The new school of cool

Alex Doak

From Nomos Glashütte’s Berlin to Shinola’s Detroit, we’re experiencing a fresh wave of watchmaking that combines metropolitan sophistication, crisp, contemporary design, and hip-to-the-game urban credentials (without a hint of irony)

LET'S GET one thing straight: Shinola do not make “hipster” watches. Nor do they make vintage-inspired “hipster” bicycles, and nor are the baristas in plaid shirts and beards who serve you at their barebrick store in Detroit in any way “hipster” at all. At least that’s what Shinola’s marketeers would like you to think, anyway.

Joking aside, there’s a lot to admire in Shinola. This new American company (using an old American brand) is bringing genuine artisanal manufacturing back to the industrially beleaguered Motor City. Its “curated” selection of robust, utilitarian products – from Bixby bikes to handcrafted clothbound journals – is the perfect foil to the main business of unfussy, retro-tinged watches, all assembled by Shinola’s growing roster of Swiss-trained watchmakers, on the fifth floor of General Motors’ former lab. It might not be turning Detroit’s fortunes around just yet, but it’s a worthy start.

While creative director Daniel Caudill (former head of Adidas product design) insists that it’s all about quality and quality alone, it’s hard to deny that Shinola taps keenly into the creative zeitgeist percolating those other former urban wastelands: Brooklyn’s Williamsburg district, Berlin’s East and, yes, the East End of London. And why not? The protagonists of these urban frontiers all possess a keen aesthetic sense, a desire for brand integrity, plus – critically – a disposable income.

Which goes a long way to explaining an exciting new genre of watches, which finally comes to the boil this year: that of the young, design-savvy urban sophisticate. The word “metro” would be in there somewhere too, were it not for the fact that both Parmigiani Fleurier and Nomos Glashütte have already appropriated “metro” for their latest, hip-to-the-game launches.

Mr Porter’s new “Englishman in New York” US editor, Dan Rookwood puts it down to the renewed importance of style over fashion among 30-somethings.

“I consider myself to be a stylish man with a well-attuned appreciation for the finer things in life,” he says, from his home in Brooklyn (where else?). “But up until I turned 30, I just couldn’t see the point in blowing thousands of dollars on a luxury timepiece rather than on things that actually matter – like rent, Apple products or Friday nights out.

“But we’ve grown up. My generation’s tastes have become sophisticated with age.”

That sophistication demands brains as well as beauty, and Nomos has always done both in spades. Founded as soon as the Berlin Wall fell, this German indie brand makes its movements entirely in Saxony, while its unmistakable Bauhaus designs take shape back in Berlin – arguably the hippest of hipstervilles. Yet most tellingly, Nomos’ über-stylish Metro – our cover star, rightly enough – comes not from the pen of a watch designer. Instead, it is by Mark Braun; a modernist furniture designer.

Switzerland’s closeted design departments could learn a lot from their German and American counterparts. If Swiss watchmakers really wanted to woo the cool kids, they could stop designing their own watches and learn to collaborate.