Design watches: when time becomes an aesthetic vision

Beyond the watchmaking performances and materials’ technicality, the design watches show their difference with shapes, lines and unexpected details. A small subjective selection by Frank sans C.

By Nicolas Yvon

TISSOT Heritage Memphis, ultra-graphic minimalist dial

With the Heritage Memphis model, Tissot does not pay homage to the architecture of the eponymous American city. Nor to the famous musicians who invented the “Memphis blues”. No, the maison is reinterpreting a lenticular watch created in 1988 by Ettore Sottsass, the founder of the Memphis group, an Italian design and architecture movement. 

La Tissot Heritage Memphis est une des montres design les plus réussies de la manufacture du Locle
The Tissot Heritage Memphis is one of the rare design watches from Le Locle manufacture.

The same singular face of the period piece can be found on this limited edition of 2,500 pieces in steel / PVD gold, 40-mm diameter (€405). As a reinterpretation and not a reissue, there are nevertheless some slight differences. The dial is larger. And the crown stands out a little more from the case middle for a better grip, we suppose. Another difference, Tissot has managed to add the reading of the seconds without touching the design of the dial. Indeed, the watchmakers have integrated, in the centre, a small rotating disk marked with a dot.

La Tissot Heritage Memphis est une des montres design les plus réussies de la manufacture du Locle
The Tissot Heritage Memphis reinterprets a 1988 watch created by Italian designer Ettore Sottsass.

The caseback and the bracelet’s back feature a geometric pattern inspired by Memphis designs. Equipped with a quartz movement, it also comes with two interchangeable straps (black and brown).    


RADO True Square Formafantasma, a round hour in a square in the land of designer watches

Design has always been part of Rado’s DNA. The manufacture has won numerous awards in this area with its high-tech ceramic models. A material that Rado was the first to use in watchmaking in 1986. Read our article Ceramic is the new black.

Formafantasma’s designers explain the creation of the Rado watch that bears their name.

The watch brand often collaborates with designers to create special editions. This True Square in matte light grey ceramic (€2,540) is a creation of the Italian-Dutch duo Formafantasma. This one-piece square case watch (38 mm) is a modern take on the old “closed” pocket watches. They had a protective cover on the dial side with an opening to keep the time visible.

Un bel exemple de montre design chez RADO : la True Square Formafantasma
Design watches have always been part of Rado’s DNA.


IKEPOD Megapod Gold Dots, pure seventies style 

Created in 1997, the Megapod is undoubtedly the masterpiece of Ikepod, a brand whose approach time has always been very conceptual. Minimalist, refined, futuristic, fluid, “bulging”: the instruments’ style is unique. A tribute to the watchmaking design of the 1970s, the Megapod perfectly illustrates this visual identity with its case without horns for the strap.

Chez Ikepod; lesmkintfres sont design depuis toujours
Ikepod approaches the world of watchmaking with a focus on design above all.

Redesigned by Alexandre Peraldi, it mixes its original codes with a dial imagined by another designer, Emmanuel Gueist, to create a “Gold Dots” version. This edition in 316L steel measures 46 mm in diameter. An imposing size that disappears on the wrist thanks to the natural ergonomics of the case. Its golden dial is reminiscent of a drum cymbal (personal opinion that only the author of these lines can commit). An automatic calibre with three central hands, visible on the back, drives this beautiful instrument (€1,190).  


MONDAINE, the design watches of the Swiss railroads

Everyone in Switzerland knows Mondaine! And for good reason, this watch brand is the official supplier of the Swiss federal railways (SBB in Switzerland). It is impossible to find a station without a Mondaine clock.

Basel train station in Switzerland (photo DR).

A Swiss engineer, designer and SBB employee, Hans Hilfiker, designed this station clock that appeared on the platforms in 1944 before it became a wristwatch in 1986. Recognizable among all, very graphic and readable, its white and black dial has a red seconds hand with a ball point.

Une des montres design les plus connues en Suisse : la Mondaine avec sa caractéristique trotteuse rouge à pinte boule.
One of the most famous design watches in Switzerland: the Mondaine with its characteristic red second hand with ball tip.

The 40 mm steel reference on Milanese mesh (quartz movement, €299) presented by Frank sans C has the particularity of combining the signature element with a large date (read our article “The Big date? A great idea!”).   


HUBLOT Classic Fusion Orlinski Titanium, space-time folding

Hublot’s partner since 2017, Richard Orlinski is now the best-selling French artist designer in the world. He owes his success to his giant, ultra-faceted sculptures – notably his famous Kong gorilla – which he exhibits in the open air. His creations are made with personal folding processes modelled on the bodywork techniques used in F1.

Hublot Classic Fusion revue par Richard Orlinski est une réussite esthétique.
Sculptural, the Hublot Classic Fusion watch reviewed by Richard Orlinski is an aesthetic success.

The aesthetic success resulting from the meeting of the artist’s vision and the codes of the manufacture must be emphasized here. One can even speak of a true fusion between the two worlds when one observes the Classic Fusion Orlinski Titanium (€11,300). Indeed, Orlinski was able to create a completely different model without distorting the watch’s identity.

Hublot Classic Fusion Orlinski Titanium.

This 40 mm diameter titanium instrument opens onto a fascinating polished black dial whose many facets play with the reflections of the light with each movement. The three central hands are driven by an automatic calibre whose gears can be seen from the back.

Read our detailed data sheet on the Hublot Classic Fusion Orlinski Titanium.


TRILOBE Nuit Fantastique Secret, a bright idea for unique design watches

Trilobe is a small maison that is going up and up. Its creations are a true symbiosis between technicality, design and… poetry. The principle here is to propose a different reading of time by using a patented system of graduated rotating rings. They are driven by an exclusive X-Centric micro-rotor movement visible on the back. Their particular setting on the dial is also one of the keys to the Trilobe’s designer watches’ success.

Les montres design de Trilobe props une autre lecture du temps
On the Trilobe Nuit Fantastique Secret, time is read differently and each dial is unique.

Illustration with the Nuit Fantastique Secret model (€10,500) presented by Frank sans C. This steel edition, on a blue alligator bracelet, is available in two sizes (38.5 or 40.5 mm). Its dial has a rotating ring around the edge to display the hours. The hours are indicated at noon by the brand logo. An off-center module, in the shape of an 8, indicates the minutes (through a small opening) and the seconds (ring rotating around a clous de Parisdecoration).

Uniqueness is the enchantment or the secret of this piece. Because the sky chart that covers the dial is totally personal. It matches indeed to the position of the stars, established according to a place, a date and a time determined by the owner himself. Whether it’s the birth of a child, a wedding or any other moment in his life that is dear to him, he can also choose an event that has not yet happened. The second magical effect is that this hand-decorated vault is magically illuminated at night because each little star is filled with Superluminova.


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