London is usually anything but minimal. The noise, the bustle, the traffic. The capital is coated with a layer of billboards, posters and pamphlets. Dare to peel off this branded outer layer however and you’ll discover a core of intelligent brands favouring minimal, precise design. Alice Made This speaks to Michael Carr, Design Director for Uniform Wares, about his architectural approach and its new breed of honest timepieces.
“Our primary concern is to create products that embody character and distinction through intelligent design, rather than contrived branding,” Michael begins. Just from his opening words it’s clear that we’re going to have a lot to talk about. Alice Made This’ ethos of simple, quality design just found a London based ally.
“Many people would characterise Uniform Wares’ watches as understated, minimal or pared back,” he continues. “This certainly describes our aesthetic to some degree, but these descriptions are just bi-products of our overall intentions, as opposed to what we set out to be.”
Founded in 2009 by Patrick Bek and Oliver Fowles, Uniform Wares specialises in Swiss made watches that are assembled in its London lab and offer a refined, clean aesthetic. Michael joined the team after working as a product designer for a selection of contrasting brands ranging from fashion focused Vivienne Westwood to pure, functional Braun.
“I found it unusual that there seemed to be nothing on the market that crossed these boundaries,” Michael says, “the quality and attention to detail of a fully considered, function driven brand with the emotional, human element of a fashion focused one, but without the potential drawbacks of either.”
Similarly to our founder Alice, Michael has taken a product design background and translated it into honest, refined accessories.
“When you only have a 2 square inch area on a person’s wrist available, it’s the tiniest of details that can have the most impact. The slightest adjustments to the size or thickness of a case or baton, print weight of a minute track or colour tone of a dial can dramatically affect the usability or character of the piece.”
“There are so many factors that are necessary to consider simply to make the watch work,” Michael continues. “Some of this is obvious but some less so, such as the requirement for the dial details, hands and lens to be positioned at the correct heights to allow for the appropriate clearance between them and then the hands themselves to be designed in such a way that they balance correctly and work well with the torque level of a particular movement. The components of the watches themselves are produced to a tolerance of 0.02mm, so that itself will give you some idea to the kind of measurements that we are working to.”
An acute attention to detail and an eye for the perfect balance between human elements and beautiful design is pivotal for Michael. Yes, the watch strap and face must be considered, but so too must even the smallest mechanism in the watch’s movements.
“It’s also important to incorporate subtle flexibility to allow some human elements to influence the product’s character,” Michael expands. “It’s these elements that encourage an emotional response and avoid the sterile, soullessness often associated with minimal, function only, design brands."
With so many miniscule parts working in harmony, and so many design elements to consider, I’m eager to learn more about the start to finish process that Uniform Wares undertakes.
“We approach design in a simple way,” he says. “We avoid the unnecessary, in both the things we design and our process itself, but are obsessive about detail. Our process usually starts with an initial idea for a product, or an identified need for one, often triggered by a show or factory visit, day-to-day research or just a conversation that leads to an idea.”
“We then move into a process of idea generation, sketching, working in Illustrator and 3D software to visualise initial ideas. The strongest of the ideas are then developed further, prior to entering into a three-stage prototyping process. The first stage is to produce a series of rapid prototypes on our in-house rapid prototype machine for initial review, which will lead into further development and further runs of initial rapid prototypes.”
“Once we have a selected a design, we will enter the second stage, which will usually be in the form of producing a visually accurate, working prototype with one of our prototyping partners. This will be fully tested and reviewed further, before finalising the design, producing a full set of technical drawings, final specifications and producing full sets of pre-production samples with our manufacturing partners.”
Working with a global network of manufacturing experts, and applying the ‘golden ratio’ throughout many of its designs, Uniform Wares has recently moved to being Swiss made to improve the quality of its offering. I ask Michael why Switzerland was the answer.
“We did not shift the brand to “Swiss Made” for the sake of gaining the kudos that comes with a Swiss made watch, this was simply a bi-product of a much more fundamental need. We were looking at how we could improve the quality and reliability of our product and our production capabilities and were open minded about how we would achieve this. It just so happened that after a lot of research and investigation we discovered that the best facilities and expertise we could find to suit our needs was in Switzerland.”
Like Alice Made This, Uniform Wares strives to combine elegant, minimal design, intelligent processes and quality materials to create unique, timeless accessories. It’s these finishing touches and carefully considered details that turn sketches into wearable objects of desire.
“Everyone should care, men and women alike, and I think that people generally do,” Michael says on the value of accessories. “Not out of vanity, but because our accessories in particular are a crossover between the things that we rely on to perform functional tasks and the things that we wear or carry on us, which we form a relationship with and which also involve themselves in our relationships with others."
“The thing you wear and use is the physical object and the quality, feel and physical feedback you get from using it is a result of the relationship of both the design and production together. If one is wrong, they both fail.”
“We believe in a new type of luxury,” Michael concludes. “One that’s more about the passion, consideration and care taken in the design and production of each watch and an understanding of the deeply personal and considered thought that goes into purchasing it.”
Learn more about Uniform Wares here