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This Watch Brand Uses Collabs to Make its Designs Timeless (2024)

by California Digital News

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Crispin Jones has always pushed his creativity to reimagine what a watch could be. With his background in fine arts, he first started making speculative watches as part of an exhibition, but he was drawn to the challenge of making the accessories more commercial.

Crispin started with small production runs of just 100 pieces each. But when these limited-edition watches started to sell out, he increased production of a permanent collection for his new company, Mr. Jones Watches. “We find it’s a really successful model, because it allows us to be super experimental with the designs and we’re never overcommitted to stock,” Crispin says.

Experimentation has been at the heart of Mr. Jones Watches’ success since the beginning. Crispin’s inspiring approach has takeaways for any brand trying to stand out in the market. 

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Collaborating on new watch designs

Crispin says after a few years of designing every watch that the company put out, he started to feel the designs were getting stale. “I just was running out of ideas,” he says.“So I started to reach out to friends to collaborate with.”

Some of his initial collaborators weren’t just other artists or designers. For example, Crispin reached out to people who had a different connection to time, like Scottish cyclist Graeme Obree. Graeme participates in a type of race where the athletes try to finish as many laps as they can in one hour. Crispin says Graeme’s perspective helped bring a poetic sensibility to the design they created together.

These days, Crispin sources designs from a mix of collaborators, including known artists, employees from within the company, recent art school graduates, and even people who submit unsolicited designs.

Mr. Jones Watch on a man’s wrist
This playful “Beam me up!” watch was the result of a collaboration with French author-illustrator Xavier Broche. Mr. Jones Watches

Creating a fair and transparent compensation model

No matter who Crispin is working with, he gives everyone the same contract: an initial payment for creating the design, plus a 5% royalty if the watch sells out of its first run. When this happens, the company reissues it as part of its permanent collection.

Crispin says this model has allowed him to create a sustainable business that is fair to the artists.

Bringing manufacturing to the UK

Mr. Jones Watches also took an unconventional route by doing its printing and assembling in the UK, instead of outsourcing the work to a factory abroad. 

At first, the move was spurred by Crispin’s desire to get samples back faster. But soon, he bought his own printing machine and hired employees to make the watches locally. This approach to manufacturing initially limited the designs. “I would do designs that stuck to our track,” he says, explaining that certain colors or materials would be difficult for his team to incorporate.

Crispin overcame this challenge by collaborating with other artists who didn’t know the limitations of the machinery. He also hired people with fine art backgrounds instead of commercial art backgrounds. “We find them really good at that work because they’re so used to that creative problem-solving mindset,” Crispin says.

Eschewing trends

Crispin says that the company’s “boldness of vision” continues to be key to its success. This means not following design trends or trying to make a watch that appeals to everyone. “Our guiding principle is, ‘How good a representation of this artist or designer’s work is this watch?’” he says.

Mr. Jones watches on display in the store
At the Mr. Jones Watches store in London, magnifying glasses help customers see the artists’ designs more closely. Mr. Jones Watches

Instead of worrying about trends or algorithms he can’t control, Crispin prefers to focus on the aspects of the business he can. “All we can do is identify an artist who we think is really interesting and distinctive, and then try to translate that into a watch as best we can,” he says.

To learn more about how Mr. Jones Watches keeps the creativity alive, listen to the full interview on Shopify Masters.

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