Watch enthusiast James Hall celebrates Scotland’s contemporary horologists, Paulin, Instrmnt & anOrdain who are pushing the frontiers of watch making. And he takes a look at a dazzling new watch from Swatch, designed by artists Joanne Tatham & Tom O’Sullivan.
Time is fickle. A single day can stretch on for an eternity, and yet entire months can dissipate into the ether almost unnoticed. And yet, the centrality of time to our daily lives cannot be overstated. In an age where digital is dominant, there is no better moment to celebrate the rise of Scottish horology. As the owner of any mechanical watch will tell you, there is a deep, emotive quality to be found in bringing to life a dormant timepiece. A statement of one’s individuality, a reflection of personality and style, wristwatches offer a perfect meeting of art and engineering.
This meeting of art and engineering gave rise to Paulin, a Glasgow watchmaking company founded in 2013 by three sisters: Elizabeth, Charlotte and Eleanor Paulin. Inspired by their grandfather, the sculptor and painter George Henry Paulin (1888-1962), the familial legacy of artistic creativity lives on in the efforts of Paulin to create products which the sisters themselves wear and use, combining utility with a distinctly personal aesthetic appeal.
Such harmony is embodied in the Paulin Commuter Automatic, a timepiece defined by the complementary call-and-response of its constituent elements. It’s sleek Bauhaus character balances the skeletonised minute and hour hands, a tacit nod to the industrial heritage of Glasgow, the brand’s home. The automatic self-winding movement offers exceptional functionality, with the display case-back allowing for the visual appreciation of the mechanical process at work. The straight lugs and subtle crown feel appropriately reserved, drawing attention to the dial, the architecture of which offers a beautiful juxtaposition. The shock of colour provided by the yellow seconds hand is a playfully modern touch, whereas the proprietary “Geo” Arabic-quarter numerals and radially-brushed steel face exude Art Deco elegance.
Paulin’s artistic prowess is significant both on the national and international scale. Their ladies’ watch, the quartz-powered Geo Mini, was stocked by the Museum of Modern Art’s New York Design Store for a limited run in 2018, although it is undoubtedly in Scotland’s art community where the company’s presence is most telling. Their Edinburgh store in Stockbridge doubles as a gallery for artists and craftspeople, and their latest exhibition, Process, showing the work of 13 artists and makers has just opened. And last year saw the launch of Art on the Subway, a collaborative effort to promote Glasgow’s creatives, making use of advertising spaces across the underground system. Eleanor Paulin, one of the three sisters behind the company, cites the close links between Paulin and the wider artistic community as an incredibly important part of the brand’s ethos, and a critical part of the design process.
A team from a wide variety of backgrounds influences the fluid character of the watches, drawing on their collective experiences in the realms of architecture, fashion and graphic design. Utilising what Eleanor rightfully describes as the “abundance of talent” available domestically, the company aims to champion as many of Scotland’s creative industries as possible. As evidence of this, one has to look no further than Paulin’s newest offering, the Neo. Employing a design language that marks a respectful departure from the “rules” set by the brand’s previous offerings, the Neo is characterised by boldly-coloured, anodised aluminium dials, manufactured in Ayr especially for this collaboration with another distinguished Glasgow watchmaker; anOrdain, who specialise in vitreous enamel dials. This syncretic approach defines Paulin, resulting in innovative designs combining art and function, and speak to the true essence of watchmaking.
This hybridity is also manifest in the collaboration between artists Joanne Tatham and Tom O’Sullivan and the cult Swiss watchmakers, Swatch. Known for their often-flamboyant, colour unmuted installations – they have exhibited frequently across Scotland & are represented by Glasgow’s The Modern Institute – Joanne & Tom have transplanted their work from its original context to an unorthodox space, both watch and strap act as a new canvas, and highlight the adaptability of art to unexpected mediums. Merging the architectural and the theatrical, Tatham and O’Sullivan’s designs speak to a vibrant absurdism, challenging perceptions of the normative through the subversive use of colour and form.
Another rising Scottish brand, Instrmnt Applied Design, offers an exciting counterpoint to the work of Paulin and Tatham and O’Sullivan. Instead of their multidisciplinary background manifesting in composite designs, Instrmnt produce contemporary interpretations of classic timepieces across a wide variety of watch types, allowing for a creative diversity reflective of the brand’s origins and process.
Drawn from the backgrounds of founders Ross Baynham and Pete Sunderland, in graphic design and product design respectively, the simplicity of Instrmnt’s designs marks a welcome departure from the excessively branded “fashion” watches which have taken over social media. Founded in 2014, Istrmnt Applied Design (I-AD) & based in Glasgow’s Pirnie Street, was born out of the founders’ shared aesthetic ideals and conceptions of “good” design, and the changing of the company’s name earlier this year to Instrmnt Applied Design reflects this artistic focus.
Case in point, their 40mm Dive Watch embodies the “principles of functional industrial design”, eschewing superfluity in a favour of a refreshing focus on practicality and minimalism. The matte black watch face and contrasting white indices offer exceptional legibility, with the subtlety of the date aperture maintaining the symmetry of the dial and thus ensuring readability.
The application of luminova on the dial, hands and bezel, coupled with the 200m water-resistant stainless steel case, remains faithful to both the archetypal dive watch aesthetic and its purpose. The lack of any logo on the watch itself bears testament to Instrmt’s focus on the quality of their products, echoing the founders’ belief that design should always take precedence over a reliance on brand recognition. In an industry where appearances have arguably become more important than substance, the parity of the two ideals and resultant sincerity within Instrmnt’s designs is compelling.
This genuity is mirrored in what Ross has described as I-AD’s proudest achievements to date. Through the platform the company has created, Instrmnt have raised thousands for charity and worked with creatives across the artistic spectrum. The accolades have deservedly followed, with features in The New York Times, Dezeen and High Snobiety. Their participation in a five-studio exhibition at the V&A during London Design Week is symbolic of Instrmnt’s place among the upper echelons of the national creative scene. The expansion into furniture and homeware builds upon this multiplicity of influences, with Marcel Breuer, Alvar Aalto and Charlotte Perriand cited as inspirations.
This diversity of interests present is reflected in the 36mm Dress Watch, utilising a classic design language almost entirely removed from that of the dive model. The slim case profile and lacquered sunburst dial evoke a sense of mid-century refinement, with only the engraved hour markers tacitly acknowledging I-AD’s expertise in industrial design. The absence of a seconds hand lends itself to a timelessness of design both figuratively and literally, with the pencil-style hour and minute hands enhancing the elegance of the piece.
Encapsulating the brilliance and innovation of Scotland’s designers and artists, Paulin and Instrmnt Applied Design are standard-bearers for Scottish watchmaking. Bringing a sense of vitality to an industry revived in the age of mobile phones and smartwatches, these brands offer distinctive yet equally compelling interpretations of the marriage between art and function which lies at the heart of horology. Their time has come, and deservedly so.
Paulin Watches – 30B Raeburn Place Edinburgh EH4 1HN & 407 Great Western Road Glasgow G4 9JA
Instrmnt Applied Design – 39 Parnie Street Glasgow G1 5RJ
Swatch by Jo Tatham & Tom O’Sullivan
James Hall is an MSc student at the University of Edinburgh. He completed his BA at Durham University, and comes from a family with a history of watchmaking.