The Humism Kinetic Art collection, is the inaugural art movement based watch range from independent Singapore watch design studio, Humism. Funding production via Kickstarter, they are taking a different spin on the traditional crowdfunded watch, in more ways than one, the trifecta of this watch design is Art, Quality & Charity.
With lofty goals and a commitment that stretches beyond design, delivery and profit but into the lives of those less fortunate than your typical watch crowd. Let us dive into the detail and see if a watch can challenge not only how we view time and art but how we may use art to change lives.
Firstly I must be clear and upfront, this is a preview and not an in hand review, I will be using material available to me from Humism prior to the launch of the Kickstarter campaign. I intentend to do a follow-up article when I have a watch in hand, which I would expect to be in late April or May this year.
Humism is the brainchild of David Sze, a designer who has been using his skills around the world for the past ten years on projects large and small. Turning his hand to watch design a little over a year ago, the culmination of his experience and inspiration has produced the Kinetic Art collection. The driving force behind the designs was David’s dissatisfaction of how the micro-brand watch movement has been flooded with generic minimalist design. This is a fight back against this homogenisation and a drive to bring true artistic influence to watch design, to see the watch as an artistic canvas and to produce unique creative possibilities.
Art – The Art of the Watch
Traditionally I would begin with taking about the physical construction of the watch, but with the Humism Kinetic Art collection it feels right to first talk about is unique design, how it came about and what has influenced it. It is the standout feature of the collection, with the other elements of the watch deliberately understated to draw the eye to the design of the face, a minimalistic frame for the art piece.
Driven by the homogenised minimalist design of micro-brand watches Humism took to reimagining watch design, inspired by the potential for using the physical movement of the watch to create visual beauty, several months of research began. During this period inspiration was drawn from an early 20th century art movement call Kinetic Art, a lively avant-garde trend that flourished after a landmark exhibition held in Paris in 1955. Artists at the heart of it were fascinated by the possibilities of movement in art and its potential to create new and more interactive relationships with the viewer. It inspired new kinds of art that went beyond the boundaries of the static object and encouraged the idea that the beauty of an object could be the product of mechanical movement or optical illusions.
With this principe taken to the core of the design and after thousands of drafts were prepared three versions of the watch that embodied Kinetic Art moved into production.
So how does art realise itself in the design of a watch?
With the Humism Kinetic Art collection (Eudaimonia, Geist, Dasein) there is a radical approach to the design of the face. Gone are the traditional second, minute and hour hands and the hourly indicators are simple white channels cut into a dual layer white face, the only contrast being any shadow cast on the channels, they are deliberately understated to almost blend into the background. Hour and minute indication is done by two small black discs, one filled (hours) and one simply an outline (minutes) they float almost suspended in time around the outer edge of the face. These two feel like the utter minimum to not detract from the centrepiece of design but yet provide a functional watch.
This brings us to the heart of the art in the watch, as the David Sze would put it “the abstract kinetics in each design from which each viewer can draw different personal meanings and inspirations.” Replacing and using the motion of the second hand indicator sits two (or three in the Dasein) jet black disks, these disks are cut into patterns that when in motion overlap and intersect, producing fluid and constantly changing visual effects. These are the physical embodiment of the Kinetic Art movement as imagined by David Sze, the effects are quite mesmerising and hold your eye far beyond the functional aspect of telling the time. It is a shame I do not yet have one of the collection to hand as I would love to see how the movement of the design plays out in the flesh, from the videos and gifs it looks outstanding and I can only imagine it would look even better in person.
The physical animation of the interplay between the disks is smooth and resolutely analog, being driven at a steady 6 beats per second there is no obvious ‘tick’ and the appearance is satisfyingly enchanting. If I am to be horribly practical, it would be difficult in the extreme to use any of the watches in the collection to time anything or to set it to any true accuracy, however to look at it this way kind of misses the point. The watches are presented as art in movement, to use the passage of time to produce art to capture the eye and to embrace the beauty of its flowing.
Quality – Movement, Crystal & Watch Materials
Stepping back from showcase face design and taking time to to look at the more traditional elements of the Humism Kinetic Art collection we start with the case. Sitting at 39mm and with a thickness of 11.4mm it comes in comfortably in the standard size bracket and would look good on any wrist, the collection is clearly pitched as a dress watch but would be equality at home set against a t-shirt as it would do under a cuff.
Sitting slightly proud from and with a chamfered edge as it meets the case is the sapphire crystal, it is flat and has an anti-reflective coating that looking at the Kickstarter videos, offers a good level of reflection reduction. I cannot speak to any distortion effects with the crystal but from the videos no glaring ones are apparent. Sapphire as always provides an excellent level of scratch resistance which at this price point (sub £300 even at full price) is an addition that is well received and honestly more frequently seen at this price on micro-brands, something the big manufacturers could learn from. Sapphire is also used in the display caseback, I would have expected (and not been disappointed) to have seen mineral crystal used. If we look at a comparable review on TickTalk, the Rotary – Les Originales Tradition, sapphire was used both for the primary and display back, but this watch sits at over £200 more than the Humism.
The case body itself is made of 316L surgical steel, a grade of stainless steel that is more frequently seen in high end watches (Omega, IWC to name a couple), it offers greater corrosion and pitting resistance than the more standard 304L. It is finished all over in a brushed effect with a very neutral look, the bezel is plain and made from the same brushed stainless, it like the other features blend into the background and make no effort to distinguish themselves from the case body. Moving past the bezel the lugs sit at 20mm, angle away from body and leave a clean form. The crown sits at the 3 o’clock, is coin cut and signed but has no flourishes or protectors and it the only part of the design to break the symmetrical look. The case body feels as if it has been purposefully shaped and style as to not draw the eye away from the face, but to frame it in a functional but neutral aesthetic, which it does admirably.
Turn the watch over however and the flourishes are apparent, the Seiko NH35A movement is visible it all its mechanical beauty under the inset sapphire window display case back. Not being happy with just exposing the mechanical working of the collection, Humism have custom engraved the oscillator with a geometric pattern, extending the designs seen on the face. Around the brushed steel case back is engraved Humism Kinetic Art, the water resistance rating, steel grade and sapphire crystal. The case back is held in place with six countersunk screws that nicely offset the design producing a very pleasing and high grade case back.
The beating heart of the Humism – Kinetic Art collection watches is their Seiko NH35A movement, based on Seiko’s workhorse 7s26 calibre but featuring uprated components it is one of the world’s most popular automatic movements. A 24 jewel, 21,600 beat movement it offers a power reserve of 41 hours with a bi-directional manual wind feature and hacking capabilities. It has a date complication but this is not employed in this range of watches, it can be manually wound at crown position 0, date at 1 and the time can be set at position 2. These movements are pretty rock solid and are used extensively by a range of manufacturers, I would have no problems recommending a watch with such a movement.
It has a stated accuracy of -20 ~ +40 seconds a day under normal operating conditions, however, Humism are hand regulating each individual watch before shipping. And although I cannot give exact figures as it is too early in production, it is expected to deliver a significant improvement over the standard unregulated figures.
Finishing the design aesthetic, the Kinetic Art collection all come with Italian vegetable tanned black leather straps, presented with quick release mechanisms, to allow the wearer to easily swap them out without requiring specialist tools. Full grain is used in the leather selection so the most natural look can be preserved.
There are also available two 316L steel milanese straps, one in stainless silver and the other in PVD coated black, the black looks especially outstanding and would be my personal recommendation if backing this watch. This would also be the sensible option if you intended to expose any of the collection to water as leather straps will degrade quickly under wet conditions.
Charity – Using Art To Heal
Humism is not just about watch design, it has a focused and longstanding commitment to charity. David Sze has worked in the non-profit charity sector with many of his projects and is passionate about giving back being a core component of all his ongoing design work.
With this is mind 5% of all sales will go towards art therapy, helping survivors of emotional trauma, via a not for profit organisation called Red Pencil. Red Pencil works with survivors of natural disasters, domestic abuse and human trafficking.
It is good to see more organisations big and small working towards helping those who are in less fortunate positions that ourselves, I have a privileged life as do many I would suspect who read this blog or collect and appreciate watches. When organisations push charity to the forefront of their product process it not only directly funds those charities but also generates positive PR and hopefully makes us sit up and be reminded that we can give back to help others.
If you would like to find out more about Red Pencil further information can be found here.
In conclusion, Humism, has produced a unique range of watches that have a visually striking and artistic approach that challenges what is traditionally expected from watch design. They have take inspiration from an artistic movement and channelled this in an effective and elegant way, they have captured the essence of this movement and used it’s form combined with the mechanical heart of a traditional watch to produce art for your wrist.
How effective this is as a day to day watch is yet to be seen, the chosen materials are high quality and the movement is solid and reliable so there is little to complain about from a technical and materials angle. I get the feeling this will always be a statement piece rather than a daily wear but I don’t have a major problem with that, I can imagine that many conversations will be started when people see the movement of the watch and many lost minutes of the day by the wearer looking into the overlapping and oscillating patterns.
So what will the Humism Kinetic Art collection cost? If you are quick off the mark, for the first 50 backers the price is €199 or roughly £175 moving to €214 (£188) after those are gone. The expected retail price is €260 (£229) so like most crowdfunding projects significant savings can be made for those who back early. There is a lot of of watch on offer here for the money, this is often the case with micro-brands, they operate on much tighter margins and much less markup is applied to the final price.
This will not be the watch for everyone, traditionalists need not apply, I can see this collection being loved and loathed in equal measure, but I think I come on the side of love mainly because I look upon it as an art piece rather than just a timepiece.
If you would like more information on this watch collection and if you would like to consider backing it, please visit the Kickstarter page.