When Danish brand Nordgreen formed in 2017, their aim was to create a series of watches that personified Danish minimalist design. They immediately went to Copenhagen-based designer Jakob Wagner, whose long list of design accomplishments reads like a who’s-who of the Scandi scene, including Bang & Olufsen, HAY, Alessi, Cappellini, Stelton and Muuto.
Having first studied Mechanical Engineering, Wagner switched to Design when he realized his mindset was more suited to an “outside-in” approach. “Learning about engineering was incredibly useful to me, but the way engineers work wasn’t how I wanted to work. I’m always thinking about the context first, and how we as humans relate to our objects.”
Perhaps that’s why Jakob Wagner has been able to thread his design across categories and genres, working in everything from furniture to home accessories to high-end scuba gear. Rather than focusing on a specific category, he’s instead applied his understanding of functionality and aesthetic to a wide range of products. The results speak for themselves, and have made Wagner an internationally sought-after collaborator.
Nordgreen tasked Wagner with designing a series of watches that are classic and modern, minimalist and functional, and meaningful in their design. Wagner says, “I had designed one watch, but it was a scuba watch – very technical – so I’m by no means a timepiece expert. When Nordgreen came to me, I was the senior designer, but I wasn’t so senior when it came to watches. I knew I had to learn and listen in order to make the collection really good.”
So Wagner immersed himself in the world of watches. “It was a very intense design period. We were meeting the team twice weekly to stay on track. Nordgreen is very thoughtful and intentional in what they want from their watches.”
Wagner continues, “Usually when designers have a watch, it’s either tech, like an apple watch, or it’s vintage. And it becomes all about the machinations; the machinery behind the watch. It’s easy to get really obsessed with those details, because that’s the fascination that watches hold. They’re these little time machines. I wasn’t necessarily interested in the machine aspect of the watch, but I was interested in people’s relationship to watches and time. So I decided to make that my focus.”
That design approach resulted in three themed watches: The Philosopher, The Infinity and The Native. These three watches look fairly straightforward at first glance. But each has a thought process behind the functions and aesthetics that makes them special.
The Philosopher, for example, is all about infusing the watch with a philosophy of time. If you look at the back, there’s an engraving representing moving backward and forward in time, with a meeting point representing the present. The shape of the case is conical, with a wider base than its face, almost as though it’s hurtling towards this exact point in time, an exclamation point of “now!” The asymmetrical second hand is another detail that points towards both the past and the future while striking the present.
Talking to Jakob, it’s impossible not to get lost in the meaning, the diversity, and the possibilities of design. He has brought so much careful consideration to the Nordgreen watches. Of course their affordable price points and direct-to-consumer e-commerce strategy are two important aspects of what separates them from the watch industry, but those aren’t the things you’ll be wearing on your wrist.
These are watches that are timeless, that will give you the time, that will make you consider time, and keep you on time. That’s no small feat, but that’s how they were designed.
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Header image by Anne Sophie Hermans.