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'Nobody needs a watch these days to tell the time; it's a conscious choice, partly functional, party expressive': Tej Chauhan

In April 2021, the Rado True Square Tej Chauhan won a Red Dot design award. Chauhan speaks about the watch, taking inspiration from 1960s sci-fi, and his emotive industrial design philosophy.

May 29, 2021 / 10:34 AM IST

Collaborations between watch companies and product designers have produced some interesting, and at times, memorable watches. The works of Max Bill, Dieter Rams, Mark Newson, and Roger Tallon speak for themselves.

I was given just the new True Square case to work with; the rest was up to me. As I wasn't able to affect the case, I wanted to design every other element of the watch.

London-based Tej Chauhan recently joined that league when he designed the True Square for Swiss watchmaker Rado. Chauhan’s eponymous firm designs everything from televisions and mobile phones to door handles and handmade frames. Before he set out on his own, in 2005, Chauhan, who is known for his emotive visual style, worked for Nokia.

In April this year, the Rado True Square Tej Chauhan picked up a Red Dot design award. In an interview with Moneycontrol, Chauhan talks about the watches he has owned over the years, the sci-fi-inspired True Square, and the Nokia 7600.

How much of a watch person are you?

Close

I have no idea, but I have always liked watches, and my memories of early ones are vivid. I remember the first one my parents bought me, with Mickey Mouse telling the time—or was it a green 1920s vintage car, I can't recall exactly—with a brass-coloured case and brown leather strap.

Then it was the Casio era, with little beeps, alarms, stopwatches and then the ultimate—calculator watch. I, then, remember my first Swatch. At 17, my parents bought me a Tag Heuer Formula 1—I loved that watch. They were available in all sorts of interesting colours; mine was green. Then came a few random pieces which interested me—G Shock, Citizen, then back to a really basic Casio from my childhood. Then came Heuer Monaco in 2003. When I started my collaboration with Rado, I started wearing the Captain Cook which I like very much. But now, my daily driver is the True Square Tej Chauhan.

How did you approach the Rado True Square project and what was the story you wanted to tell with it?

I was immediately inspired by the contrast of Rado's high tech material innovation and their traditional watchmaking craftsmanship. I wanted to use our Emotive Industrial Design philosophy to tell this story, and that of Rado's ceramic technology. For inspiration I turned to ’60s sci-fi, mid-century modernism, timeless typography...

I was given just the new True Square case to work with; the rest was up to me. As I wasn't able to affect the case, I wanted to design every other element of the watch possible. The colour immediately draws attention; then you start to notice the details—the strap is a series of stitched leather pillows, inviting and tactile; the sapphire is unique, with a "slice" design, picking up a totally different type of reflection highlight; the face is a balance of tradition and avant garde; and the rear case has "liquid metal" that is soft on your wrists… I'm pleased with the final composition.

Tej Chauhan. Tej Chauhan recalls his first watch had a brass-coloured case and brown leather strap; the dial may have had Mickey Mouse or a 1920s vintage car telling the time.

Tell us more about the font on the watch face.

The date dial uses the Tej Chauhan Ltd bespoke typeface. It was originally designed in 2017 in collaboration with Studio Build (UK-based design agency) as part of our new brand identity. It reflects our emotive yet adaptable nature. I decided to use the numerals here on the date dial, as the numeral combinations are surprising and ever-changing, just like every day.

You design both cell phones and watches, and the former has made the latter almost redundant. How do you feel about that?

They are very different worlds. Nobody needs a watch these days to tell the time; it's a conscious choice, partly functional, party expressive. I think it's also about dependability, and perhaps also comforting to have this object with only one function.

Which is your favourite among the Nokia phones youve worked on?

The Nokia 7600, the first mainstream 3G phone. I had total creative freedom and worked with a team where we were able to craft the entire experience; product, packaging, accessories, launch campaign, marketing strategy... I even helped design some of the ringtones!  It was a fantastic opportunity to tell a complete story, and Nokia was a wonderful place to be a designer.

Rado True Square Tej Chauhan 006 - Rado Tej - 2747
Murali K Menon works on content strategy at HaymarketSAC.

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