Giorgio Galli made his mark on the watch industry as the youngest ever art director at Swatch before moving on to design exclusively for Timex. He speaks to Rachael Taylor about his design heroes, what it takes to constantly switch design hats and whether his latest project Intelligent Quartz for timex will revolutionise the watch industry.
Giorgio Galli was the boy wonder of the watch industry when he rocketed through the ranks at Swatch Group to become its youngest ever art director in the 1990s, a time when he designed hundreds of watches that will no doubt have graced the shelves of your shop or the wrists of your friends.
Based in Milan at the Swatch Lab, Galli steadfastly built up his expertise in watch design and absorbed all that he could before deciding to break out and found his own independent agency, the Giorgio Galli Design Lab, with a little financial help from 21 Investimenti, the merchant bank of the Benneton fashion family.
Galli and his team at the Lab quickly gained recognition in the global watch industry and it was soon picking up commissions from the likes of Seiko, Citizen and the Movado Group.
In 2005, Galli took a brief that would change the course of his career, when Timex came knocking and asked him to spearhead its technologically advanced TX watch brand. This then led to a gig as the lead designer on the Versace watch brand, and then finally to the sale of his Lab to Timex in 2007.
Now the designer and his team work exclusively for Timex, although they are keen to treat their approach to the an internal job with the same passion as they would as an external agency working for an independent client.
The broad reach of the Timex Group allows Galli to show off his artistic prowess on a huge range of watches, from the sporty Nautilus line to the fashionable Gc collection, and his biggest challenge to date – the Timex Intelligent Quartz. Here he speaks to WatchPro about just what it takes to be a master of watch design.
WATCHPRO: You started your watch design career at Swatch, where you were the youngest ever art director, before striking out on your own – what made you want to work independently?
GIORGIO GALLI: When I started at Swatch, I had the opportunity to work in the Golden Years of the brand. The work and the energy were enormous, there was a lot of creativity. I was very young and very quickly was given big responsibilities that made me learn a lot and fast. After that experience it felt very natural for me to work independently. To be able to explore the watch world through very different and many brands, each of them allowing me to understand a different market, different styles and different essences. I have always liked the freedom of working for anybody.
WP: In 2007 you sold your design studio to Timex – what prompted you to do this? And how has it changed your approach to work?
GG: Timex and I have had a very long collaboration. I started to work for the group in 1995 when I first designed the Nautica collection. This was the start of a collaboration that kept on growing across the Timex brands. It felt natural at some point for Timex and I to consolidate this working relationship. It really hasn’t changed anything in my approach.
WP: Is the way The Giorgio Galli Design Lab works very different to other watch group design departments? And if so, can you tell us how?
GG: I don’t really know how other design departments work. All I know is that we have to be very organised, keep focused, be creative and work hard. Probably the same as anywhere else, right? By being located in Milan, we add a European or international dimension to the collections in both taste and trends. We are developing and establishing a product culture as an added value to the company.
WP: Within the Timex group you have the chance to work on a huge variety of watches and a Versace, say, is worlds apart from a Timex – is there a design ethic that streams through all the collections and focuses you when you are designing? In short, what makes great watch design for you?
GG: Each brand has a different identity and DNA. So when I design a collection I get in the brand’s essence. I don’t think about the others.
WP: You have spoken about your design methods adopting the viewpoint of the end customer, imagining what they will see and enjoy when they look at the watch – how do you get yourself in the mindset to design this way when it is a brand that you perhaps would not wear yourself?
GG: I always design something that I could buy. When I start to design for a brand that I might not have bought yet, I always create something I like and could buy.
WP: Due to your close involvement with the design of each watch you have been known to consult on PR strategies. Does this offer you a fuller sense of completion of a project? Do you find it hard to let go of the design after spending so much time and effort creating it?
GG: Communication is an important part of the product. We always discuss internally the meaning of each project. But I will always have to move on to the next project, that is the beauty of a creative job.
WP: I’ve read that the late Gerald Genta is one of your watch design heroes. What is it about Genta’s approach to his work that fascinates you?
GG: Yes. Genta was my idol. I had the chance to meet him and I immensely admire his work. He’s been one of the most innovative watch designers ever. He has created the most iconic pieces in watch history – the Nautilus at Patek Philippe, the Royal Oak at Audemars Piguet, and many more.
WP: I imagine you have a huge watch collection – which watches are you wearing most just now?
GG: I change watches many times during the day for no reason. Sometimes it’s just the pleasure of wearing a different one each time. Or sometimes it is according to which brand I am working on.
WP: One of your latest projects is the Intelligent Quartz watch for Timex. Can you tell us a little bit about how this project was born?
GG: Its a very important project for Timex and its a perfect result of the company’s innovative DNA. Technically and conceptually it has been developed and engineered in Pforzheim, Germany, the heart of Timex innovation centre, and then dressed up in Italy in the Design Centre of Timex. Two of the top Timex groups of excellence.
WP: The watches use quartz to offer functions such as perpetual calendar, altimeter and fly-back chronograph functions. Is it your intention to bring haute horlogerie to the masses?
GG: The intention is to create functionality that is very useful, that gives to the watch an added value that is typically found in mechanical and more expensive watches.
WP: Some might say that the charm of complicated mechanical movements in high-end watches is the human craftsmanship put into creating them, but quartz skips this aspect. What would you say to these people?
GG: Yes there is big difference between the two category of products. You cannot compare the two of them. The only thing in common is that both are keeping the time. But that does not mean that a specific kind of craftsmanship does not exist in quartz watches. Intelligent Quartz is a good example of this.
WP: What kind of watch shoppers are going to be attracted to Intelligent Quartz? The designs are all very masculine, do you feel it is men who will buy the range?
GG: The origin of its masculinity comes primarily from the size of the movement and consequentially of the watch. Generally watches with functions typically attract a male consumer, but we are just at the beginning of this category of products in Timex. I am sure we will create products that will also attract the female consumer that is becoming more and more interested in more complicated watches.
WP: Will Intelligent Quartz change the watch industry? Is it the next evolution?
GG: I do not think that Intelligent Quartz will change the watch industry, but it will put its mark on a category of products.
WP: Timex says that the possibilities for what the Intelligent Quartz can do are limitless – how do you envision the product developing?
GG: I cannot disclose too much but we do have many exciting projects in development with many new ways of telling time.
WHAT IS INTELLIGENT QUARTZ?
Intelligent Quartz is the latest big technological advancement from Timex and allows the company to offer complicated movements through quartz movements and at quartz prices that were previously only rendered possible by mechanical calibre.
The technology was first unveiled at BaselWorld in 2011 and works by utilising miniaturisation and patented Timex technology to create a quartz movement made of digital sensors and microprocessors to drive independent motors and dial hands.
The initial technology was used in Timex’s TX brand but has now been rolled out to wider Timex collections and the technology is now on offer to consumers for as little as £99 for a World Timer model.
Other Timex Intelligent Quartz creations have included an altimeter, a perpetual calendar and a flyback chronograph compass, among others, but the watch company says that the technology is “an open-ended platform with the flexibility to incorporate new technologies, new functions and new ideas as they become available – we’re just waiting for technology to catch up with us”.
The watches have already been stocked in the UK by the likes of the Watch Hut, Asos and John Lewis. In short, Intelligent Quartz is bringing sophisticated watch features to the mass market.