FIONA KRÜGER IS A DESIGNER IN ARTISTIC AND PRODUCT DESIGN. HER PASSION FOR ARTS AND CRAFTS, HANDMADE OBJECTS AND TRADITION LIES AT THE HEART OF HER WORK. AFTER COMPLETING HER MASTER OF ADVANCED STUDIES IN DESIGN FOR THE LUXURY INDUSTRY AT ECAL IN SWITZERLAND, SHE DECIDED TO DEVELOP HER OWN ‘TIME-ART PIECE‘: THE SKULL WATCH.
Fiona’s unique design process was called a ‘New Metier d’Art‘, the art of transforming mechanical watches into emotional watches. She eventually founded her own independent watch brand with Fiona Krüger Watches a total work of art as a result, with the finest craftsmanship, unmistakable and using the highest precision technology – ‘Swiss Made‘ indeed. Here we ask her a few questions.
Please briefly tell us your story about how your career has begun and how you managed to create your own watch brand.
My background is in Fine Art, I did an Honours degree in Edinburgh (I’m originally from Scotland) before moving to South Africa to work in an Art Gallery. During my time in Johannesburg I was looking at doing a Masters course to get into teaching at university level, and came across a 1 year Masters in Switzerland at ECAL. It was a Masters in Craftsmanship and Design for the Luxury Industry. I applied, and got accepted, and it was on this MA course that I discovered watches. The course was actually sponsored in part by Audemars Piguet at the time, and I had never heard of them! I could only name you one watch brand, and that was Rolex. They asked my class to design a watch for them, so thankfully we did some visits to educate us about their brand and the watch industry. The two which really made an impact on me were the visit to the AP manufacture, where we got the see the amazing men and women who make their movements and assemble their watches.
I thought this was incredible! I’d never seen people working so precisely on such a minute scale before. Already my interest started to grow. We then did a visit to the Patek Philippe Museum, and it was their historical collection which made me completely fall in love with watches. From these visits I started thinking about watchmaking history and time, and to start off my design project I needed a relevant concept. I felt the ideas of time and mortality were more relevant than ever for a mechanical watch, and the symbol of the skull had been used a lot in horological history. In my research I came across the Skull pocket watch of Mary Queen of Scots (it’s stunning!) and then discovered that skull-shaped pocket watches were the ‘hot‘ accessory for ladies in the 16th and 17th centuries. So that was the start of my design (I actually completely forgot I was supposed to be designing for AP at this point). After the end of the workshop I decided to produce a working prototype of my design for my Masters project, and through my teacher at ECAL I found out about Peter Speake Marin. I went to meet him at the end of Baselworld 2011 and showed him my project, telling him I wanted to make a working prototype for my diploma presentation (which was about 6 weeks away at that stage). He listened, gave me some advice and some supplier contacts and told me if I could get all my parts made he would do my assembly and give me a set of his watch hands if I needed them. So I spend 4 weeks chasing suppliers and turned up one morning at his workshop – he assembled my piece and about a week later I presented it to a diploma jury which included Max Busser.
I got my MA degree with distinction thanks to that project, and started working at the university right after that. At the same time I had people contacting me asking if they could buy the watch, so I spent 2 years finding the right artisans and suppliers I could work with to try and transform what was a student project into a real product. Everything came together in August 2013 and I launched a small production of 12 pieces, which is how the company started… since then I’ve developed new designs, worked with the best retailers worldwide and spoken with the top people in the watchmaking press. They’ve all been very supportive, which has been fantastic.
Why did you decide to create watches with the design of a skull – does there exist an individual story for this USP?
The inspiration came from horological history and the importance the skull symbol and skeletons have played in it. As I mentioned above, the concept of time and mortality seems particularly relevant when thinking about a mechanical watch in today’s world, and the skull symbol is internationally recognised. That was important to me in coming up with the design – that anyone regardless of culture or language could relate to my watch. There’s a writer called Faye Dowling who said ‘The skull is the ultimate symbol of life, death and human experience‘ – what more perfect inspiration for the design of a machine which tells time?!
What distinguishes you and your company from other watch manufacturers?
I’d say my way of working and the fact that I’m a complete outsider. With regards to the designs, the best description of what I do is that it’s an ‘artistic approach to Haute Horlogerie‘. I look at watches with an artist’s eye, so when I look at a mechanical movement I see pattern, when I look at guillochage I see light and shadow…so it means the way I design my watches might be a little different to the way a watchmaker would. With regards to myself: I’m a woman, Scottish, not from a watchmaking background and when I started on this journey I was only 25. That’s not the ‘typical‘ profile of someone with their own watch brand! I was a onewoman company until this year when my husband came on board, we have no investors, it’s literally the two of us, and my sketchbook. Our goal with our creations is to make people smile, to work with the best artisans in the industry and highlight their skills through the pieces we create. I genuinely love the Swiss watch industry – it has such a rich heritage and incredibly creative history, and that’s what I want to tap into in my watches.
What makes your products unique and how easy is it for you to constantly develop your products and the design?
I think our artistic approach is what makes our pieces unique – we only work with the best artisans and suppliers in Switzerland as we’re passionate about keeping those skills and traditions alive and challenging them through our creations too. It’s a real collaboration which, as a designer, is so inspiring and is completely driven by creativity and craftsmanship. Coming up with new ideas and developing them is a pleasure and an exciting challenge when working with the amazing people I get to work with – that’s the fun part! We’re only limited by the time we have and as a small company we need to manage our finances carefully – as do all independent brands.
What plans do you have for the future and is there already an idea for something new?
We have lots of exciting things coming up! I’ve worked on a piece for Fabergé – a fantastic brand with a real vision for their watches, again based on the same values of creativity and craftsmanship. I’m really excited about this as we’ve pushed things aesthetically whilst using very traditional Haute Horlogerie decorative techniques. I think thiscontrast is really exciting and Aurelie Picaud (she’s the head of watches at Fabergé) isn’t afraid to be innovative, which is great. This is a project where I have worked with them personally as a designer for Fabergé. As a brand we’ve also collaborated with L’EPEE – we have a new Wall Clock which is coming out this year. Again, a fantastic brand to work with, and these pieces are cocreated by L’EPEE and Fiona Krüger Timepieces. Working on another mechanical creation but at a different scale has been great, and L’EPEE are all about creativity and doing something unexpected, so it’s a great partnership too. With regard to our watches, we have a new piece from our current Skull collection which we are launching this year – it’s another fun, vibrant piece which I think will make people smile. I’m also developing a new line of watches with their own concept and new shape which should be launched next year.