Marc Newson is a man of few words. Which perhaps should come as no surprise, given he has made a name for himself in the world of design as a proponent of the pared down aesthetic. “Good design is about knowing when to stop,” he tells Prestige in Geneva. “It is about creating objects that don’t date. You just know it when you see it,” he adds.
The Australian industrial designer would know. Lauded as one of the most influential designers of his generation, the 53-year-old has received numerous awards and distinctions throughout his illustrious career. He was also in Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People list in 2005, sharing the honours with the likes of George W Bush, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. Having left his mark on everything from fashion and lifestyle products (he has ongoing collaborations with big-name labels such as G-Star Raw and Apple), to home furnishings (besides his iconic Lockheed Lounge, he has also worked with brands like Magis and Alessi) over the years, Newson recently revisited a timeless classic in the horology world: The Jaeger-LeCoultre Atmos clock.
Invented in 1928 by Swiss engineer Jean-Léon Reutter, the Atmos clock has been a hallmark of the manufacture from as early as 1932 when LeCoultre (before its merger with watchmaker Jaeger) began producing it on a commercial scale. Powered by miniscule changes in temperature, the iconic timekeeper has arguably occupied a significant place in history. “It’s sort of the ultimate corporate gift — almost every [American] president’s had one,” jokes Newson. “And in a weird way, the Atmos represents the cutting edge of technology. It is completely anachronistic, but it is as up-to-date now as it was over 80 years ago. It is the very definition of modern luxury with its amalgamation of craft and technology with design,” he adds.
So when Newson took on the challenge of designing an Atmos clock for the watchmaker back in 2008, it wasn’t about reinventing the wheel. Instead, it was about “respecting the DNA of the brand, while injecting a certain character to the Atmos to make it different and appeal to a new audience,” he explains. Now on this third Atmos collaboration with Jaeger-LeCoultre, it is safe to say that Newson has found the perfect balance between the two.
This, however, did not come without its own set of challenges, he notes: “The thing about working with such an iconographic typology of product is that you have to be careful to neither overshadow nor be overshadowed. So I asked myself: To what extent could I express myself within this object?” The answer was simple. Noting that the movement already existed and that its fundamental mechanics could not be modified, Newson decided to highlight and showcase the intricate 211-part calibre 568 in all its glory through the use of a completely transparent case.
As a result, the Atmos 568 is presented in a cabinet made entirely of Baccarat crystal, which in itself was no mean feat, considering its rounded cube-shape. “Glass is an incredibly complex material to work with and there are many different types of glass. It is like comparing steel to gold — they are all massively different,” Newson explains. Working with glass and shaping it in the manner he envisioned, as it turned out, was so technically complex that it was thought to be impossible at one point. “But we managed to get there in the end,” he says.
For added visual drama, the timekeeping mechanism of the Atmos 568 is affixed to the back of its monobloc crystal body, creating the illusion of it being suspended in thin air. The aesthetic effect is not unlike that of a ship-in-a-bottle, which is incidentally Newson’s inspiration for this piece. Compared to his previous two interpretations of the clock, most of the visible pieces have also been redesigned, including the hands, dial and increments.
“The new Atmos is a product that I hope is both modern and communicates the historic values of the brand,” he muses. Once again drawing us back to his initial point about good designs being those that stand the test of time — especially in today’s disposable age — Newson remarks: “I hope that it will remain a valuable object that people will form unique emotional connections with, becoming part of their lives.”