Interview
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Patrick Bek: Uniform Wares

Talking smart design with Patrick Bek, co-founder of watch brand Uniform Wares

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“The marketplace for so-called design-watches is awash with mediocrity and questionable, fleeting ideas. The watches of Uniform Wares are what I consider to be the ultimate synthesis of great design, lovingly considered materiality, and unquestionable cool. Simply put, they’re a Modernist’s dream come true.”

Dan Rubinstein, Design Editor at Departures

Founded in the midst of a recession in 2009, Uniform Wares started out as a perfectly-timed antidote to the over-embellished luxury market. The brains behind the outfit, Oliver Fowles and Patrick Bek, are credited with spotting this unique area of demand, applying a background in product design to stylish yet accessible watches for the fashion-conscious customer. After a wave of almost non-stop support from press and customers alike, the brand has grown to define the watch middle market, putting style as a priority without compromising on materials and craftsmanship. Co-founder Patrick Bek explains how it happened. . .

“We didn’t intend to only design watches, the initial idea was to produce products that could be part of your everyday uniform like belt, wallet or a watch, [hence the name Uniform Wares]. The first product we designed was a watch purely because we liked them, but couldn’t see anything in the market at the kind of price point we were looking at. Designing watches is fairly addictive because there’s so much more to know. We loved the more simple watches out there; when we started there was Swatch (I wore a Casio), then a jump to the more luxurious and nothing in between, apart from copies of the more expensive stuff. We wanted to add some character, and were inspired by fashion.

Our product needed to be of a better quality than some of the cheaper minimal watches out there, and also satisfy our need as product designers to use the best materials. We reached a point with our manufacturers where we could have continued to design as we were, but couldn’t do anything more innovative. We spent a couple of years speaking to various different manufacturers and ended up finding a place in Switzerland; we didn’t choose them just because they’re Swiss, we use them because we think they’re the best at what they do for our marketplace. They’re also great people to work with as by nature they are all quite detail-obsessed, they care about the finest things. We use the motto devoted to the details. That’s not just for design, it’s in our processes and the way we manage projects.

The world of watches has really changed since we started out, our marketplace didn’t exist five years ago. Mechanical watches are becoming more and more popular, they’ll last because they’re beautiful, crafted products. There’s also been a shift in customers’ tastes towards less throwaway things; rather than spend small amounts all the time they’d rather make a considered purchase. Our customers tend to be looking for that added level of luxury without going to traditional brands who are a bit staid in their approach to younger people.

We started out in the recession looking at smaller products; it’s called the lipstick effect. Basically you can’t afford a new jacket so you buy a lipstick because it will change the way you look and feel. It’s the same with home: people will buy candlesticks instead of a new table and that’s what really got us thinking about accessories. Having said that, we had a customer of about 85 years old ring up and say: 'This will probably be my last watch so I want it to be a good one.’ It’s just a really nice story, that someone who wore and collected watches all his life chose one of ours.”

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