It’s been over half a year since I met Antoine — designer at Affe — and we started working on our eclectic luxury watch idea. There’s been ups and downs. Downs in crypto, mostly. Ups when I saw the Affe sketches for the first time.
It was time for me to meet up with Antoine on his turf to discuss designs and meet with some of our future manufacturers and suppliers. Making a hardware product — and especially in such a conservative industry — is no joke, a lot of face time is needed.
I arrived at Zurich on a sunny morning in early October and met with a friend Nastya who kindly agreed to help me shoot all the content you'll see here and in the future. It's great that she did because otherwise you'd have to look at pixelated, smudged iPhone photos with the composition technique called "I did how I could, and I could not greatly." You would then be not as excited about Affe, would never get a nice watch with your animal JPEG on it, and I would get upset too. Lose-lose kind of situation.
The destination was Le Locle — a small town in the French-speaking part of Switzerland with an humble population of around 10,000 people, most of whom are winning their bread by watchmaking. Antoine, who's behind the one-of-its-kind Affe design, is no exception.
Supposedly it takes more than 10 years of making software to know how to turn off "Avoid Tolls" on Google Maps, so it took me 5 hours of driving to get to Le Locle, despite it being only 150km away from Zurich. On the upside, I saw lots of cows (who were not violet for some reason; did I get rugged?) and tractors.
Antoine works in his old house that's been converted into the Neodesis HQ with a view on the valley. I arrived to discuss serious business (designs) but spent 30 minutes complimenting him on the chairs and pinball machine that's undoubtedly a highlight of their office (except the watches they created of course).
We talked about the 5 design directions Antoine came up with for Affe. It was magnificently exciting to hear him talk about how he does his designs. He said he lays out his previous works on a huge table in the office and lets ideas brew in his head as he walks past references every day. It resonated with me as it's exactly how I designed all our apps at Gikken previously — consuming big amounts of references and then letting the brain do the work in the background. The only difference — I can’t draw nor use paper.
All of his concepts were based on different ways to make one thing out of two: Hybrid, Cyborg, Android, Robot, Mutant.
In a Hybrid, two parts create a symbiosis equally. Android is a robot that mimics a human — or, in our niche case, a watch that mimics an Ape. Robot is a more brutal mechanism. Mutant features novel traits due to a mutation — watch's DNA extended due to an unforgettable hook-up of an old stately watchmaker and the blockchain.
It's been almost half a year since my introductory meeting with him. We met a bunch of watch designers and makers on our noble quest to find the right partner last spring. He was our last candidate, and admittedly the most established. Having worked with A+ Swiss brands in the past, until the last moment I wasn't really understanding why he'd at all be interested to meet with us — two dudes who never made a watch before. But it was insane how excited he was too. It turned out our crazy little idea of combing something so old and conservative with something funky that's barely 5 years old is something he was dreaming about too, which electrified this partnership to be win-win.
After the shop talk, we headed back to Antoine's home to drink and eat with his fellow watchmakers. I haven't drunk so much since a long time. Swiss wine is good — that’s my first conclusion. Watchmakers are avid hustlers — the second. Next day, we already had a meeting at 8 AM, after chugging 5 bottles of wine and going to bed at 2 AM. Business as tough as the steel that their watches are made of.
Day 2 in Le Locle was a very interesting day too. I had a chance to annoy all 20 something workers at the Schwarz Etienne plant while I was given a very detailed lecture on how a mechanical watch is made.
TL;DR: it's pretty complex for such a small device that only has one job. Thanks to the movement mostly that consists of up to 200 parts and everything is made by hand. There are around 10 people and a dozen of expensive machines required to finish one movement. Along with the case, it’s the most expensive and important part of a mechanical luxury watch like the one we’re making.
You rightfully may wonder why do we want to make something so old-school for something so new (NFT bros). Surely, we live in the age of smart watches on which you can watch Netflix let alone display your Ape or any other NFT as the face with no effort, but we want Affe to be a mechanical watch. Hundreds of millions have an Apple Watch. And just think of how exclusive will be a watch 50 or 100 of which exist in the world. And on top of that, only 10,000 people have the right to buy it in the first place. And the value of when your Ape is hand-painted on the ceramic dial by one of 4 people who do this kind of job in all of Switzerland as opposed to the soulless OLED display. It has a fair chance to become one of the most exclusive things on Earth. It’s a thrilling feeling to build something like that.
Now, it’s important for us to choose one design to proceed with and let Antoine turn it into CADs (3Ds for manufacturing), shake hands with manufacturers, do 2-3 prototypes (that may land in some of your hands), and finally open up pre-orders to the general Ape public.