“It’s not about the notes you play, it’s the notes you don’t play.” – Miles Davis
It’s hard to ignore the success of Unimatic.
With the Modello Uno, their first, released just 5 years ago in 2015, its watches feature restrained designs which achieve a distinct, fresh personality, while incorporating familiar tool watch design elements.
Fine Watches spoke with Giovanni Moro, Unimatic’s co-founder alongside Simone Nunziato, about the independent Italian watch company’s offering and its approach to building its brand. From our conversation, it would seem Unimatic’s success has come from the notes it carefully chooses not to play.
In a market that includes more and more micro/independent brands, from Ressence and Voutilainen, through Baltic and Helson, to hundreds of “Kickstarter watches” every year, Unimatic has earned a highly respected place in the watch world very quickly. What do you put that down to?
I think our luck is a blend between the product, that seems to be appreciated by many different people from a multitude of angles, location, backgrounds, and the no compromise attitude of doing only what we love and following some kind of self-imposed grammar that deploys on programs we launch in, design, communication etc.
You’ve said in other interviews; “We started without a business plan.”, “It started as a game for us.”, “We still think of it as a game. If one day we make millions out of it, we will be happy. Otherwise, it’s still been a hell of a fun ride.”
In an industry where many brands rely on “story” and manufactured “value” this authenticity is exceptional. – The work that must go into creating new models, the varied limited editions & collaborations and very reasonable price point reflect that you are genuine about “seeing the Unimatic game play out” and not just chasing financial success. What is it that drives you to do so?
We love our job, I’m obsessed with it and I’d like to build a 100 years company. It’s not a very contemporary mindset but we are pleased to be different. We make some money out of it but the priceless payback is to be able to connect, through our brand, with so many interesting people and brands all over the world that we couldn’t possibly have reached in any other way.
Despite having a strong authentic brand story to tell around design, acclaim for the company’s product, unique positioning etc., the Unimatic website and social media is bare of any “About Us” brand story copy, nor do you feature yourselves as founders or creators.
Can you tell me more about why you’ve chosen this product forward approach?
As you suggested, we choose to put product forward. There’s a lot of storytelling around about founders who saved the polar bears, brag about their “boldness” and/or “disruptive” skills or redesigned the wheel, etc: we don’t like to read those as customers of other brands, and so we thought of making our own small contribution by not telling more boring tales to the world.
Unimatic is known for a short run approach to production with variants of each model coming out in limited numbers only once. When thinking about the initial designs for Unimatic Modello Uno, and subsequent models, did you consider the design’s versatility/adaptability to special editions and collab “remixes”?
I think that the versatility is somehow embedded in our dry approach to product design. Almost everyone is able to add or at least to imagine their own take, or angle to the “platform” basic model.
So, to provide a more precise answer, we didn’t plan to have specials and collabs on day one, but we thought this could happen one day thanks to the simplicity of our designs.
Unimatic has worked with some iconic designers to create some amazing limited edition collaborations. How do you go about selecting who you want to work with?
We were lucky enough to start our collab program back in the day with Colette (the best possible start ever). This led to a large number of enquiries from many interesting possible partners: with some of them we became friends and found some common DNA traits that we translated into a watch.
We love to work with other companies or individuals and I think it’s a very enriching experience for both Unimatic and ourselves as people.
The brand has received enthusiastic acclaim from the watch community, which is perhaps to be expected, but it has also been recognised by the “design” community, which is notorious for its critical view of new brands and products. Was this an active aim/target market? What do you put the strong reception in the design community down to?
We didn’t scientifically pick our audience, the other way round they picked us. So we should ask them. Again I think is because of the very nature of our design approach and consequential output, Simone and I are both trained as industrial designers and possibly this come through clearly in our watches.
In other interviews you’ve talked about watch designs, brands and models that have had a direct influence on Unimatic’s style, but can you tell us more about other design (perhaps outside of the watch world) and designers (industrial and otherwise) you admire/respect and which may have contributed to Unimatic’s distinctive design language more indirectly?
Among many others I’m a fan of Enzo Mari and Dieter Rams [Author of the 10 principles for good design and creator of the Braun T3 radio, which was famously the inspiration for the first versions of the iPod.] if I had to just pick two.
The “good design” process we try to humbly follow has been mastered by many since the industrial revolution and many fine examples and inspiration can be found in so many everyday “anonymous” objects as well.
Unimatic designs find beauty in simplicity, but it’s clearly more complex than just paring back elements to make the overall design “simple”. What are you looking for or thinking about when refining the elements of a new design to also make it beautiful?
There’s no silver bullet or magic recipe I’m afraid, so we try to follow our design grammar rules and check the overall harmony of the final design.
You are both skilled in interaction as well as industrial design. Some of the best digital UX emphasises ease of use. Did this user interaction and usability thinking come into the designs of the various Unimatic Models?
Sure, we think usability plays a key role in any tool watch and a lot of iterative design improvement has been done before Unimatic. So we tried to learn and take inspiration from the existing items state of the art.
For the quality of both design and build, Unimatic sits at a surprisingly affordable price point, and continues to do so, including for very limited desirable models. Can you elaborate on why this price positioning decision was made, and if the intention is to continue to deliver products at this accessible level?
We would like to keep the quality-price ratio to a rate we would buy if we were customers. This means that beside the price point we will hit, our margins will be what we think is necessary for the company to keep going obviously, and for our research and development to thrive, our goal is to improve design, product and processes release after release.
We first connected over Suprême NTM’s “Ma Benz” and I’ve noticed from your [Giovanni’s] social media you like Hip Hop. If Unimatic was to put out a branded Spotify playlist, what artists, tracks and genres would be included?
Another difficult question! We have very eclectic friends, collectors and customer groups so I think this hybrid soul could reflect in that playlist. I like hip-hop in many of its nuances but this is more related to me personally than to the Unimatic brand itself.
Every watch enthusiast has one or two grails they’d like to own, money no object, can you tell us what they are for you and why?
Custom Unimatic X Ressence Sonnerie. [Not much more can be said about this other than it would likely become an instant grail for collectors everywhere.]
The concept of mastery, or “sticking to one’s knitting”, is a quality that is all too rare today. Not only in the watch market but in branded luxury goods generally. When looking at why new brands are established, or existing ones diversify into product lines which are not what built the brand in the first place, the answer is almost always a cynical commercial motivation.
With only three core models released so far, and a portfolio of collabs with a list of names that would make even the most established of brands envious; Nigel Cabourne, Mihara Yasihiro, NASA and Spongebob Squarepants; it’s exciting to see where Giovanni and Simone take Unimatic next.
No doubt, by continuing to skillfully choosing what notes not to play, the best is yet to come for this exceptionally unusual Italian watchmaker.
Unimatic’s current range and archive of limited editions and collabs can be found on their website here: www.unimaticwatches.com