Redesigning a classic: Konstantin Grcic on his collaboration with Rado

Updating a much-loved product is about respecting the legacy of the original, says the renowned industrial designer

I have always had a strong sense of time and time really matters to me. Timing is about discipline, but it can also be something quite sensual, elegant. The right timing plays a key role in life and I have always been very aware of that.

Watches have consequently always been hugely important to me. I got my first watch when I was six years old and I have been wearing one ever since. I get up and put it on; I go to bed and take it off.

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Above: Grcic's award-winning Chair One

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When it comes to making a watch, materials are definitely key. Everything we design has a physical dimension. What is something made of and how? The right choice of a material determines a product's performance and longevity. Even before that, it determines how something is produced, which is a crucial business consideration.

I'm not a materials expert, but I have a huge interest and curiosity in understanding as much about materials as possible. The more I know about them, including their constraints, the more efficiently I can apply them. The intelligent and economical use of material forms an important part of my understanding of good design.

Why Rado?

Great art, design and invention are often born of partnerships between the right people and collaborations between designers and industry always work on different levels. When I first met the Rado team, there was an immediate chemistry between us. Working for any Swiss watch brand is a unique experience, but Rado brought their very own high-tech ceramic technology into the equation, which helped me decide the collaboration could work.

Ceramic is one of the most high-tech materials I know and at Rado, they have a long history of working with it. Most Rado watches are made in high-tech ceramic, not metal. The ceramic is injection moulded under very high pressure, which creates an extremely hard and dense end result. This type of ceramic cannot be compared with that used in tableware. It's a whole different thing. High-tech ceramic watches are extremely tough – harder than stainless steel but lighter. It has a much more pleasant temperature when you wear it and it's scratch-resistant. The ceramic powder can be blended with colour pigments to create different tonalities. It can be polished to have a complete mirror finish or a satin matt finish, which is what I personally prefer.

I had a very personal connection with Rado before this project came along. At the very beginning of my career, German Vogue asked me to participate in a promotional photoshoot for watches - different people wearing different watches was the idea behind the story. For whatever reason, the art director decided I should wear a black Rado Ceramica. Interestingly, a quarter of a century later, I was asked by Rado to redesign this very same model.

Redesigning a classic

The redesign of a classic is always a challenging brief. As a designer, you take on a clear responsibility not to spoil the legacy of the original.

The design process forces you to decide how close to stay to the original and how far to depart from it. The original Ceramica still looks pretty amazing today. It's absolutely iconic and pure and that clearly inspired my new design – not only in a formal sense, but also in terms of its uncompromising attitude. I chose to approach the project from a very subjective point of view. I asked myself: what would change the original Ceramica into a watch I would wear today?

This particular model has a matt finish, which in my opinion brings out the form of the watch much more strongly. The design of the dials is bold and legible. I took inspiration from pilot watches – I like them for their straightforward, clear graphics. For me personally, a watch is primarily a timekeeping instrument. I think we have best achieved that in the signature model.

Nevertheless, getting the watch done was a long, careful process. My first contact with the Rado team dates back exactly three years ago. From there, it took us around four to five months to come up with the initial design concept. After that, it's all development – going over every detail of the watch in incredibly small steps of refinement.

Of course, it's not unusual that the development of a new product takes that amount of time. A watch is like a tiny engine. It has to work in every aspect. Now, after all that time, I am very excited that I will be able to wear my own Rado Ceramica watch.

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