I need a new watch, but I don’t want it to be smart. Or stupid. Or insightful, predictive, or transformative, for that matter. I want my watch to be just that – a watch.
Technology executives want us to run into the gleaming digital future promised in films, but I find myself unmoved by act of poking a screen on my wrist in order to open my front door. Our already complicated lives, they tell us, will be improved – simplified and beautified, even – if we allow our smart gadgets to better our existence. Each digitally oversubscribed moment will supposedly be liberated by the addition of yet another connective apparatus.
In a world where the distinction between public and private is being dismantled and we are perennially accessible, always charged up and within reach via a text, a Skype session, an email, a Facebook inbox note, or a dashboard voice message, I don’t want my watch to be smart. Particularly when it can monitor my heart rate and collate valuable information about my habits over a period of time, pun very much intended.
A watch, and ultimately the company that processes its functionality through The Cloud, should not aim to integrate itself into my life or to know me better than I know myself. And all this intimacy without a bit of courtship first.
The mono-hand UNO+ automatic timepiece from BOTTA Design
In the face of technological intrusion, it comes as a glint of hope – a rare oasis in a desert of tiresome gadgets – to find the Botta Design UNO+ timepiece and to see that innovation can still occur without resorting to questionable, data-fueled reclassifications. A novel take on timekeeping that follows in the tradition of 14th century fixed-hand watches and has its basis in the movement of the sundial, the UNO+ fulfills its purpose through a simple, mono-hand mechanism.
In other words, you are telling time with one hand instead of two, or three hands, for that matter. Fitted with vegetable tanned leather straps or a natural rubber band, the face of the automatic UNO+ timepiece is cased in stainless steel, and housed under scratch-resistant sapphire glass, with two sapphire crystals and 25 ruby bearings delicately weighting the exposed movement on the reverse.
Seen here in Alpin white and sold for just under €900.00, it is a sleek and understated example of what a proper watch can be. The omission of the minute and second hands on the UNO+ is immediately noticeable on the oversized face, and yet, doesn’t seem odd, as if the course of time was meant to be marked in an allegorical sense, as opposed to a fixed manner.
The oversized watch face ensures that, at a quick glance, time can be told without too much fanfare, the trick being to decipher its passage with the delicate hour hand according to five-minute increments. “When all is said and done, the one-hand principle is actually easier and more logical than any multi-hand system – it merely requires a bit of getting used to,” advised Klaus Botta, the creator of the UNO+ watch.
A view of the UNO+ Swiss-made ETA 2824.2 automatic caliber
I reached out to Botta recently, curious about his perspective on the place of a mechanical timepiece in the age of digital technology. The German industrial designer had much to say on the topic, quickly voicing his opinion that, “a smart watch may promise to make our lives easier, but in reality it makes things more complex – the mini computer we wear on our wrists will require constant synchronization, updates and back ups to function.” Of course, the irony of our conversation did not escape me as Botta and I chatted – he in Germany and I in the Netherlands – via email, for a digital feature, in which we make a case for a rejection of a digital item in favour of an analog one.
"A mechanical watch can only display the time, but does so in a highly intuitive and reliable manner. Mechanical watches are handmade, long-lasting works of art with a self-evident value – they function independently of any power source or other peripherals. A smart watch is a soulless mass product, which becomes obsolete within a matter of months and, without a power source, is nothing but a lump of useless material,” Botta asserted, voicing what some consumers may have thought when considering the switch from a standart timepiece to a smart watch.
Others trying the new device are less concerned with the threat of the obsolete and more with the lack of control that comes wrapped up in the concierge-like promise of a smart watch's capabilities. The Apple Watch, for instance, can hold pass keys for doors, serve your boarding cards on flights, deliver news headlines, monitor your heart rate during various activities, and it uses a taptic engine to deliver a vibrating reminder whenever a notification is received or an incoming call is registered on a synced iPhone. Samsung’s Gear 2 takes it one step further, allowing its user to make and receive calls from the watch itself or use its camera, and it also includes a heart rate sensor; the LG Watch Urbane responds to basic voice commands, and a user can also launch some apps and games from the interface.
“One indicator is entirely sufficient to show the relevant measured value on a scale"
Klaus Botta on using the UNO+ Timepiece
But even with their interchangeable straps, novel tools, and luxury finishes, the question still stands: what is the inherent value and purpose of a smart watch, besides being yet another gadget to monitor, update, and invariably, trade in? Does it truly simplify our lives by putting the world at our fingertips and our wrists? What can it do that other indispensable devices – both the digital and analog ones – can’t?
Launched in 1986, Botta’s original UNO design was the first mono-hand wristwatch of our era to hit the market. Updated through the years until reaching its present, pared-down form, Botta explained how he developed the one hand principle for wristwatches as a way to, “buck the trend towards a growing complexity by designing a watch that was stripped down to its bare essentials. The straightforward display was intended to slow down the pace of everyday life.” In truth, all it takes is a quick glance to tell the time with an UNO+ before returning to the task at hand.
Others have since adapted the UNO philosophy to their own timepieces: MeisterSinger watches also utilizes the five-minute incremental system, but on a traditional, luxury watch face. Nienaber Uhren’s Antero watch features a unique anterograde display that skips over a gap at 9 o’clock so that a tiny seconds-dial is not obscured. And then, there is the Pita Minimal. Housed in an 18kt gold and platinum shell, with sapphire crystal detailing and Louisiana Crocodile leather, Ostrich, Lizard, or Shark straps, the Spanish company has positioned their watch as having, “the elegance of minimalism.” Each Pita Minimal, of which only nine were made for 2015, currently retails for upwards of €11,000.00.
Mechanical watches - mono-handed or otherwise - cut a path to simplicity through its unobtrusive presence and lack of demand on one’s already limited attentions; the occasional winding is all it needs to keep going. And yet, even the makers of these classical timepieces are not immune to the lure of the smart watch.
Swiss watchmakers, known for their enduring skill in creating delicate watch complications and elegant, enduring timepieces, have taken a seemingly blasphemous move towards combining the intricate design of their watches with a digital element: Frederique Constant's entry-level 'smart watch' still boasts the classic face of a Swiss timepiece, but with a digital functionality that works through a fitness tracking sensor hidden in the watch itself. Mondaine Watches take a similar approach with an integrated fitness tracker and sleep monitor powered by the watch battery, while Montblanc leaves the actual timepiece untouched by adding their smart watch functionality to the watchband.
Jean-Claude Biver, president of LVMH’s watch division and chairman of Hublot, expressed some concern over reconciling the schism between the permanence of a luxury item and the potential redundancy of smart watches. But that moment of doubt was clearly not enough to deter the luxury group from making the decision to launch its own smartwatch sometime in the near future. Would Botta follow suit and design a hybrid smart watch at some point?
"The sophisticated symbolism exuded by an UNO+ is its best advantage"
For us, it is not a question of whether a watch is analogue or digital, but of which technology is best suited to achieving a particular concept. If a certain principle could be put into practice using a digital, or part-digital display, this is the path we would follow," he conceded, before adding that "it would have to be a very convincing and logical principle which could only be achieved by using this technology. You will not find Botta-Design producing another 'me-too' digital watch that is unable to offer up any genuine USP."
Of course there are obvious drawbacks to the mono-hand approach: how does one know exactly what time it is? And how could a loose notion of time be of any service in a world where the difference between ‘almost eight’ and eight o'clock can signal diverse outcomes?
“On the UNO+, the display is just as intuitive as a speedometer in a car, or a pressure gauge. Nobody would dream of attempting to make such dials easier to read by adding more indicators. As with our watch, one indicator is entirely sufficient to show the relevant measured value on a scale," explained Botta. And yet, I find myself wondering if the mono-hand approach would ultimately fail me, being as accustomed to using dual-handed watches that plainly show the time as I am.
To this, Botta presented his best support of his approach yet. “The sophisticated symbolism exuded by an UNO+ is its best advantage. Rather than being ostentatious, the UNO+ is quiet. It is authentic, consistent, and allows for individuality. Furthermore, the clarity and readability of the display makes for an intuitive time-telling experience that merely requires a brief period of familiarization.”
Using the UNO+ does require a day or two of resisting the impulse to rely on a 'normal' watch or clock that tells time with both hands. And setting the watch's time proved to be tricky at first, even with the guide's instructions. Not to mention the chore of winding the watch on a regular basis. But any inconvenience comes at a smaller personal expense than integrating yet another device into my life; the UNO+ needs no operating system updates, doesn't answer calls, couldn't care a lick about my biometrics, and ultimately serves its function - telling time - perfectly.
Thus, my smart watch was finally found.