Lehotzky imagines concepts for watches and clocks. A talented young man of Swiss heritage, he represents the next generation of watch designers. I had the opportunity to sit down and discuss his background, inspirations and why he chose the very niche area of horology to apply his talents.
Meehna Goldmsith: How did a Swiss gentleman end up going to school in America at Art Center?
Nicolas Lehotzky: I am naturally creative, and I spent many hours as a child trying to build the many ideas I had, and nearly lit my bedroom on fire (the burn marks are still there for proof) on two occasions. I was looking for the ideal college while in High School, and Art Center College of Design had the correct balance of artistic spirit and discipline.
MG: Why did you travel across continents to do your schooling here in America when Europe offers great programs in design?
NL: One has to leave his comfort zone to stand out; how can there be innovation without adventure? Switzerland is the world capital of watches, but it is also a comfortable, traditionalist, and conservative place with a fairly rigid set of traditions, all of which adversely affect creativity. The world has too much to offer to remain in the same place. In Los Angeles, I’ve studied and worked with people from Asia, the U.S. and Europe. Besides, Los Angeles is still the city of dreams, and it is one of the most creative places on earth, a great place to be for someone like myself.
MG: You started off in transportation. What made you switch over to Product Design?
NL: The automotive designers and engineers have to adhere to strict rules and regulations, which makes innovation slow, difficult, and limited to styling. In contrast, Product Design is an endless source of opportunities.
MG: Who do you think are the coolest designers and what products have they designed?
NL: I am attracted to iconic designs, those that stand out from the crowd and make a lasting impression. There’s I.M. Pei and his Bank of China tower, Santiago Calatrava and his balanced designs, Philippe Starck and his Alien Juicer, and the many designers who often work in the shadow of brand figures without ever getting credit for it.
MG: You switched your focus to watches? What sparked your interest to focus in this area? Was there a product or person who was influential in this decision?
NL: I grew up reading watch publications, and even built a wooden watch prototype as a child. I re-discovered watch design during a project at the Art Center. It is a field where I have high confidence in what I do, and as my ideas are finally getting more attention, I’m starting to take them to reality; an exciting process.
MG: Which watch designs do you admire and wish you had designed?
NL: I admire watches featuring unusual mechanisms, such as the Urwerk watches, Jacob & Co’s Quenttin and MB&F among others. These watches stand out from the rest because they are innovative. That said, I also like some very classic designs such as an Omega Speedmaster or the Jaeger Le Coultre Reverso, and believe it or not, these can be hard to design as well!
MG: Do you think more exciting designs are happening in fashion watches? Where do you think design and haute horlogerie meet? Is there more freedom in one area or another?
NL: Most fashion watches come and go with each season to generate short term revenue, they are more akin to disposable fashion accessories than respectable timepieces. This is something I aimed to reverse in the latest fashion watch line I designed for SKYWATCH. I wanted to create a product with long term value, and put the same dedication into the design and engineering refinement as a higher end watch. Every aspect of the watch was designed, nothing came off the shelf except the movement. The case proportions were determined after a dozen prototypes, and each surface was adjusted to provide a pleasing reflection. Materials and finishes also were carefully selected, a difficult task considering the cost parameters. Good products have a certain honesty to them, and quality should speak for itself.
MG: Who and/or what has most influenced your own design aesthetic?
NL: I purposefully stay away from following, or getting my inspiration from limited sources, as this would also limit the possibilities in my own designs. I look for inspiration everywhere, whether it is the machines imagined by Jules Verne; architecture; the surface treatment on a sports car; antique Japanese artifacts; the list never ends. The world is full of usable resources, and talent is the ability to see and use them.
MG: What is your favorite watch complication?
NL: The Vacheron Constantin Skeleton Calendrier Perpetuel is a classic timepiece that will still look good decades from now. Cartier has a number of really interesting complications, such as the Rotonde Flying Tourbillon Skeleton and the Astrotourbillon.
The Harry Winston Tourbillon Glissiere; Hublot King Power chrono; the Montblanc Metamorphosis and the Cabestan are avant garde complications that are among my favorites. That said, antique mechanical clocks are interesting as well, as I can look at their gears and understand how they work. A watch does not necessarily have to be exceptionally complicated to be mechanically interesting.
MG: What have been your latest watch projects? Please describe them.
NL: I need to keep most details under wraps at this time, but I am about to complete a series of high-end mechanical clocks featuring never seen before mechanisms…it will be truly spectacular pieces. Also, there is a NASCAR themed toy watch in the works, and a TV watch line I’ll start working on soon for my American clients.
To view more of Nicolas’s work, visit his website.