Designed by recent grad Louis Elwood-Leach as part of his Masters Thesis, FirstHand is a watch with an algorithmically-generated and digitally-manufactured watchface. Using parametric design on the input side, and digital fabrication on the output side, the innovative watch concept produces a unique design every time it is ordered and sold. "The experience of purchasing and assembling the product connects the user to the design and manufacture process," Elwood-Leach offers, "thereby developing a relationship with the product through understanding the details of its design.
"The idea stemmed from a carriage clock gifted to me by my grandmother—an artifact that has immense value through its association with our family history. But after seeing the exact same carriage clock at the New York Maker Faire ,the realization that my carriage clock was just another 'product of mass manufacture' immediately devalued the significance this object as an object of value," the designer argues. "But of course it wasn’t exactly the same; minor details such as the shape of the glass on the top of the clock we unique."
Each product is sold with a small spirograph toy...engraved with the diameter and teeth count—essentially the code to reproduce the pattern.
The hypotrochoid pattern takes its inspiration from the guilloché patterns used in traditional high end watch making to ornament watch faces and mechanisms. Produced with a geometric lathe, the patterns were meticulously carved into the surfaced. Of course, the pattern is also reminiscent of Spirograph drawing tools—a simple mathematical drawing tool popular in the late 1960’s. (An interesting side note provided by Elwood-Leach: The "Speiragraph” was invented in 1827 by English architect and engineer Peter Hubert Desvignes with the intention of preventing bank note fraud. And the roulette pattern that the device produced is still associated today with security prints. The device produced a near-infinite variety of patterns that was very difficult to reverse engineer; essentially a mechanical equivalent to the human finger print, the Speiragraph was used to verify currency, legal documents, and still today, the pattern adorns holographic event tickets.) "The metaphor of a mechanical fingerprint built perfectly into the concept I was trying to build with the FirstHand watch. While each pattern undoubtedly retains a similar aesthetic, there is an almost infinite variation in the details of the design.
"8 weeks into the project, I stumbled upon a parametrically-designed wall clock that that looked very similar. After a bit of a cry, I realized that the concept I was building behind this product was more than just a watch: It was an object unique to the individual. An object no-one else can buy. The fact it was a watch was almost arbitrary. This aesthetic could be applied to anything, headphones, hubcaps, belt buckles, coasters, bowls, tables. Just like the bank verification stamps that initiated the development of the spirograph. Each pattern becomes unique to the user—they'd have the rights as the only individual allowed to apply their pattern to an object. Users within this new ecosystem can accumulate a set of objects—each aesthetically connected." Just as a brand connects its products through it’s design language, so too does FirstHand, as the user builds a collection of objects around their pattern.
When a product is purchased, the user chooses a pattern. They will then receive the object and the right to use this pattern on future purchases. This pattern become their digital fingerprint within the FirstHand ecosystem. If they pass any objects along, their pattern can still be connect to them; they are the only person who can purchase their unique aesthetic. While still a product of mass manufacture, we are invited to bring our own narrative to what the brand language of our products mean to us.
And here's a sweet bonus from the designer: Each product is sold with a small spirograph toy...engraved with the diameter and teeth count—essentially the code to reproduce the pattern. The toy enables users to replicate the pattern wherever they like. It also connects them to the mathematical process that generated the watch in the first place.
Read about more of the projects in this thesis at INVISIBLE POSSESSIONS: Reclaiming Our Relationship With Products in an Augmented Age