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Did David Bowie influence watch design?
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Did David Bowie influence watch design?

Tuesday, 08 March 2016
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Daniel Walpole
Strategic Planner at RE-UP

“Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.”

Jimi Hendrix

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3 min read

His incomparable style went far beyond music and fashion. The androgynous dandy, the master of transformation, David Bowie was unique in his ability to blur boundaries and bend the rules of gender. A unisex style that has found its way into watchmaking too.

In the wake of the passing of legendary musician and style icon David Bowie, there has been an overwhelming praise for the man’s ability to challenge the traditional norms of fashion, cultivating his own unparalleled look.

What made Bowie’s approach to style so unique, was that it was undefinable and non-singular. He blurred the lines of gender, and embraced transformation as a way to reflect his exploration of music, culture and life. In many ways this highlights what made him such an influential figure – he made it acceptable to be a misfit in mainstream culture.

His impact on fashion designers is undeniable – with Jean Paul Gaultier, Paul Smith and Dries van Noten all being inspired by his creative spirit. However it could also be said that his influence can be found in the world of horology – despite watches never playing a vital role in his iconic looks.

Most people would highlight Louis Vuitton’s ‘L’Invitation au Voyage’ campaign from 2013 – in which Bowie sported Vuitton’s Tambour eVolution watch – as his most notable association with the watch industry.

David Bowie
Louis Vuitton’s 'L'Invitation au Voyage' campaign from 2013. © David Sims
Both masculine and feminine

Central to the creation of this new Tambour watch was indeed its evolution, with the design moving away from the vibrant flamboyancy of previous models, towards something much cleaner and masculine. To a certain degree it mirrored Bowie’s own transition from the gender-bending, new-romantic to the elegantly dressed gentleman.

Louis Vuitton Tambour Evolution Chronograph Gmt
Louis Vuitton Tambour Evolution Chronograph Gmt.

But beyond this specific example, the influence of Bowie’s style can be attributed to several watchmakers and models, most notably with horologists blurring the lines between traditionally feminine and masculine watches.

Take for instance the Rolex Datejust, a model that since being launched in 1945 has subtly intermingled between masculine and feminine traits. Some have even highlighted how the Rolex Daytona is following this trend, with a growing number of women opting to wear the men’s version.

IWC emphasises an androgynous style.

IWC have also been very clear that their women’s watches would not be ultra-feminine – with their Chief Executive Georges Kern stating that “the product is not girly” – but rather would emphasise an androgynous style. This has culminated with the company showcasing at SIHH 2016 a brand-new Pilot’s Watch Automatic 36mm (a size that could satisfy men and women alike).

The IWC Pilot's Watch Automatic 36 presented at the 2016 SIHH.
The IWC Pilot's Watch Automatic 36 presented at the 2016 SIHH.

We are now in an era where men’s watches are embracing a greater sense of flamboyancy (for instance the faintly feminine H. Moser & Cie’s Perpetual Calendar Heritage Limited Edition with its diamond encrusted case lid). Moreover, women are adopting a ‘boyfriend’ fashion style with slightly bulky watches often being preferred over traditionally slim women’s watches.

Even Apple’s smartwatch has been specifically designed to be unisex – before its release some industry experts went as far to say that “If anything, Apple [was] going after women more than [it was] going after men”.

Obviously many watches still fit within the traditional boundaries of feminine and masculine designs. However the legacy of David Bowie has (whether directly or indirectly) impacted and influenced modern watchmaking in a similar manner to fashion designers – permitting watchmakers to break their own boundaries.

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