Top ad area, 970 x 250 (could be anything though)

Alfredo Häberli: “I’m always looking for soul in design”

Beran Toksoz
April 15, 2024
3 min

Do you love watches?

Yes! I received my first watch for my 18th, it was the watch my father was given for his 18th and that was the start of it. Since then, I have collected steadily, mainly from the 1970s.

What do you think the wristwatches stand for in our daily lives today while we are surrounded by so many digital gadgets that we can access the time?

I think that wearing a watch is something extremely personal and a mechanical watch gives you value because you have it all your life, compared to a smart watch that will maybe last five years. That lifespan gives it a chance to share your history and become part of it. The Rado Diastar my father gave me is now 60 years old and it looks same today as it did then. What contemporary gadgets will have that sort of life?

Watch designers often say that ‘form follows function’, do you agree with that?

I think yes, but while some things, like chairs, need their obvious function, I’m always looking for soul, which you might say is another function. The design has to talk to me, if it doesn’t, I’m not finished with it. This is essential in my design.

The Rado DiaStar Original 60-Year Anniversary Edition by Alfredo Haberli. Photograph © Rado

What were your main concerns when you were redesigning the iconic watch of Rado, the Diastar?

It was to touch the design as carefully as possible because it such an iconic design. So first I studied the geometry, the shape of architecture of the case. When I did that then I started slowly, slowly to move things that I didn’t like or that could be made more modern. But I was experimenting with really, really small details and I then looked to extract the good things from the original Diastar dial to bring over to the new design. I wanted the result to be as avant-garde as the original, as with the grey strap. The case is now slimmer, with a smaller gap between the case and the strap and there are new hands in a slightly wider dial and then there’s 6 facets on the crystal (one for each decade).

Did you have a specific design brief?

No, it wasn’t a tight brief. They gave me carte blanche to make a totally free interpretation for the 60th anniversary watch. The main challenge for me was the scale, as an architect you work with the centimetre, as a designer, you work with the millimetre, with watches you go down to microns. One thing they weren’t expecting was that I wanted the packaging to be part of the process, to add value.

Your very first designs were for Italian companies. How did you experience the difference between Swiss and Italian cultures?

Not so easy to answer! The Argentinian part of me is more emotional, while the Swiss is more rational, intellectual in a way. I like to say my work is a balance of the practical and the poetic. Working for Italians though is like working in Argentina, it’s the same chaos. You never speak about function in Italy, you talk about beauty.