Hands-On: The Promise Of Happiness From Mr Jones Watches
You know what they say: money can’t buy happiness. But could money perhaps buy the promise of it? Well, I’m no psychologist, but I can tell you that, for £245, Mr Jones Watches and designer Fanny Shorter give it their best shot! Today’s review subject is a watch with a jumping-hour complication, a multilayered face, and a painted tiger with scrolling minutes in its stripes. To me, that sounded amusing at the very least, and after two weeks with the watch, I’d love to share my experience. This is The Promise of Happiness from Mr Jones Watches.
The opportunity to review this piece came after I wrote my take on the best summer watches. In it, I featured “A perfectly useless afternoon,” a fan-favorite Mr Jones model that I truly believe encapsulates the laid-back summer spirit. That very day, Amanda, the brand’s PR and marketing manager, reached out to thank me for the mention. In my two years at Fratello, this is something that no other watch brand has ever done, so that alone made me happy (it’s the little things, you know?). But I was then overjoyed by her offer to send over a watch of my choosing for review. I’d had my eye on The Promise of Happiness for months, so it was the perfect chance to experience it. And this experience has certainly not been disappointing!
The inspiration behind The Promise of Happiness
If you’ve been following our coverage of Mr Jones Watches, you’ll know that the brand produces unique, whimsical timepieces. To do this, Mr Jones often collaborates with independent artists, who showcase their creativity and design some of the most original time-telling devices I’ve ever seen. The Promise of Happiness comes courtesy of Fanny Shorter, an English designer and printmaker with a love of nature. She explains, “I was inspired by folk and naive art, specifically Pahari Indian miniature paintings. I saw the beautiful British Museum exhibition ‘Gardens and Cosmos’ way back, and the incredible detail of the paintings on show always stuck in my mind. I really wanted the excuse to explore the idea of painting to a very small scale, and working to fit such restricted dimensions has provided just such an opportunity.”
Shorter continues, “I’ve always loved Henri Rousseau, and as he painted many jungle scenes, I looked to him for the colour palette, limiting myself to just blue, orange, black, and (50 shades of) green! Rousseau was also the inspiration for the name of the watch — it is derived from a statement he made that, ‘beauty is the promise of happiness.'”
Beauty is subjective, of course, but to me, the design of this watch embodies it. Having a lifelong interest in martial arts, especially the five animal styles of Shaolin kung fu, the tiger is close to my heart. It is a powerful yet agile beast that strikes as forcefully with its claws as it does with its majestic looks. Images of tigers adorned the walls of both my childhood dojo and bedroom, and my fondness for the cat persists to this day. That is why, out of the entire Mr Jones catalog, The Promise of Happiness spoke to me the loudest.
Aside from the tiger, what I found particularly attractive about this model was its approach to telling time. I have never owned a watch with a jumping hour before, let alone one with a scrolling minute disc too. This combo was popular in the 1970s, with watches similar to the Yema Digital for sale under many brand names. Here, though, instead of having the discs right next to each other, Fanny Shorter brilliantly incorporated them into the artwork. She explains, “I wanted the time-telling element to be part of the painting and not a separate entity, so I played with the idea of the tiger’s camouflage and hid the minutes in his stripes. The tiger himself looks toward the moon for the hours.”
The specially designed numerals aren’t aesthetically jarring in the least. Some might even accuse the ones on the minute disc of blending in too well! But they are curvy, irregular, packed with character, and after a short adjustment period, easy to read. A subtle yet thoughtful element is the tiger stripe in the top center of the aperture. This gives a reasonably accurate indication of the current minute and is helpful when setting the time at a five-minute interval. Initially, the fact that most minutes are unmarked caused anxiety for the accuracy-obsessed watch nerd in me. After a day or two, though, I became quite adept at reading the minutes from spatial cues. In the picture above, for instance, the stripe points just to the right of the invisible central point between the 15 and the 20. So, combined with the hour, the watch reads 9:18. Easy peasy!
Layers upon layers
What may not be evident at first glance is how multilayered the face of the watch is. I know, I know; sometimes the term “face” can sound cringy to us watch folks, but I specifically chose it to refer to much more than the dial. In fact, much of the artwork — including the tiger, leaves, and vines — is printed on the underside of the sapphire crystal! When looking at the watch straight on or from afar, this can be easy to miss. Noticing it, however, feels like a treat and opens the door to the layers beneath. Next comes the orange minute disc, which sits sandwiched between the crystal and the dial. The bushes above the tiger’s body conceal most of it, but it’s significantly higher than the painted jungle background. The dial provides a very deep, dramatic look, and finally, the jumping hour sits below it, inside the “moon.”
Powering this spectacle is the Seagull ST1721, a 20-jewel automatic caliber with a 42-hour power reserve. I love that Mr Jones chose a mechanical movement for this watch rather than a simpler quartz one. To me, that gives this fun and flamboyant art piece a nice dose of horological street cred. We don’t see jumping-hour watches all too often these days, and complications are far more satisfying when mechanically driven. As you can see, the movement remains hidden under a solid steel case back featuring the Mr Jones Watches logo, the model and designer’s name, and a declaration of origin. I love that Mr Jones pad prints all the artistic components with hand-mixed colors, assembles, and tests each watch in the brand’s London workshop. I’d love an opportunity to visit it someday and see the Covent Garden store!
The case and on-wrist experience
Jeez, Louise! I’m 1,100 words in, and I haven’t even addressed the case yet. Well, let me tell you, it wears quite well indeed! At 37mm in diameter and 46mm from lug to lug, it’s just about ideal for my 17cm wrist. This case is a common one throughout the Mr Jones range, and I think it’s a versatile base for many different designs. It does have a completely polished finish, which, admittedly, is not my usual preference. The lugs, though, are fantastically interesting and slim, and they almost remind me of the lugs on the De Bethune DB28. No, they don’t adjust themselves to the wrist as the DB28’s lugs do, and yes, these watches are at totally different ends of the spectrum. Nevertheless, these lugs have a fun design, especially with the little “balls” at the end that connect to the 18mm leather strap.
Another aspect that I enjoy is how the thin lugs continue all along the sides of the case. In a way, they both hug and protrude from the case’s circular, bevel-edged center. To me, this design is far more interesting than standard lugs that result in a flat case flank. The “button” with a polished MJW logo in relief over a blasted background is a nice little touch too.
For all the watch’s multilayered complexity, the case also sits reasonably slim on the wrist. It comes in at 15mm thick, but honestly, it feels much thinner than this number suggests. I believe that is due to the aforementioned lug/case-band design. Finally, the brown Hirsch Boston strap initially felt rather stiff, but over the past two weeks, it has softened up well. I dig the tab-like design of the steel pin buckle, and the strap’s quick-release spring bars are a welcome bonus too.
Acknowledging shortcomings and adjusting expectations
As you can tell by now, The Promise of Happiness is no “normal” watch. In fact, none of the watches in the Mr Jones lineup fit that description. They are artistic novelties, and as such, all watch lovers shouldn’t expect them to be ideal daily wearers. Those who demand a superbly legible dial, look elsewhere. If you always need to be able to read the time at a glance, this watch isn’t for you. It can take a few seconds to read the time on this one, especially if you’re multitasking or in a bustling environment. Furthermore, the lack of precise minute markings and running seconds may perturb some people. Unless you have a timegrapher at your disposal, you won’t be able to check the daily accuracy, a practice that some of us love. Oh, and there’s no lume anywhere, so sorry, glowheads.
In addition, the crown is quite small, which can make winding the watch a bit difficult. I couldn’t get a good grip on it with the pads of my fingers, so I found it best to pinch it between my fingernails and turn it that way. I also recommend setting the watch carefully, with the tiger stripe directly centered over a five-minute mark. Doing so is the best way to ensure a sufficiently accurate time display throughout the day.
So, does the watch deliver on its promise of happiness?
Taking all these shortcomings into account and, crucially, realizing that this watch doesn’t need to be a daily wearer anyway, I do think that The Promise of Happiness is a fantastic offering. It has indeed brought me happiness — even more than I expected. While wearing it, I stopped caring how many seconds fast or slow my watch was running and, instead, relished its beauty, uniqueness, and ingenuity. On the occasions that I glanced down and witnessed the hour jump, I felt this gleeful sense of satisfaction and childlike bliss. The five-minute markings also helped me have a more relaxed attitude toward time-telling, which was quite refreshing as well. Let’s face it; precision is great, but everyone needs to relax sometimes. With these two enjoyable weeks now under my belt, I believe The Promise of Happiness would make a perfect wild-card watch.
Even better, at £245 / €285 / US$295, I think it’s ideally priced for a fun piece like this. For many watch geeks like me, that’s the magic of what Mr Jones is doing. The brand is delivering inventive and enjoyable watches that don’t cost the earth. If that doesn’t bring a watch lover happiness, I don’t know what will!
Check out The Promise of Happiness on the official Mr Jones Watches website, and let me know what you think of it in the comments!