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Mickey Mouse Time

Quite soon after The Wall Street Crash, in 1929, Herman Kamen was recruited by Walt Disney to find new ways to promote Mickey Mouse merchandise. By 1932, he had hatched a plan with Ingersoll to produce a Mickey Mouse wrist watch which was launched at The Chicago Exposition entitled “A Century of Progress.” At the same time, queues of thousands lined up outside Macy’s Department Store in New York and within two years, over 2 1/2 million watches had been sold.

This not only saved the Ingersoll Watch Company from financial ruin but also established a new marketing phenomenon using cartoon characters (and later human celebrities) to decorate or endorse every day, household products. The relationship with Disney lasted for almost forty years and in 1957, after several design changes, the 25 millionth Mickey Mouse watch was presented to Walt Disney himself.

The Mickey Mouse watch was also the first novelty watch in the world and a year after its launch, a British version was introduced in 1934. It was virtually identical to its American counterpart but inscribed on the face “FOREIGN MADE” because it was manufactured in the U.S.A.Originally costing 15/- (75p), this is now a highly collectable, much sought after and therefore valuable piece.

Fifty years later, on 1st March 1983, the first Swatch watches appeared. Made in Switzerland but made of plastic with a then revolutionary quartz movement, these watches could be sold at an affordable price with quirky, colourful face designs. The initial sales targets were 1 million in the first year and 2.5 million in the second. Twenty years on, over 300 million Swatch watches had been sold and today the number must be approaching half a billion!

Designers, architects and artists from all sorts of backgrounds and disciplines have created Swatch watches. The painter Keith Haring was one of the first and others include the Japanese film director, Akira Kurosawa, and the music making DJ, Moby. Together they have produced  an “art gallery on the wrist.”

Whilst thousands of novelty watches have followed in Mickey Mouse’s footsteps, many architects have been keen to design more serious and higher quality watches and one Swiss manufacturer, Pierre Junod, has established a string of relationships that produces innovative and distinctive designs. An architect will never be able to see all of a completed building, however small it may be, in one go. It will always be seen in parts and from different angles. It is, however, possible to hold a watch in the palm of the hand and see the design in its entirety and appreciate its complete form. It is hardly surprising then that so many architects and designers like to work in this medium and to this smaller scale.

The watch “Echo” was recently created by Fredi Brodmann and is clearly inspired by an archery target and an echo sounder but also features a Swiss movement and a non-reflective sapphire crystal glass lens.

Of course these designs are not novelty watches nor do they follow in the colourful Swatch pop art tradition but without that first giant step by the mouse with the big ears and big feet, the sheer variety of watches would simply not exist today.