Four things stood against Scottish designer Fiona Krüger being taken seriously as a watch designer. Suppliers, she says, “just thought [I was], one, a woman; two, under 30; three, not even Swiss; and four, designing a skull-shaped watch”. Each of these cavils makes Krüger a curious rarity in the “conservative . . . male-dominated” world of watchmaking.
Mrs Krüger, 30, says the industry needs to improve its image, which she likens to that of cognac, to attract more women: “When you think of a cognac, you imagine your dad in his library with his slippers on with a cigar and a cognac.” It was the same for watches — it “doesn’t say to young women, ‘This is also for you.’”
She suggests watchmakers need to create products that appeal to women. “Originally, I felt like brands didn’t really get the difference between designing a watch for a girl and designing a watch for a woman,” says Mrs Krüger, whose watches are unisex. “I just kept seeing pink or diamonds or flowers. Those kind of watches are absolutely fine because there are lots of women who like that but women have much more sophisticated and varied tastes.
“Fashion brands aren’t doing pink flowery dresses so I don’t understand why in watches you don’t see that variety.”
She believes women’s watches were previously a “second thought”, although that is changing. “I’m not saying that since it’s women’s watches it has to be women designing them . . . but I do think they should involve women in the discussion at some point because that’s your market.”
By her own admission, Mrs Krüger knew nothing about watches five years ago — until she fell in love with them. While studying for a master of advanced studies degree in craftsmanship and design for the luxury industry at ECAL in Switzerland, she was fascinated by the decorative techniques she saw during course visits to the Audemars Piguet manufacture and the Patek Philippe Museum.
As her degree project, she presented a prototype of a skull-shaped watch, inspired by the themes of time and mortality, and spent two years finding supply partners before launching production of her first Skull edition in 2013. The Black Skull and colourful Celebration Skull series followed over the next two years. Her fourth series, Petit Skull, launching at Baselworld, is a limited edition of 54 stainless steel pieces — 18 each of silver, blue and black.
Mrs Krüger, who studied fine art at Edinburgh College of Art and now lives in Alsace, France, does not have technical watchmaking skills so her pieces are made by six people who each specialise in a different aspect of the craft.
The designer wants to use her fine-art background to reinterpret traditional Swiss watchmaking techniques: in her latest watch, engine turning is used to “sculpt” the skull, like a sculptor might use a chisel, with a denser pattern setting back the eyes and jaw. The balance wheel moves within the skull’s right eye.
Her outsider status — at first her weakness — is now her strength, Mrs Krüger says. “I think because I am not from the watch industry . . . it means I don’t know what the rules are and that then allows me to be a lot more open minded and free in terms of the watches I want to design, and how I want to make them.”
Harrods, Fiona Krüger’s first UK retailer, is hosting a pop-up exhibition of her watches between March 31 and April 27.