The exclusive Life of a WIS interview series continues with my second guest: Fiona Krüger, Founder of Fiona Krüger Timepieces. I met her for the first time in September this year while she was on her business trip visiting Los Angeles. Produced completely in Switzerland and in limited quantities, these timepieces are both unique and bold.
BRIAN: First of all, thank you for allowing me to interview and feature you on my website. When did you discover your passion for watches?
FIONA: When I went to Switzerland to do my Masters. I went to a university called ECAL and did the Master's of Advanced Studies in Design for Luxury and Craftsmanship. During my studies we were asked by Audemars Piguet to design a watch for them, and it was the visit to their manufacture in La Chaux de Fonds and the visit to the Patek Philippe museum in Geneva that really made me fall in love with the world of watchmaking.
Which watches do you currently own?
My own! I only actually own one of my own watches and that's it. Though I do have a short wishlist from other brands...
Which was your first significant watch? Any interesting story or significance behind it?
I'll say that there are 2 watches which made a great impact on me - the 16th Century Skull watch given to Mary Queen of Scotts. It's a beautiful piece, very poetic and more like a miniature sculpture really. It was one of the watches which inspired my own design and really speaks to me about emotive/human design in the watch industry. I think it's even more relevant now than it was back then because we live in a time where a watch is no longer a practical necessity, so the themes the piece encapsulates become, for me, a focal point. The second is the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Extra Thin in steel - either with a grey dial or with a skeletonized movement. I just think it's a perfect watch in terms of pure design. Elegant, not flashy but clearly speaks of quality. And unfortunately there are no "woman's watches" on the market that I would buy - this one ticks all the boxes. I love the steel version, the quality for me is not about having a piece made in gold or covered in diamonds, but rather how they work with the materials. I think the humility of steel as a material perfectly highlights the brand's skill in terms of design and finishing.
Please tell us more about your brand and how it all started.
My brand stemmed from the original idea I had as a student designing a watch - I came at it from a very artistic point of view (my background is actually in Fine Art), and so I wanted to design a watch around a relevant concept. The ideas of time and mortality has been tacked in watchmaking since the beginning, and the themes are synonymous in my mind. So it made sense to design a piece around these ideas in the most direct way possible, and the symbol of the skull did this for me. It's a universally recognized symbol, and so the design stemmed from there. My brand is evolving around the design. So currently the "Skull" watch is what I am working on, with several variations planned over the coming years, each one being completely different from the one before. My main objective is to combine the aesthetics part of the watch with the mechanics - I think when you can achieve that as a watch designer, that's when the really interesting stuff happens. I have plans for watches which are not necessarily skull shaped, but stem from the same design philosophy and aesthetics. I want to make pieces which are emotive, poetic, and perfectly made - true objects of desire.
What were you doing before Fiona Krüger Timepieces?
I still currently work part-time at ECAL. I'm part of the teaching staff for the MAS Luxury course. Before, I was living and working in Johannesburg in an Art Gallery and a lighting design company.
What was your inspiration behind the design of the Skull watch and Black Skull watch?
As I mentioned, my inspiration came from the general themes of time and mortality. In terms of the aesthetics of the design I was inspired by three things: mechanical movements (I think even the most simple mechanical movements are beautiful and they are, in my opinion, the most important part of the watch), the skeletonization process (which I witnessed for the first time during my visit to Audemars Piguet), and the Mexican "Dia de los Muertos" celebration (I lived in Mexico for 3 years as a child and this celebration is one of the things I remember the most). These things informed my choice of materials and finishing (I wanted the aesthetics of the watches to mimic that of the movement inside) and the built-up layering of the skull, which reflects the construction of a watch movement and allowed me to play with pattern too.
Where do you find your inspiration for watch designs?
Inspiration can really come from anything. I look at things which are not related to watches - it can either be a general theme or idea which sparks off my research, or an artist I have seen, or even the finishes, processes and effects which different materials and production techniques can produce.
What do you most enjoy about having your own watch brand?
The creative potential and freedom - I am my own client and so I can design what I like. It's amazing to see something which started out as a drawing in my sketchbook turn into a real product. That's really exciting. I also very much enjoy the collaborative process with my suppliers. It's really a partnership and I love going to visit them and talking to them about the watches. I learn so much from them and together we push each other to produce the best watches we can. I think not being from the watch world has been a big help actually, as I am totally unaware of the "rules" of the industry, so I am able to come up with new ideas easily and in doing so push my suppliers out of their comfort zone. At the same time I learn a lot from them in terms of the production techniques available and they help me to ensure that we achieve the best quality possible and the most beautiful watches.
What makes Fiona Krüger Timepieces different from the other brands?
I think there's a few things - the watches stem from an emotive and purely creative starting point. No marketing brief or sales strategy. This in itself leads to a more pure and unique design. I think with this first collection the iconic skull shape is also one of the clear things which distinguish my watches. Many brands have produced watches which use the skull as decoration, but none have made a watch that is itself a skull. The themes which are apparent in my watch are also as relevant today as they were 400 years ago! As Faye XXX said, "the Skull has survived decades of cultural revolution to remain the ultimate symbol of life, death, and human experience." A perfect starting point for the design of a timepiece if you ask me. Finally, I think that my profile and background also make the brand unique as I haven't yet met any other Scottish women under 30 from a Fine Arts background who are designing and producing their own watches!
What is next for Fiona Krüger Timepieces?
The new Black Skull limited edition is about to be completed (the first pieces have already been shipped out to clients) and the response has been fantastic, so I'm really pleased about that! I am already developing new designs for next year, playing more with color and pattern, incorporating an automatic movement and opening up the case back. I'm really excited about these new designs. I have plans in the pipeline to push the look of the skull even further and also to start to play with the mechanics of the watches. I have a lot of ideas and I am in discussions about how best to bring these to life. I'm also passionate about designing women's watches - it's a part of the market which a lot of brands are talking about but I'm not seeing much action yet. Currently I think a lot of brands, even though they have good intentions and great designers, are designing girly watches rather than feminine watches, and there's a big difference! It would be amazing to work with a brand on their women's designs as a lot of them have an incredible pool of talented people to work with (in production and design). I know great things can be achieved - it just depends who's going to be the first to do it, and I want to be a part of that journey.
Where would you like to see your brand in the next few years?
I would like more people to know about my watches and what they stand for. I have some amazing retail partners at the moment and it would be fantastic to extend that network in Asia and the Middle East. I have had a lot of inquiries from these countries, so it's just a case of finding the right retail partner as I've been able to do with Chronopassion in Paris and WestTime in LA. My interest is not to be everywhere, but rather to be with the right partners to allow me to develop special watches for people to fall in love with.
Any plans for a more "mainstream" looking watch in the future? Or will all Fiona Krüger Timepieces always be recognizable for its unique designs?
I think unique design is part of what makes the brand special - it's also just naturally how I design, I can't help it! But I have come up with more classic designs in the past, and this is also something I could easily do for the right brand. The point of the designs is not to be "out there" just for the sake of it - the design is a natural evolution from the original concept, theme, or idea I'm exploring, some of which are more suited to a classic round or square shape.
If you have one, what is your grail piece and why?
I'm going to say two: the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak extra thin in steel and the Mary Queen of Scotts Skull watch. They were the two watches which were part of why I fell in love with watchmaking in the first instance.
What would you like to see more of in the women's segment from other brands?
Less girly watches and more watches for women. I'd also like to see more ladies options with mechanical movements rather than quartz (women can and do appreciate mechanics!). A lot of women I know don't relate to the products which are on offer to them and would rather buy a man's watch. So I think there is a lot of work to be done in this segment, but what an incredible opportunity! And with the women's market growing and becoming more and more interested in watches, brands should be looking at this now before they fall behind. It would be great for brands to involve women in the discussion about watches and the world of watchmaking, and I would love to be a part of that.
Tell us something about yourself.
I love a good laugh more than anything (a good sense of humor is a big part of being Scottish!) and traveling. Visiting local markets is my favorite past-time. On this last trip to Mexico, I bought so many crafts and beautifully hand-made things I had to ship them back... my husband was thrilled.
All photos in this post from Fiona Krüger Timepieces and used with permission.