Monday, March 29, 2010

Review: Braun AW60 Chronograph

I have a complete obsession for objects that combine design and mechanical function, and the wristwatch may be the platonic ideal of such an object (with the automobile close behind).  I've built up a little design-focused collection of watches -- so far nothing over $350 or so -- that I'm planning to post reviews of over time.  It turns out there are some really great, well-built designs out there that aren't frivolity status indicators.  So to begin...

Braun AW60 Chronograph
I had a bunch of watches growing up (from the still-awesome Casio calculator watch to a variety of Swatches), but the Braun AW60 chronograph was the first that I thought of as "grown-up" watch.  I bought this in college, and for $300 from a Danish mail-order retailer it was my most expensive watch for a long time; I blew months of CD money on it because I couldn't imagine a more perfect watch:  a small, light-weight magnesium chronograph with a design focused on the beauty of function.  If I can make any claim to status, it's that I bought this a decade before Dieter Rams became an ID geek idol.

It's cliché to say a watch looks like an instrument (aviation, nautical, scientific, etc.), but to my eye Braun makes virtually the only watches that are designed like pure time-keeping instruments.  Most "instrument" watches have a design that only references the surface aesthetics -- the styling -- of an instrument for another purpose.  That isn't to say that I'm not into a nice altimeter-looking watch, but I still have more engineer's respect for the Braun than just about anything.

To violate my own point a bit, I'd like to draw a comparison to another instrument that I use somewhat anachronistically:

Mitutoyo Caliper

This is a caliper that was passed to me from my dad.  The ones you get today are really similar, except the readout is a little LCD instead of a mechanical dial directly connected to the mechanism of the caliper like this has.  The LCD lets me switch between metric and SAE units and re-zero my scale digitally, but, much like most digital watches (or reading the time from your cellphone for that matter), it loses the elegance and simplicity of the dial.

I love that the design of the "face" of the caliper is so similar to that of the Braun.  Both were designed to be easy to read at less than arm's length on an inch-wide gauge, with a similar granularity of "measurement".  Dieter discovered the same simplicity that the designer of the caliper did, and wrapped it in just the right styling details to make a great looking watch.