Photoessay: Enter the Abyss

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The most challenging types of watch to design is where there are already rigid expectations set by the genre – pilot, diver etc. – to go outside this requires either not meeting functional requirements, or producing something that takes some acclimatisation by the market. You want to avoid being different simply or the age of being different as this inevitably leads to issues of design longevity/maturity as well as functional compromises. Our interpretation of a dive watch has had the longest and most painful gestation to date – with conceptual explorations starting in late 2017, not long after the 17.01 was launched. It’s taken us nearly two years to make something we were happy with, and in the end – we have also decided not to go to series production because it came too late in the brand’s overall design cycle. Even if we committed now, we wouldn’t see product until the end of next year at the earliest, by which time other launches with our second generation design language would have taken place and leaving the Abyss feeling a bit out of place.

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Off topic: Why I started making watches, part II

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The unexpected: 19.01, November 2017

Continued from part I.

Our group wondered if there were alternatives. We started looking into independents, and for me personally, those who would be willing to entertain serious customisation without breaking the bank; this meant compromising on the movement side, but as it turns out there were still interesting alternatives to be had. Ochs und Junior took the challenge and gave me very simple (read: reliable) annual calendar and high accuracy moon phase watches, but more than that, forced me to adapt the design to be coherent with the immutable parts (cases, complication locations and indications, production limitations). Until this point, I was still designing; evolving both my movement conceptualisation skills and aesthetics. By now, I’d developed a coherent design language and over 50 watches (including movements) on paper; these watches would represent the first baby steps towards seeing them come to life. But first, the ornamental complexity had to go; design would be reductive instead of additive. It was an interesting process that forced me to really identify and simplify critical elements required for time telling and identifiable stylistic cues down to their bare minimum. The Simpleton and Celestial were the product of those experiments, and it’s probably clear that design elements from both made it into our subsequent watches.

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Off topic: Why I started making watches, part I

The MING family, as of March 2019

It’s a fair question, and one I’ve been asked frequently enough to properly explain myself somewhere, for the record. I suppose it isn’t just something you pick up on a whim one day, nor is it something that even if you had a burning desire to do – can easily begin by submitting a CV to a headhunter. Watchmaking, in its purest definition, is a vocation – not a profession. You physically have to make something, and in the process of doing so (from scratch, of course) understand everything from engineering to metallurgy to physics to aesthetics. It is the kind of masochistic intellectual pursuit undertaken successfully by only the most dedicated, the most skilled, or the most masochistically insane. I am not a watchmaker in the pure definition, nor am I dextrously skilled, but I am fairly dedicated and probably also insane. After all, eight years ago (has it been that long?) I did quit the top of the corporate game to start all over again as a photographer. And now, not having learned my lesson, history repeats.

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OT: first anniversary!

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With some relief and a big exhalation of breath, it seems the horological venture has survived the first year; let me tell you it hasn’t been easy given we’re effectively trying to start something in an industry that doesn’t have any ecosystem in our country, competing directly against much better funded and experienced players. There have been no end of surprises – both good and bad – for the moment culminating in a nomination for a GPHG* prize for our flagship 19.01. We’re celebrating with a watch (of course) or more specifically two (one is good, more is better) variants of the automatic GMT 17.03 – both in the ever popular blue, with revised and refined dial and hands, and an experiment – because experimentation is what keeps us going. I heat blued 25 grade 2 titanium cases with a blowtorch, resulting in something rather special (and something I wanted to do with my own Ochs und Junior some time ago, but we had the wrong alloy). We made 125 of the regular titanium cased blue dial, and 25 of the Ultra Blue – unfortunately the Ultra Blue sold out within about an hour of announcement, and we have a very long wait list**, but the Blue is available right now at I leave you with specifications after the jump and the customary images; experimented with some new lighting techniques in this set, too. MT

*Grand Prix de Horologerie de Geneve, which is effectively the Oscars of the watch world.
**I seem to be very good at shooting myself in the foot when it comes to estimating demand and edition sizes.

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Experiments with stereoscopic photography

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What’s old is new again, history goes in cycles etc. – is all true. One of the earliest widespread experiments in photography – dating to the mid 1800s or earlier – was that of stereoscopy: the making of a three-dimensional image from two normal flat images but shot from a relatively offset position. Though there are many methods of varying complexity that can be used to create the illusion of three dimensions, they all fall back to the same fundamental theory: we humans physiologically have stereoscopic vision because we perceive an object from two slightly different positions; our brains interpret both the difference in images and probably also the physical position of eyeball, focus muscles, iris etc. to gauge relative spatial position and absolute distance. Without this – two dimensional images are reliant on cues such as overlap, shadows, fade/haze etc. to create suggestions of distance and position. Photography itself is the projection of a three dimensional world onto a two dimensional recording medium: this brings about significant limitations in reproduction and fidelity, but at the same time opens up great possibilities for artistic interpretation that a person with normal vision simply cannot see with their naked eyes. In essence, we are forcing both eyes to see the same image at the same time.

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Off topic: Presenting the MING 17.03

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I’m pleased to report that my horological venture has very much taken on a life of its own, and though it lives on its own site, I’m also aware that there’s quite a bit of crossover between photographers and watch enthusiasts. I also owe a big thanks to those of you who’ve supported this venture in its first and second iterations. Our latest piece is a sportier everyday wearer, with automatic winding convenience and a second timezone for travel. It’s also highly luminous in the dark.

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Off topic: Presenting the MING 19.01

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Many of you will know that I’ve recently brought my interest in watches full circle with the launch of my own watch brand earlier in the year. We were surprised and humbled by the response, but also fortunate as we had another project in the works at the same time: something at the other end of the spectrum, and our flagship: the 19.01. Whilst the 17.01 was designed to be an honest watch that brought a lot of the features valued by collectors to a more accessible price point, the reality is there were a lot of things I wanted to do that I simply couldn’t because of production cost restrictions. This is not the case with the 19.01, which was designed without compromises ad to be something very special in a world that’s already got a lot of very special watches. This is of course not a simple task, and required something special aesthetically, mechanically and stylistically consistent with previous designs so as to fit within the MING lineup.

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Photoessay: Design goals

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Regular readers probably know that I have more than a passing interest in all things horological; firstly as an aspiring collector, then a photographer (this is what motivated me to begin, to be the story of another article), then a low-budget collector, and fortunately, somebody who has access to the industry through client relationships and options that might not be available elsewhere. Eventually, I realised that the temptation to design my own was far too strong; finding the right collaborator proved less easy, but I eventually realised that dream (more detailed story here). It is, unfortunately, both an addictive and frustrating process: inevitably, once you’ve lived with any design for any length of time, you start to appreciate what works and get frustrated by what doesn’t. It’s even more frustrating when you have ideas you might want to try, and know that you can (somewhat) easily execute them. Some CAD and some sitting time later, the design has matured and you are making some phone calls. The trick is not to overdesign: it is easy to make something that’s too fussy and just doesn’t work.

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Horological-photoessay: One of your own

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Today’s subject is a somewhat unusual one, and an esoteric one even for the horological enthusiasts in the audience. It’s not often that a creative sees the whole product gestation process through form design to photography to consumption; either it happens at the very small and private scale, or you work for Apple (or the like) in in a senior capacity. It takes a certain environment for that to happen. For me, this is probably the fifth or sixth time; several watches for various companies, and of course the MTxFF daybag. This design is a one-off for myself, made by a little company in Switzerland called Ochs und Junior that specialises in such customisations. I wanted something unusual, wearable on a daily basis, and visually interesting: that would have a bit of a chameleon personality depending on light (both direction and quantity). I think this is pretty clear in the images. This is an odd series from a purely photographic standpoint, too: though every set of images I post is subject to some degree of self-curation, here it really doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks of object or images: neither are really for mass consumption 🙂 MT

I wrote the full story behind this watch here, for Quill and Pad, in much greater detail (and probably more than most readers would want to know). Images were shot with a D810, 85 PCE and speedlights, and processed with Photoshop/LR Workflow III. I cover the basics of watch photography in a series of three articles, starting here.

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Film diaries: Watches and a Hasselblad

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Digital contact sheet of the negs.

I’ll admit that deep down, from the day I decided to buy the Hasselblad, I’d harboured a deep, masochistic desire to do this. During previous evaluations of medium format for my main commercial subjects, it didn’t really fit the bill: too difficult to achieve the degree of magnification required for watches, and digital medium format wouldn’t give me the width I needed for architectural work. It’d also be overkill for food photography in this country, given the current state of affairs*.

*I recently had a large corporate client ask for a portfolio and quote, then turn around and give the job to another photographer who quoted less and said ‘here, copy’. The results were crude because of harsh lighting and repetitively boring subject placement, but I suppose if they can’t tell the difference…perhaps I’m the one who’s got unrealistic expectations?

But hey, on film, for fun and in the spirit of creative experimentation, why not?

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