Seven of the best design-led watches

These unique and stylish timepieces draw on the expertise of some of the world's best designers


Mondaine Essence

Designed in 1944 by Swiss engineer and SBB employee Hans Hilfiker, the Swiss railway clock has one of the most instantly recognisable dials; its simple, easy-to-read layout has even won favour with the likes of Apple, who licenced it for use on its iPhones. If there's one brand that can claim ownership over the design in the modern age, however, it's Mondaine. For decades the watchmaker has carefully tweaked the design, incorporating new innovations and technologies that bring it firmly up-to-date while retaining the spirit of the original. With its Essence range it is leading the way in incorporating eco-friendly materials into its timepieces, from the renewable Ricinus (caster oil) used to make the case to the multi-purpose pouch crafted from recycled bottles.

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(Image credit: NOMOS Glashuette)

Nomos Glashutte Autobahn

Nomos Glashutte may be praised for its considerable in-house technical capabilities, but what really sets it apart from its Swiss counterparts is its design-focused approach. Separate from its watchmaking facilities in Glashutte is its dedicated design agency Berlinerblau in the German capital, where the distinctive look of its watches is conceived. The brand is also not averse to bringing in outside talent, seen in such pieces as the Mark Braun-designed Metro, which has gone on to win the Red Dot Award among other prizes. Its latest sees it utilise the skills of furniture designer Werner Aisslinger to create a new watch inspired by the automotive world, defined by a curve of Superluminova on the dial that recalls the dashboard instruments found in vintage cars.

Bamford Mayfair

The Bamford Watch Department made its name customising high-end watches made by other brands, but finally launched a collection of its own last November.

The watches actually came in response to demand from customers who wanted to hold onto the “service watch” they were issued by Bamford while they had their own timepiece customised. Bamford duly obliged with the Mayfair collection.

The Mayfair may be powered by a quartz rather than a mechanical movement, but this is a watch that is all about design – and aesthetically it is a triumph. The case is asymmetrical, with a rotating bezel and a range of brightly coloured dial and hand combinations (as well as some matt black ones too) that are instantly recognisably Bamford. The watch is also highly customisable; customers can mix and match dial colours, bezels and straps and even get their caseback engraved with up to 20 characters. At just £425, Bamford’s first watch is a steal.

Junghans Max Bill Automatic

A Bauhaus alumni, Max Bill brought a streamlined and purist aesthetic to his horological work for Junghans. Among the most notable pieces is his functional kitchen clock dating back to 1956-7, which has earned a place in the MoMa's collection as a good example of everyday design in the post-war era. By 1961 this had expanded to a collection of wristwatches for the German watchmaker, which still remain a core part of its offering today. Here this timeless design has been kitted out with an automatic movement and date at three 'o'clock, a discreet addition to the otherwise classic and uncluttered dial.

(Image credit: Copyright: Zeon Ltd)

Braun AW10

Braun may be primarily known for its electric shavers, but it has a long history producing audio technology, kitchen gadgets, clocks and watches, all united by their purist and functional design. Of the latter, one of its most iconic timepieces – the AW10 – originated in 1989 under Dieter Rams' tenure as director of design. The brand's first analogue wristwatch, it embodies the industrial designer's 'less but better' philosophy, with a clean and pared back approach that has successfully stood the test of time.

Hermes Carre H

In 2010, Hermes entrusted architect and designer Marc Berthier to create a new timepiece to add to the luxury house's horological offering. The result was the unusual Carre H, with its industrial curved square case, bold typeface and simple and practical lugs. Eight years later it has been brought back with some slight tweaks, offered in steel with an upsized case and crosshatch detailing in the centre of the dial that offers an interesting play on light.

(Image credit: By Swatch (No Restriction))

Swatch Sneakerness collaboration

Swatch watches may sit on the cheaper end of the spectrum, but their design credentials are unimpeachable. This year, to celebrate its ongoing collaboration with the Amsterdam Sneakerness exhibition (a festival that celebrates the best kicks on the planet), Swatch commissioned a special-edition watch designed by the French typography artist Alexis Taïeb.

Better known under his alias Tyrsa, Taïeb has worked with the likes of Childish Gambino, Michael Jordan and David Beckham, to name but a few. In his collaboration with Swatch, the designer and graffiti artist said wanted to express his interest in numbers: “I wanted to highlight the concept of distorting the perception of time – minutes can appear like hours, and hours can appear like a second. Adding a historical reference with a hint to the works of Dalí, allowed me to give a contemporary echo to this watch.”

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