Come On, Nomos, The Ace x Nomos Orion 100 Years Of De Stijl Is Really Just Taking The Mickey
by Ian Skellern
I read my colleague Martin Green’s article on the Nomos Orion de Stijl in Ace Jewelers x Nomos: Celebrating 100 Years Of ‘De Stijl,’ first with interest, then with incredulity.
While I used the term “taking the Mickey” in the title, that’s only because I didn’t think I could easily convince our editor-in-chief to let me run with what I really feel like writing: “Is Nomos just taking the piss?
And I say this as somebody with a deep respect for Nomos and a likely future customer.
De Stijl art movement
Proponents of De Stijl advocated pure abstraction and distillation to the essentials of form and color, by use of simple vertical/horizontal visual compositions using only primary colors with black and white.
In his essay titled “Neo-Plasticism in Pictorial Art,” Mondrian, a Dutch painter widely regarded as one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century wrote, “This new plastic idea will ignore the particulars of appearance, that is to say natural form and color. On the contrary, it should find its expression in the abstraction of form and color, that is to say in the straight line and the clearly defined primary color.“
In general, de Stijl proposed ultimate simplicity and abstraction, both in architecture and painting, by using only straight horizontal and vertical lines and rectangular forms. Furthermore, the formal vocabulary was limited to the primary colors red, yellow, and blue and the three primary values black, white, and grey.
The works avoided symmetry and attained aesthetic balance by the use of opposition.
Where is the color opposition to monochromatic in the Ace x Nomos Orion 100 Years of De Stijl, a watch purporting to be commemorating and celebrating the De Stijl style?
Where are the primary colors that are so axiomatic of the de Stijl art movement? It’s worth repeating what I wrote earlier, “Proponents of De Stijl advocated pure abstraction and distillation to the essentials of form and color, by use of simple vertical/horizontal visual compositions using only primary colors with black and white.”
There’s no mention of of cream.
No primary colors on the dial. No primary colors on the hands. No primary colors on the case. No primary colors on the strap.
Where are those primary colors? Not on the watch, no.
The colors are 100% marketing.
What can I say? Great marketing and design. Audacious marketing and design? Scandalous marketing and design? I could, and it’s a pity I can’t, but I think it’s scandalous. However, I’m prepared to cut Nomos some slack because this is the first time I’ve seen them trip up like this.
In his article, Martin Green sympathetically provided an explanation in Nomos’s defense, “What the watch is lacking are the primary colors for which De Stijl is also well known, colors that became famous through Mondrian’s works of art. This was a clever choice because, while eye-catching, bold colors can be seen as gimmicky or a passing fad.”
A clever choice? If you are correct in thinking that “. . . eye-catching, bold colors can be seen as gimmicky or a passing fad” then why is Nomos is celebrating 100 years of an art movement most instantly recognizable by the use of primary colors in the first place?
And surely the fact that de Stijl is being commemorated after 100 years says everything about the longevity of bright primary colors?
So short fashion life-span of bright colors is apparently OK for the marketing, but not for what’s being sold?
I quote the Wikipedia entry on de Stijl, “The De Stijl movement posited the fundamental principle of the geometry of the straight line, the square, and the rectangle, combined with a strong asymmetricality; the predominant use of pure primary colors with black and white . . . “
In 2016, MB&F brought out a collaboration with Alain Silberstein, a French watch designer strongly influenced by the de Stijl movement. This watch was called the MB&F LM1 Silberstein, and the photos below illustrate how MB&F and Silberstein interpreted de Stijl compared to Nomos.
And what did Nomos do to its Orion to commemorate de Stijl? Don’t miss those hour markers!
Imaginary Ace Jewelers Nomos design meeting
I promise to share the real story if/when I learn more at Baselworld (that should be an interesting meeting), but below is the scene I imagine at the preliminary design meeting between Ace Jewelers and the Nomos design team.
It’s worth repeating here that Ace Jewelers is based in Amsterdam, and that the de Stijl art movement was founded in the Netherlands by a Dutch artist. So we might assume that Ace Jewelers is targeting the market in the Netherlands; the one consumer base in the world likely to instantly recognize de Stijl, especially in year of the movement’s 100-anniversary with posters everywhere.
So at the preliminary meeting, when Ace Jewelers asked Nomos for a special edition to commemorate 100 years of the de Stijl art movement, which is primarily known for its use of the three primary colors red, blue, and yellow, somebody suggested that the simplest and cheapest option was to use a fairly standard design with zero no color; sorry there is color, that de Stijl stalwart, cream.
I do not blame that person as I believe that all ideas, even the most wacky, should be encouraged at meeting like this. I do blame everyone else who agreed, “That’s good enough.” Because it’s not good enough, Nomos. Not by a long shot.
Now while I missed any reference to cream in the de Stijl art style references, I do agree that the apparently haphazard lengths of the hour monochrome markers are de Stijl, though nowhere near as strong an association had, rather than the hour lines been arranged radially (non-de Stijl), instead the lines form part of a 90 degree latticework (very-de Stijl) as (and I quote the Wikipedia entry) regarding the de Stijl style ” . . . only squares and rectangles, only straight and horizontal or vertical lines.” Nomos has the square/retangular Tetra, that would have been a more de Stijl form to start with.
The hour markers are de Stijl, but are they de Stil enough for a watch with this responsibility: I think not.
Did nobody at that meeting say, ” Am I the only one here thinking that watch without color, to commemorate 100 years of an art movement known primarily for bright primary colors, sounds absolutely bonkers to me?” Did nobody say that or did nobody listen?
I will emphasize again that I think both that Nomos regularly produces exceptionally interesting photography and imagery for their watches and that the brand’s communication in all respects (except size of budget) is generally as good, if not better, than most larger and better funded watch brands.
Nomos understands as few brands do just how important not just good, but great, design is and what an impact it has.
Like art, design sends a message. And the message I’m getting from the Nomos Glashütte Ace x Nomos Orion 100 Years of De Stijl is, “We are taking the piss, just to see if anyone noticed.”
And if nobody else noticed or is bothered – and it took me nearly six months to react – then Nomos has its future limited editions sorted: just release the same nondescript watch time after time, but with different background artwork and imagery. And those hour markers are sooo versatile,
I’m expecting these limited editions from Nomos at Baselworld
One thing is for sure, I do not think that anybody at either Ace Design or Nomos took this design challenge lightly and I expect a lot of careful thought went into the choices that were made (and I expect to hear them very soon). However, whatever the message the design was meant to convey obviously didn’t translate to me.
This is a rare mistake for Nomos, and I hope it and other brands have learned that while we are willing to swallow a lot that the brands serve up, our credulity will break when stretched far enough and his watch broke mine.
If you drank the Kool-Aid and believe the hype, then please visit www.acejewelers.com/en-ch/ace-x-nomos-limited-edition. And for the counterpoints to my op-ed, I highly recommend Martin Green’s Ace Jewelers x Nomos: Celebrating 100 Years Of ‘De Stijl.’
You might also enjoy Shy No More: MB&F LM1 Silberstein.
I’m looking forward to learning if/why I got it all so wrong. What do you think?
Also published on Medium.