Those who know a thing or two about watch design, or perhaps an enthusiast or collector with a keen eye, will certainly realise that designing a new watch collection from scratch is incredibly difficult. To get the balance of a design just right, and to create a stand-alone design, are notoriously hard things to do. All the more praise to those who manage to pull off such a tricky task. One such designer is the founder and owner of DIETRICH Watches, Emmanuel Dietrich, who we’ll be talking to today.
Robin Nooij, MONOCHROME – Emmanuel, thank you for freeing up time to talk to us. How are you doing, in light of all the global challenges?
Emmanuel Dietrich, founder of DIETRICH Watches – Thank you for having me. Indeed, the past year has been a very strange time for many of us, and I feel especially for any entrepreneur. However, it is also a good time for us all to regroup, reinvent our business direction and experiment. From my experience, being in a crisis also helps you consolidate your business partners and activities which will always pay off in the long run.
As for DIETRICH, we have made the decision to consolidate all of our retail distribution channels and focused 100% on our online store. I am also quite excited to announce that apart from the latest SD-1 release, we are also working on a very interesting project we call ATELIER, which is a virtual space we have (unofficially) launched solely dedicated to the creation of bespoke watches. We will reveal more details soon.
Sounds very intriguing! But now we have this new DIETRICH SD-1 Skin Diver collection, which looks quite cool. How did this collection come about?
The idea of the SD-1 Skin Diver came with the desire to change up DIETRICH’s brand direction. From now on DIETRICH will focus solely on reinterpreting iconic watch archetypes from the past, where ATELIER will take on the more avant-garde projects. With the SD-1, we chose the skin diver template for this first attempt because it seemed very in line with the market expectations and customer tastes at this time.
The skin diver generally has a very clean and simple format to work with. We see a lot of potential in this particular archetype as well, it has a very universal appeal which is coupled with a certain touch of charm and elegance.
The DIETRICH SD-1 Skin Diver has been quite the hit already, what more can we expect from this collection in the future?
After the success of the first capsule batch, we are now still contemplating how we should continue the collection’s lineage. It will be a staple part of the brand for sure, but we would like to keep production numbers limited in order to stay true to what DIETRICH stands for – a sign of recognition and desire to stand out from the crowd, a conversation-starter for anyone who owns an SD-1.
It has been a while since we’ve seen something entirely new from you, after the Organic Time and the Time Companion. What have you been doing since, apart from the SD-1 Skin Diver?
As I have mentioned earlier, apart from the SD-1, we are also working on a project we now call ATELIER. Personally, I am also still designing for other brands and projects within the horological space as well as in the furniture space, so you will definitely see me all over the place even outside of the world of watches.
For me, my passion is beyond than just watches, it is design, and that is such a vast space in itself. At times I find myself distracted from the world of watches, which is why I am also preparing my small team to run and operate DIETRICH independently on their own eventually.
So how did you find your way into watches actually, and what led to launching your own brand?
I was born in the watchmaking capital in France (Besançon), and with family roots in Biel, it was somehow in my blood. One of the people I learned the most from was a friend of my parents who worked as a watch prototypist at LIP. When I went freelance at the age of 23, I immediately started to contact watch companies to propose my designs and I got lucky with Hermès. The “Harnais” watch was launched in 1997, this reference opened up a lot of other doors and opportunities for me.
After 15 years of designing for big names, it was logical for me to finally realise my dream of shaping my own universe in the horological space. When you design for major brands, it is a fantastic experience because you meet great people and receive a strong briefing, but at some point, you will develop a desire to find your own voice… at least that was what I experienced.
You’re often described as a bit of a maverick, not afraid of venturing into the unknown. What drives you in designing and watchmaking?
As far as I can recall, I have always wanted (and tried) to reinvent objects around me. As a kid, rather than playing around with other kids, I preferred to hang around carpenters or the tractor mechanic (who was still forging horseshoes all by himself) of the village I lived in. I have always been fascinated with the work they did, I would then imitate their gestures in my tiny makeshift workshop which I built for myself.
I also learned cabinet-making at school, then went to Paris to graduate in interior design, but my passion for redesigning objects eventually drew me back to product design. When I finally reached that point in my career, I kept pushing my limits as a designer and the boundaries of what was possible.
There were definitely some moments where I pushed too far and too fast, but that to me is the most exciting part of my job. Even with the most difficult design briefings, I always believed that there are a thousand possibilities.
What attracts you personally in watches, and how does that reflect in your designs?
A watch is a very special object because it unites the most refined technics in design with utmost aesthetic-driven exigence. What fascinates me the most is their resilience and incredible sustainability. You can probably find a watch that is a century-old, wind it up a little and it will probably start ticking.
In my mind, no other object I know of is capable of such a feat. Additionally, me being somewhat of a dreamer myself, I have always loved toying with the idea of creating a little universe in the form of a micro landscape, and to me the best medium to achieve that was with a watch. This is an element I have always tried to cultivate in my designs. I try to give as much depth and detail within the ‘inner space’ of my watches.
For example, the sapphire dial of the SD-1 was an element that lent a lot of depth and complexity to what seemed like a simple design. It was a very difficult feature to manufacture in a watch, but the SD-1 was a combination of depth, transparency, mirrored surfaces, fume, Super-LumiNova, a well-integrated date window etc all in one single package. This is an example of what I try to achieve in a watch design.
Regarding previous collections, might there be future releases in the spirit of the Organic Time or the Time Companion, or are those closed books for you?
They are definitely not closed books. In fact, I see them as an integral part of DIETRICH’s history. Without these designs, the SD-1 today would look very different. If you look closer, some parts of the Organic Time and the Time Companion are very much alive in the SD-1, i.e the hands of the Organic Time, the bracelet of the Time Companion.
Even so, there is still a possibility of a rebirth for these two beloved models in the future, who knows. But as a designer, I would very much prefer to create something from scratch instead of reissuing something that has already been done before. The excitement in developing something from scratch is what I live for.
Any final thoughts to share with us?
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our customers for all the support they have given us this year. Being directly in touch with them has been extremely rewarding for me and it has widened our horizons as a small independent brand. DIETRICH will continue to do our best moving forward. Thank you for sharing my passion.
For more information, please visit Dietrich.com.