M&Co 1987 31mm

Gill Compressed Wins the Day

Simple type

Sometimes a watch isn’t about it being a watch. Its about things happening around it that come together as a watch. Its about things that people are interested in that are attached to a watch. A watch is a useful tool for telling time, but it can carry along other things that make it more meaningful than being a watch.

I guess I mean a Mickey Mouse watch can be more about Mickey Mouse than about being a watch. Now, a Mickey Mouse watch can also be a formidable watch at the same time it is about Mickey, but, I’m talking about a watch that is produced to remind one of an event or place but just happens to be a watch.

The M&Co watch by Becker I’m writing about here is really about my life in the mid to late 1980s as a student of design. These two watches, one black and one silver, though of the same era, came together after 34 years. I got the black one new, in 1988 then stumbled upon the very used silver one in 2022.

Original Black and New Friend Silver

Somehow I’ve managed to hang on the the black one for over 30 years through moving, marriage, various jobs, kids, and lots of changes in style and taste! Even though we change over the years, we are now what has been molded over time. I still like looking at this little watch. In 2024 I don’t think I would buy a watch like this except for the fact that it reminds me of another time in my history. I did buy the silver one in 2022. Not because of its watch-ness, but because it was a match for the black one that I had a sentimental attachment to.

Even the case backs are simple

As a design it is simple, clean, minimal in a Bauhaus way. Without a second hand, it is so simple, it almost disappears as a 3D object, and becomes a 2D graphic device for telling time. The crown is quite small. I was not concerned a bit about its movement at the time. I liked the sans-serif Gill typeface, that I am calling Gill Sans Medium Compressed, though I don’t really know exactly which type face it is. Back then, it expressed designer-ness as I had studied art, graphic design and product design by then. M&Co was a cool design house at the time, so wearing this was an expression of good design taste.

I bought it, on sale I think, at a gift store in Seattle, behind Pike Place Market. It was a store that sold hip, contemporary design products. It was in the $50-70 range, which was a lot of money to me then. (I’m still buying a lot of watches in that price range now!). I did not have many watches then. Maybe an early Gshock I had used in the Army? I never even considered its size that I can remember. Now, it seems quite tiny at 31mm x 33mm on a 16mm leather strap. It is 6mm thick. It seems appropriate.

These 31mm versions are so small and light, you barely notice them. Even the straps are thin and flexible. The strap on the black one is starting to come apart. A strap like these old 16mm may be hard to find? The strap on these and the newer watches needs to be thin because the lugs are so short, not leaving much space between strap and case. The spring bars might even be slightly curved?

I know nothing about Becker as a watch manufacture in the 1980s. At the time, of course, the watch world was in the midst of the cheap quartz watch boom. So again, the Swiss-made quartz movement here made this type of watch possible. Its about the dial and the type. The movement/mechanics of the watch are irrelevant. This watch was one of a series of watches displaying different type faces and witty ways to layout a dial. Some can still be bought today through Projects Watches which sells watches through art museum shops that have art and design themes.

M&Co was the graphic and product design consultancy started by Tibor Kalman with founding partners Carol Bokuniewicz and Liz Trovato in New York in 1979. “Many well know designers in graphics and film industry went through there. Over the span of its 14-year history, the studio’s clients included the band Talking Heads, New York restaurants Florent and China Grill, the National Audubon Society, Benetton, and Swatch. M & Co. created its own line of conceptual products, such as crumpled paperweights and timepieces with nontraditional faces. The company was dissolved in 1992 and many of its files were donated to the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.” From theartofthetitle.com.

Kalman died in 1999 at only 49 years old. His wife Maira, part of the operation in the 90s, is still writing, illustrating and designing. When M&Co released these watches in the 80s and 90s they were quite popular. They were a departure from the traditional classic watch with twelve Arabic numbers. Here are some of the designs still available today. Several other designs were made, so keep your eye open for them!

5 o’clock MoMA
Bodoni Projects
Pie deYoung Museum
Onomotopoeia Projects
Date MFA Houston
Askew MoMA

I have always liked the Gill typeface, and prefer a full set of hour markers, of some type. I might have trouble with the 5 o’clock watch! As far as watch dials in general, I can appreciate clean, simple design, but I like some marks, and numbers or sectors, a cross mark or some type of aid to dividing the dial for time tracking. I don’t like completely empty dials. Mine are probably the most “normal” of them all. Currently available sizing is 33mm or 40mm, and in various gold and silver finishes as well as black. I don’t think the Gill is available any longer? I don’t know who is making them, but the are distributed by Projects and sold through many outlets. They cost around $150 at most stores.

So here’s to the M&Co crew and their enduring designs. How many watch designs do you know of that are still selling new after 35 years? They are simple, fun, and challenge the classic concept of the watch dial. Good design is timeless. Even though they are watches they are really about good graphic design and information design as it relates to time. When I wear these little 31mm guys, they take me back to the 80’s when I was looking to make the world a better place through good design.







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