Minimalist design in watches has become a major trend in recent years, with consumers loving the clean and simplified aesthetic of a less-is-more timepiece. But the origins of minimalist watches stretch back much further. By tracing the evolution of the minimalist watch style, we can see how groundbreaking designers of the past paved the way for the stylish timepieces we love today.
The Bauhaus Movement
Many credit the Bauhaus art and design movement, which emerged in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, first pioneering the minimalist watch concept. Famed Bauhaus designer Ludwig Mies van der Rohe adopted the motto “less is more.” Followers of the movement favored simplistic shapes and a lack of ornamentation across all areas of design.
Bauhaus member Joost Schmidt was an early minimalist watch pioneer. His design “Die Universelle” embodied Bauhaus ideals of form the following function. The watch had no numbers and a plain black leather band. This ultra-simplified and functional design was radical for its time and paved the way for the minimalist watches we know today.
Dieter Rams and Braun
In the 1950s, influential industrial designer Dieter Rams also pushed modern minimalism forward. As Braun’s chief designer, Rams released elegant, function-driven watches like the minimalist BN Z1 rectangular watch in 1978. Rams’ “less but better” design principle of using only essential elements greatly impacted the watch world.
By the 1960s, some watchmakers started experimenting with getting rid of numbers on watch faces. Influenced by Bauhaus’s design, numbers were seen as unnecessary ornamentation cluttering the dial. Early numberless watches included grail pieces like the 1972 Patek Philippe Nautilus designed by Gérald Genta. The removal of numbers was a move toward minimalism that gave watches a sleek, futuristic look.
The ‘90s Minimalist Wave
In the 1990s, a widespread embrace of minimalism across fashion and culture pushed minimalist watches into the mainstream. Models like the Cartier Tank set the standard for elegant, numberless watch faces. Fashion designer Giorgio Armani released a popular stainless steel bracelet watch in 1996 with a round, blank face except for lines denoting hours. Minimalist watches became symbols of luxury, class, and sophistication throughout the 90s.
German brands like Junghans also rode the 90s minimalist wave by re-releasing earlier designs, including the classic Max Bill watch from 1961. The revival of the Bauhaus style gave minimalist watches a vintage appeal while still feeling modern.
Affordable Minimalist Watches
While minimalist watches often had luxury price tags, the 2000s brought about more affordable options. Brands like Skagen were at the forefront of delivering minimalist style for less. The Danish brand focuses on sleek and simple quartz watches with subtle design details borrowing from Scandinavian style. Other affordable fashion watch brands like Daniel Wellington, MVMT and Vincero have also pushed minimalist and numberless watch faces into mainstream consciousness.
The Future of Minimalist Watches
Today, the minimalist watch aesthetic remains as relevant as ever. As consumers demand simplicity and functionality over flashiness and ornamentation in their devices, minimalist watch design will only continue to thrive. Advancements like smartwatches demonstrate the possibilities of technological minimalism. When it comes to the best minimalist watch, it balances aesthetics with purpose, paring a timepiece down to its most essential elements without sacrificing style.
Looking ahead, sustainable materials and ethical manufacturing may reshape affordable minimalist watches, moving away from disposable fashion towards quality and timelessness. But the founding Bauhaus principle of stripping design down to its essence will remain at the core of minimalist watch style for generations to come. The clean, simplified look pioneered by early 20th-century luminaries continues to elevate the wrists of minimalist watch lovers today.