Some of the best watches today are the accessible ones and it’s amazing what brands have been releasing for well under EUR 1,000. Look no further than pieces like the Baltic MR01 micro-rotor, Seiko 5 SRPG27 and Humism Rhizome. London-based Mr. Jones falls into this category with artsy and positively fun watches with wild dials, jumping hours and serious collaborations with global artists. The brand is celebrating its 15th anniversary in July and released a fun t-shirt honouring the office dog, Stanley the Dachshund. It’s creative and on-brand, but the watches themselves have defined Mr. Jones as an affordable brand where eye-catching art meets time.
Founded in 2007 by Crispin Jones, the brand has always focused on unusual ways to show time with an emphasis on art and expression. Crispin recognizes that everyone has a phone in their pocket and time is everywhere – in the car, on the computer screen and so on. This frees him a bit from designing purely functional pieces, allowing form to rise over function. Of course, all Mr. Jones watches accurately tell time, but the layman may have to take a second (or third) look to understand how. And that’s what makes these watches great. He’s grown a small team in his hometown of London to design and assemble both limited editions and standard collections, and around 150 different watches have been released to date. He’s collaborated with almost 30 designers and illustrators, and jumping hours are often used to complement the dials. Time might be shown via the score on a pinball machine or numbers on a skull’s teeth.
Crispin’s background is in fine arts with a master’s in interactive design that focused on the creative use of technology. This ultimately led him to Mr. Jones Watches. Most of his peers were graphic or product designers, and he initially struggled to find his place within that dynamic. This was the dawn of the 21st century, when email wasn’t ubiquitous and the iPhone was far off, and Crispin experimented with ideas like mobile phones that gave electric shocks based on the volume of the caller (to increase awareness of others around you). It wasn’t practical, of course, but an exploration of the cultural use of mobile phones. He needed to find an established field where he could utilize his skills and education, but also pay the bills. Watches became a good fit. Initially, he continued experimenting with the cultural and interactive aspect, like a watch with a built-in lie detector. The goal, however, was to create an affordable watch brand that didn’t ride on the coattails of established industry aesthetics – watches trying to copy the look of more expensive Swiss counterparts.
He found a factory that would produce a minimum order of 500 watch cases with the freedom to have many variations within the batch. The decision was made to produce five limited edition watches of 100 each with laser-engraved edition numbers, but the use of transparent discs with printed designs separated one series from the rest. It sold out quickly and that’s what customers continued to request. He reissued the design with a few changes and made it more permanent (without edition numbers on the case back) and the rest is history.
The last laugh
Incorporating time within a pictorial image is the focus of Mr. Jones today and The Last Laugh series really personifies that. Images of skulls define this collection with time shown on the upper and lower teeth. Jumping hours are seen at the top with a minute disc at the bottom. The Last Laugh is a relatively simple design with a skull’s face against a white background. The eyes and nose are a thin foil of palladium, while the open mouth has the time. A much more colourful and detailed variant is The Last Laugh Tattoo, which was designed by British tattoo artist Adrian Willard. It has a Mexican Day of the Dead theme, a holiday celebrated on November 1st and 2nd that’s a festive tribute to friends and family members who died. This particular model is my favourite Mr. Jones piece and really represents the ethos of the brand.
All models in The Last Laugh series are powered by a Seagull ST1721 automatic with jumping hours and a minute disc. It has 20 jewels and a 42-hour power reserve, and to properly align the time elements within the mouth, the movement was rotated 180 degrees (the crown is on the left side). It can be manually wound backwards (counterclockwise) and a smaller, signed faux crown sits on the right side for balance. The stainless steel cases are 37mm in diameter, but 46mm lug-to-lug, so they have a bolder presence on the wrist than expected. There’s a sapphire crystal, solid case back, 50 metres of water resistance and comfortable 18mm leather straps.
The Last Laugh case is polished, while The Last Laugh Tattoo has a black PVD coating. Both models retail for USD 295. A special edition called The Gilded Skull is a variant of the Tattoo with palladium and white/yellow gold gilded on the underside of the glass. Case options are polished steel or black PVD as well, and they retail for USD 365. Solid prices for such unusual, eye-catching pieces with jumping hours.
An incredible Variety
The Last Laugh collection is just the tip of the iceberg as there are over two dozen models with wild themes. Ricochet, for example, shows three metallic robots playing pinball with the time displayed as the score via jumping hours and a minute disc (Seagull ST1721). Each robot is coloured with hand-applied yellow gold, rose gold or palladium foil, and the metallic sheen really pops. Award-winning American Comics Creator and professor at Michigan State University, Ryan Claytor, designed the dial. Much of his work focuses on the history of pinball and arcade games prior to 1978. Ricochet retails for USD 365.
Vingt Mille shows a giant squid over a watery blue dial. It pays homage to Captain Nemo and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Award-winning designer Fanny Shorter created the original artwork in pen and ink, which was reduced to the scale of the watch face. Hours and minutes are shown by two different tentacles, each holding a captured crewman. It retails for USD 255.
Other popular models include “a perfectly useless afternoon” with someone lounging on a raft in their pool with a small plastic duck. The figure’s outstretched leg shows the hours, while the floating duck shows the minutes. There’s also “a perfectly useless morning” with an ariel view of a clearing surrounded by trees. A flying bird shows the minutes, while a falling leaf shows the hours. It’s a whimsical theme with a curled-up fox and additional falling leaves. Both dials were designed by award-winning Belgian illustrator/author Kristof Devos, who creates children’s books of all ages.
Stanley’s hot dogs T-shirt
As mentioned earlier, a fun t-shirt celebrating Crispin’s office dog, Stanley, was designed specifically for the 15th anniversary. Instead of a special edition watch, the team decided that a t-shirt would be best as it’s very accessible at USD 35 and a creative addition to the portfolio. A special artist wasn’t commissioned for this one as the brand’s general manager, Ellie McAllister, took the reins. It was an exciting experience as she explains, “My role revolves around admin tasks, so I loved being able to channel my energy into design!” The shirt is eye-catching and fun, resembling something from a hotdog or burger stand. Also, the brand plans on more shirts later this year, so keep a lookout. All shirts are 100% organic cotton and printed in the UK by Sea Dog, an experienced screen printer and studio.
Happy anniversary to Mr. Jones Watches! This is a cool one for me as I’ve been a fan of the brand for many years. Check them out at mrjoneswatches.com and perhaps grab a Stanley’s Hot Dogs t-shirt. It’s a Dachshund, how can you resist.