Drawn in Sixty Minutes: A Conversation with One Hour Watch

Lee's designs with his Seiko SKX009

Lee's designs with his Seiko SKX009

Over the past eighteen months I've practised the craft of writing and researching on an almost daily basis. The seemingly simple act of describing a watch past it's technical details becomes a challenge pretty quickly but it's a challenge I've accepted.  If I had spent a year and half with pencil and paper in hand I don't think I could ever accomplish what Lee Yuen-Rapati (Aka OneHourWatch) does. My penmanship and artistic ability is akin to that of a chimpanzee first discovering writing so when I first saw Lee on Instagram a few months ago I was instantly hooked on seeing what designs he could create in under an hour.

Lee is based up in the Great White North of Nova Scotia, Canada and was able to focus his penchant for doodling whilst studying Interdisciplinary design at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. 

TC: Why design watches? What is so unique about drawing a watch as opposed to something else?

OHW: I started to get interested in watches about four years ago after seeing some images of the Urwerk UR-110. Before then (and it pains me to say this) I thought, "watches are boring because they all look like a Rolex and Rolexes are boring and stupid!" Urwerk really redefined what a watch could be and since then I've come to appreciate (and lust after) a great many watches including a few from Rolex. I enjoy the fact that watches are a mix of craftsmanship and aesthetic brought about from machining pieces of metal. There's something to be said about taking the radial symmetry in a round watch and adding in elements to interfere with that symmetry. The eye will run in circles around the dial but stop every so often to visit what may be a subdial, or hour marker or a logo or some other feature like a power reserve indicator.

TC: I also thought that Rolex designs were boring as well! I've since discovered the huge variety of stunning vintage pieces which have influenced their current collection like the Explorer II for example. Their new designs aren't as groundbreaking as they once were but, for the most part, they are still solid designs. That being said I know that we are both in agreement as to how dreadful the new Air King is!

OHW: That new Air King is pretty bad! This is of course entirely subjective, but I don't think their new watches have the same balance of visual elements that their vintage pieces do. I certainly do not like the ultra boxy typeface they use for their numerals, and in general I find the elements in most of their new watches to look a bit oversized or bloated. And don't get me started on the novels they write on their dials, that amount of text belongs on a caseback or in a product booklet! 

TC: I was disappointed by the updated Tudor Pelagos with the extra lines of text on the dial, I still liked the watch but all those lines of text don't belong on a dial. What about good designs, what are some of your favorite watches?

OHW: Let me get my list! At the beginning I was really into sci-fi watches like the ones from Urwerk, Ventura and last Summer I got bit bad by the vintage bug and since then it's been hard to like a lot of new watches. I've stayed up into the early hours of the morning looking up chronographs from Universal Geneve and Zenith. Outside of the vintage world, I really like pretty much everything from Nomos as well as quite a few of De Bethune and Breguet pieces. Watches from Urban Jürgensen, Kari Voutilainen, and Laurent Ferrier are always jaw dropping and I've developed a real appreciation for Greubel Forsey, I can't say I like all of their pieces from an aesthetic standpoint, but their finishing is absolutely nuts.

TC: When that vintage bug bites it's only a matter of time before you succumb to it's patina infused venom! MB&F are produce some fascinating pieces but we'll never ever see as crazy designs from 'normal' brands like we did in the 60s and 70s.

OHW: I do wish companies would come out with less conservative pieces, maybe even some more oddball stuff. There are a lot of independents making a lot of really interesting pieces, but most of the results are very large watches. Some of my designs were inspired by cocktail watches which have a lot of potential, imagine a modern evolution of the cocktail watch in a super small form factor with a non-traditional case. I'd love to see MB&F try to make that spherical one!

TC: MB&F have done some incredible things with sapphire crystal so if anyone could do it, it would be them! If you could have one watch as a muse, what would it be?

OHW: Oh boy, that's a tough one. It would probably have to be a vintage chronograph, either an Angelus Chronodato, or something from Universal Geneve, maybe a Tri-Compax. I think that these watches not only have a lot of detail and complications to draw from (or leave out), but they have these wonderful thin bezels that let the dial really take the spotlight. They aren't too big but still achieve a nice balance with their dial layout, colour, and detail. I'm also a big fan of vintage watch numerals, especially the boxy 4 that you can find on the Chronodato and countless other vintage pieces.

TC: As regular readers of Timepiece Chronicle will know, we're travelling down the same road of UG Tri-Compax appreciation! How on earth they managed to fit a full calendar function and chronograph on a 37mm watch without it being cluttered it beyond me! There are a few dial variations out there but my favorite uses a gorgeous typeface for the hour markers. I believe that a typeface on a watch dial is perhaps the most underutilized and underappreciated design element. An elegant baton marker is nice but why not take a chance and do something interesting! I see some Corum inspired bubbles and bridges in your design, what brands do you think are underappreciated in terms of design?

OHW:  I'm actually not a big fan of the Corum Bubble! I can appreciate its uniqueness but aesthetically it doesn't do it for me. In terms of some under appreciated aesthetics I think a properly placed (and sized) date window is something that too few companies are focusing on. A poorly placed date window can betray the size of a size of a movement in a large watch. 

TH: I remember showing a customer of mine the tiny quartz movement inside his 50mm behemoth. It was utterly pathetic! He had been bashing the watch around not thinking that inside was a pea-sized piece of plastic glued to the dial that would suffer for it. The Longines Heritage 1918 is an unfortunate example of an interesting case and dial ruined by a movement that is clearly too small. The sub dial is nearly underneath the hands!

OHW: There are some very well designed date windows out there! The Nomos Metro is one example, it's certainly not an underappreciated watch but Nomos nailed it with the large trapezoidal window and well designed typeface. I actually quite like the date display on H. Moser & Cie watches, the aperture's big chamfers give it a real presence rather than looking like an afterthought.

TC: I think afterthought is a good way of describing those poor date window placements. Perhaps watchmakers are concerned that a dateless watch will be seen as old fashioned and redundant in a smartphone world so they just throw one in there right at the end? I don't think we'll ever truly know! And finally, what watch are you wearing now?

OHW: Right now I'm wearing a vintage Benrus Day-Date from the '50s, it was my first mechanical watch and is my poor man's Angelus Chronodato. My other watch is a Seiko SKX009 which has only been with me for a couple of months but has already accrued some serious wrist time!

I'd like to thank Lee for taking the time to talk with me about design and watches. You can find his one hour watches over at OneHourWatch on Instagram. Recently he explained his design process over at Theo & Harris which you should all go read!