This brand is definitely ticking differently: SEVENFRIDAY. Just a few minutes after we landed in Zurich, it became clear to us that the relatively young "start-up" was something very special. Not only does SEVENFRIDAY go completely new and unconventional ways in product design, the watches that make up the largest part of the product range also look unfamiliar avant-garde.
There is hardly a company that would achieve such a cult status with watches worth a thousand Swiss francs or more as the SEVENFRIDAY brand. No wonder that even true connoisseurs and lovers of well-known timepieces are impressed by these aesthetic watches. Added to this is the lively lifestyle - “Show me, don't tell me” - which is enjoying ever-increasing popularity throughout the world. But that's exactly what the brand is all about: honest products combined with a large portion of joie de vivre.
During our visit to the SEVENFRIDAY HQ and SPACE in Zurich, we spoke with the founder, Daniel Niederer, and the designer, Arnaud Duval, about the brand, the philosophy behind it and the design. We wanted to know where the inspirations come from and what the aesthetics of the products, especially the watches, are - and what significance the theme "design" has for SEVENFRIDAY.
Interview with SEVENFRIDAY CEO Daniel Niederer and designer Arnaud Duval
Arnaud, please tell us a little bit about your background: How did everything started, and what does design mean to you?
Arnaud: I attended a design school in France: ISD in Valencienne near the Belgian border. At this school we already got a lot of insight into the industry and I quickly turned to product design. I started with car design because I had and still have a passion for cars. So I wanted to become a car designer, I was obsessed with it. During my studies I discovered step by step what design really is. All the processes and the way of thinking behind it, the philosophy, the way you can develop a product by thinking - in combination with the style. Style is not the primary goal, it is part of design. I also fell in love with the industrial process, so it was clear that I wanted to become an industrial designer. I did a lot of internships, one of which was at Alfa Romeo in Italy. Then I started to design watches and that interested me a lot. I think that's a big advantage that I bring with me: watches aren't really my passion - so I'm not crazy about them and honestly I wouldn't spend more than 5,000 Swiss francs on a watch. Maybe that's why we had the idea for SEVENFRIDAY, because something was missing in the industry: a very cool design, not necessarily with three hands and a calendar. We wanted to build something that people would enjoy and that has a strong design language. Something to have fun with, something to be proud of and something to show your friends. It's more than a watch, it's an overall concept.
The dials of the SEVENFRIDAY watches are not typical, the construction is completely different. So you can't just let yourself be inspired somewhere. So where do your inspirations come from?
Arnaud: We are not an industrial brand just to make a name for ourselves. This is also the basis for my inspiration: I didn't want to do something really industrial, but to be inspired by industrial objects - the factories, the old production methods. When you look at the watch, the mood, the impression, it speaks to you as if it were industrial. Of course, I have respect for watch brands that have an unconventional approach to construction and to reading time, but are also aware of the past. I like that very much. But the prices are just crazy, which is normal because they build something out of nothing. These brands are part of my inspiration - not only their design, but also their approach to design. Another part is fashion, with the material mix, the colour combinations and the different finishes. Car design is also included, through the appreciation of the mechanics of the watch. I think I get more inspiration from the car industry than from the watch industry, at least as far as the mechanical part is concerned.
What does design mean for SEVENFRIDAY? How important is design for the brand?
Daniel: The first thing that was certain was the product. We knew from the beginning where we wanted to go. Then Arnaud started to sketch the first product and we launched it. So it's all about the design. We can have as much attitude to life as we want, but in the end we live from selling a product.
Arnaud: Ultimately, we are a lifestyle brand. Even though we also design eyewear and apparel. We could spend thousands of Swiss francs to get help from external design agencies. But we want to learn alone and make our own mistakes. That is part of the authenticity of our brand. Design is the essential point, because it's where everything starts. Daniel has an intellectual approach to things, I have a visual approach, and that's where we connect. He can talk for hours and I listen to him for half an hour and then start sketching what he describes. Then, I know what he wants. In this way we understand each other.
Daniel: We basically try to avoid having inspiration within the watch industry. We recently launched a model inspired by IT, a matrix. Sci-Fi is also part of the inspiration.
How long is the design process for a watch?
Arnaud: It usually takes 15 to 18 months from the initial idea to the final product.
And does the first idea come from Dan, from you or from both of you?
Daniel: In the end always from him [Arnaud], because he can visualize it. I usually get the feedback from the market, from the people I talk to. But it depends on whether it's a whole new product - like the T-Series coming out in September that has new components - or whether it's an evolution. Before he [Arnaud] moved from Biel to Zurich in January 2019, we sat down every week, talked about the different products and discussed ideas.
Arnaud: We work very closely together in product development and design.
What does the normal design process look like? You draw a lot, there are first drafts - what happens next? Do you have your own CNC milling machines, 3D printers?
Daniel: There is no typical design process. Sometimes there is an idea, sometimes we already know the final product. In the beginning we just wanted to do something different. Now, we already managed to build a solid ground of products with clear design codes. That also comes from the car industry. Every 18 to 24 months we want to revise a product - fine-tune it, improve the contrasts, the proportions and the technical details. It’s more than a face-lift. This results in how many new models and how many limited editions we will produce each year. In the end we have a structure and timetable for organization, planning and production.
Arnaud: For example, this is the evolution of our P3: the P3C/02. We have the original, the P3, then the P3B, and now comes the P3C. Analogous to VW's approach to the evolution of the Golf, we don't want people who own the P3 or P3B to be offended that they don't have a P3C. Instead, they should continue to be proud of their P3 or P3B. That's why we're designing the evolution so that it's a new model that doesn't overshadow its predecessor too much.
The P3C/02 also has a screw-down crown for the first time, making it a watch that theoretically allows you to dive 100 metres deep. We don't mention that, but I'll tell you anyway. In general, all our watches are designed to dive to 100 meters. But we only write 30 meters on it, so that everyone knows: Washing hands goes, rain goes, but otherwise: Better not! You have to think about that: If my watch has a leather strap, then I don't go into the water. I would destroy the leather. The P3C/02 has got a sporty touch with the screw-down crown, but of course it's not a classical diver's watch.
Arnaud: The W1/01 is different again. It's design language is inspired by tools: a circular saw, really masculine. The hour is indicated by a disc. The minute by a hand. A special feature is the day-and-night disc, which indicates the time of day by the ratio of colors. Some people say that they cannot read the time correctly. We see it differently. Our watches are simply different. They are visual complications.
The T-Series, for example, will be launched in September 2019. We keep our iconic shape, but the case will be smaller. The diameter shrinks from 47 to 45 millimeters, a huge difference because our cases don't have lugs. If you wear them on your wrist, you'll notice. It's narrower and smaller. The clou: As dial we use lenses that were made for SEVENFRIDAY sunglasses. That's what I meant before: we have these sunglasses now, why don't we take some of this product world and implement it into the other world?
Do you spend a lot of time with other products? Have you ever tried to transport materials, components, and products into a watch?
Daniel: He [Arnaud] said earlier that he is not a watch fanatic. Neither am I. When I got my diploma, my father gifted me a watch. I put it in the safe. And then, by chance, I ended up in the watch industry.
For both of us, the process of getting to a product is important. And there are many other products. We both like cars, motorcycles, architecture is also something great, art ... there are so many beautiful things in life. And that's why we at SEVENFRIDAY say: We don't just want to spend time on watches. It was clear from the beginning that we wanted more than just watches. The reason we started with watches was that we both earned our spurs in the watch business. Now we already moved on. The design DNA has been evolved, and the industrial design has been transformed into the SEVENFRIDAY eyewear. The Insane 2/03, for example, is inspired by welding goggles, while the Insane 2/02 is inspired by the 1960 Glacier Explorer. Some watchmakers take the familiar shapes of their watches and make rings out of them. They hope that women will buy the rings - which they don't do. So the rings often end up as giveaways. I experienced this in the past when I was working in sales. We rather try to go down to the basics with the design language every now and then and rebuild it for a new product segment. Sometimes it works, sometimes not.
What other special features are there at SEVENFRIDAY?
Daniel: Once a year we meet with all our suppliers, friends and business partners to celebrate the SEVENFRIDAY GAMES. Once again, we do this in an unconventional way. Normally brands have an annual convention where they “brainwash” their network. We want to bring people together because we share a certain lifestyle, a special attitude. We want them to understand the brand. A friend of mine had the idea to celebrate games. So once a year, the SEVENFRIDAY community will meet at one place. We've already been to Tuscany, Turkey, Thailand and Switzerland. Everything starts with a party to bring the people into the right mood. The next day we do some sports. We put together teams of people who don't know each other and come from different parts of the world. They get to know each other during the activities and exchange ideas with each other. And finally, on the last evening, we have another big party and award the SEVENFRIDAY trophy - the biggest cup we could find. Alongside with the Games, we always launch a special product: a limited edition watch with a matched pair of eyewear. Only available for the participants of the Games. In the end, we donate the final revenues to a good cause.
Arnaud: The special editions of the so-called SEVENFRIDAY GAMES have always something in common with the place where the Games are happening. For Davos in the Swiss Alps we decided to create a black watch. That's not really obvious, because when thinking about the Alpes the color white comes up to your mind, right? But with a black watch you got contrast. We combined that with blue to symbolize melting ice. Go take a closer look at the pictures. It makes sense, right?
Which product would you like to design for SEVENFRIDAY if you could decide for yourself?
Arnaud: A motorcycle.
Sometimes SEVENFRIDAY cooperates with artists, e. g. Rocketbyz. What is it like if the artist changes your beloved product? Ok for you or a hard knocked life?
Arnaud: No, it's not hard at all. It's about industrial design, and that's my job. I'm not a “design diva”. I like to hear the opinions of others and my job is to keep the framework - the identity of the design, the codes, the DNA of the brand. But we have a lot of limitations like construction or price... So I'm used to compromise. But I don't see compromise as a limitation. That also applies to an artist. If someone changes a product and gives it its own touch, that's fine with me. For me, the artist is also part of the inspiration. So he or she can also change the final product.
Daniel: Many brands collaborate with artists, and I don't find everything successful. For example, when a dial is printed with a part of a painting (like brands already did in the 1980ies), I don’t find that insanely inspiring.
Which one of you decides when the product is ready?
Arnaud: I prefer not to ask myself when a product is ready. When the design is finished and the decision has been made, it's like this - it's part of the job.
Daniel: There's no prototype where he can't find [Arnaud] a little detail that he wants to be changed. Anyone else would say, “Why? It doesn't make any difference.” I think he [Arnaud] is never satisfied.
Arnaud: If I can, I always try to improve things. Not for me, but for the product. It's the design that counts. Our design language is so rich, with plenty of details. People are aware of it now. They pay attention to the details. If a screw doesn't look like a screw, or if it looks too artificial, that's a problem for me.
So in the end, Dan says if a product is ready?
Daniel: To be honest: I don't think we ever had this situation where the design process was forced to an end. That wouldn't be healthy at all. We both must be convinced. He [Arnaud] has the background in the creation, and I know the market. Sometimes, I don’t like a certain color combination. For example, I don't like gold. But in the end it’s not about me. It’s about a vibrant and crazy product with an attitude. So, I take myself back and say: If you think it's okay, then it's okay for me too.
Arnaud: But it sells well.
Daniel: That's the proof that not one person has to make all decisions. Instead, it's about teamwork and exchange. Arnaud does not only do the design, but the entire product development, display systems and communication. When I do the communication, I have to have the product in mind to know where it comes from, what is the basis of it. This is incredibly important not only from a visual point of view, but also from a language point of view. Of course, it's much easier now that he [Arnaud] is in the office. That's the beauty of a small company: you're involved everywhere and you know what's going on in every detail.