Monochrome Watches
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The Puzzling, Distinctive Kollokium Projekt 01 Variant B

A horological UFO where form precedes function, but doesn't counteract it either...

| By Brice Goulard | 8 min read |

The name Kollokium might not sound familiar to most of our readers. What is Kollokium…? Is it a brand? Not really. It’s a collaborative project between three friends, all fairly established names within the watch industry. Even the good people behind this venture aren’t sure what Kollokium really is. “This is where it all begins – and maybe ends.” What’s certain is that, with this Projekt 01 Variant B, we’re looking at a proper horological UFO. A time-telling object that looks at things from a very different perspective. And, in a world where standardization seems to rule, it is refreshing.

Behind Kollokium are Manuel Emch (a man behind the rebirth of Jaquet Droz, but also Romain Jerome, Raketa and Louis Erard), Barth Nussbaumer (a respected watch designer) and Amr Sindi (aka The Horophile). In their own words, Kollokium is not a brand. It is a creative platform created by this trio with no real strategy other than enjoying creativity. They claim to have no defined artistic direction, no rehashed history, and no constraints. Freedom is the operative word here, and Kollokium responds to architectural, artistic and design impulses that inspire the founders. As they say, Kollokium is not so much a stylistic exercise but a mood.

Kollokium’s founders: Amr Sindi, Barth Nussbaumer and Manuel Emch.

In watchmaking and industrial design in general, we often hear the motto “form follows function” (which is often credited to architect Louis Sullivan, resuming Viollet-le-Duc’s theories). The whole idea is that practicality, functionality and rationality in the design often lead to well-designed objects, in opposition to ornamentation where design takes over functionality. Some great examples of this theory can be found in watchmaking… The Speedmaster, designed to be efficient in space, but nevertheless highly appealing. The watches of Max Bill are also great examples. Or even the first models designed by Ferdinand Alexander Porsche.

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The overall concept

With its Projekt 01, Kollokium looks at things from a different angle. It’s a watch with first and foremost a design concept in mind. It seems, at first, that we’re looking at an object where form has preceded function. Yet, it is also a superb example of what lo-fi design is, and the final result is a time-telling item that doesn’t compromise on functionality. And that makes this watch novel, fresh, odd, distinctive and quite fascinating.

The “friends and family” Kollokium Projekt 01 Variant A

The Kollokium Projekt 01 was first released in late 2023 in a limited run of 99 watches for friends and family of the three founders, not for the general public. What we’re looking at today is the Variant B, a 199-piece limited edition that was (sorry) available for purchase but is now sold out. More on that disappointment later. The Variant B is mostly identical, with small updates to make it different…

The slightly updated Kollokium Projekt 01 Variant B

So, what does this “work of transhumanism” look like? Well, the short answer is “it looks like nothing else” and has such as distinctive feel to it. It’s industrial, brutal and raw, but at the same time overly designed and refined in the smallest details. It’s a clever watch too, with some elements that appear far more function-driven than one might think at first. It mixes elements of industrial design with geek culture and 1980s vibe. Can I define it…? Not really. And it doesn’t really matter.

A die-cast steel case

Most watches are made from either milled, machined or stamped stainless steel, processes that give their shapes to the cases. Kollokium has decided to keep things deceptively unadorned and utilitarian, while at the same time using a process that’s hardly known from watchmaking; die casting. Clearly a deliberate far cry from the conventional polished and satin-brushed finishings we often see, the case was desired to boast practically no finishing or embellishment, and instead feature a uniform, industrial steel tool-like appearance. Casting has yet a certain beauty, resulting in a matte, organic texture with almost no sharp angles.

Yet, the case and its overall highly rational conception are not that simple. First, the texture is somehow unheard of… Not really matte, not frosted, not grained, it has on the other hand a real tactility. The shape isn’t just a case either. Look at the Kollokium Projekt 01  closely and you’ll see that there’s complexity in the lugs and the side profile. Even the font used on the band is not there for the decorum… It’s almost like a necessary reference for storage. And this industriality is what makes the Projekt 01 such a distinctive watch. “Die-cast steel in all its industrial glory” to quote the trio.

Look at the back of the watch and you’ll see something that perfectly summarizes the mood of Kollokium’s team; “basically a Swiss made watch that can get wet” is what you’ll read. But with a 30m water-resistance, don’t get it soaked either. What matters is the hard no-frill experience, a combination of brutalism and tactile experience. The other element of interest here is the crystal, or should I call it a cylindrical cover that closes the case and frames the dial. Once again, it’s slightly unconventional (specifically in this price range) and adds to the softness of the experience, despite the visual roughness.

The comfort on the wrist is rather exceptional. The Kollokium Projekt 01 isn’t only compact with its 40mm diameter and short lugs, but it’s also light and pleasant to the touch, and to the skin. This is even reinforced by the low centre of gravity and the elastic strap with a hook-like buckle that allows the watch to stay firmly in place without the feeling of being tight.

A puzzling dial made to disturb the eye

When I said that this watch was about form before function, this can be seen clearly on the dial. Is this pin art from the 1980s? A graphical representation of a sound wave? A miniature cityscape? A pixelated image to be deciphered? Maybe one of those visual tests used to diagnose colour blindness…? It’s actually a clever 3D reconstruction of an intentionally pixelated image rendered by Adobe Illustrator, made to intentionally puzzle your mind. You might not see it at first, but the apparent mess of this dial is highly intentional and far more organized than you think at first. Look closely, maybe squint your eyes a bit, and the 12 hour markers will appear, with batons for the cardinal hours and circles for the others.

This watch tricks you and puzzles you in a rather artistic way. In reality, the dial of the Kollokium Projekt 01 is highly complex. It is composed of a subtly textured black base set with 468 individually hand-applied cylindrical elements, which come in six different diameters and heights, positioned precisely to create the effect of a “normal” display. Each of these cylinders is sandblasted, then filled with white Super-LumiNova with a blue emission – this is the first difference with the Variant A, which has orange emitting SLN. The second main difference is the seconds hand, now matching the monochromatic theme of the dial, while the Variant A featured a red-coloured hand.

To counteract this optical illusion and to ensure optimal legibility, oblong-shaped hour and minute hands have been created with black centre parts and white Super-LumiNova outlines. They are thus creating a negative image of a hand – even if, at night, the legibility is slightly compromised. The beauty of this watch comes from the puzzling experience, a moment when you don’t really understand what you’re looking at and, at the same time, you know exactly that it’s a watch that tells the time.

Also surprising (or not) is the amount of reactions that this watch generates. Not necessarily positive at first, but more questioning… As a watch that is far from classic horological codes, it speaks to non-watch people as an object of design and to watch enthusiasts as a truly distinctive timepiece. And it actually could be the sign of a well-designed item that transcends a small circle of seasoned people.

Classic mechanics

Inside the case, keeping things simple and accessible (haute horlogerie wasn’t the goal here, objectively) is an automatic La Joux-Perret G101 calibre. This alternative to the ETA 2824 runs at a 4Hz frequency and stores a solid 68-hour power reserve, a strong competitive advantage over similar base movements.

The movement is positioned in a steel container positioned atop the lower element which includes the lugs. It operates thanks to a crown shaped like a valve (again, industrialism is key) which is easy and pleasant to use.

Availability & Price

The Kollokium Projekt 01 Variant B is priced at CHF 2,666.66 (excluding VAT). I wouldn’t call this accessible but when you look at the complexity of the dial, the shape of the crystal and the overall attention to detail, it does feel justified. Retro-futuristic, neo-brutalist, it’s a watch like no other that will create emotions.

About its availability, I’m sorry to announce that the batch of 199 pieces is now sold out. The Variant B, as you see it here, won’t be reproduced. But someone (who might be or not involved in the project…) told me that if you’re patient enough, some more editions of the Kollokium Projekt 01 could appear after summer. Who knows…?

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