Curious Londoner #1: Crispin Jones of Mr Jones Watches

Before Christmas, I dropped some heavy hints to my boyfriend Mike about wanting a new watch. I hadn’t worn one in years – keeping my phone wedged more or less permanently in my ham-fists pretty much rendered a wristwatch obsolete – so I wanted something unique: a statement piece I’d love wearing every day, not just an ordinary timepiece.

So Mike found Mr Jones, a London-based watch company specialising in watches with a whiff of weird about them. Accurate time-telling isn’t really Mr Jones’ thing. Crispin Jones, who founded the company ten years ago, prefers to focus on more conceptual designs that question the way we think of time through innovative mechanics and kooky design details. My watch, for instance, has a 24 hour face, and tells the time in 12 different time zones. The Big Ben tells GMT, but when I was in Miami in the New Year the Statue of Liberty told East Coast time. The right hand-side tells midday to midnight, and the little red pigeon tells the minutes. It takes a bit of getting used to, but isn’t it beautiful? I’ve had a tonne of compliments on it already.

Mr Jones watch

So, in honour of my new series Curious Londoners, which takes a closer looks at some of the awesome designers, makers and entrepreneurs of our fair city, I’ve asked Mr Jones himself to answer a few questions about his fabulous designs. (If you want to check out the pieces in person, head down to the OXO Tower on the Southbank to find their real-life store.)

Queen and King watches, £195 each.
Queen and King watches, £195 each.

Ahoy, Crispin, watchmaker extraordinaire. Tell us what you wanted to be when you grew up?

Centre forward for Arsenal football team, up until about the age of eight. Later I wanted to play lead guitar in Guns & Roses. I’m not totally unhappy that neither came to fruition…

Interesting! I wanted to be a vet, until I heard it involved putting your hand up horse’s bottoms. But how did Mr Jones Watches actually begin?

In 2006 I made a conscious decision to begin designing things for manufacture; prior to this I’d been making one-off pieces for exhibition. The first designs were in an odd space between fine art and conceptual design (I have an Undergraduate degree in Fine Art and a Masters in Interaction Design), and it was becoming somewhat unsustainable for me as a practice. I’d designed a set of one-off wristwatches the year before and felt there could be some mileage in manufacturing a small run of these. So I spent some time looking for a factory which would make me a very tiny order (I didn’t have much money – just what I’d saved). This became our first series, which was released in 2007.

The Cyclops watch, £135.
The Cyclops watch, £135.

So they’re really all just little works of art. Where do you get your inspiration?

I’m not totally sure that my designs are that unusual – I think it’s mostly that the watch industry is just super-conservative. We’ve all got used to the watch looking one way and now, in the age of smart phones and time-information everywhere, the watch is free to be a bit more playful because it doesn’t need to be a purely functional device any more. (CL: See, see! THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT I WAS TALKING ABOUT.)

In terms of sources of inspiration – I think for the early series of watches I was mostly interested in looking at time-telling in a different way – considering what time means to us, or drawing on themes of mortality. Currently, with the production space we’ve established in Camberwell I’m looking at the watch in a more decorative sense, looking at different effects we can create by printing on the various surfaces of the watch.

Which design is your personal favourite?

Tricky. If I was allowed to pick two I’d go for Dawn West Dusk East, which was designed in collaboration with Brian Catling. It’s designed to slow down time – it has a single hour hand and moves so slowly that it forces you to rethink time from the hours / minutes / seconds paradigm. My other favourite is Sun & Moon, which is actually a very old design – Sun & Moon watches were a genre of pocket watches one upon a time – but I just think it’s a really elegant way of re-presenting the time and giving it some context – the passage of the sun or moon through the sky rather than the arbitrary numbers for the hours.

Mr Jones Watch Sun and Moon
Sun and Moon during the daytime and at night, £160.

And which is the best-selling?

Sun & Moon, followed by The Last Laugh Tattoo (which I also love as a design!)

The Last Laugh
The Last Laugh and The Last Laugh Tattoo Edition, £195 each.

One of your designs bears the legend ‘Remember you will die’. It’s pretty morbid! What’s the story behind that?

Well, it’s really following in a long tradition of memento mori: objects (usually jewellery or other items worn on the body) which are designed to remind us that life is brief and that we should seize the moment while we’re here. It’s not really intended to be morbid, more a reminder to live life to the full.

The Accurate, £145.
The Accurate, £145.

Most of your watches are around the £150 price point, which isn’t a lot, especially for such unique designs. How much life can you expect out of a Mr Jones watch?

Well we guarantee all our watches for 12 months and beyond that we can repair anything that goes wrong with them. We still have people come into the shop who are still wearing watches from the first series back in 2007, so they really can go on as long as you want to keep wearing them.

What does 2016 hold for Mr Jones?

More London production. We’re really pushing our ambition with these watches and trying to create things that nobody else can create, through things like the printing and creation of special dials and hands for the watches. We’re also working on a further series of mechanical watches and some more ladies’ watches. (CL: The unisex watch fits me perfectly – so don’t feel you have to choose a ladies’ watch if you prefer one of the chunkier designs!) The best way of keeping up with new releases is via our mailing list.

The Decider, £145.
The Decider, £145.

Author: Emily Gibson

Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in East London and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.