It is a little known fact that the designer Marc Newson is creative director and co-owner of innovative watchmaker Ikepod. As his low-tech yet pioneering hourglass timer is revealed, Newson explains his distinct design philosophy.
“I like objects that are well made and have a sense of quality. I don’t like the idea of designing disposable products,” says über-designer Marc Newson of his controversial but intelligent stance on sustainability. “People always ask me about ecological issues and my best defense is that I’m designing objects for life. It’s not a question of using wood or plastic or recycled material, but to keep it forever. That’s the most sustainable.”
Newson’s latest creation is a case in point. The Hourglass is just that: a sand timer crafted from meticulously blown glass, which uses low carbon gold plated or nickel plated nanoballs that flow from one bulb to another over exactly one hour. Created for the innovative watchmaker Ikepod, of which Sydney-born Newson is a part owner, it is at once a sculpture as well as a functional measure of time. Newson, 44, remarks: “It says more about time than any other object I can think of.”
As Newson attests, Hourglass and Ikepod are just part of a portfolio of objects that are designed with quality and timelessness in mind. As well as a whole house of objects for home interiors, he has designed the Marie-Helene de Taillac jewelry store in Tokyo and the Azzedine Alaia shoe boutique in Paris. Well known as an industrial designer, he is the Creative Director of Qantas Airways, for whom he has designed airport lounges and the interiors of a fleet of Airbus A380s.
Newson also works with the world’s leading design galleries to create limited edition pieces of design. His Lockheed Lounge, designed in 1986 shortly after he graduated from Sydney College of the Arts, was said to be the most expensive chair in the world when it sold for $1.5 million at Christie’s in London in 2007. Hourglass already looks set to be another collector’s item; originally not intended for production, Ikepod cannot keep up with demand.
“Ikepod is an interesting parallel with Apple,” says Newson of the watch brand’s popularity. “In the computer industry, the inherent technology is available widely but what differentiates Apple is the design. Of course, Apple’s success is due to a lot more than its packaging but what you see and its related functionality is key.” As pioneering Ikepod becomes the iPod of the watch industry, Newson’s comparison resonates more than ever.
What is your definition of luxury?
Something with emotion that is not necessarily expensive.
Time to consider.
My two-and-a-half year old daughter and my best friends.
Resting in a ryokan in the Japanese countryside.
What did you want to achieve with the Hourglass project?
I’ve been designing for Ikepod, a small watch company, for more than ten years, designing all the watches. At the same time, I’ve been working in many different fields in the world of design: I work with Galerie Kreo in Paris and Gagosian in New York and London. I thought it would be very interesting and logical to design a project for Ikepod that is about time but also about sculpture. Hourglass is not a perfectly functional object but is also something more poetic and this somehow talks about time but in a more philosophical way.
What made you decide on an hourglass timer?
Bizarrely, nobody else in the watch industry seemed to identify with this object, which is very strange. It’s like if you were in the car industry and you never thought to talk about the wheel. It’s a fundamental connection. Nevertheless, my first idea was to try to make an hourglass that would last for one year. But of course on practical and technical level, that was almost impossible. We did a lot of research and so ultimately we decided to make an object that had at least some practical attribute. It would be an hour, a logical amount of time, which also dictated the size of the object.
Practicality won over your original idea?
What I meant is that it couldn’t be so big. You need to carry it, you need to transport it. There are some logistical issues and we thought this was a nice size so that people can use it. You need to be able to handle it and it’s not so easy if it is bigger than this, because it is quite heavy. The nanoballs weigh about 3.5kg and then there’s the glass. I think it’s close to five kilos so it’s not super light.
To what extent is it the Hourglass a sculpture?
We identified this object as a kind of sculpture – it was not intended to be a timepiece but of course we design watches. We thought it would be fun to do something like Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Atmos clock. This is really Ikepod’s version of an Atmos clock, just a bit more low-tech. Maybe they have the same accuracy but I’m not sure! It was not really intended to be in production but actually we have found it to be a very big success. We’re selling too many. We can only make four pieces per month because it’s incredibly complex to blow the glass.
Is the Hourglass intended to be symbolic of time in a way that a watch is not?
It’s absolutely symbolic. It’s all about time, that you can see the passing. It’s an object that we (by which I mean Ikepod, the company) have the freedom to do and imagine.
You mean another watch brand would not have created this?
The watch industry is very conservative. Historically, too, there is nothing fun about the industry. I wanted to create something that was light. It’s difficult to express how philosophical this object is. A lot of people in the industry do not understand why we would make this.
How did your idea evolve from the point of your original sketch?
When I work, I make sketches, which go on to a computer. We try to interpret everything on computer and then we give the data to whomever we need to. Ninety percent of the time the digital data that you give comes back as very little in terms of the original sketch, though the translation is quite accurate. But, in this case, it was much more similar to my original sketches because the production process is by hand as there is no other way of making it. There is no machine to make this; there is no company that specializes in the manufacture of our glass. We had to invent the process.
So the final product is very similar to your original idea?
Absolutely. And when you look at it from a distance, even before you see what’s happening, its says hourglass. I mean there’s no mistaking what the object is and what I was trying to communicate. If you ask a small child to draw an hourglass they might do something like that. You know it’s almost kind of naïve in a way.
How does Hourglass fit within the rest of your portfolio of work?
There is fantastic symmetry in this object, which for me is important. In all of my work, symmetry is everywhere.
There is also a fantastic element of sound to Hourglass.
Yes, the sound is something that we were not really expecting. The sound becomes like more and more quiet. It’s already such a poetic object in the end much more that we imagined. You know, it’s a little bit like watching waves or watching fire.
Why decide to do this now?
It’s the right time I think historically because at this moment, especially in this industry, we are so affected by the crisis. It’s a good time to kind of consider and slow down and rethink.
Tell us about your recent collaboration with Jeff Koons.
It’s the first time that we ever collaborated with anybody else on a creative level and we thought that it should be somebody well known, someone who was not a designer because I am a designer, but rather someone who was an artist. What is interesting is that Adam Lindemann, who is the majority owner of Ikepod, is a big collector and supporter of Jeff Koons. So when it came to the time to choose the artist, it was an obvious place to start with Jeff. The art world is a large and important market for us. Commercially, we have identified those customers.