Have you ever considered what your horological discomfort zone is? You probably have a pretty good grasp of your comfort zone. Maybe you love dive watches, vintage chronographs, or both. But have you ever spent some time considering what lies outside it? If you were to go shopping in your horological discomfort zone, what would you consider?

Let me make this personal. Coming from the world of vintage watches, my taste has always leaned towards classical designs — not always vintage per se but, primarily, watches based on the designs of the 1940s through ’70s. Modernist watches have always been far outside my comfort zone. Not that I have anything against them, but I simply never went there. So join me on an exploration of some modernist watches that may just lure me in. And let me know in the comments what your horological discomfort zone is and what watches could potentially change that for you.

My comfort zone

So, what is this discomfort zone of mine?

I happen to believe that most of the watches we see today are built on a design language set in the previous century. If you look at case shapes, dial layouts, hands, and so on, you will find that the template was indeed set in the 20th century and before. Some watches, however, throw that overboard and do something entirely new — rotating satellites rather than hands, just to name a random example.

The thing is, I have always felt that most of those watches were just different for difference’s sake. And when you approach a design like that, originality often comes at the expense of function. Exotic, futuristic designs are often less efficient, harder to read, and more complicated. And that, from a design perspective, makes them lesser watches…in my eyes, I should certainly add.

So that is why it is my discomfort zone. But today, I will take a completely open-minded approach. Let me explore some of these watches to see if I am missing the point. Maybe I should look for exciting, inspired concepts rather than Explorer-esque cold efficiency. Let’s see!

Jumping into my discomfort zone with Urwerk

Okay, let me dive off the deep end straight away. I know our own Dave has a big thing for futuristic designs, and his absolute grail watch is the Urwerk UR-100V FTJ. Now, I like Dave’s style overall, so how can he be so deep in my discomfort zone when it comes to watches? There must be something to that Urwerk…

Looking closer, I do see the appeal. There is a bit of that Rube Goldberg machine vibe to such complicated displays of time. For a watchmaker, there is absolutely no reason to make it so hard on yourself. That, however, is precisely the point. It is a horological flex. But it is one that strives for innovative ways to display time rather than building yet another tourbillon.

Browsing the Urwerk catalog, I land at the same UR-100V as my favorite. Dave described how nobody noticed it when he borrowed one to wear for a while. The aforementioned flex is entirely discreet. In the distant foggy mental meadows of my discomfort zone, this watch had always been a bit brash. But looking closer and reading Dave’s story, I realize I was all wrong. This isn’t a watch you buy to show off. Rather, this is a watch you buy to privately gaze at the mechanism that blooms out from the center in three satellites under the highly domed crystal. It is like walking around with a small terrarium.

MB&F HM5 discomfort zone


MB&F is probably the best place to go next. I have found myself gazing at Max Büsser’s creations in amazement over the years. They certainly fall within my discomfort zone, but why? What puts them outside my normal field of view? I have to admit, the unattainability of this segment for mere mortals like me makes brands like MB&F feel a bit virtual. I follow them professionally, and as a Fratello writer, I have a better chance than most to run into one of their watches. But it always feels like another universe to me. And I have to admit, that means I don’t follow these brands as closely as I follow the more mainstream ones.

But when browsing the catalog, I can only be in awe of the creations. My pick of the bunch would be the Horological Machine No. 5 in red gold. I know, that is arguably one of the most conservative ones of the bunch. But I think it is simply an object of beauty. Like many MB&F watches, it seems like it belongs on an architect’s Cavour desk.

But hold on… MB&F says it is inspired by a 1970s Amida Digitrend digital watch! Okay, so this is not as easy as it seemed. Or maybe these futuristic watches aren’t so separated from the design language I am comfortable with after all…

Royal Oak Concept discomfort zone

Image: Haute Time

An AP in my discomfort zone

You have probably gathered by now that I am looking for a sort of gateway futuristic watch — one to bridge the gap between my comfort and discomfort zones. The two above could very well fulfill that role, opening up a new world for me. Audemars Piguet has another that I could see myself loving. The Royal Oak Concept is a watch that I would instinctively disregard as a ruination of the original. But that would be a negative purist mindset, which I resolved to steer clear of in this previous article.

Royal Oak Concept

If I look closely at the Concept, though, I do see the brilliance of it. Claude Emmenegger was tasked with designing the first Royal Oak Concept that launched in 2002. It was to be a futuristic new line that would showcase the latest in material innovation. If I study the design, I cannot help but be impressed. Somehow, the original Royal Oak is in there, but it is also a radically different watch. A familiar bezel fades into a case that resembles a Star Wars helmet more closely than a traditional watch case.

But the design is cohesive nonetheless. It is also deceptively simple, even though it seems quite intricate and complicated at first glance. And if you are suffering from a little ’70s-integrated-bracelet fatigue, the Concept may be the ticket.

Carbon Ceramic Sapphire And Recycled Plastic Watches

MB&F Horological Machine No. 9 Sapphire Vision

My discomfort zone may not be so uncomfortable after all

Looking a little more closely at three potential gateway watches, I am happy to admit that I have learned something. As you can read from my opening paragraphs, I used to see modernist/futuristic watches as a completely separate universe, which made it easy to discard the “genre” as my discomfort zone. These three watches have taught me otherwise.

The Urwerk takes the subtle flex that traditional watchmakers have always pursued and brings it to today. The MB&F may look ultra-modern, but it is actually still built around a 1970s source of inspiration, like the watches in my so-called comfort zone. And the Royal Oak Concept takes a familiar starting point and reinvents it in a way that can stand on its own.

It seems, then, that these watches are perhaps a more natural evolution of the watches I love than I thought. Sure, they may go over the top sometimes. I have come across a ton that still felt awkward and different for difference’s sake to me. But I honestly think I could own and love a futuristic watch. Maybe Dave isn’t so crazy after all. Argh…have I just taught myself to lust after even more watches?

So, what is your horological discomfort zone? And which watches could be the gateway to pull you in nonetheless? Let us know in the comments below.