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Feature: The Wonderful World Of Mr Jones

Mr Jones, you might be surprised to hear, is a real person, and not only does he make watches that start at a very affordable $220, he also uses them to do something a little more interesting than just telling the time. These are the incredibly cool watches of Mr Jones.

Mr Jones Ricochet

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that Crispin Jones is an artist, but his obsession, as all artists tend to have, doesn’t revolve around what you might think. He has a Masters in Interaction Design, which sounds incredibly strait-laced and literal—but that’s the beauty of it. Interaction design takes what you know and understand and repurposes it in ways you didn’t expect—Crispin’s own Social Mobiles, for example, incorporate devices like a catapult to ping intrusive noises into the calls of inconsiderate phone users.

Take the Ricochet, for example. Instead of simply reading the time, you observe illustrator Ryan Claytor’s depiction of three robots, metal foiled and mounted in layers, playing pinball. They appear to be doing well. You can see the silver robot indicating how impressive the gold robot’s score is. The score, of course, is actually the time.

All this is, as an experience, distracting you from the process of actually figuring out what time it is, and done badly that would be annoying. Here, it’s done in a way that feels warm and wholesome. You don’t mind the distraction. If anything, you welcome it. You don’t wonder what the time is, you wonder what our pal the gold robot’s new high score is.

Mr Jones Number Cruncher

Seeing those social mobile clips today, it’s striking how outdated they look. It’s been 20 years since that footage was shot, and it shows. It’s a story of the modern era: tech doesn’t last. It grows old incredibly quickly. For Crispin, he was fascinated that, somehow, wristwatches had circumnavigated that trend.

He created a collection of seven watches that set out to provide a use to the wearer that they might not otherwise expect. One had a built-in lie detector. Another reminded the wearer of their fragile mortality. These were theoretical pieces of course, and as thought-provoking as they were, they weren’t paying the bills. So, Crispin made a decision that weighs heavy on the hearts of artists near and far and turned his idea into a business.

That was 15 years ago, and that original dour watch—now called The Accurate—lives on alongside livelier pieces like the Number Cruncher. Designer Onorio D’Epiro imagines the horrors of a big, blue monster ravaging the city, devouring his numerical feast. He’s having a great time. He looks like he’s almost full.

Mr Jones A Perfectly Useless Morning

Imagine Crispin’s surprise when he sunk his savings into the 500-piece minimum order of a set of 5 watches of his design—and people actually purchased them! Better than that, he’d sold out in just two months. This gave Crispin the opportunity that, inversely to the bitter pill of an artist commercialising their work, allowed him to make more.

He would strive to make nine new designs per year, keeping the ones that were a success like his original. This allowed him to experiment, to try new things. Things like A Perfectly Useless Morning by Kristof Devos. Now, Crispin wasn’t working as a master watchmaker, and so the limitations of a basic movement made new ideas tricky.

But through the use of colour, shape and layering, what emerged was a way of telling the time that just hasn’t ever been seen before. Instead of yet another stainless-steel diver, we’re treated here to a crisp, chilly autumnal scene that doesn’t just tell the time, it evokes a sense of place and feeling. It’s nostalgic, somehow pleasing but also tinged with sadness. Maybe that’s just me.

Mr Jones Mare Adesso

You might have noticed that the credits for these watches—including this Mare Adesso by Matteo Gerardi—don’t sit solely with Crispin Jones himself. That’s because what we’re seeing here through the journey of these watches is a fast-track take on the maturity of a creator.

We’ve seen the struggle to justify commercialisation, we’ve seen the response to success—and what comes next is the realisation that one person is really just one person. Making nine new watches per year is no feat for an individual, not just from a logistical point of view but a creative one too.

Crispin—or anyone for that matter—cannot think of nine solid ideas like this year in, year out. It’s just not going to happen. And so Crispin realised that the next stage had to be one of the hardest: letting go. Acknowledging that he isn’t the only person in the world that can create feeling and interaction through the dial of a watch.

Mr Jones Ophelia

It was really at this point that Crispin found a new artistic endeavour and satisfaction: being a creative director and a curator of other people’s art. Finding new artists and working with them to perfect an idea into a watch that subscribes to the ethos of interactive design from Crispin’s perspective.

Take the Ophelia by Joshua Obeng-Boateng, which brings the depth and dimensions—and most importantly, the calm—of a carp pond. It’s not something Crispin would have ever thought of himself, but it reflects his dream and his vision for how an interactive timepiece can work. Sometimes an artist knocks it out the park first go, sometimes Crispin guides them to where he needs them to be. Most importantly, almost all have never worked on a watch at all before, which means they’re free of the limitations Crispin has learnt to impose upon himself.

Mr Jones Colour Venn

The wide range of formats and ideas in the Mr Jones collection would suggest that there’s a degree of customisation and complexity going on that should bear mentioning—but there really isn’t. The watches all function in more or less the same way using basic movements that keep cost and development time down. A lot of the artistry is in using what’s there in a way that’s not commonly seen—or never at all.

The Colour Venn, for example, didn’t come from the mind of an artist, but engineer and inventor Mark Champkins, who in collaboration with the Science Museum, created a design that beautifully explains subtractive colour in the CMYK printing process without a single word. As the day goes by, the three colours blend together in ways that will demonstrate the process far better than any explanation could.

The thinking behind it is equally as satisfying as the watch, and that’s the real essence of a Mr Jones piece. This isn’t haute horlogerie, this isn’t atomic timekeeping—it’s clever thinking at its very purest, the kind that scratches a mental itch in the most satisfying way.

Mr Jones A Perfectly Useless Afternoon

And so we end up at perhaps the most well-known but, as you’ve seen, not the only watch Mr Jones has to offer. I wanted to leave it until last to show you that this is no one-trick pony, it’s a collaborative effort that spans something more than just watchmaking. I mean that in the most literal sense because watches like this A Perfectly Useless Afternoon, also by Kristof Devos, are purchased as much by people who wouldn’t ordinarily wear a watch as those who would.

Every piece isn’t a timekeeper, it’s a story, one unique to you because of the life experience you’ve had. Maybe this watch reminds you of the blissful holidays you went on as child, or perhaps the moment you met someone who changed everything. Or maybe just the hope of a serene weekend when you don’t have to think about anything.

Mr Jones watches start at $220 and range from around 31mm all the way up to 50mm, but most are around the 37mm mark. Don’t expect incredible finishing and macro detailing, but do expects bouts of nostalgia, humour and wistfulness. Maybe I’m just a sop.

I asked Crispin why no one else seems to have adopted this idea, why the Mr Jones collection stands alone in the industry, and he was quite frank: he had no idea. He welcomed the possibility of a challenge, of competition and inspiration, but until then his watches will remain unique in their uncanny ability to transport their wearers. Even after centuries of watchmaking history, that there are still new stones to turn over is perhaps the coolest bit of all.