Friday, May 15, 2020

The Cruyff Turn - And Michiel Holthinrichs

As a Northern Youth, I realize in hindsight that I probably had an unhealthy obsession with soccer (football), and later cycling. But I was not so interested by what was nearby. Professional soccer, at least the big time NASL version was long gone after a very short flirtation with American soccer fans. And as per cycling, we had a similar sort of rise and fall that for the most part peaked in 1984 when Connie Carpenter and Alexi Grewal both medaled in the Olympic road race. Europe fascinated me for a lot of reasons. One? Unlike many of my friends whose parents worked for the college (and therefore had in many cases spent at least one year abroad for their parent's sabbaticals) Europe was more of an idea, a fairly abstract construct to me than an actual place. More than a physical location to me, it was a passionate, lingering kiss on a dark winter night when I read about the exploits of my heroes. It was a promise of what might lie beyond the small Ohio town where I grew up. And I pledged to make my way there and find out.

Despite what I am sure many people will say, the United States has yet to produce a true soccer (football) prodigy. In truth? I don't think any country save 3 truly have. Argentina gave the world both Maradona and Lionel Messi. And say what you want about Maradona's moral character, in his prime (and even before and past it) he could turn on a dime, and deliver the ball the length of the field with a sniper's accuracy. Fed Ex meets football, Diego delivered. Mr. Messi is still dazzling crows. Brazil gave the world Pele, and there aren't enough writers in all of the world to do him justice. All three of these men are legends. And there is no disputing their talent. But one man truly changed the way that the entire world thought about soccer. And that was Johan Cruyff. He never did win the World Cup. At club level he was wildly successful, but what he did with his Dutch teammates in the 70s was truly revolutionary. The Netherlands is admittedly a small country, and what they built and accomplished in a fairly short period was remarkable. And it's one thing if your teammates and fans praise you, but your rivals? Franz Beckenbauer noted -

"He was certainly the best footballer Europe has produced."

Apart from the medals and the fame, Cruyff was famed for being, at times, contrary - which is probably why I admire him as much as I do. But he was not contrarian without reason. In hindsight what is abundantly clear is that he thought differently. One of my favorites? During a game, if he knew that he had no chance of getting to the ball, he would not run. Why should he? It was wasted energy. And as a coach he would encourage the same. Now, in my playing career I had several (in hindsight) not too talented coaches who felt that hard work and effort would overcome a lack of talent and imagination. Balls would be smacked far down field without direction or idea, and I would be berated if I did not blindly run after them in vain, like a harnessed greyhound hopelessly chasing the mechanical rabbit at Wonderland's dog track. If only that were true, Oberlin High School would have had 20 state championships ; )

Okay, so what the Hell does that have to do with watches and Michiel Holthinrichs?

The Cruyff turn was (and let's be honest, still is) the single most bad-assed maneuver ever done in a game. It took imagination, skill, and a willingness to trust himself in doing it.
And in all honesty? The design and execution of the Holthinrichs watches bears many of those same qualities.

Logic would tell you, if you want to make a watch, you simply design it. In so far as a case goes, you vet case makers from near and far and find the manufacturer who can stamp it for you at a price you can live with, you order your movements ready-to-go so you can drop and play. And frankly? Unless you have lost touch with all sense of reality and common sense, you will job all of this out to an assembler/white label company to do everything for you - just like some of the people paying "homage" to your ideas will do later. I mean, life is short, right?

But Michiel Holthinrichs is, clearly, a different kind of dude. A trained architect, he wanted his own design - not "influenced" by anything other than his own grey-matter. He could have farmed out his ideas to a case maker, but preferred the control that contriving a case through a 3d printing process would provide him. While it is true that the Holthinrichs cases are crafted by a contractor specializing in 3d printing, they come back more than a bit rough, and far from ready.

Courtesy of Holthinrichs Watches
I've shaken hands with Michiel and I can tell you that while they are the hands of an architect and artist? They are also the hands of an artisan and a craftsman. I don't think he is going to be a "hand model" for print ads in fashion magazines anytime soon. The case of a Holthinrichs watch is one that has experienced more hands-on time in the finishing process than nearly any watch (regardless of price) you may encounter.

I am (despite myself) a bit of an Hublot fan. I find Carlo Crocco's original design pretty beguiling. Gold case and rubber strap! Not something that readily comes to mind. It was such a departure that you can't really say that the idea came from anywhere else but within. And that is the same for Holthinrichs.

I would like to think that the world is sufficient of sharps, confidence men and quick buck artists. A few recent releases that border on plagiarism (if such a thing exists in design) tell a different story. Someone is always ready to ride on coat tails and glad-hand the press and other select sycophants. It is, simply put, some pretty shameful shit.

In many ways, COVID-19 has been (albeit radically brief in comparison) our own modern-day version of the Dark Ages. Our worlds have been upended, and we have been untethered from our moorings. We float now more uncertainly in unfamiliar waters.

I can't claim to tell you what the watch buying world wants. But I can tell you what I want. I want people with the sack to put themselves on the line and create something themselves to be recognized as original. I want to have a relationship with the the watchmaker. I don't want to "buy" meaning or recognition as it is defined by a press release. I want to have a conversation that might lead to a relationship. I don't want to order from the menu like everyone else.

And most of all? I want to be beguiled, just as the world was back when a skinny kid from Amsterdam could have played it safe, but decided he would rather "do me".

Not unlike the Ornament series created by a certain young watch maker from Delft, there was one, true, Cruyff Turn. The rest are merely hollow efforts at imitation.

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