The Hour Glass Celebrates Its 40th Anniversary By Commissioning Artists Such As Daniel Arsham, Marc Newson And More
Haute horlogerie, the art of fine watchmaking, is a craft that requires sheer precision and sophistication. Oftentimes, it is a process that involves the contributions of multiple artistic metiers—from assembling intricate mechanical parts to the enamelling of watch dials—and enthusiasts would argue that the possibilities of the art form are only limited to the confines of a timepiece.
By that note, homegrown luxury watch retailer The Hour Glass, in celebration of its 40th anniversary, has brought together a select group of renowned contemporary artists and design firms to produce a series of timeless treasures. They are all crafted in homage to (unsurprisingly) the concept of time and exhibited at the second floor of Malmaison by The Hour Glass, its 8,000sqft flagship store in Singapore, until January 31. Titled Then Now Beyond, the momentous exhibition commemorates the retailer’s endeavours of introducing watchmaking to the larger cultural spectrum of art and design.
Artists and design firms challenged to create time-inspired objet d'arts
The spotlight is on four renowned artists and design firms who were presented with a simple task: to challenge the common perceptions of time and its boundless cycle. By doing so, it also sought to further The Hour Glass’ narrative in the watchmaking arts. Comprising London‑based Australian industrial designer Marc Newson, American visual artist Daniel Arsham, Tokyo- and Milan‑based design firm Nendo, and Dutch design firm Studio Wieki Somers, they were hand-picked by a committee made up of The Hour Glass group managing director Michael Tay, British architect David Adjaye and international watch specialist Aurel Bacs.
Touching on the concept of his sculptural piece, Arsham, who was in Singapore for the opening of the exhibition last November, explained: “My work is often a reinterpretation of the every day. I’m taking an object and pushing it out of this moment in time—into the future and the past—so it’s a play with reality.”
This fundamental concept is particularly resonant with the exhibition’s objective where viewers are invited to explore the retailer’s journey in the past, present and future.
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Transforming part of The Hour Glass' flagship store for the occasion
Arsham’s work, which was an updated version of his characteristic Hourglass sculpture, was reimagined in bronze—much different from the limited-edition glass pieces he released mid last year. Fitted inside the Hourglass are two objects: a clock that indicates the recorder of time and a camera that has the capacity to freeze time. But it was the bronze exterior that tied the aesthetic and conceptual elements together. Arsham shared, “In realising the sculpture in bronze, it almost creates the impression that time has frozen.” The artist also decided on the polished mirror finish as it had a unique way of bending light and the space around it—a quality that he found fitting in the newly redesigned backdrop of the exhibition area.
In light of the occasion, The Hour Glass did not hesitate to pull out all the stops and reached out to Milan-based retail space designer, JoAnn Tan Studio, to reconceptualise the second floor of its flagship store. Taking inspiration from the sci-fi film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, it fused elements of antiquity with futuristic design to signify the retailer’s hopes for the future. On top of that, the incorporation of brushed aluminium and brass materials brought out the silent elegance of all the commissioned pieces.
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Sharing an exhibition space with other distinguished artists and designers was exciting for Arsham. “I’m a huge fan of Nendo and Marc Newson, so to have my work exhibited alongside theirs is incredibly thrilling.”
Nendo crafted the Cubic Clock, which showed two hands, carved from a singular block, neatly overlap only twice a day. The structure seemed to be a top favourite of Tay’s as it portrayed a fleeting moment where perfection only exists twice a day for a second each time. Meanwhile, Newson reinterpreted an ancient time measuring instrument, where nanoballs would trickle between two interconnected structures to indicate time, while Studio Wieki Somers came up with a Beetle Clock sculpture that symbolised the relationship between humans and nature through the metaphor of the declining beetle population.
See also: 3 Futuristic Clocks That Push Mechanical And Design Limits
The Hour Glass group managing director Michael Tay on what the past 40 years means to the luxury watch retailer and how it approaches digitalisation
“We're looking beyond the 40th year and into the future,” shared The Hour Glass group managing director Michael Tay, who embraces an optimistic outlook on what lies ahead for the watchmaking industry. The trade has changed vastly, but 40 years into its operations, sustaining the business well for the next few generations is of utmost importance to him. “In this organisation, we don’t speak so much about how big we want sales to be or what we want our number of store counts to grow to because we are focused on qualitative growth.”
Having been in this industry for the past 20 years, he said that the biggest factor that has shaken the industry is the onset of digitalisation, as it has changed the demand equation of timepieces in the retail sector. Propelled by this thought, Tay and his co-group managing director, Kenny Chan, took it upon themselves to restructure the company by updating the business infrastructure to suit today’s evolving digital climate. From equipping sales staff with mobile devices to capture and refer to large realms of data, to more efficient ways of communicating internally, the past two-and-a-half years have been a moment of big change for the luxury watch retailer.
Despite the rapid growth of e-commerce platforms in the luxury sector, Tay’s views towards the physical experience encountered in stores still remains. “Digital touchpoints are important, but I’m not a big believer in e-commerce,” noted Tay, who then referenced a recent study conducted by American management consultancy, Bain and Co. “While most young luxury buyers will do research online, a majority of them would still prefer to acquire timepieces offline—that’s how we are going to combat e-commerce, by improving the customer experience and boutique environment that we create in stores.”
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This story originally appeared in Singapore Tatler.