We see new thin simple watch faces show up all the time. Just two days ago, Patrick said to me, “yet another… Yawn.”Usually, these minimalist watches say they’re in the Bauhaus heritage. That’s a philosophy about the absence of ornamentation, where form and function work together. This watch is not Bauhaus.
The Japanese heritage is one where the concept of emphasizing the intrinsic appeal of an object through rationalization and meticulous elimination of excess is closely connected to the traditionally Japanese aesthetic of ‘su’—meaning plain or unadorned—the idea that simplicity is not merely modest or frugal, but could possibly be more appealing than luxury. It’s the idea that there is beauty in living a modest life.
The result is similar, but the philosophies come from very different starting points. The Japanese ideal is about the proper balance between living and the objects that make it possible, and the German school is about the interplay between function and form. iKi is the aesthetic concept of something being stylish, uncomplicated, and refined. Here, iKi are working for the Japanese ideal by way of Australia. Coming from Melbourne, there are two watches.
The A01 and A02 are powered by Swiss Ronda quartz movements, housed in 38mm surgical stainless steel cases, on calf-skin straps. They employ hidden lugs and sapphire crystals, and both are water resistant to 5ATM. There, the similarities stop, and the A01 is dressed in a gunmetal finished case with silver dial, in a brushed circular pattern. The markers and numerals are pad printed in legible black. The hour numerals are located inside the minute track, with the minute numerals located outside the minute track. The benefit here is that the numerals are located just at the tips of the hands as they circle the dial.
The A02 is housed in a PVD coated gold case with white dial. The numerals and markers remain the same. The date window in the dial is a little too far in to be perfectly symmetric with the 9 hour indicator on the opposite side of the dial, which is a little irritating. Also slightly frustrating to my eye, the hour hand touches the hour numeral, but the minute hand stops short. The good news is, the watch is 8.25mm thin.
The team says they started completely from scratch, although you’ll notice some similarities to other watches we’ve seen before. The case shape is similar to a Xetum or Mondaine Evo Giant – both are can- or puck-like, both have hidden lugs set inboard of the case circumference. The dial is very similar to the max bill by Junghans handwound series, scaled up from a 34mm to 38mm watch. Thankfully, the watch is 8.25mm thin, compared to 10mm for the Mondaine, or 11mm for a Xetum. It’s not an entirely fair comparison, as the Xetum houses an automatic movement rather than the quartz.
On the wrist, it wears a little small, after having become accustomed to the larger Nomad Outline, reviewed here. It’s comfortable, and the straps are simple, with PVD hardware to match the case. The date window is perfect, and on the whole, they’re brilliant. The silver sunray dial in the black case is nice to look at, and the Rose Gold with white dial isn’t bad at all, either. The thing I love most about them is how legible the dial is. It’s very clean. It could only have been cleaner if the brand hadn’t signed the dial [ K ].
The iKi team have chosen quality materials, from stainless steel, PVD coating it to protect it, sapphire glass, and calfskin leather. On top of that, they’re committed to delivering a quality product, by having an iKi team member testing each watch to be sure it meets their standards for quality. So we interviewed the founder of iKi, Garrick Lim.
WWR: Why watches?
Garrick Lim: I have a personal passion for wristwatches, starting from an old Rolex Oyster Perpetual passed down by my father. It may be an outdated timepiece by most measures but what it represents to me is priceless.
While I appreciate the beauty of some intricate timepieces for what they are, I was looking for a simple and versatile design suitable for daily use. While there are certainly some high quality and well designed watches in this category (e.g. Nomos), the prices can be prohibitive. I also noticed that many of these other microbrands (admittedly not all of them) doing minimalist designs simply tweak a ready and popular design, slap on their logo and call it their own. After some research, we felt that we could deliver something more unique of a very high quality and at an affordable price. I think having a clear concept of what we want to achieve early on kept us focused on a coherent design, whose sum is larger than its parts.
WWR: Why are you the right person to make this watch? How were you called to watchmaking?
GL: As far as I can remember, I have always liked to draw, as well as possessed a curiosity for how things work. These childhood preoccupations grew into a passion for design that led me to read Architecture at Carnegie Mellon University. Over the subsequent years, I have participated in business ventures and consultancy work where my involvement includes branding, graphic and interior design. It is a natural progression to fuse my expertise and entrepreneurial drive with creative product development.
My wife and I had sold our previous business and moved to Melbourne a few years ago. I immediately felt at home in the strong design culture and emerging maker movement. This triggered the formation of iKi Studio with a vision to create a range of products that has a consistent brand focus on simplicity and the contemporary lifestyle. Being a watch enthusiast, it was only natural that the first product for iKi Studio would be a series of watches.
WWR: How is Japanese su- and Iki different from the Bauhaus philosophy of simplicity?
GL: Although I did a couple of modules on philosophy of aesthetics in college, I am not sure if I am qualified to answer this question. What I do know is that “iki” and “Bauhaus” have vastly different cultural origins with no known links. Bauhaus was an art school founded by Walter Gropius (an architect) in 1919 and was part of larger modern architecture movement in the west that ‘form’ should follow ‘function’. That meant the stripping away of ornamentation, leaving expression of designs through the practical or functional purposes. Bauhaus gradually extended its influence from architecture to other areas of design, including products, graphics and typography.
Iki, on the other hand, is an aesthetics ideal formed among urbane commoners in the Edo period of Japan (1603-1868). It is one among many other Japanese aesthetic concepts such as wabi-sabi. ‘Iki’ can be used for almost anything, including people (his/her personality and deeds), situation, architecture, fashion, design, etc. For product design, it can mean chic without being overly complicated. We felt that it encapsulates what we were trying to achieve with the ‘A’ series watches.
While Bauhaus has overtime acquired a distinctive style and look, identifiable by the works of its early practitioners, iki is a more general concept and does not have any representing style, particularly in typography and product design. In that sense, it gave me more freedom to explore and create based on what the aesthetic concept meant to me.
WWR: How is it that this is a Japanese-influenced watch by way of Australia? Isn’t Melbourne fairly far from Japan?
GL: On a personal level and starting from my college days, I have been an admirer and student of Japanese aesthetics. Two of my favourite architects are Tadao Ando (Japanese) and Frank Lloyd Wright (heavily influenced by Japanese aesthetics). I have visited some of their works (e.g. Falling Water, Omotesando Hills) in person and am greatly touched by the spirituality of their designs through simple expressions and incredible attention to details. www.ikistudio.net
- Brand & Model: iKi A01, A02
- Price: pricing is $199 AUD, or about $155 USD
- Who we think it might be for: You like Xetum, Mondaine, and max bill by Junghans but want something highly affordable.
- Would I buy one for myself based on what I’ve seen?: I like a good minimalist watch. This watch gets a lot right.
- If I could make one design suggestion, it would be: Pay closer attention to the proportions of things: the hands should reach their numerals the same way, whether that means changing hand length or adjusting the dial printing. The numeral in the date window should be the same distance from the center as the distance from center to hour numeral on the dial.
- What spoke to me the most about this watch: Price, finish choice and quality of materials. Sapphire at this price is not wrong.
Specifications from iKi
- Watch diameter: 38mm
- Watch thickness: 8.25mm
- Swiss Ronda Powertech, Caliber 515
- 316L stainless steel casing with PVD (Physical Vapour Deposition) coating
- Sapphire crystal glass
- 5 Atmospheric water resistant
- Genuine calfskin leather strap with quick release pins