Shape Shifters – Watches That Think Outside the Circle
With a heritage rooted in pocket-watches, it’s little wonder that many early wristwatches were round, a shape that continues to dominate the market. But cookie-cutter isn’t for everyone. If you’re looking for the most unique watches and shapes, here are a few we love.
Brands spanning from the pioneering American Hamilton Watch Co. to top Swiss manufacture Vacheron Constantin have had great success with distinctive men’s watch models. Some have become classics in their own right, while many of the more unusual shapes have become cult favorites for collectors. Adding to some shaped watches’ appeal is a movement which is also shaped to fit the unusual proportions, requiring an impressive degree of skill.
The french fashion for unusual watch shapes
Some of most unique watch shapes come from Cartier, a standout in creating shaped watches since the early 1900’s. The iconic Crash watch, now produced in many variations, was inspired by a watch that was brought back to Cartier for repairs after it had been run over by a car! Legend has it that the original watch was beyond repair, but it inspired Cartier to create the highly irregular shape. A newer version features a skeletonized movement shaped exactly to fit the case.
The Cartier Baignoire is an oval, inspired by the shape of a bathtub! The design dates back to 1906 and continues to inspire Cartier’s present-day designers to create endless variations on the theme: flat, brushed gold, rounded edges, even this distinct “allongee“. Despite its somewhat lowly monkier, the Baignoire is supremely elegant and fits nicely on the wrist.
This Cartier Roadster looks almost normal until you examine it’s several subtle touches, from lug screws designed to resemble tail-lights to a unique shape inspired by an overhead view of a classic car. It’s a look that is just different enough to set the wearer apart, but nothing to raise an eyebrow in the board room.
Mid-century watch shape innovations
Vacheron Constantin has been a pioneer and innovator in unusual watch shapes since its founding in 1755.
In 1952, Vacheron introduced the Toledo, a curved square shape that proved very popular, and in 1954, the Aronde, which looks like a rectangle and a hexagon had a baby.
In 1972, the company was awarded the Diplome du Prestige de la France by The French science and industry minister, Francois-Xavier Ortoli, for an original trapezoid watch design. The celebrated shape has an asymmetrical case and an oval movement. A manually-wound mechanical watch, the first “1972” was a men’s timepiece. Subsequent watches in the collection have also been designed for women, including highly jeweled pieces like the “Heure Discrete” with a trapezoid set in a ‘fan’ of diamonds to spectacular effect, and their new ‘flame’ shape, a parallelogram whose opposing corners alternately curve and point.
The shape of future past
Want a watch shape that’s completely different? Hamilton Watch’s Ventura timepiece is in the shape of a modified triangle and could not have been created anywhere but the rocket age. In 1957, it was introduced as the world’s first “electric” watch powered by a battery. Elvis Presley wore the ultra-modern watch in his blockbuster film Blue Hawaii. The watch also plays prominently in all three of the futuristic modern-day blockbuster Men in Black series, gracing the wrists of both Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. The Ventura survives the most out-of-this world adventures, never losing a beat.
The Omega bullhead
The “bullhead” shape is identified most strongly with Omega, from their international Seamaster Chronostop collection in 1970. It’s wider at the top than the bottom, like the head of a bull, with rounded sides. The overall aspect is chunky, so it suits a big wrist, and offers a distinctive style that still feels classic.
What’s the shape of the future? The challenges of fitting working mechanics into a case have been met time and again by innovative watchmakers, so we can expect the next generations of watches to push the boundaries of form forward. Avid collectors inspire designers to create bolder profiles, as new materials broaden the repertoire. We can’t wait to see what time has to tell.