A short essay on minimalist watches

What do watch brands like Daniel Wellington, Junghans, and Uniform Wares have in common?  They are brands that have embraced and incorporated the principles of Bauhaus into their designs. 

The Staatliches Bauhaus, commonly known as “Bauhaus” means “building house” in German.  It famously refers to the renowned German art school founded by architect Walter Gropius in the city of Weimar, Germany, which became famous for its singular approach to design. 

Operating from 1919 to 1933, the school was grounded in the idea of creating a Gesamtkunstwerk, literally: ‘total artwork’, which can be translated to ‘synthesis of the arts’, or ‘comprehensive artwork’, in which all the arts would eventually be brought together.  The idea was to take every form of architecture from classicism, to Baroque, to Renaissance, etc. and meld them all together to find the pure aesthetic behind all of them. 

To propose an analogy: the absence of all color is the color black, while the presence of all color is white.  One would logically assume that it was the opposite, but no.  This aesthetic that represents the ‘presence of all’ is Bauhaus: the simplest, most undiluted form of design that serves function.

The school later moved to Dessau, then to Berlin, and had a profound influence and significant impact on the subsequent developments in art, architecture, graphic design, interior design, industrial design, typography, and yes, even watch design.  Later, former key figures of Bauhaus that became successful internationally became known as the avant-garde.

The Bauhaus style tends to feature simple geometric shapes like rectangles and spheres completely devoid of elaborate ornamentation.  In watch design this is represented by timepieces that embody simplicity and the understated elegance of a straightforward design.  Watches that embrace the Bauhaus philosophy, therefore, usually focus only on essential elements and are characterized by clean lines, and uncluttered dials.  This minimalist philosophy in watch design aims to strip away unnecessary features and embellishments, resulting in a sleek and timeless aesthetic.

These minimalist watches often give an emphasis on legibility and functionality, which often translate to dials with minimal hour markers and simple hands with a lack of excessive complications or subdial.  It may feature simple hour markers, such as dots, lines, or numerals, and a discreet brand logo.  Indeed, the use of negative space is common, allowing the dial to breathe and enhance readability.

Case design follows this principle as well, and are typically slim and streamlined without excessive ornamentation.  The sleeker the better, in fact, something that extends to the color palette: minimalist watches tend to favor a neutral color palette, including black, white, gray, silver.  Very rarely does gold get featured as neutral colors tend to provide a versatile and timeless appeal, ensuring the watch can be paired with a wide range of outfits.

Which brings us to minimalist design’s biggest advantage: versatility. The timeless design and understated elegance of a minimalist watch makes it suitable for both formal and casual occasions, and it can be paired with a wide range of outfits, from a business suit to a casual ensemble.

There are many watch brands that have embraced a minimalist philosophy and offer a wide range of watches with clean understated design.  However, only a notable few have successfully sustained that aesthetic over time, and include BRAUN, a German brand known for its consumer products, but also offers minimalist watches that draw inspiration from the brand's design philosophy, which emphasizes simplicity, functionality, and durability.  

Other notable examples are SKAGEN, a Danish brand that takes its inspiration from the sleek design principles of Scandinavian architecture; MOVADO is an iconic brand known for the Museum watch, the brand’s beloved and stylish signature model that features brand’s siganture dot; UNIFORM WARES, a British brand that focuses on creating contemporary timepieces with minimalist designs.  Their watches often feature monochromatic dials, slim cases, and clean typography with a strong emphasis on high-quality materials and craftsmanship; and MONDAINE, a Swiss brand recognized for its iconic Swiss Railway watch design inspired by the clocks found in Swiss railway stations, and characterized by their distinct signature red second hand.

The two most notable examples of watch brands to have adopted the Bauhaus design philosophy are not surprisingly from Germany itself.  The first is JUNGHANS, a watchmaker best known for their Flieger (pilot) watches, but that also has a rich history of producing minimalist timepieces including the Max Bill collection, which feature watches designed by Swiss architect Max Bill. 

The second is NOMOS GLASHÜTTE, a German brand most recognized for its Bauhaus-inspired designs.  Their watches are characterized by clean lines, minimalistic dials with slim hour markers or Arabic numerals, and thin hands.  Nomos Glashütte is especially known for their exceptional craftsmanship and mechanical movements that incorporate complex complications traditionally avoided by minimalist design including chronographs, moon phases, or multiple time zones.

With the advent of the smartwatch, traditional timepieces with minimalist designs have gained popularity in recent years, mostly due to their clean aesthetics and versatile nature.  These watches offer a refined and sophisticated style that appeals to those looking for a traditional timepiece, especially those who appreciate simplicity and elegance in their accessories.