Talking With The Designer Who Brought Singer Into The World Of Watchmaking
Photos courtesy of Singer
In 2017, if you’re to strike up a conversation about the varied landscape of classic Porsches, the name Singer is guaranteed to come up. Their work is truly unparalleled, and it represents the rare restomod done right, though of course it’s wrong to call these cars restomods. They are laden with details and the whole car has had ample attention paid to it down to the bolt level.
As some may know, the company has launched their very first beautifully finished examples of haute horlogerie: the Track1. Singer’s timepieces share the same standards of quality as the cars, and are inspired by both the lines of the 911 and notable chronographs from years past. Recently, I had the distinct pleasure of discussing the project and how it came to be with Singer Reimagined’s Head of Design, Mr. Marco Borraccino. I’m sure you’ll find our conversation as enjoyable and informative as I did.
Isaac Wingold: What came first? A love of cars or watches?
Marco Borraccino: Definitely cars. One hundred percent. I’ve been in love with cars since I was a little kid. My father helped ignite my passion in that he used to work for Peugeot, and would often bring home company cars for me to see. By the time I was around three or four years old, I was able to recognize any car on the street. Ferraris, Porsches, you name it. My father once even took me to the Turin Motor Show (Salone dell’Automobile di Torino) back in the late ‘80s, which is a day I’ll never forget.
IW: I guess you could say your love of cars is related to your passion for watchmaking. Was it the mechanical connection?
MB: Absolutely. When I was young, I received a watch as a birthday present and I’ve been fascinated with timekeeping ever since. When it came time to go to university, I really wanted to study automotive design, but after I started I quickly realized that car design was not as exciting as I had once thought, because cars are developed in large teams and single designers do not handle entire projects. It’s just too big a task. So little by little, I slowly shifted my focus, and then after I graduated university, the first design job I got was at a watch company.
IW: That had to have been an exciting time to jump into the industry, directly after school.
MB: Without a doubt. It was a small three-man operation in Italy, producing for several mid-range brands throughout the country. Interestingly enough, we were among the first offering 3D printing services back in the late ’90s and early 2000s, which has obviously since become a huge part of the watch design process. From there, I went to Panerai, which actually didn’t have any design department when I stepped in.
It was pretty interesting to work for a brand with such an important history, but at the same time it was quite a test of my abilities, in that I had to set up an entire department.
IW: Do you like taking on a challenge rather than approaching something that’s already more established?
MB: That’s everything I love. I love a good challenge. When projects I was involved in would start running by themselves, I would get a little bit bored. In the end, I’ve always wanted to make something for myself, and with this project, I had the chance to really have the freedom to explore and express my point of view on what I feel is interesting in watchmaking.
IW: So how did your relationship with Rob Dickinson start?
MB: That’s a funny story. I thought it would be impossible to work with Rob because everybody I knew was already trying to get in touch with him, but I reached out anyway, and told him that I was in love with his work, his brand, and that I’d enjoy one day doing something together. Surprisingly, he answered back right away, and we discovered that we had so much in common.
Then one day I told him, “Listen, I’m in the watch business, I’m a car guy, and if one day you should decide you want to make a watch, let me know, I think it would be a nice way to expand your brand.” He answered that he would love to make a watch, but he wasn’t able to imagine how to proceed with doing such a thing. He didn’t want to do it with another brand, and if they did decide to make one, it would have to be something special, with a very strong identity that would reflect the quality of his cars. After I showed him my ideas and we discussed, I was delighted when he said, “Marco, we need to do it.”
IW: That’s gotta be a good feeling.
MB: He was very easygoing. I then put together a business plan because we obviously can’t make watches without knowing how much it’s likely going to cost. At the same time, I started searching for an accomplished watchmaker because in my dream, a watch of this sort deserved a spectacular movement, one that could accommodate a gauge-like dial with a central chronograph function.
IW: That’s to maximize legibility?
MB: Yeah, the idea was really to improve the legibility of the complication. Chronographs throughout history have always displayed information the same way, more or less, so we wanted to display the time in a different way.
It was quite a complex concept to start off with, and I’d been talking with some movement makers, and without showing the sketches, they were often just testing these designs to feel outage timing investment for the development of a chronograph like this. It was pretty difficult on my end, because I already knew the answer going into most meetings. But I wanted to see if there was somebody as crazy as me out there to jump on such a project, and one day, I invited over Jean-Marc Wiederrecht of Agenhor to discuss the project.
IW: How was that?
MB: So one day, I invited Jean-Marc for lunch, and I started explaining to him the idea of the project I was trying to set up with Singer. He looked at me and said, “Marco, it’s just crazy. I mean, you just cannot really be thinking about launching a new line with a Californian guy, with the watch industry in its current state. Who the hell is going to take this seriously?” I said, “Listen, I’m gonna show you something. And then you tell me what you think.” So I showed him my design, and he became red in the face.
IW: Was he put off by the complexity of the project? I can only imagine how difficult taking something completely abstract and making it functional must be.
MB: Let’s say that in my drawings, I know how watches are generally made, and the principles behind the movements, so I knew that it wasn’t impossible to make, but still, it’s no easy task. When I showed it to Jean-Marc, he looked at me and said, “Who the hell told you about it?”
I said, “Sorry?”
“Who gave the information?”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’ve been working on a central chronograph for seven years now. Who the hell told you about it?”
He was kind of angry with me.
IW: Just by chance, you knew where he was in his secret development of the very movement design you wanted to use?
MB: He never showed his work to anybody else, yes. I said, “Jean-Marc, we’ve been working on this for a couple of years, and we just finalized it for the project. I had no clue what you were working on it too.”
He then looked at me, raised his glass, and said, “Well then, let’s do it.”
IW: It was meant to be.
MB: Things happen because they are meant to happen. Considering the way everything came together, it cannot just be a chance.
After talking with Jean-Marc I invited Rob to come to Geneva, I think it was during the Motor Show, and the three of us met up. We met up at 9:30 in the morning to spend a couple of hours with Jean-Marc and the model. The day ended at midnight. Everybody was drunk, we shook hands, and so development officially began. From that moment, it was a completely obstacle-free path, largely because of how well we work together. Every time we have the chance to meet, we’re like a group of friends hanging out at the bar.
IW: You’re all just a bunch of car and watch aficionados playing around with toys.
MB: Exactly. And in any discussion we have, it’s never a question about how much money we’ll make, or if it’s reasonable or it’s not. We do it with our hearts.
What’s really important to the three of us, I think, is to genuinely enjoy doing something that is new and different, and enjoy working together. That’s what pushes each of us to create and innovate in our respective fields.
IW: Singer’s 911s are “reimaginations” of the classic 911’s of yesteryear, built in pursuit of creating the ultimate air-cooled 911. They’re drawing inspiration from several of the beloved marque’s earlier 911 incarnations. What would you say the watch, the Track1, draws inspiration from?
MB: The watch project is exactly the same. We were inspired by iconic chronographs from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s from brands like Zenith, Heuer, Rolex, and Omega, but we didn’t want our watches to pay tribute to one specific model because there are obviously brands that are already doing this. We wanted to be able to propose something original. So the icon we looked to for inspiration was the chronograph itself. It’s not one chronograph, but it’s the chronographic function.
IW: Arguably one of the single most useful complications in all of watchmaking.
MB: And being a brand built from scratch, it was very important in my eyes to demonstrate that we were be able to confidently approach such a complex movement. Such an incredible complication. To make a new chronograph from the ground up is way more difficult than making a tourbillon, for example.
MB: And the value of the chronographs is incredible. The idea was to make a revolution of the way the chronograph functions themselves are displayed. It is so irreverent in a way, but it is also so respectful of the innovative spirit of watchmaking. So we pushed through with the help of Jean-Marc.
IW: Since Rob and Singer are so well known for an extreme attention to detail, what details of the watch would you say are your favorites?
MB: I always tell Rob that he’s like a watchmaker working in the automotive field. The level of attention to detail seen in his workshop is the same as that of many notable watchmakers. On this watch, we ensured every detail was executed perfectly, and the movement speaks for itself, of course.
While the case that we made is reminiscent of cases of the ‘60s and ’70s, it’s actually quite different when we compare it to any watch from that era. It’s much slimmer, and certainly much more wearable. We also made sure that no edge or contour of the case went overlooked, which is reflected in the intricate hand brushing and polishing work. It probably took six months just to get the finishing done properly, which as you can imagine, is pretty painful.
IW: That was one thing I noticed about the watch, because you can instantly tell when you see it that it’s drawing inspiration from, like you said, Autavias and chronographs of that era, but it’s definitely refined. It certainly looks like it’s a new product.
MB: The pushers were also something we focused a lot of effort on because they play a crucial role in how you operate the chronograph. Normally pushers are pretty stiff, and when pressed down, a noise can be heard. Some even leave a mark on your fingertip, which equals a flawed design in my mind. So I really wanted to have a smooth feeling when you touch your watch. It has to be pleasant. This may sound sort of strange, but I love to touch my watch, and when you have surfaces that don’t feel nice to the touch, it’s kind of disturbing to me.
IW: Are all the watches spoken for at this point? What’s the response been like so far?
MB: We got a very interesting reaction from the beginning. We already have orders placed for more than half of the production.
IW: Wow! Who have the orders been coming from primarily? Are they Singer car owners?
MB: We have gotten a great response from Singer owners yes, but we are also getting orders from other people as well, which is surprising to me. I honestly didn’t expect to pre-sell so many watches in the first two months because very few have had the chance to see the watch in real life. People really like it and trust our vision though, which is pretty cool.
IW: Without a doubt. Will the production of this piece be limited?
MB: Indeed. Track1 will be produced in 50 pieces as a limited edition.
IW: One last question for you—what’s the future of the Singer Reimagined brand looking like?
MB: I can’t really give out all the details just yet, but know that we’ve got some truly exciting stuff in store for collectors and fans of the Singer brand. You’ll see soon enough!