What Goes into Designing a Roebuck Watch?

How do we start designing a watch? As with everything, it starts with an idea. This idea may be inspired by something in another watch, something in architecture or engineering, sometimes even from nature.

So far, the watch design has started with a particular part of the watch. The rest has come along later in the process. Both the first watch, the Alpha (which didn’t make it past the sample stage; check out the photo below) and the Diviso began with the case design. For the Alpha, I wanted a cushion case that was 40mm x 40mm. For the Diviso, I wanted a slightly larger 42mm round case with skeletal lugs that wrapped around the case with a recess between.

The skeletal lugs were not achievable as I envisioned, so the recess continued into the lugs to offer a skeletal look.

For the Diviso, the dial design came first and the case followed. The next major component is the dial—this is where a watch gets most of its character. 

On the Alpha, the rippled dial was inspired by the ripples created in water when something has been dropped in it.

The Diviso dial was inspired by corrugated metal roofing, specifically a piece that had the Texas flag printed on it, as seen in a local store.

Working the case, dial and bezel together is by far the most time-consuming part of the design process for me personally. This includes getting everything to fit the sizes I want while still being well proportioned; getting the case finishes right so the case pops and catches people’s attention; getting the dial and marker/numeral proportions right, and getting the colors to work.

I have usually had an idea of how I want the hands to look, so it is just a matter of fine-tuning to get the size right. 

I’ve found it is best to step away from the project periodically to let my mind lose its microscopic focus. Then come back with a fresh perspective and refine the design some more—I may do this a few times to make sure I haven’t neglected something because I was too focused on something else. This can be seen in the examples below—the watch is drawn over and over as it is refined.

I learned this lesson the hard way with the Alpha design. I was so fixated on getting the dial ribs to look the best they could that I completely missed a major detail. The crown was way too small, and I only picked up on that when the samples arrived. It’s an easy fix, but it requires a whole new mold. Anything missed in the design phase has financial consequences during manufacturing.

Once I am happy with the design, it’s a matter of adding the technical information to the drawings, like dimensions, technical specifications, finishes, Pantone/RGB color codes, etc. Then the written specification is produced listing the various components, what they are made of, and finishes.

It’s then sent to the manufacturer for pricing. Once the price has been approved and money is exchanged, the samples are produced. This generally takes about three months, depending on how much needs to be altered during that time. The manufacturer sends pictures of each part to ensure it’s made how I want it, so more fine-tuning can be made during this stage.

Once the samples have arrived, they are checked to make sure everything looks right and meets specifications. Then the watch is finally ready for production.

I really enjoy the design process; it’s a great challenge. I currently design in 2D, but it is becoming clear with each new product that I need to learn a 3D package to make the final watch that much better.

-Guy Roebuck