Monday, December 24, 2012

A Few Minutes with Karin Sieber

Where do watches really come from?  I think it probably used to be much simpler - three hands, a date if you were "daring" and a round face.  Now the tough question:  Numbers or indices?  Roman numerals?  

I think in this day and age of "over-hype" it is easy to get caught up with who the latest spokesperson is, or who sold the most pieces, but I for one am always curious about the creative side.  I am one of those creatively gifted people who managed to nearly fail art class!  I am a great appreciator, but don't count on me to create anything!  So I am pleased to offer you wonderful readers a Christmas Eve treat - 

A few minutes with the designer of NOMOS Glashütte's Tangomat GMT Plus, Karin Sieber -
Courtesy of NOMOS Glashütte
James Henderson - What was your first watch? Was it a gift? Is there a story behind it?

Karin Sieber - I was eight when I got my first watch for my First Communion – it was a classic gift for the occasion. But watches aren’t that important at that age, so I lost it quite quickly.  Some time later I got a Swatch and a station clock from Mondaine - the usual things.  It was only when I got a NOMOS that my heart began to go tick-tock. 

JH - Where did you go to school? What did you study?

KS - After finishing school in the Black Forest, I studied industrial design with a specialization in product design at the Academy of Fine Arts in Hamburg; you could also study textile design there. There was little regimentation in the courses there: you could follow a totally interdisciplinary path which is how I learnt a lot from neighboring fields.  I was greatly inspired by what was going on in other classes, especially in the art courses. 

JH - How did you get involved in design in the first place?

KS - I grew up in a small town in the Black Forest, and even early on enjoyed making things.  I didn’t realize at the time that it could be a career.  At least, nobody in my area did.  Then during an internship at an advertising agency when I was still at school, I found out you could study product design. Products by Braun/Dieter Rams were the first things I consciously perceived as design.  At that time I was, I think, 16 or 17... 

JH - Of the designers of the 20th century, who would you say is your favorite?

KS - For a long time, my favorite designer was Achille Castiglioni. I loved his playful approach to things that he already had to hand and the innovative and often humorous products he made from them. But Eames and Prouvé would also be on my shortlist. 

JH - My understanding is that you are not a watch designer by training. Do you feel that this maybe gives you an advantage to designers coming from the more traditional paths of watch design?

KS - I tend more to take a second look: specific experience does help, but it’s also often good to take a fresh look at things.  In design, it ‘s important to be willing to start over again from scratch.  Once I sketched the hands on the Model Club so that they only just reached the indices on the minute track.  A long hand on this watch would have looked ungainly because of the smallness of the minute track.  The designers and watchmakers in Glashütte had given me feedback that a minute hand should always cover two-thirds of the marker.  But in this instance that rule was wrong: we saw that the shorter hands were better.

At NOMOS Glashütte we don’t just peer at what other watchmakers do anyway.  Above all, we look at what is happening in architecture, the furniture industry, in art and photography, maybe even in fashion. Perhaps we find it easier because we have broader backgrounds. 

JH - Are you an industrial designer by training then? What sorts of things do you work on when you aren’t designing award-winning watches?

KS - Yes, I studied industrial design, but my interest in design is not limited to that, I could also imagine studying architecture or graphic design. Product and graphic design come together in the design of watches, so that fits really well: dials are two-dimensional, for instance, whilst housings are 3D. In addition to watches, I also design shop window displays, exhibition stands and web pages for NOMOS. 
Courtesy of NOMOS Glashütte

JH - What were some of the biggest challenges in designing the Tangomat GMT Plus?

KS - Like the Tangomat, the Tangomat GMT Plus is based on the Tangente, a watch that has shaped the face of NOMOS like no other. This best-selling NOMOS watch was originally based on a design from the 1930s and brought up to date.

We wanted to preserve the face of the Tangente, so the additional displays had to have a discrete design, but still in a way that this new watch was at the same time perceived as a separate model. It was a real balancing act. 

JH - During the designing, was there a breakthrough, “aha” moment where it all came together for you?

KS - There was not just one but several such moments, such as the choice of a cubic and not a round button for the time zones: I could also mention the stair-like stepped instead of chamfered holes in the dial that fit so well with the cylindrical structure of the case.  The Tangomat GMT Plus is an even more reduced version of the Tangomat GMT: Unlike the airport codes of the various time zones, it shows the time difference in terms of + / -, in other words the difference from the home time zone.  That has repeatedly proved its worth when, for example, time zones have been changed for political reasons, such as in the recent cases of Moscow or Samoa. 

JH - So what does an award winning watch designer do in her spare time?

KS - I do like to do yoga, go jogging, meet friends and love the huge cultural range that Berlin has to offer. I go to the openings of colleagues whose work I like. But I also like to get out of Berlin and spend time in other parts of the world.  Last winter as I went backpacking in South Africa and I’ll be going to India soon... 

JH - What advice do you have for future industrial designers out there?    

KS - It’s not that simple.  As a young designer, you're very idealistic, you want to realize yourself and improve the world.  Over time, this changes a bit: Fortune lies somewhere between those early utopias and your clients’ wishes.  In my experience, if you can balance that, then you’ll get the best results. Enjoying work is immensely important: you have to conserve yourself.  Just sitting at the computer doesn’t always get you ahead go out and live: That’s important for good design. 

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