Jimmy Collins lends his name to The Collins Brand and its signature timepiece the Collins Watch. The masterwork, an automatic Flieger-field watch inspired timepiece, pays careful homage to the world of recording studios and the music industry. Collins himself grew up around such workspaces, having seen more than his share of analog and digital studios take shape. In fact, he’s constructed his own boutique studio while fashioning a timepiece plucked from the same musical notes as the studios themselves. We were very lucky to pick Collins’ brain about design, designing the Collins Watch, and finding the happy bridge between music and watchmaking.
GW: Walk us through your trajectory to becoming a designer. How did you come to realize you wanted to create timepieces and glasses?
JIMMY COLLINS: I’ve been involved in the arts for as long as I can remember. I picked up the drums as a young kid and played professionally for a while before getting into filmmaking and videography. In college, I became fascinated with graphic design as a hobby and found that my general attention to detail and care for precision lent itself well to a field where small changes can make a huge difference.
Around this time, I started dreaming of product ideas. I loved the idea of taking a common product and trying to make it a little better while putting some of my creativity into it. Watches have been a running theme for me. Ever since I got my first automatic as a kid, I’ve loved the feeling of a good watch on my wrist and I really appreciate all the meticulous work that goes into designing and making a watch.
After years of producing videos and traveling around the world, I decided it was finally time to pursue my ideas in product design. I started by designing a line of glasses and sunglasses and I really loved the process. I found that all my years of video editing paid off. In designing something, there’s a whole lot of trial and error. You need to be willing to make a million adjustments and mistakes until you finally arrive at your destination.
Designing my watch was an incredibly challenging and rewarding process. There’s so much that goes into it! I studied watch movements in detail and spend a long time analyzing designs I loved in the watch world, and elsewhere. It’s incredibly satisfying to see something that started as a raw concept in my head turn into a full-fledged mechanical object you can wear on the wrist. If you’re a watch guy, designing a watch takes that passion to a new place. I hope to be designing and making watches for the rest of my life.
GW: We imagine California for its surf, cinema, and flashing lights. Clearly a part of you already identified as an artist. You’ve built a production studio. How do you connect the dots between design and the music and film industries? Did you always know that a part of the family DNA of glasses would somehow trickle down to you?
I’ve found that the overall creative process applies to pretty much any art. Whether it’s editing a film, taking photographs or designing a watch, at the end of the day you’re making a series of minute decisions and adjustments to bring an artistic idea to reality. In creating my line of glasses and now the Collins Watch, I found many parallels to the creative practice of making a video or even designing and building my recording studio.
It all boils down to decisions and taste. You start throwing ideas out there and trying things and changing things and whittling away until you wind up with something that makes you smile. Sometimes it’s very similar to what you initially imagined, and sometimes it’s something different altogether. It really is an adventure.
I started my career as a product designer with glasses because firstly, I love quality eyewear and have worn glasses for many years, but also because of my family background. Coming from a line of doctors, I suppose I’m a bit of a black sheep in my family. But, I really care about the world of medicine and eye care, and I guess my line of glasses speaks to that. I’ve learned a lot about glasses over the years from my Dad, so it was really rewarding to “join” the family business in my own way.
GW: So speaking of family DNA, you’ve launched the Collins Brand in 2016. There is certainly a fingerprint that speaks to your family’s optical shop in NY with your line of eyewear in the Collins collection. But there is also the constellation of watches to come. Who is The Collins Brand?
Well, I really do love design of all sorts. Eyewear was a logical place for me to start, given my family background and knowledge of the industry. But, the watch is where things really took off for me. There’s something incredibly exciting about creating something with moving parts. A watch is like a living machine on your wrist. It’s refined and stylish, and yet raw and functional at the same time. I think that’s why so many people go down the wonderful “rabbit hole” of watch collecting. And I think it’s a bug worth catching.
I’m already working on my next designs and have a whole roadmap laid out for where I’d like to take things next. Though I’m sure I will design more glasses down the road, watch design scratches my creative itch in a way I could never have planned. I love it and don’t see myself stopping.
GW: This certainly is the first timepiece of its kind. We’ve seen over the years a number of timepieces that pay homage to aeronautics or cars, sports and such. But we haven’t seen anything of the like that pulls the curtain behind the recording industry and nods its hat to that. Why did the idea of crafting the Collins Watch strike such a chord with you (pun unapologetically intended)?
I started my career in the arts as a musician. I did my first recording gig when I was in middle school and became fascinated with studios and studio equipment. If you like precision equipment and good design, recording studios are a paradise. I built an amateur studio in my house in high school, picked up audio engineering in college, and eventually built a boutique studio with my friends in Los Angeles, called Bronson Island.
As we began collecting equipment, I gained an even greater appreciation for the functional design and precision engineering of rack-mounted units and recording consoles. Every button, every knob, every meter has an exact function, and the tactile user experience is real and satisfying. I hate how flimsy digital interfaces can be.
Working in a studio, however, you get the sense that someone really thought out exactly how much resistance some tiny volume knob would give when you twist it. That concern for detail and quality go hand-in-hand with a watch. It’s the little things that count and I really tried to put that satisfying functionality and tactile experience of the studio world into this project.
GW: Given that it bears the Collins name, is the Collins Watch the signature timepiece for your brand? What is your personal favorite nuance about the timepiece?
I’m really happy with how the Collins Watch turned out. Though the studio inspiration is definitely there, I also didn’t want to create something completely out of left field. I didn’t want it to feel at all kitschy or contrived. At the end of the day, it’s a field watch. The Flieger style is very much present, and I love that.
But, one truly unique feature is the crown. It has a little “volume indicator” protrusion on it that looks like one of the volume knobs in my studio. At first glance, you might think it’s a fairly normal-looking gear-shaped crown, but that little indicator makes all the difference. And it has a function too. The NH35A movement allows for self-winding (in addition to automatic winding, of course), and that little protrusion provides a satisfying grip as you twist the crown. I know that sounds so minor, but it really is fun to wind and set the watch!
Aside from the crown, I’m also really pleased with the typeface of the numerals on the dial. The slashed zero is a very functional design element made so that people could easily tell the difference between an “O” and a zero. It has practical use in computing, military radio, and many other fields. Look at almost any shipping label and you’ll see a slashed zero. I’ve never seen one on a watch dial (though perhaps it has been done), and I’m really happy to introduce it on my watch. To me, it speaks to the days of early synthesizers and computer-based musical instruments. It also looks very much like the “phase” button on a recording console, which allows the user to change the orientation of a sound wave. Sorry, for getting a little technical there…
GW: Aesthetically you’ve chosen some very elegant details to round out the timepiece. And also some very specific design choices. You opt for a Japanese automatic movement for instance. And the diameter is neither too big nor too small at 40mm. Who were you keeping in mind when rendering this timepiece? What kind of man should be sporting the Collins on his wrist?
At the end of the day, this is a very functional watch. The case is extremely durable, it’s rated to 100 meters water resistance, and the Seiko (Sii) NH35A automatic movement we’ve selected is is a true workhorse. Many luxury watches require very careful handling and frequent service, and you really can only wear them in certain applications.
Though you can certainly dress our watch up and I think it looks awesome with a suit, this is a watch you simply don’t have to take off. Go swimming with it, keep it on while you run or climb or golf, or do whatever you do. The design and mechanical selections we’ve made were with all this in mind. I honestly didn’t have a very particular guy in mind while designing the watch, just more of an active lifestyle. I do imagine whoever buys this watch will have an appreciation for legible dials and the military aesthetic of field and aviation watches.
GW: Talk to us about the Kickstarter Campaign. What are the goals of the campaign? How can our readers become involved?
Our campaign is a bit unique. Most companies launch their watch campaigns very early on so they can raise the funds necessary to put their watch into production. You’ll often see delivery dates that are many months from the campaign end. It’s awesome to support campaigns like that, but I wanted to give people more immediate satisfaction.
So, I bootstrapped as far as possible and put the watch into production on my own dime. We’ve nearly completed production on our first 200 watches and are now just working on final details, like our packaging and so forth. We used watches right off our production line for our campaign photos and video (which I took myself). So what you see is what you’ll get.
With this strategy, we’re able to minimize risk to our backers and deliver way faster than most campaigns. If we’re lucky enough to sell out of our first batch, we’re ready to ramp up production and deliver within just a couple months of the first run. If you like the watch, please check out the campaign and try to snag an early bird while they last!
GW: What have you projected for The Collins Brand and the Collins Watch over the next few years? Any surprises in store for consumers and watch aficionados?
Well, we have a few stretch goals lined up for this Kickstarter campaign. If people are really digging the watch, we’re going to announce another color option we’ve designed which I’m really excited about. I’ve also already designed and prototyped a line of chronographs and have a roadmap planned out for where we’d like to go from here.