A friend of mine used to work in the window and door industry. He was not involved in the installation, but rather in the production of these products. He held many different positions with many companies over the years, but at one time he was part of a multi-national window-maker that sent him all over Canada and around the world to trouble shoot the production of extrusion. He was also often invited to conferences, workshops, and trade shows.
Why am I telling you this?
Because he once told me that the strangest—but most interesting—seminar he ever witnessed during those jet set days was an afternoon where all attendees sat in a boardroom discussing the following question: What is a window?
I think that Crispin Jones, founder and head designer of Mr. Jones Watches, would have enjoyed such a seminar. In fact, I suspect he has spent many an afternoon debating this question: What is a watch?
One look at the Fantastic Exploits and you will understand what I mean.
Founder, Crispin Jones
Crispin Jones began his watchmaking journey in a very round-about way, starting with a bachelor’s degree in fine art from Kingston University. There he studied…you guessed it…sculpture. What? I told you it was a very round-about way. No matter, because while practicing his craft, Crispin became interested in another art form: photography.
Unlike other visual artists, who might carry portfolios of their work in black briefs stuffed under their arms, sculptors must photograph their work if they wish to show it around to galleries. As such, before long Crispin found himself in a graphics class learning Photoshop. There he realized manipulating images of his sculptures was of far more interest to him than building the sculptures themselves.
After a few years as a graphic designer, Crispin entered the Royal College of Art to take his master’s in computer-related design.
It wasn’t until 2005 that watches entered the mix. As part of a concept piece for an art show, he designed seven timepieces as an art installation. They were not meant to ever enter production. In fact, in some respect they were anti-watches, meant to draw into question the social currency of watches as status symbols. They even challenged the very notion of telling time.
As an example, one of these pieces, The Accurate, had the line “Remember you will die” printed across its hour and minute hands. Ironically, this very watch would go on to be one of the brand’s best sellers—first, as a limited run of 100 watches, and then later—tweaked—and reissued as part of the permanent collection.
This kind of memento mori underpins many of Mr. Jones’ designs. But rather than morbid expressions of our mortality, Crispin views them “as a positive reminder to fully exist.”
Mr. Jones’ early practice of building watches in limited runs of 100 numbered timepieces has remained the brand’s modus operandi. If the design proves to be successful, it is adapted and then reissued as a production model.
In the early years, Crispin was the sole designer; however, now the brand works with a number of artist collaborators. And production, which previously took place in China and Hong Kong, has moved to London since 2011. The brand now works with two teams—those who print the dials, and those who assemble the watches.
The one thing that has not changed—no matter who designs the watch, or where it is produced—is the penchant for narrative-led design
Fantastic Exploits & Vic Lee
Fantastic Exploits was the brainchild of artist, illustrator, and muralist, Vic Lee. Vic, who his operates his studio out of a repurposed Victorian suitcase factory in the constituency of Camberwell and Peckham, London, is well-know for his fine inkwork. No stranger to collaborations, Vic has also worked with Pokemon, Famous Grouse Whiskey, Atkin Guitars, and McLaren Automotive—where he hand-painted the Extreme E show car, launched at COP 26 in Glasgow.
Vic’s pen and ink dial-work on Fantastic Exploits conjures up images of 19th century carnivals, circuses, and sideshows. In truth, it reminds me of Ray Bradbury’s short story collection, The Illustrated Man.
Believe it or not, the Fantastic Exploits design is one of the more conventional at Mr. Jones, in that it has hands and indices—unlike “Silent Shadow,” “A perfectly useless afternoon,” “Ricochet,” and “Ophelia,” to name but a few. Even then, those indices are highly irregular. In the place of each numeral, you have instead its first letter, rendered in unique hand-lettering. Around the outside of the dial, you also have five-minute markers in a variety of fonts. The rest of the dial is filled with intricate tattoo-work. Vic Lee also designed the Victorian-style hands which peek out from behind the most compelling dial element—the kaleidoscope.
Rather than a running seconds, Fantastic Exploits has what appears to be two rotating plates that perform a mesmerizing dance at the dial’s epicenter.
Despite the elaborate display, Fantastic Exploits is more than just a novelty. The case is made in 316L stainless steel and covered in a black DLC coating. It measures 40mm in diameter and is 11mm thick, including the slightly proud, beveled sapphire crystal. The crown is push-pull.
On the rear, you have a screw-down caseback and an exhibition mineral glass insert which reveals the Swiss STP1-11—a 4Hz movement from the Fossil Group, which can be found in that brand’s Zodiac Super Seawolf line. The watch is also water resistant to 50m.
By way of a strap, there is an 18mm padded leather band that tapers to 16mm at the signed buckle. Its strap pins are quick release.
|Case||316L Stainless Steel|
/w Black DLC Coating
18mm Lug Width
50m Water Resistance
|Dial & Crystal||Flat Sapphire|
Printed Dial & Indices
44-Hour Power Reserve
|Strap||Padded Leather Strap|
Mr. Jones Fantastic Exploits
A lot of work has clearly gone into the dial of this watch. So much so, that the case is almost unimportant. It exists to house the concept–which is the dial–and not to contribute to that concept. Nonetheless, it is an attractive case, and it is well-constructed. However, the strap seems an afterthought, and it is a bit stiff. The old-world quality of the dial, and everything that it conjures up, would surely be better served by a distressed, vintage-style, hand-stitched leather strap.
This is not a timepiece that will be embraced by all enthusiasts, because in some manner it flouts the basic tenets of what many collectors hold dear. However, those with an open mind will no doubt appreciate two things: its existence as a piece of art, and its narrative. The dial is unique and the manner in which it is printed makes it appear almost three-dimensional. It is so intricate that you cannot discover it all in a single glance. More than a week after its arrival, the watch continues to disclose itself. The kaleidoscope is soothing and slightly hypnotic. But there is also a story here. One that says we should marvel at, and celebrate, the usual. For traditionalists, the movement is a solid one often found in much more expensive watches. For a dress watch, it also has ample water resistance. If you like to go your own way, check out the Fantastic Exploits, or any other of the eccentric designs at Mr. Jones.
Fantastic Exploits retails for £395 (approx. $500USD). For more information, please visit the brand website.
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