August 19 2011
Lucia van der Post
It’s summer and wherever you are, shivering behind a British sand dune, walking the Yorkshire moors, chilling out on a plage, looking at something naked by Michelangelo in one of the world’s great museums, what you don’t want to be wearing is a great, big, beautiful expensive watch. It’s time to put the Vacheron Constantins, the Audemars Piguets and the other horological masterpieces away and don something less precious; something more, not to mince words, democratic.
Enter the John Isaac watch. It’s Swiss, it’s new, and though it’s made from very fine components, the majority of its models sell for somewhere between £1,000 and £1,500 (though some are pricier). The designer is a young Frenchman, John Isaac, who first made his name taking apart classic vintage Rolexes (with Rolex’s permission, naturally) and painting the dials exquisitely with butterflies and other motifs, giving them a new cool twist. After too many others started copying him, he decided, with the help of two investors, to move on to something else – which is to say the John Isaac brand of high-quality but cool, young watches, designed to appeal to the iPad, Facebook, Apple generation.
He wanted them to be timeless but in a modern way, he wanted them to be affordable but of good enough quality to be something to keep. Quality with a playful twist, is how he puts it. He’s able to keep the prices down and the quality up because the company happened to start up just as the recession took hold. Many of the Swiss watch manufacturers, having expanded in the boom years, had excess capacity and so they were able to strike some favourable deals. Another factor that keeps prices is down is that the watches are sold online.
The faces are all elliptical, a reinvention, or modernisation if you like, of a classic ellipse, a shape that Patek Philippe fans will recognise. They’re given a playful air by giving them multi-coloured dials, using big Alice in Wonderland-style numerals. One even has a butterfly, a reference to John Isaac’s first entry into the watch market; another has a chocolate-coloured face, the “chocolate” marked out in squares.
There are four main lines – Icon (so far the most popular and the only one with a steel bracelet), One, Grand Prix (a chronograph) and Rough Sea (a diver’s-cum-sports watch) as well as two limited editions of just 50 – Jumping Hour and Quantième (a moonphase watch). They’re all sturdy, made from surgical-grade steel combined with sapphire glass. Though they’re primarily aimed at the young (under-45 market), “What we’ve found,” says John Isaac, “is that the young get the watch first and then the parents want one, too.” They are sold mainly online and through a few selected outlets including Harrods and Le Bon Marché in Paris.
First picture: One Multicolour, £990. Second picture: Icon Special Edition Chocolate, £5,209. Third picture: Quantième Blue, £6,890.