Launched on 8 June 2017, the Singer Reimagined Track 1 is a retro-futuristic design straight out of The Jetsons. The project was founded two years ago and based on two men’s mutual love of automotive design of the 1960s and 1970s. But how exactly did a Swiss designer and a California-based British automotive engineer come together?

Rob Dickinson: Marco emailed me out of the blue in 2015 and was very complimentary about our work at Singer. He asked if I liked watches and whether I would be interested in making one. I think it was as comprehensive as that. I told him that I loved watches but, if I was to be involved in a project, it would have to be a very special timepiece. I didn’t really know who this guy was but I quickly found out and I realised what he had done, what he was doing. I knew that I had to make friends with him and grab the opportunity to do something incredible.

We were already six years into Singer and I knew that to do very special things, you need some very special friends and partners. I have a mantra in life: ‘Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you are, keep your mouth shut, smile and learn.’ So, whenever an opportunity like this arises I grab it with both hands. As I learnt more about Marco’s background, I realised he was clearly sensitive to the things I was sensitive to from a design perspective – and, of course, we both love cars.

We are both clearly fans of what Jack Heuer did in the 1960s and 1970s and his entrepreneurial genius in connecting watches and motorsport – it resonated strongly with me when I saw the Heuer logos on the front of cars. That was 1970, the year my father introduced me to the 911 and I watched every Grand Prix, noticing Heuer, Longines and Rolex logos. I was watching The Persuaders and The Saint on TV and product placement was starting to take hold with cars being associated with debonair playboys. It was mana from heaven for a seven-year-old in England. My love for this period continued – it’s what we do at Singer and it led to our motto: Restored. Reimagined. Reborn.

Singer Track1 chronograph
Singer Track1 chronograph

Of course, at Panerai Marco had to constantly reimagine a classic design. Did this resonate with you, Rob?

RD: I’m not sure I made that connection. I just knew he was a proper watch designer and if I was going to put my toe in the water of making a watch which, of course, is so predictable for a car company, it needed to be really fucking good. We were never going to do a branded thing; it needed to be a really strong piece of work. I went to the Geneva Motor Show in 2015 and met Marco for the first time. We walked around the show and it was clear he was a real car guy and then we went to see Jean-Marc Wiederrecht, who again I wasn’t really aware of.

Was the watchmaker always going to be Jean-Marc?

Marco Borraccino: No. When I launched the Chair in Watch Design at HEAD – Genève, my idea was to set up a scientific advisory board to give credibility. I lined up some renowned experts and Jean-Marc was one of them. When Rob and I started talking, it was important to us both to plan out how we would make it happen and I realised to help Singer understand the impact of launching a watch brand I had to give them a model of investment they were going to face. I had an idea for a new interpretation of the chronograph and I met several watchmakers including Jean-Marc. As with the others, he told me I was crazy and what I was proposing couldn’t happen.

RD: What you haven’t mentioned is that we wanted to re-approach the chronograph. Marco had fantastical ideas that he was sketching and that had no base in an existing watch movement. For car guys, the chronograph is synonymous with the greatest era of sports cars – the 1960s – and here was a man telling me that this is what he wanted to reimagine. For me to put my name to a watch it had to be a chronograph, and that was what was in his head. But we knew we needed to find a Svengali watchmaker and we were aware that we could be looking at years of development and millions of dollars in production costs.

MB: I invited Jean-Marc to meet me in a pizza parlour close to the university and I started telling him about Rob, about me, and about the concept. He said: ‘Just forget about it. I like you, but to do that is too expensive and would take too long.’ I kept pushing him and eventually he said: ‘OK, Marco, I really do like you, so I will share with you a project I started seven years ago.’ He gave me some details on the AgenGraphe and told me it still needed a couple of years and some investment – basically it was a chronograph with everything from the centre.

At that point, I took out my iPad with my sketches and renderings and started flicking through images. I said: ‘You mean something like this?’ Jean-Marc was angry and said: ‘Who the hell is doing your movement?’ I explained there was no movement, it was just a concept. I was almost ashamed to show it because it was so crazy but he shook his head in disbelief and said: ‘That is exactly my movement.’ I knew it was technically possible but to make it happen would be so hard. Had it not been for this coincidence, it would not have happened in the same way. We would still be here today but with something less radical and less strong.

Singer Track1 chronograph

So, Jean-Marc was metaphorically the last piece of the jigsaw?

RD: The three of us were similarly aligned on the fascination of a certain period and here we were reimagining a chronograph with a movement no-one had seen before and it was like the universe talking to us, telling us to do it. I didn’t particularly care about the cost – it is the same with the Singer Restorations – people talk about us spending 5,000 hours on each one and wonder if the unnecessariness that we put in to our cars could be lifted up and put authentically and sincerely into something else. We dug deep, took some chances, found some money and here we are. I don’t really care what happens from here – we have been successful because I have a watch on my wrist.

Now we need to communicate the sincerity of what we are doing. It is purely through belief in our idea and to do something new and exciting, focused and a little audacious, something that tips its hat to the period we love but isn’t retro, something classic but with an incredible twist. Classic Swiss watchmaking is at the heart. Forty years from now, someone will be able to fix our watch – it is complicated but it is classic, as with our cars. Both are analogue statements of a line in the sand where the separation of man and machine is avoided. We are attempting to use modern science and technology to mine the field of classic architecture and artisanship – and this is not clinging on to the past, it is something that will be increasingly important to a generation that is distanced from the tactile delights a thing like this can bring.

Given your initial scepticism, Jean-Marc, what made you say yes to the project?

Jean-Marc Wiederrecht: A lot of people want to work with Agenhor, but these guys are special –funny and crazy. Marco madly drawing things that he didn’t know how to produce showed his passion and we had many special meetings together before I finally met Rob. This desire to go somewhere that is impossible is very important and I strongly believe that it is where the watch industry MUST go. What Singer Reimagined is doing is what has to happen. Everybody in the industry is tired and nobody knows what to do next, and I say that we now have to invest in people-driven projects, it’s as easy as that. We have to do things from deep inside and when we get the chance to work with people like this we have to grab it. Everything has been so easy and the project was finished quickly. I can’t work with boring people, I need to be in a good place and that is why I was so happy to go with this project.

And practically, how did you work together?

JMW: We discussed the look but external design was Marco’s job with me concentrating on the inside. Legibility was paramount and we all understood this.

RD: Most watches with dual functions are a compromise but this one is clear. Time of day is almost of secondary importance, it is all about what is going on in the middle of the dial – the chronograph counters – and that is ballsy.

MB: There was a tight collaboration on all the technical parts. I called and met with Jean-Marc many times and every time we just sat and got things done. That doesn’t happen in a big company.

RD: The speed decisions get made dictates the workings of any company. Everything went quickly. We were aligned on design, these guys understood all the challenges in the mechanism and the logistics of casing and I was there cheering from the side-lines and putting my input in where necessary. I was here a lot, Marco came to LA to get a feel for the cars and materials and we had endless talk about finishes. I have seen so many spectacular watches come through our HQ with our clients. If I need confirmation that cars and watches went hand-in-hand, there it was.

The design is incredibly bold. Tell me about it.

MB: We chose a bullhead configuration for the pushers as it is comfortable and sexy – it just feels right when you touch it. It is also a tribute to an era. Our starting point was the cars that are restored by Singer – when you first see the car it looks like an old Porsche. It’s an insider’s car, it’s not shouty.

RD: If people just see it as a beautiful old Porsche, then that’s a success for us and I think the same with the watch – in passing it looks like a classic timepiece.

MB: When you get closer, if you know it, you get it and that’s the pleasure of the Singer dial. It doesn’t want to shout or show off, it just wants to give pleasure. It’s a very intimate piece.

Collaboration is obviously very important to the three of you?

MB: The people in this process were incredible. Most suppliers would have called me crazy but the ones we chose are the ones who share our vision. It’s a matter of the right people, the right values. Jean-Marc’s suppliers are the same as mine, with their own businesses doing crazy things.

JMW: As I said in the article I wrote for Revolution, small suppliers are so important. You have to feel the people and the product – you feel it in your stomach, you don’t learn it in school. The three of us have that and so do the people we chose to work with. We just make things and we want them to last. The same is true for modern watches and cars – you can’t fix them, it is all about electronics and it is this that we reject. We want to make better watches that can be repaired in 200 years, just like early Patek Philippe. Yes, Track 1 is a complicated watch but no more so than a minute repeater. We can restore and repair ancient watches but I believe many of the new ones that seem to be perfect will only work for 10 or 20 years and then they will be dead because the technology used will not be replaceable if people don’t have the machines to produce the parts.

Jean-Marc Wiederrecht and his team

What’s next for Singer Reimagined?

MB: We have launched an initial 50 pieces and want to capitalise on the unique movement, so we will go further into the chronograph. But we are already thinking about the future and we hope it will always be the three of us.

RD: A single watch was the impetus but it’s clear that we three all have ideas and this is just the tip of the iceberg. With this movement we can develop it, push it this way and push it that way. Our dream is, if I dare to say it, to have a range of watches, all icons, which celebrate the golden era we love but with our take on it. We would like to take a niche and turn it on its head, to be familiar but also cutting edge. This is a proper watch company that is going to endure. We’ve learnt from our client base, from knowing the people, their names and likes. We want to start small, take feedback and make friends. Most importantly, the future has to be fun – if it’s not, then it’s not worth getting out of bed for.

This just feels right and that has only happened twice before in my professional life – when I started my band in 1990 [Rob was the lead singer and guitarist in 1990s rock band Catherine Wheel] I knew it would work, I knew we’d be OK. I felt the same about the car business and now this is the third. All three have been to do with meeting the right people, succumbing to it and not putting too much emphasis on where the journey is going to go but having faith that I am doing what I should be doing at that moment in time.

I think it is the same for all of us. This is why this project is different and why it will continue to be successful.

Tech specs

Movement

Calibre Singer Reimagined 6361; AgenGraphe automatic column-wheel chronograph with Singer Reimagined exclusive 3-60 indication centralised; instantaneous chronograph hours (60 hours) and minutes (60 minutes); sweep chronograph second hand (60 seconds); 60-hour power reserve

Case

43mm titanium; 15mm high; water-resistant to 100m

Strap

Woven calf leather with screwed eyelet; titanium pin buckle

Price

CHF 39,800 CHF plus VAT and local taxes

BOXOUT

Singer Vehicle Design

Singer Vehicle Design was established by Rob Dickinson in 2009. Based in Sun Valley, California, the company restores and reimagines one of the most legendary German sports cars of all time: the Porsche 911. For more details visit singervehicledesign.com

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