Q&A with Phil Rodenbeck, founder of Visitor Watch Co.
When I first saw the Calligraph Duneshore, the debut piece of Visitor Watch Co., I told myself, this is a piece I would have loved to design. Many of the watches we see on Kickstarter or other crowdfunding website have no personality. Nothing special, just a bunch of off-the-shelf components put together and their story ends there.
Not with the Calligraph Duneshore, a piece with a unique take on timepiece design that has been enriched with many surprising details and decorations that we would not expect from a debut piece.
I was curious to find out more about the designer of this unique timepiece and Phil Rodenbeck was kind enough to take the time to answer my questions.
WP: Please tell me a bit about yourself. How did you got into watches? How did you got into design?
Phil Rodenbeck: I didn’t really get into watches until 2008 when I was working as an engineering design co-op at Toyota. I noticed most of my colleagues wore watches, so I decided to start looking into them. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the underlying reason I loved cars also held true with watches: both require high levels of artistic and technical execution to really be great.
I suppose I’ve always been into designing things. As a kid, I mostly designed characters: monsters and superheroes. For a time in middle school I thought I wanted to be a comic book artist. After that, I started drawing cars and dreamt of being an automotive designer (still something I wouldn’t mind taking a stab at). After the watch bug bit me, though, that’s where I turned my attention. Now, most of the time I head to my sketchbook it’s to flush out some new idea meant for the wrist.
In the Kickstarter video, you mention that you wear your Grandfather’s watch. Would you tell me a bit about him and the watch?
My mother often seems amazed how many of his traits passed on to me, even though he died when I was still fairly young. He was definitely a dreamer and didn’t care much for conventions (in style, life, etc.). My memories of him don’t have much to do with watches; more than anything I remember all the ice fishing. Honestly, I didn’t wear his watch until much later in life. But after my conversion to WIShood, rediscovering his watch was really special. Almost like he was sending me a message: “Yep. I knew you’d come around.”
Do you have a favourite watch brand? Why?
In a cost-is-no-object world, my favorite brand is probably De Bethune. Almost everything they make I find drool-inducing. I’m also big into sci-fi, and I love the way they twist that futuristic element into their watches. They don’t hit you over the head with the space themes, they’re more elegantly incorporated. The pieces look naturally futuristic. You could put one as-is on the wrist of any well-heeled chap from just about any futurescape, and it wouldn’t look out of place. They’re also at the forefront of horological tech, which greatly adds to the appeal. Few other brands integrate tradition and the bleeding edge as successfully as De Bethune, in my opinion.
I also have great admiration for Seiko. The breadth of their know-how is staggering. And they are so successful across so many disciplines and market segments. From the Monsters to Grand Seiko to Credor, they pretty much have a great watch available no matter what style you’re looking for or how much you’re willing to spend.
Who is your favourite artist, designer or architect? Why?
I’m going to take ‘artistic license’ with the definition of artist and mention a composer who I feel has influenced me more than designers or architects (not that I haven’t also been influenced by these disciplines). That composer would be Shostakovich. I consider him a master at the almost covert communication of powerful themes. All too often today it seems that “important” ideas just get shouted. Personally, I don’t find this very effective. In watch design, this tends to manifest as boastful dial text or over-blinging.
When you start out a new design, is it pencil and paper or you do it directly on the computer?
It is almost always pencil and paper. But I also consider CAD too a very powerful creative tool, and not just a translational tool. Often, I only sketch out the straight-on, front view of the watch. Then, I bring that image into my computer and a three dimensional workspace where I begin figuring out what the rest of the viewpoints should look like.
What will come after the Calligraph Duneshore?
Most people seemed to appreciate that the Duneshore was original, but not everyone cared for its size or dramatic looking case. For the next watch, I think you can expect something a bit smaller and with a bit less case-drama, though still preserving that originality.
At the time of writing this story, Phil managed to raise close to $73k on Kickstarter and there are still 27 days to go to reach his goal of $85,000. To find out more about the Calligraph Duneshore, take a look at the campaign page at www.kickstarter.com/projects/2018492408/the-calligraph-duneshore-an-unexpected-watch