Off topic: Presenting the MING 17.01

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Many of you might be aware of my historical preoccupation with mechanical watches: it’s arguably what started me photographing seriously in the first place. Which is why after nearly two years in gestation (and just in this form) I’m very proud to present my latest project: the 17.01. It’s the first of a new line of watches designed by me, made in Switzerland and funded by a group of fellow collectors, but brought to life with the aid of individuals who’ve been in the industry for a long time. To avoid the bunch of cliches that are typically used during new watch launches: it’s an honest watch that tells the time reliably and has the benefit of experience behind it – nothing more, nothing less.

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In watch collecting, as in photography, you tend to go in a big circle: there’s the endless chase for ‘more’ that inevitably results in either coming to yours senses, or a divorce and bankruptcy. Except in the horological world, the sky’s the limit – the top end of medium format barely scratches the entry point to ‘serious’. But there’s a disconnect here: for the longest time brands have been pushing ‘more is better’ (akin to the camera spec wars) – an unsustainable cycle if there ever was one, even from a creative standpoint. And once you have several of these things, to paraphrase fellow photographer and collector (and reader) Gary Getz: don’t buy a watch you cannot afford to break.

Here was our underlying logic:  eventually, all of us in the group have moved back to simpler watches and better satisfaction value for the dollar – and for some in the group, it’s not even remotely a question of affordability, but just rather avoiding the sick feeling of diminishing returns and buyers’ remorse. There tends to be an oddly inverse relationship between satisfaction quantum and duration derived and money spent. Next, design choices have to be made regardless of whether the product is $50 or $500,000; why choose ugly other than out of ignorance or lack of care? Finally, with some intelligent understanding of the production process, materials, components and aesthetics: affordable doesn’t have to equal ugly. Our objective was to create something we’d be happy to wear, without reservations. I’m probably more biased than most, but my prototype hasn’t left my wrist much for the last four months since it arrived.*

*The eagle-eyed will have spotted it at various points in the behind the scenes video for the Koenigsegg shoot.

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The upshot to all of this was a very steep learning curve, even though I’ve designed for others and had my own custom pieces made before. In production quantities, it becomes quick to see why certain things are not done: the costs simply add up. We landed up over budget by nearly a factor of 50%, but it was necessary to keep the concept intact and produce something integral rather than clearly compromised. Getting details right is expensive: quick release springbars that are also curved for a better strap-lug fitting, for example, are not easy to find. And to ensure perfect proportions, hands and crown etc. have to be designed and made from scratch (a lot of companies use standard parts catalogs). Even the buckle for the strap has the same level of attention to detail: it holds the strap flat with minimal creasing for both comfort and longevity. And these are the minor details – major ones, like a solid titanium case** – meant complexity in assembly. Our watch loads from the front, and has a functional bezel and special gaskets to prevent the titanium bezel, back and baseband from oxidising themselves fused; we have 100m water resistance because there’s a triple set of gaskets in the crown, and a much thicker sapphire crystal than is usually specified for a watch of this kind. It was of course designed to be used, and deliver confidence to the owner.

**Spacer rings common to most watches because the dial is larger than the movement diameter, and it’s simpler to assemble by loading the dial/movement from the back of the watch in one piece. The spacer ring is required to secure the assembly and prevent it rattling around.

There is/was unquestionably a photographic element to the whole exercise – aside from producing the images myself,  having an understanding of light unquestionably contributed to the design process. You are more aware of all visual element – from the way in which different surface finishes interact under different direction and intensity of light, to the fact that some crystal coatings can leave undesirable color shifts due to transmission, to hierarchy of contrasts in the dial elements to ensure maximum and instant legibility. At the same time, having some idea of how light interacts with the watch means you can go a long way to ensuring the design itself is never visually boring.

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You’ll notice I haven’t addressed the elephant in the room – photographing the watches. Where possible, I personally prefer not to use props as I feel they detract from the pure geometric beauty of any design, and tend to make limiting suggestions on your demographic – neither of which are good if you want the product to appeal to as many people as possible. On top of that, use of props tends to bring up sticky questions of branding, promoting other brands and associations that might not be desirable. And though you want to present the product in the best possible (perfect to the designer’s eyes) light, that may not always reflect what’s actually happening or possible under real conditions. At least any communicative disconnects with the designer could be left out in this case! What you see – including the ‘flying’ watches – are not composite images, they’re single shot captures with nothing added or removed and some rather creative use of glass and lighting directions. I have some much more creative lighting, but those were axed in favour of images that represented impressions of what you’d actually see in the course of wearing it and changing light conditions – which is also why you’ll notice quite a variety of finishes and textures to the dial. It’s a watch that was designed to only reveal its full personality with time.

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For the watch enthusiasts in the audience, here’s a basic spec sheet:

  • Functions: time only, hours and minutes
  • Case, dial & hands:
    • 38×9.3mm, grade 5 titanium case with solid caseback
    • Polished bezel and lugs; finely brushed caseband
    • Sapphire crystal with internal antireflective coating
    • Rigid case without spacer rings
    • 100m water resistance with triple crown gaskets and nitrogen filling
    • Composite, multi-layer, three-part sapphire dial
    • Dial available in blue or anthracite colour; limited to 150 pieces each
    • Straps with 20mm lug width and curved case attachment
  • Movement:
    • Hand-winding mechanical movement Sellita SW210-1
    • 42 hour power reserve
    • 28,800 bph (4Hz)
    • Hacking function
    • Movement adjusted to five positions with a 250-hour test program
  • Delivery package includes three calf leather straps (tan/dark blue/burgundy, curved case attachment, quick release pins, buckles fitted), a presentation box and a suede travel pouch

Those familiar with the watch market will know we punch way above our price point – and we have to, because it’s the debut effort from a new and unknown company that needs to get enough attention for the subsequent follow ups to happen. The next two of these follow ups are in the early prototyping stages already, with another six to follow over the next three years – it’s all systems go. Moreover, we’re doing things in much the reverse order to most of the watch industry: we are an openly Asian designed and funded brand that’s using Western production – a lot of the well known Swiss brands are actually produced in Asia now. The outcome will probably prove binary in the long run. Personally, I find being able switch between very different roles to be quite refreshing – creativity can be found in a way that’s both complimentary and not, but always needs variety and perturbation of information to generate results. I’m going to get off my soapbox now. Thanks in advance for your support! MT

More information on the watches and availability is here; there’s a much more detailed Q&A here for those who are interested, and you can follow us @mingwatches on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved

Comments

  1. I mentioned this to my wife: “Ming’s just made a watch as well”.
    “Oh”, she said, “does it have a camera in it?” 🙂
    Good to see you expanding your personal brand, good luck with the new venture!

  2. I’m not a watch person, but for someone like yourself who is really into watches, this enterprise must be a huge buzz!
    For a person who likes the idea of wearing a “decent” watch, this looks like a good option … it’s interesting enough to talk about with other watch enthusiasts and it complements a smartphone. All the complicated and / or tricky time keeping functions are better suited to a smartphone, leaving the watch to just cover the essential task of telling you what time of the day it is.

  3. Peter Wright says:

    Congratulations on your new enterprise! Your remark on watch collecting tending to go in a large circle certainly relates to me. After my third Patek, I decided that was enough. I was still eyeing others, but I didn’t want the watches to start owing me! (By which I mean worries about keeping track of everything, avoiding robbery, getting maintenance done, etc.) So now I have a modest collection of watches at several price points from Pateks to Seikos (many of the latter were not that inexpensive however), and all with different characteristics. It is very rare that anyone remarks on what I am wearing (which is how I like it), perhaps because I specifically don’t like watches that draw attention to themselves, such as some over the top Rolex models, especially the two tone variety.

    I think you have a winner here in concept, design, and price. I do hope you are going to establish a theme (or two) along the way, and keep the price reasonable. Could generate a following for the future, somewhat like Kobold did in the US.

    (Good photography too of course!)

    Regards,
    Peter.

    • Fully agree about the ‘objects owning you’ part: it gets tiring. I nearly went the Patek route myself, but stopped and plowed that investment (and more) into this instead. There will be more…many more. And the design DNA will be consistent and instantly recognisable, too.

  4. jordanschooler says:

    As a lifelong Star Trek fan, I do love the number 1701…

  5. stanis riccadonna zolczynski says:

    I`m a bit of steampunker and like all thing mechanic made the way you often can fix it. Mechanical watches belong to that category. One question- is there coming a Ming automatic?
    One personal remark to design ( not a criticism!)- living in Scandinavia I like kind of less is more. The minutes hand disturbs me a bit colliding with numerals. I would prefer it to be shorter just skimming the inner ring. The hour hand should be then of course shorter then a minute hand or and a bit fatter.
    One suggestion for the future- of course somebodies remark of dropping your name was really rude. On the contrary, you should go a step further and make a mini edition with dial made with the motives from ming porcelain, best made of original shard.
    I recall having seen a Ferrari painted in ming porcelain exhibited in China. The effect was shattering. The power of fragile .

  6. Wow – the price is at least half of what I expected, low end. Less than the extremely troublesome Mido I received for my birthday, and at least twice as pretty…

  7. ChronoMing Bleu!

  8. Stephen J says:

    Wow, What a surprise to see this popping up on Hodinkee and Fratello this morning! Love at first sight. Have sent an e-mail.
    Did I miss it in my excitement, what are the hands made of?

  9. Email sent- anxiously waiting for additional anthracite watches. Love the size, beauty of the dial, and grade 5 titanium (polished). How much is shipping to US?

  10. quimberenguerg says:

    Great watch design, really love those floating numbers. Can’t afford it but I can enjoy the photos :).

  11. Fred Girard says:

    Beautiful and original, which is rare nowadays in swiss watches. Very good price too.
    You left out automatic for which reason? unoriginal these days, or too thick, or unreliable, or too expensive?
    I was struck by number 9 and 3 which are upside down. I’m thinking the way the 3 sits reminds of an M for Ming, and the 9 follows to guarantee symmetry? Or to avoid ending looking like a 2?
    Anyway, congratulations! Fo the spirit as well. To design and produce the watch you like because you couldn’t find it on the market is quite something.
    What with the family, photography, Hasselblad, the blog and now the watches, Im guessing you don’t need more than 4 hours sleep?

  12. Dera Ming

    I would like to say that product photography is very difficult, for an amateur like myself. I love your composition and the way that the lighting has been controlled – it is very simple, yet elegant, just like the watch. Congrats on sticking with 38mm. I told my wife about the watch, who said, ‘it is just like cameras, you only need one’. She then promptly found my trusty Jaeger-LeCoultre Heraion watch that I thought I had lost. I will say no more.

  13. Cool. I share your interest in watches. I’m pretty sure I noticed this in some facebook group but didn’t even connect it to you, even though a comment mused on a swiss made watch with the name of Ming … Sorry, I was just “internet reading”, though. I understand where that comment was coming from, though – there’s so much marketing bullshit in the watch business. The watch is handsome and I might pick one up.

    The personal watch you presented some time ago was very nice – almost a smartphone/digital look to it and then that ultra tactile fish leather strap as contrast. I guess I’ll better wait to see what comes in the future…

    Besides being a hobby photographer, I have modded a few Seikos and make straps. Good luck with the project.

    • Thanks – that personal watch required some techniques that were way too expensive to make into serial production…something akin to a concept car in that sense…

      • I know you can’t give too much away, but it would be useful (and fun!) to have a general sense of what direction you’re taking with upcoming models. Perhaps a future post?

        Even if certain aspects of your personal watch are not amenable to commercialization, I would love to see some of the minimalists elements in the face (the circle, absence of numbers) in a future watch. And the glow in the dark quality is neat as well!

        That said, I’m definitely considering the watch with the blue face. I’m in the market for a watch that’s a bit on the formal side (can be worn with a suit) without looking too stodgy (i.e., also works for dressy-casual), and this fits the bill quite nicely. I had a nice one that broke down a couple of years ago and I never got around to replacing it.

        PS–can’t believe how many projects you’re taking on outside of photography. First the bags, now watches. What’s next…? 🙂

        • Oh, that I can answer now: the 17.01 is the beginning; everything else moves up from here. We’ll show the next one in November, built for us with an exclusive movement by one of the old Swiss manufactures; and we are planning a diver with a silicon escapement for late 2018 🙂

          All of the design DNA is already present in the 17.01: circular elements, texture, sapphire layering, flared lugs…

          Projects outside photography: Hasselblad (inside photography) keeps me plenty busy, too 🙂

  14. Beautiful looking watches. Well done on creating them!

    Love the name. (It might be yours but I think it fits a quality watch well). Price looks attractive.

  15. Nice – But I would drop the name Ming and just market it 17.01 has a mystique about it even a European feel, and let’s be honest that’s where the classy watches come from. Remember what’s his name started Facebook as The Facebook he got told to change it.

    • There are two problems here: firstly, when there’s more than one watch, you’ll have a problem and numbers only are a SEO nightmare. I’m not even going to address the second insinuation that my name is not good enough or classy enough. I’m proud of my name and of my product. The illusion that ‘only Europe can make good watches’ is something that needs to be broken, and doing the same thing as everybody else will never lead to a different outcome. There’s plenty of poorly made, ugly (subjective, I know) watches coming out of Europe, too. Encouraging racial stereotypes is completely pointless.

    • a) Look up Seiko and its offshoots Grand Seiko and Credor. They are recognised as playing with the best of them.
      b) Ming’s watches are made in Switzerland.
      c) There’s a big difference between dropping an article in front of the name of a tech company and telling someone who’s taken the time and effort to create something which, even by your admission, is good – that they shouldn’t put their name on it.

  16. Hans - Joachim Benndorf says:

    That’s a beautifully designed watch. I Like the elegant simplicity and size. At first sight I had the impression that the bezel and lugs would have a matte finish which got me really excited and I reached for my credit card, but it seems that these surfaces are highly polished. Photography can be deceptive sometimes. Can You sandpaper one for me?

    • Thanks – the polish is to contrast with the fine brushing on the sides. If all brushed, we’d have to use a different material to maintain the case definition. That, and it was definitely a conscious choice in keeping with the dressier feel of the watch. Titanium is also notoriously difficult to polish.

  17. Christian says:

    Great work Ming, love the design and details! Do you have any plans to produce a 40-42mm version in the future? 38mm might be a bit small for many wearers.

    • Not with this case design, but others, yes. A dressier design does not do well large. 38mm is classical but due to the minimal bezel and dial, it is visually larger than you’d expect for 38mm – yet the physical size makes it very wearable, especially under a shirt or for those with smaller wrists.

  18. Beautiful looking watches. What is the readability like in the dark?

  19. Congratulations, Ming! Beautiful designs and great value proposition with the offering. That blue one is just stunning. I am literally now scheming to get my wife to OK a purchase… despite having just recently picked up a Grand Seiko. :/

  20. Rick L Barton says:

    Somewhat off subject, but the above mentioned behind the scene vimeo video: Above and Beyond: Ming Thein x Hasselblad x koenigsegg is breathing taking awesome.

  21. How did you decide between this design and the design featured here in “Design Goals”?

    https://blog.mingthein.com/2017/06/28/photoessay-design-goals/

    • That was a one off for me, and there are a lot of elements in that which require much higher tolerances or individual piece machining by an expert that would make it completely impractical for commercialisation at this price point. I look at those one offs as design/ proportioning experiments that might have elements which translate into later series production pieces (and yes, there’s another one coming that has more of that particular watch’s DNA. 🙂

      • Great news. I love the minimalism of the other watch face (without the numbers)–it looks futuristic! The design is stunning. And I love the collection of watch straps: the red is very snazzy, the pearled brown is eye catching, and the bright blue band is also very striking.

        The one you’re selling commercially is also beautiful–perhaps a touch more formal. The watch straps all have beautiful contrast stitching, but the straps for this iteration look a bit more classic while the brighter colors of the other one are a bit sportier.

        I do hope you make some additional watch straps available. I’d be curious to see the anthracite watch with the bright blue strap or the red strap.

        • Thanks. Yes, there will be other strap colors available in future – I need a better idea of demand first as the manufacturers require you to commit to minimum orders in the hundreds however…

  22. Congrats Ming, another well thought out product. This one is not for me aesthetically (I’m into really simplistic dials) but the technical detailed are right up my alley. Eager to see what other designs you come up with!

  23. Kenneth Voigt says:

    Very nice.

  24. I like it. Can’t afford it, but I can afford to like it.

    With many people the digital clock and alarm functions of today’s smartphones have replaced the wristwatch. My need to maintain a complicated schedule of medication and food consumption deadlines led me in that direction — although mine is an iPod touch: everything you find in a phone except for the phone. Nonetheless, your design offers a very appealing classic simplicity with grace notes of restrained luxury. Best of luck with it.

    • “I like it. Can’t afford it, but I can afford to like it.”
      That’s perhaps the most succinct way of describing how I started, too – both liking watches and photography. And 15+ years later, it’s come full circle in a way. Thank you for expressing it 🙂

      Yes, smartphones have replaced the watch – it’s not about function so much as choice, and choice is what defines individuality (else we’d be robots, and there’d be not much to live for).

      • “It’s not about function so much as choice, and choice is what defines individuality.”

        Well put. I doubt that wrist watches will ever be completely eclipsed by technology for two reasons.

        First, compared to women, men have relatively few accessories or jewelry they can wear to express their style–we’re left with wristwatches and cuff links, and cuff links are far too formal for most occasions. The point isn’t just to show off wealth–appearances are not everything but are nonetheless important. We inevitably project a certain image based on the fashion choices we make. The wrist watch can be an important tool in that arsenal.

        Second, we live in technological era in which everything becomes obsolete in a moment’s notice. Now more than ever, there is a real appeal to owning and wearing something tangible that reflects a certain amount of craftmanship and will still be functional for years to come. That’s one reason I find the whole wearable / smart watch trend unappealing. Spending hundreds of dollars on a “smart watch” that will be obsolescent within two years (thousands in the case of an Apple Watch Edition), and which is of limited utility, is the ultimate act of conspicuous consumption, but has no other value.

        • I tried the Apple Watch for a whole, and really thought it’d be useful for hands free connectivity while shooting – in the end the need to charge it frequently just put me off.

  25. Beautiful watch face. Classically elegant with a modern minimalism. I especially like blue watch face.

    I like the anthracite watch face as well but I think it really needs a black watch strap to match. Perhaps substitute a black watch strap for the tan one?

    The blue watch face looks great with all three straps, although it would also look good with a black watch strap. Perhaps sell as an add on!

    Anyhow, congratulations. I can’t imagine how much work this must have taken, and designing a product from the ground up and getting it to market is quite an accomplishment!

    • Thanks. We tried black, but it was rather too sober…and tan/anthracite seems to have turned into my default choice over the last few months of wearing 🙂

      Work: Lots! But more than that, it’s another step into turning a longtime passion/obsession into something tangible. I suppose the satisfaction of being able to do so is addictive…

  26. Any chance you will be offering a rubber strap? 100m WR means swimming but leather is restrictive. Great looking watch nonetheless.

    • Not at the moment, but I wouldn’t rule it out. It wasn’t really designed for underwater activities (100m is a consequence of over engineering, not aquatic intent 🙂 )

  27. Anything for the ladies?

  28. Beautiful!
    This must be another dream come true for you.
    Congratulations!

  29. Junaid Rahim says:

    I think ‘the living dial’ is going to be the thing for me – lets see who tries to copy it 😉 – though details such as no spacer ring is such a great thing that adds to the whole package.

    Only downside is I foolishly ordered a later serial number and have to wait for it to arrive!

  30. Congrats! Always inspiring to see people turn personal ambitions into reality. Do you have your own special version with more than 24 hours per day? 😉

  31. Congratulations Ming. A lot of smarts on display here. I’m guessing in titanium, very comfortable to wear. Less financially crippling to ‘break’ one of these, yet no less heartbreaking I’m sure, as it is a very fine looking watch.

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