Time honoured: Braun designer Dietrich Lubs resurrects the classic AW 10 watch
If ever a watch comes with truly significant design history built in, then it is Braun’s AW 10 from 1989. Braun’s designs – from audio equipment to pocket calculators – have been lauded everywhere from MoMA catalogues to Jony Ive interviews, but it is arguably in the wristwatch that Braun’s design language found its most concentrated expression. Dietrich Lubs joined Dieter Rams’ design team at Braun in 1962 and worked on many of its classic watch and clock designs. Lubs’ horological thinking has become the template for what a wristwatch should be – so much so that it’s spawned a legion of imitators.
But now, 30 years later, the AW 10 is back, Lubs has returned to Braun and he is keen to explain the launch of a larger-size model. The new watch is a direct response to last year’s re-edition of the original 33.35mm AW 10. According to Lubs, ‘People told us: “I love it, but it’s too small.” And 30 years ago, watches were small; they weren’t fashion instruments, they were a product to tell the time.’
The original AW 10 was a distillation of Braun’s minimalist, geometric designs for alarm clocks and radios dating back to the 1970s. Allied to the superior materials that were available in the 1980s, the distinctive monochrome (but for the yellow second hand) dial was paired with a bezel ring made with a newly available reinforced plastic. An extremely slim, 8mm profile was created by seating the crown as low as possible in the case. The watch’s one bit of exuberance was the boxy lugs, a nod towards the integrated bracelet watches that were still dominating watch design in the 1980s. Despite its success, the AW 10 (and the later, even more minimalist AW 50) disappeared from sight in the 1990s as watch design moved towards smoother, organic shapes.
In the new design, detail changes are subtle but essential: ‘We couldn’t just make a bigger version of the original. The design had to change to quite an extent.’ Lubs describes the new watch as having ‘all the character of the AW 10’ with elements such as the angle of the lugs and the size of the date window changing to accommodate the new scale. ‘With the black version, the font is made bold – it looks more masculine, and we found the fine lines were disappearing and it lacked presence because the black visually compresses the other design aspects,’ explains the designer. ‘Balance is key, so the graphics and printing all had to change. The black ring around the dial masks out the light and looks more compact.’ Other minor adjustments, such as the ventilated strap, reflect Braun’s obsessive attention to detail.
This larger-size AW 10 is Lubs’ first new watch design in almost two decades. But it’s clear that the design process remains rooted in the hand-drawn culture that underlaid Braun’s decidedly forward-looking aesthetic. ‘I like the computer and don’t like the computer,’ the 81-year old designer confesses. ‘It’s very quick for changes, but it’s reductive. You must have a very strong character as a designer not to be seduced by it and end up with random design.’
Lubs is pleased with his return. ‘I like the geometry of the new design,’ he says. ‘The way it works is that my drawings are scanned into the Braun computers. The CAD software then makes its own suggestions. It said my lug angle would not work, so I redesigned it rather than letting the computer do it, but we work in parallel – the designers and engineers. It’s 17 years since I last designed a watch. I cannot lose the desire; it’s my life.’ §