In the annual list of GPHG finalists, one name stood out this year — David Rutten. It’s not often that a rookie watchmaker makes the final shortlist, the incongruity was further underscored by the choice of case material for the fledgling brand’s first timepiece, a Octahedrite meteorite. While it’s not the first time that space debris has been used in a watch, David Rutten’s first watch, called Streamline Meteorite, with its retro-futuristic design warrants a closer look.
Rutten is a 45-year-old designer from Brussels, Belgium. He grew up on a steady diet of science fiction tales and was interested in design from a very young age. He is an alumni of the National High School of Visual Arts of La Cambre, one of Belgium's leading schools of art and design. Incidentally, his senior project at La Cambre involved the creation of a watch.
He cites Bauhaus, Brutalism, Art-Deco, retro science-fiction, but above all Victor Horta as key influences in his work. Horta, one of the founders of the Art Nouveau movement, was a strong influence. In particular, his concept of working on an object in all its dimensions and details (Horta would famously design the house with everything in it: furniture, decoration, accessories and all).
Streamline Metorite is an aperture watch, a design that was popular in the 1930s. The design of the case is inspired by Streamlining, a style that grew out of the Art-Deco movement and dominated American design from the 1930s to 50s. The case, made of meteorite, has a fluted surface and apertures for the jumping hours and minutes indication. The caseback is made from titanium and the watch is run by a movement sourced from British watchmaker Christopher Ward.
Here’s Rutten himself telling us more about his timepiece.
Did you have any reservations about launching a micro-brand?
My senior project at La Cambre was a watch. My relationship with watches and space goes back a long way. The Streamline was born from the profound desire of creating an ultimate watch. I wanted to consider and perfect each and every detail, from design and ergonomics to typography and packaging. I am very attached to Viktor Horta’s concept of total artwork. My encounter with Malik Bahri [Eds note: Bahri is a watch blogger who is part of the company now] was decisive in the achieving of this ambitious project, as in the building up of the brand. David Rutten is above all an inseparable duo.
How hard was it to acquire the meteorite?
I am passionate about astronomy, and I have been collecting meteorites for 15 years. I buy them from meteorite hunters — modern-time Indiana Jones like characters combing the world for this exceptional metal, most of the time in deserts where it is more likely to be found, be it in North Sahara or Mexico.
Due to its rarity, getting a piece of it is extremely challenging. It is particularly true for Octahedrites, which are for me the most beautiful. This is where my expertise and network come into play. We intend to be transparent, but you will never get the name of our “Indiana Jones”.
Your choice of movement is an interesting one. Tell us more about it.
Our first priority was to avoid casing up an ETA Valjoux movement into a watch machined from a precious metal that is thousand times rare than gold. Besides, our caliber partner had to be able to provide us with a large movement as well as a jumping-hour complication.
Christopher Ward was the only one with this technology and able to make this key element of the Streamline available to us. The SH21 movement features great qualities: it is manual-winding (which means no rotor hiding the octahedrite-form cutting of the main bridge), 5-days power reserve and large size filling the whole case.
You have an interesting subscription offer which is taking a page out of the watchmakers of yore. Why did you decide to go with this approach?
We offer our customers a chance to participate in the manufacturing of the watches, in order to avoid having to skimp on money and reduce the quality, or tarnish the artistic process. The series production of such a watch requires a collective effort for the start-up of our brand.
What does a GPHG nomination mean to you? What has been the feedback from the industry.
I will not deny, it would be a great pleasure to be rewarded by this institution, as it is made up of experts from a variety of fields. That would send a strong signal, as it would mean recognizing boldness and artistic process as strong values of watchmaking. [Eds Note: The Streamline Meteorite is nominated in the "Petite Aiguille” category]
We have the support of our industrial collaborators, and they are very positive about the Streamline. It’s an offbeat product, quite different from what they were used to. This watch tells the beautiful story of the creation of the universe, of retro futurist design and of this extra-terrestrial material.
What’s next for the company?
The DR-02 is in the works, and it’s going to put everyone in agreement. It will more or less be round, and will feature meteorite on the case and the bracelet. After having revisited the 1930s, we are now moving on to the 70s. We’ll bring out a new model every two years, to give each creation time to live a life on its own and find a receptive audience.
For more information about the Streamline Meteorite, visit the website davidrutten.com