Is Modern Minimalist Too Minimal?

We've seen minimalist design take over fashion and especially the watch world. Many of today's watch microbrands have adopted the same plain-Jane design principles for their timepieces, almost to the point where you wouldn't know the difference in brand if it weren't for the name on the dial. There's nothing wrong, per se, with minimalist design, but has it gone too far? In our opinion, yes. There is a difference between minimalist design and lack of design. No originality or distinguishing factors (besides a name stamped on the dial) qualify in our book as a lack of design. Much of this is correlated to a lack in overall quality and effort underneath the skin as well (read our previous article on this topic here). 

Minimalist design is intended to keep a design looking simple, clean, and balanced. However, it doesn't mean taking all details and features away from the design. Therefore, and almost counterintuitively, true minimalist design is quite a difficult feat to achieve as it requires a delicate balance of defining features and a cohesive relationship among said features within the design space. The result, if you can get it right, is a watch that will be stylish no matter how fashion trends evolve. 

This principle of proper minimalism can be seen in many watches that we've seen before, such as this Beyer Zürich. While it is a very simple design at first glance, you start to notice defining details such as the blue/violet hour indices topped by hand applied lume plots, triangular luminescent hands, the double hour marker at 12 o'clock, and the sloping pie pan dial, creating a multi-angled surface. This mindset has also been applied to the watch case and crown. All these features keep the overall design cohesive, clean, and pleasing to look at while also distinguishing the watch definitively as a Beyer.

Such principles have even been applied to whole brands. Rolex as a brand has done so well in part because of the simple design features that they have consistently implemented on the majority of their watches since the 1950's. While they may not be "minimalist" the way we think of it today, their designs are simple and straightforward, yielding an overall pleasingly balanced design and a unique look that defines the brand.

Going back (skipping forward?) to many of today's new watch brands: while we don't see overcomplication and overdesign, we also don't see any distinguishing features. This, in effect, creates a watch that may be pleasing to look at from a distance, but upon looking at it for more than a few seconds, you quickly notice, well...nothing. It's easy to forget. How can you describe it? What does it look like? Well, it looks like a watch, but that's about it. There's no substance to the design, and therefore there's nothing that sticks in your memory. Nothing that defines the watch or brand. It seems many of these watches have been created with the bare minimum components to even be considered a watch. In fact, some don't even have indices or hour markers. So how can a design be timeless if there is no design? The result is today's market: a multitude of empty watches that are popular for in the moment but will soon be lost in time (pardon the pun) as they simply can't compete with anything that's had actual thought put into it. 


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