We continue our Highsnobiety Q&A series with a trip to Nixon Headquarters in Encinitas, California. Founded in 1998 and located in one of the West Coast's most beautiful coastal towns (with offices in Hossegor, France; Hong Kong, Tokyo; and Burleigh Heads, Australia), Nixon's signature watches have come to define the brand, alongside their range of accessories, apparel and portable Bluetooth speakers. We were curious to know more about the process of creating a Nixon timepiece, so we paid their HQ a visit and sat down with their Global Vice President of Product, Tyson White.
Over the course of a few hours, we learned what goes into each and every Nixon watch along with the underlying philosophy behind the California company. While for many brands, piecing together a watch means going to the factory and picking out component parts to create a finished product, Nixon has, since day one, worked within the mantra of "Team-Design, Custom-Built" for every watch they bring to market. A group of talented individuals ranging from their sponsored snowboarders, skaters, and surfers to a team of creatives within the brand has allowed Nixon to turn out unique, custom-built watches meant for life outside the proverbial four walls. Distributed in over 80 countries globally, Nixon is available at your local skate shop down the street but can also be found in luxe, top-end stores like colette and Barneys New York. As a result, the brand’s point of view strikes a chord with everyone from average surf groms to major fashion mavens, making Nixon a true revolution at the intersection of sports and style.
Check out our interview below and shop the current offerings straight from Nixon.com.
What begins the watch design process?
The product team does a ton of research going into each season and collection. We search high and low for great design concepts, from both traditional and non-traditional sources. It’s a very collaborative process in fact, which includes product managers and industrial designers working very closely together to achieve the result we’re going after. We debate even the smallest details, sometimes exhaustively, to really get it right.
Do you start by selecting the movement and then take it from there, or do you sketch out a design and then find the right hardware to make it work?
It really begins with a concept that marries function and aesthetics together; we generally start with both what we want it to look/feel like as well as what it does and what/who it’s for; from there we then consider the movement options we have available to us. There are hundreds of movement options we could consider and there’s some serious thought that goes into the selection, but we don’t always find what we’re looking for, in which case we create a custom movement. A good example of this is in the original 51-30 Tide. The product team at the time knew what they wanted it to look and feel like, but some of the functionality that they were aiming for didn’t actually exist - in particular an analog tide movement - so they custom built it with a Swiss movement supplier. That movement still exists to this day and is found throughout several models in the Nixon line.
How long is the whole process, from concept to creation?
It depends on the complexity of the product. We have some best-selling models that are clean, Nixon classics which are not terribly complex; these take anywhere from 12 - 15 months from concept to market arrival. There are others we work on that are in fact, insanely hard; stuff that we’ve never done (nor has anyone else in many cases) before, and take us a while to crack the code. Some of those products remain in the development pipeline for years. When we get it right, we finally release it.
How much of the design process takes place at the Nixon headquarters factory in California?
The design process is multifaceted and there are many phases of development. The majority of that is done here in Encinitas. The design process is very iterative and collaborative, all of which is done here in the States.
With something as potentially long-lasting as a watch, how much of the design process is about being on-trend, and how much is about creating a timeless classic?
Nixon is considered a design brand or in some circles/channels a fashion brand, so of course we’re aware of trends. Some of these we adopt but it’s typically a small percentage and it’s not a forced or unnatural thing which is typical of many brands today. We’re never chasing trends but if there’s something happening that appeals to us, we’ll do it. That said, watches take a long time to create and build, and we pride ourselves on doing our own thing- so I’d say 90% or more of what we do is driven by what we’re feeling (even if the market isn’t) or completely “blue-sky” ideas, and not influenced by what’s happening elsewhere. If you’re too busy chasing trends, you’re never going to have time to create them. Nixon’s had a good run over the years of breaking new ground. I’m proud to be a part of that.