Floating Time: Interview with Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Marc Newson

Lara Mansour   |   31-08-2017

Marc Newson innovator of the Atmos clock for Jaeger-LeCoultre. 

Long fascinated with mantle clocks and a passionate fan of the Atmos, a mechanism that runs on temperature differential alone, Marc Newson was first approached by Swiss watch and clock manufacturer Jaeger-LeCoultre back in 2008 to collaborate on the new design of the Atmos. Fast forward almost a decade long partnership, and the third collaboration between Newson and Jaeger-LeCoultre, the Atmos 568, is all about lightness, transparency, and simplicity.

Invented in 1928 by the Swiss engineer Jean-Léon Reutter, the Art Deco pendulum clock is an elegant nod to a bygone era. It is now a sleek piece of modern design, thanks to Jaeger-LeCoultre’s bold approach to this collaboration.

Here we talk to the Australian designer about how he has reinterpreted the Atmos clock by reworking its classical style while preserving all its essential features, allowing an icon of watchmaking to become an icon of style.

Tell us about your new collaboration with Jaeger-LeCoultre, and how it came to life?

So, as I am sure you are aware, I have previously designed two of these Atmos clocks over the past ten years. Both pieces were limited edition and pretty much sold out immediately, so we understood that there was an interesting opportunity and demand to design another. We also decided that this time we would not limit the number, allowing it to be a piece that would be available moving into the future, which for me was important.

What makes it unique to the previous two versions?

The design is of course different, and technically it is a much more complex piece to make.

You have worked in design, from furniture to technicalities. What makes fine watchmaking different?

Working in this industry really appeals to my sense of craftsmanship. I trained as a silversmith and didn’t study design, so I have always had a strong interest in handcrafting, and skills that can only really be passed from person to person.

Do you remember the first thing you ever made?

When I was ten years old, my uncle gave me his watch and I immediately destroyed it, deciding to redesign the case, and put it back together. Of course this horrified my family, but for me it was the start of something, and I went on to try and make another watch myself afterwards.

Speaking from the design element, what do you think the watch-making industry is lacking?

Frankly speaking, there is a lot of repetition and I feel that the technicality of the industry dictates a lot of this repetition as there are unavoidable realties in the industry which is what leads people in certain dimensions. I also feel that there is a lack of modernity. Although the industry as a whole can be very modern from a technical perspective with many innovations, from a design perspective I feel there is a lot more available to people who are less interested in modernity. Therefore, our collaboration worked especially well in my eyes, because we took a 90-year-old object and gave it a modern twist, making it relevant to a new audience.

What is one thing you would still like to design?

I always had a strong interest in aerospace and spacecrafts, and although I have already designed within this realm, it would be amazing to design something that went into space. Personally, I have been very lucky and worked on many projects during my career, but the Atmos project has been a great opportunity for my love of art, as I don’t often work so closely with teams of accomplished craftsman, especially because this is a way of working that has become much less common.

Do you have any plans to promote and revive craftsmanship?

The most that I can do is to do more projects like this clock. I can be more effective by working with craftsman, trying to create some level of commercial success and justification at the back end, which will in turn benefit them and the industry.

How do you balance something that has commercial success, but also emotions?

It is very hard to understand before you do it. I think it is a methodical and organised process, but you just never know what is going to be a success. Products will always surprise you, getting a reaction from consumers that you can’t expect, whether it is better or worse that what you predicted.

What else would you like to achieve in your life?

I would like to work more on projects which really interest me. Throughout your career you inevitably find yourself pulled in different directions, working on some projects that for one reason or another you may prefer not to do. So I would now like to just work on the things I love and interest me on a personal level, regardless of money.

How would you describe yourself?

I am a perfectionist! I would rather not do something at all if I can’t do it to my best ability.

What does time mean to you?

I wish that time could be looked at, and that it was more philosophical. Time is now so binary and we talk in minutes and seconds.

What is your personal motto?

Don’t stress.

Tell us something no one knows about you?

That I am probably quite lazy!

What book are you reading?

I am reading a book that I gave to my daughter for Christmas which she doesn’t want to read. It is Jules Verne, 20’000 Leagues Under the Sea. I must say though that I very rarely read books anymore, as I just don’t have the time.

What are your thoughts on the digital world?

I don’t participate in social media at all, no Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

What do you love to do most when you have some time to yourself?

Nothing! My ideal is to think and drink tea.

What is your resolution for 2017?

To think carefully, and not to make any silly mistakes.

By Lara Mansour Sawaya