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Legendary Supercar Designer Frank Stephenson Just Created His First Watch

Legendary Supercar Designer Frank Stephenson Just Created His First Watch

There’s a lot of overlap between car guys and watch guys. A new Szanto Icon watch from Time Concepts takes the overlap into high gear by tapping a supercar designer legend: Frank Stephenson, who was the director of design at brands like Ferrari, McLaren, Maserati, and Fiat, and has designed cars for the likes of Lancia, Mini, and Alfa Romeo.

Called the Frank Stephenson Cosmos, the watches have a smooth aesthetic meant to call back to Stephenson’s car designs. His name and logo adorn the watches, and they have a starry looking granite face (fittingly, considering the name). They have a stainless steel case and case back with scratch-resistant KR crystal that’s domed to blend into the round case shape. The font for the four corner numbers (zero, three, six, and nine) is original, and added superluminova lume makes the numbers glow. They use Japanese quartz movement and have a silicone rubber strap with a bespoke signature buckle.

Cosmos is the first of three in the Stephenson series inspired by air, sea, and land. Cosmos covers the air—the night air, technically, as the design is meant to invoke space and the stars.

I caught up with Stephenson over email to learn more about why he decided to try his hand at watch design, where he finds inspiration, and his all-time favorite cars and watches.

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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

frank stephenson szanto watch

Cool Material: What specific design qualities do you feel translate best from cars to watches and vice versa?

Frank Stephenson: Watches, like cars, can carry a strong emotional attachment, it’s something you wear on your body and thus becomes a showcase of your taste and personality. The goal in both cases is to design something iconic, yet simple—the challenge being to create something memorable and distinctive with only a few lines.

From the other perspective, there are many aspects of watch design that can be inspiring for design in the automotive industry: attention to detail and high quality craftsmanship, precision manufacturing, and a bold use of color and materials.

How can a watch best embody the style and vibe of a supercar?

As in nature, there are no straight lines in supercar design—even if they look straight, there will always be a slight curve. This ensures that there is always a perceived sense of dynamism and tension when observing a vehicle or product.

Lineflow is also imperative, and in all good designs you should be able to follow a line all around an object, all the lines should relate to each other, creating a common language and visual identity.

With the COSMOS, the outer casing is smoothed and sculpted to flow directly into its strap and around your wrist. The strap is an integral part of the overall unit, perfectly matching the size and contour of the case, so that even the edges carry through from tip to tail, uninterrupted.

What made time Concepts the ideal watch brand for you to partner with on this?

I’ve always had a passion for watches, so when Time Concepts approached me to be part of their ICON series, I was eager to create something of my own. Our relationship began when I met the founder, Barry Cohen, at the McLaren Pavilion at Pebble Beach. We chatted about the design of the P1, and have continued to discuss design ever since, sharing insights from our respective fields, creating a relationship which eventually blossomed into an opportunity to create something together.

As a designer, I believe that cross-industry collaboration is always an exceptional breeding ground for innovation. With the COSMOS series, Time Concepts and Frank Stephenson Design were able to collaborate and share our expertise and passion for design excellence. The COSMOS represents the first of a trilogy of designs inspired by air, sea, and land.

What were some of your favorite designs you worked on in the auto industry?

I have been very fortunate to have multiple once-in-a-lifetime projects, from high volume city cars such as the MINI or Fiat 500, all the way through to high performance thoroughbreds like the McLaren P1 and Maserati MC12. Choosing a favorite is like asking me to choose my favorite child, there are aspects of all of them that I take deep pride in, but as designers we are always looking ahead, so my favorite design will always be the next one!

What are some of the watch designs that you’re inspired by? Did that inspiration ever go the other way and translate to cars?

One of my first loves in watch design was the Bell & Ross BR 01-96. For me this watch does exactly what is says on the tin, it’s a highly functional piece of design. It has a very clear graphic approach, not only in the shape of the watch itself, but also the concise, no frills, aviation inspired fonts on the face. As for the influence of watch design on cars, it’s possible that a love of precision and functionality in watches could extend to an appreciation for high-performance cars.

In your opinion, what’s the overlap between watch guys and car guys?

From my experience, car guys tend to be watch guys and vice versa! In good design there is always a sense of purity that can be evident in both cars and watches, and this is a fine art which should always be appreciated. There is also an appreciation of a quality instrument, that can perform its function to the highest standard.

What are your everyday watches? What are your everyday cars? What about dream versions of each?

Since designing the COSMOS series, I have been wearing various stages of prototype watch for the past year now, tweaking the design along the way, adjusting it to ensure that it will be of the highest standard.

My daily driver is a Land Rover Freelander. It’s like an old pair of blue jeans–I just throw the dogs in the back and don’t worry about getting it dirty.

For fun, I’ve got a Ducati–a highly modified 1198S with a carbon rear spring, aero wings and everything replaced. Much as I love cars, I feel more awake and alive on a motorcycle.

Dream car? There’s nothing like an E Type Jaguar. On the 19th of March 1969, I was walking hand-in-hand with my father through Casablanca when we saw a Jaguar E-Type. It was an early Fixed Head Coupé, and I was transfixed. My father had to drag me away, I can pinpoint that exact moment as where my love for automotive design began.

I am lucky enough to own my dream watch, an IWC Portugieser Automatic Chronograph, it is undoubtedly a quality instrument of time measurement. You can wear it all day, a very refined and balanced overall design, the layout is so simple and so clear, nothing too dramatic. In my opinion it is something that will look good forever, it is an icon.

What occasions or situations do you think this watch is best suited for?

I’ve been wearing the watch almost everyday for the past year in its various color ways, and it’s pretty universal. The watch is extremely comfortable due to the way that the casing wraps around the wrist, and the rubber strap ensures that it retains a degree of durability. The watch face is also very clear, we have some more daring and colorful designs in the pipeline, along with a heavily driver focused watch which will draw even more heavily on my automotive experience.

What was your experience with watches when working with people in the auto industry? What did those guys value most?

From my experience, car guys, petrol-heads, seem to share a love for watches. Both industries have a strong appreciation for the classics and history, whilst always pushing forward with the latest technology to create advanced designs. However, it’s the simplest and most elegant pieces that tend to be the ones which stand the test of time, there is an eternal elegance that can be achieved when crafting an object of beauty and simplicity.

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