The Timeless Art of Telling Time (No iWatch Required)

As the fox devours the Internet each day, he sees time and again that we are so confused when it comes to innovation. And by “we”, I’m referring largely to the collective American-business-groupthink machine of which many of us are resident members.

Innovation has become one of the most misused business buzzwords of the past decade or so, as if innovation is a brand new thing Apple just invented. Logically, we know that is not true, but our actions, usually driven by our deepest beliefs, speak volumes otherwise.

So the Fox thinks it would be helpful for us to look at one small example and see if we can broaden our perspective a bit.

It’s rumored that Apple is working on a mythical thing called an iWatch. Of course in this sense we’re already confusing the word innovation to mean a brand new product – as if they’ve never innovated on the iterative updates to their existing products.

In fact, Apple has technically never made a “brand new” product. They have simply made better versions of already existing products. The iPod wasn’t the first portable digital music player. The iPhone wasn’t the first cell phone. The iPad wasn’t the first tablet computing device. The original Macintosh wasn’t even the first personal computer and, obviously, an iWatch wouldn’t be the first watch.

There are companies, of course, that do make brand new products that have never existed before, but we have to be careful not to limit innovation to a skill solely ascribed to these companies.

Looking at the watch market in particular, it’s easy to dismiss as as a “been there, done that” environment. Watches have been around for centuries from the sundial to the first giant cabinet clocks to eventually the pocket-watch and now the wrist watch. From this vantage point perhaps it’s natural that we fall into the trap of believing that only a company like Apple could bring innovation to this market – and a new 21st century digital watch is the only way to innovate.

Nobody told that to the Harry Winston company.

This is the Opus XIII.

Opus XIII

Opposed to standard watches that use a rotating hour and minute hand, the Opus XIII uses 59 independently moving minute hands that rotate 40 degrees from a position of “off” to “on”. At the end of each hour all 59 minute hands reset in unison as one of 11 hour hands rotates 180 degrees to be revealed from beneath a faceted sapphire-crystal dome pointing in the direction of the current hour. Ever seen that design before? The Fox didn’t think so.

Why only 11 hour hands? At midnight and noon, the hour hands all recede and an “HW” logo appears in the center of the sapphire-crystal dome.

The watch contains 364 custom made components operating at 21,600 vibrations per hour. And just for fun, it contains 242 jewels, a case made of 18k white gold, and polished rhodium-plated hands mounted on steel shafts set on ruby bearings that can be seen through the clear backing.

The method by which the Opus XIII indicates the current time, and the passing of time, is truly innovative. The sheer complexity of machining 364 custom parts to pull off this unique design is enough to make most watchmakers throw in the towel. And to truly appreciate it, you must see it.

The Opus XIII Introduction Video

But here is the important part. The Harry Winston company introduced the Opus line of men’s watches in 2000 and has created a new version each year for the past 13 years, working with some of the most renowned watchmakers on the planet to design the most unique and innovative watches ever created…without a digital processor to be found anywhere.

A few of my personal favorites include…

Opus 4

Opus 4

It is completely reversible: one face is technical, with a tourbillion and a minute repeater using a cathedral-type chime; the other is romantic with a large, engraved moon and a date display on the dial perimeter.

Opus 5

Opus 5

Three small blocks arranged like satellites within a three-dimensional system. Since each block carries four numerals, two rotational axes are required to display all 12 hours: the first central axis enables each hour numeral to “move past” the minute counter while driving the retrograde hand gliding over a 120° graduated scale; while the second reveals the four numerals in accordance with the first rotation. Got that?

Opus 6

Opus 6

Opus 6 boasts two technical achievements. The first is concealed in the very shape of the module, which is inclined at 30° to allow the balance wheel to oscillate constantly in all planes. The second is that the designers succeeded in making the gears invisible, by placing them off-centered beneath the bridge that masks the entire right side of the dial.

Sadly, most of us have been trained to think a watch can only be a group of rotating hands, or a digital display. But the Harry Winston company has been busy innovating on this centuries old product for over a decade while most of us have hardly noticed. That’s unfortunate.

While we wait for Apple to unveil their vision of the 21st century watch, we are missing some amazing innovation already taking place around us, and rarely is it the next brand new product or the magic produced by some silicon-valley start-up.

There is room for fresh thinking in every single device we touch every day, we just have to realize it.

Fox Tip: It doesn’t have to be a new product, to be a new product.

Bonus Tip: Mass markets aren’t the only markets where innovation produces value. Only 130 Opus XIII watches are being made, and they retail for $300,000 each. Buy two!

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