Behind the scenes designing 'A perfectly useless afternoon'

Aug 28, 2019by Emily Weston

Did you manage to get your hands on our fastest selling watch of the summer?

A perfectly useless afternoon was a cool watch, designed by Belgian illustrator Kristof Devos.

A well as being a completely unique way to display the time, this watch was created to inspire you to relax and enjoy doing nothing this summer, which is something we all need a reminder of occasionally.

Kristof explains his inspiration for the design in an (edited) interview with Digital Arts below.

Approaching the collaboration

"I knew Mr Jones Watches as a brand of extraordinary cult watches and started dreaming of designing my own last May. The idea of wearing my own watch was spellbinding.

After winning three major illustration prizes in a row earlier this year, I felt confident enough to contact Mr Jones and propose a collaboration.

I saw an opportunity to tell a story, and designing a watch did not seem so different from writing and illustration a children’s book. It's just another way of telling a story.

Before I started sketching, Mr Jones wanted to send me the technical details that I needed to take into account when designing the watch. I asked him not to do this because I was afraid that this technical stuff would somehow put limitations on my creative process.

Kristof Devos designing the watch in his studio

An analogue watch has numbers on it, indicating time; it has a minute and an hour hand and it doesn’t matter how many watches you come across in your life, they all have these things in common.

Keeping this in mind, I feel that it works as a limitation of creativity. You need to forget the existing conventions so that you can design with an open mind, from a blank sheet, and go tabula rasa.

That sounds easier than it is. I am, by heart, a children’s book illustrator and I looked at the watch from that very same perspective. I asked myself one simple question: how can I use a timepiece to tell a story?

Kristof original sketches

I studied other watches from Mr Jones: not the designs, but the technical challenges. This way I could look at limitations as opportunities.

In the end, we only had to change one small detail to make it technically work. The bathing suit of the figure in the water has stripes on it and initially the cap had one too.

We had to remove this stripe from the cap because this is actually printed on the inside of the glass to hide the dial underneath it.

Print of watch

Because of this, the cap cannot turn with the body. So with a stripe on it, it would look as if the head of the figure doesn’t rotate together with its body."

The process went extremely fast. There was only a month and a half between when my first sketch hit the paper and the finished watch arrived in the store.

In the words of Mr Jones: 'It’s really not normal for us to work so quickly and with no problems, but really it’s been a magical production somehow'.

Printing the watch 

Inspiration for the design

I began by looking for a starting point and quickly thought of this quote by Lín Yǔtáng that I first came across while studying my MA in Graphic Design, back in 2005: 'If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live.'

Wasting time seemed to me like a great starting point to design a timepiece. I made up some rules for the concept: it needed to be a watch that tells time, but that also tells a story.

Kristof Devos sketching the watch

I wanted it to be something that reminds you of how you spend your time. I did not want any clock hands, the illustration needed to show the time and change while time passes. I made it quite a challenge for myself, but that’s how I like to work.

With this starting point and my own set of rules all done I began sketching. I admit that I became a little obsessed with the watch and used every minute of spare time to try out this or that idea.

Kristof Devos modelling the watch

Designing the watch

I had planned a small trip to Sofia (Bulgaria) and used the flight time to draw. It is there, in mid-air, that the concept sketch for the final watch was born.

I took a picture from my sketchbook with my iPad Pro in the aeroplane and started trying out different colour palettes in Procreate (which I love).

Kristof Ipad sketching

I showed this design together with some others to Mr Jones and they decided the pool image was strongest. He and his team then started prototyping.

In one week we talked about colour, the straps, the small illustrated engraving on the back (below) and they also took promotional photographs.

Caseback engraving

Mixing inks and printing the watch all goes by hand, colour by colour and is a pretty time-consuming process. But the Mr Jones team was like a perfect watch: they didn’t stop for one minute.

Printing the watch

Since the watch had no clock hands or numbers, I really wanted to push the legibility of the timepiece to the max. That's why I chose a round pool, with tiles around it.

Pool print

The seams between the tiles actually mark the hours. The wavy lines underneath the water guide your eyes to the seams so you can read time as quickly as on any watch, once you get used to it.

Another detail is that one foot of the figure is below the water. That gives the little plastic duck a natural way to pass over it. The story is never interrupted.

Close up of A perfectly useless afternoon

The entire illustration is seen from above, something I decided in the very beginning of the design process. This gives the owner of the watch the feeling that he or she can really 'dive' into the design.

I spend [my time] lying around in the grass, looking at the figures in the clouds or floating around in the water. With my wife, son and daughter as nearby as possible.”

Limited and permanent watches

After the limited edition version of the watch sold out in record-breaking time, we were pleased to be able to work with Kristof on a second edition, that will be available permanently in the Mr Jones Watches collection.

The permanent edition of the watch is available here.

You can see more of Kristof's work here.

You can see the full Digital Arts feature here.