Ventura, the avant-garde brand of Swiss watches, is back. The first "manufacture électronique" for high quality digital watches has recently presented, in the shape of the SPARC MGS, a timepiece which once more sets a new benchmark in chronometer design. The watch represents a revival of the legendary designs created by Hannes Wettstein, the designer who gave Ventura watches their individual identity. This tradition is now being carried on by a new generation of ''Studio Hannes Wettstein'' designers.
Ventura v-matic Automatic, 1994
Ventura v-matic Automatic, 1994×
The cooperation between Hannes Wettstein and Ventura founder Pierre Nobs began two decades ago. Its first product was the jointly developed v-matic Automatic timepiece, which was launched on the market in 1994.
At first glance it had all the attributes of a classical wristwatch, with a round housing and stainless steel strap. However, two significant design features gave it a new and unconventional look. On the one hand, seen from the front the v-matic Automatic appears to have a classical housing, but the side-on view reveals the stylistic refinement of a tapered cone shape. This design element enables the two ends of the strap to be fastened from below, which has the effect of shortening it. The other design feature, which was suggested by Pierre Nobs, gives the watch its special quality. In its glass face Wettstein inserted a metal inlay which not only created the visual attraction of appearing to externalise the mechanism but also and above all had the function of protecting the watch face against impact and scratches. The dial contains references to the instrument look of classical chronometers, but with an unprecedented degree of abstraction.
Ventura v-matic EGO PI 1998
Ventura v-matic EGO PI 1998×
The v-matic LOGA, which became the most important and best-selling model in the series, was followed in 1998 by the v-matic EGO Pi. This has a flatter cylindrical housing, while the defining mechanical feature is a rotatable bezel which forms a slide rule in combination with the watch's fixed interior scale. This gives the watch its name, a reference to the number Pi, while the filigree numerals of the interior scale and the dial add a touch of refinement and elegance.
Apart from the outstanding design concept, the special feature of Ventura's "manufacture électronique" was that at an early stage the company took a different direction from the rest of the Swiss watch industry, which increasingly concentrated on traditional mechanical watches.
As early as 1983 the situation was summed up as follows by Pierre Renggli, president of Allgemeine Schweizerische Uhrenindustrie Aktiengesellschaft (ASUAG): "The Swiss watch crisis began with the victory of electronics. Today we are dealing with an entirely new industry, which (...) has broken with the past completely."
Ventura has occupied a niche of its own ever since its founding in the year 1989 and the decision to specialise in electronic watches of the highest quality which are designed with painstaking care.
Ventura v-matic Master, 2001
Ventura v-matic Master, 2001×
The cooperation between Ventura founder Pierre Nobs and Hannes Wettstein was primarily characterised by avant-garde design, but the SPARC fx which followed also created a technical revolution.
The challenge was to incorporate the invention of the automatic digital watch by Ventura in a suitable shape. The model for this became the very first Ventura watch, the 'Watch Flemming Bo Hansen' which became part of the permanent design collection of New York's Museum of Modern Art in 1989. Hannes Wettstein united the rectangular liquid crystal display with a round housing, which had the effect of highlighting the rotating elements of the MGS (micro-generator system) automatic mechanism - the result was a rectangular LCD with a round housing which encased the self-winding components. It was this which represented the new global technical development: it was the first electronic automatic watch on the market, and the apparent contradiction created by combining a digital display and a circular steel housing with a crown and analogue look proved to be fascinating.
From a design point of view the SPARC fx was much more elegant than other quartz watches, which had displays that were integrated in the housing like a window. Wettstein presented a face which gave the impression of a minimally designed rectangular watch glass without a bezel and merging seamlessly with the elegant metal strap.
Ventura SPARC fx, 2000
Ventura SPARC fx, 2000×
The distinctive formal feature of the SPARC px LCD model which followed later is its longitudinal view. The housing is shaped like a wedge, an asymmetrical form which is highlighted by the arrangement of the display which runs from bottom to top and is unframed at the top. The watch sits like a console on the edge of the wrist and tilts the display towards the wearer's field of vision, which means that the typical rotation of the wrist in order to tell the time becomes unnecessary.
The restricted energy supply meant that the generator-operated SPARC models were only able to indicate the time and the date with a few segments, but in the year 2003 the v-tec Alpha heralded the entirely novel concept of a multifunctional watch. This is operated intuitively by means of an operating system developed by Ventura, together with a scroller which has a similar function to that of a computer mouse.
Hannes Wettstein had the spontaneous idea of protecting this scroller while at the same time exposing it. The result was the 'Wettstein Knick' (kink), the future trademark of the housing geometry of this successful watch, which turned Ventura into a cult brand.
The v-matic II (2004) and the V-Tec Kappa (2007) were created under the joint design direction of Hannes Wettstein and project manager Simon Husslein, who had played a leading role in the design of watches for Ventura since the SPARC fx in the year 2000.
He developed an individual typography for the graphics of the LCD display of the v-tec Alpha and its successors. The typography of the display of digital watches is a demanding graphics challenge in that the design of the numerals and letters has to be based on the segments of the individual fields. The digital version of an ''8'', for example, represents the complete occupation of the available segments. Accordingly the development of a typography which would convert alphanumeric digits into geometrically divisible characters in an aesthetic manner became a masterpiece of graphic combinations which generated an unmistakable digital time display which was typical of Ventura.
After the death of Hannes Wettstein his long-standing companions carried on his great legacy. Today Stephan Hürlemann and Simon Husslein are responsible for the creative side, while Britta Herold is in charge of the operational management of the Zurich design studio.
Ventura's latest product, the SPARC MGS, was developed under the leadership of Simon Husslein and, following in the tradition of its predecessors, won numerous design awards. The SPARC MGS once more offers an entirely new feature: the automatic digital watch mechanism of the SPARC fx and the 'EasySkroll' technology of the v-tec Alpha have now been combined in a single watch.
The MGS automatic digital mechanism of the SPARC has been entirely redesigned and now produces enough power to operate the multifunctional 'EasySkroll' technology. Pierre Nobs has patented the concept of positioning the MGS automatic mechanism prominently next to the dial of the watch.
As is the case with a conventional automatic watch, the wearer's wrist movements activates an oscillating rotor which transmits its power to a system of gears and winds a spring mechanism. Around 17,000 times a day this transmits its energy to a micro-generator which produces the electricity for the system and feeds a battery. The system software which has been specially developed by Ventura controls a sophisticated energy management system - with a sensor, for example, ensuring that the LCD display switches off if the watch is not moved for any length of time.
So much technology requires a certain size of housing, but here once more the 'Wettstein Knick' has been applied to provide a design solution for this problem.
The new and fascinating aspect of the SPARC MGS is its visible automatic mechanism, which displays an attractive symbiosis of mechanism and digital display on the surface of the watch. For the numerals of the LCD the typography developed by Studio Hannes Wettstein has been used. The housing geometry has become more complex in the case of the SPARC MGS. Freely-formed areas do not give the watch an organic appearance but make it look a little softer and less angular, which with the size of the watch is a definite advantage and does not detract from its 'manliness'. Large, masculine, modern -that's Ventura. In translation the word itself means 'happiness', an emotion which I always feel myself when I check the time on my rather more delicate, golden Ventura Miss V.