According to what we learned in kindergarten, a watch is a watch is a watch. However, according to Matthew Waldman, the free-thinking founder of New York's Nooka, a watch is just another opportunity to turn a washed-up concept into a fresh idea.
Now in its sixth year, what began as a grade school flashback has grown into an entirely new way of telling time. Intellectually alluring, visually impelling, and incredibly functional, Nooka's unusual materials and playful methodology have reinterpreted the traditional method of watching the hours fly, and trendsetting time-tellers (us and so forth) are snapping them up like Vampire Weekend remixes (not to imply we have any strong feelings, positive or otherwise, for turbo-hyped indie bands).
We've been watching Nooka for a few years now, and each new season brings us more reasons to keep on keepin' on. Join us as we chat with Matthew about the past, present, and future of our favorite non-watchlike watch company.
JoshSpear.com: Nooka was born from a first grade flashback – Can you tell us more about that, and give us a brief history of the company?
Matthew Waldman: I was a creative director of an interactive design studio in the late 1990s when I began to explore information architecture over aesthetic design for my clients. When I try to figure something out, it’s in my head 24/7, running like a program until it figures things out. The rule for intuitive design is simple: If you need instruction, it’s not intuitive. Seeing a big wall clock gave me a flashback to first grade where we learned how to tell time… and if someone had to teach it, how intuitive is it really? This was my inspiration to explore alternative systems.
1998-2002: I initially came up with 5 unique designs which I received design patents for. Then with an introduction from Tom Dixon, Seiko produced a single model, which they marketed under their WN brands in a few markets. I was very frustrated Seiko's overall lack of marketing for the model, but they were in the process of closing all their sub-brands, including the very profitable spoon line. A friend suggested I pick up where they left off and do Nooka on my own!
2002-present: I produced two models, limited to 1000 pieces each [zot and zoo] which finally hit the market in 2004. The first run sold out within a year and I then realized that I had a business on my hands [which was a shock, being that I never set out to be "the watch guy"]. The past 3 years have been a trial-by-fire/school-of hard-knocks education in the business, but we are having fun.
JS: And before the birth of Nooka, you were…
MW: Creative Director with a focus on brand development and corporate identity systems. You can see the kind of work I do in that field at www.berrymatch.com as I still run a small design studio for that. If you go way back, I was a club kid and an east village poet. Even further back and I was weird kid with long hair and the Bowie Aladdin Sane t-shirt that no one wanted to sit next to in grade school.
JS: As far as branding goes, it looks like Nooka is really solidifying itself as a strong, unique personality. How are you positioning Nooka against other time companies?
MW: We don’t position “against” other time companies as our strategy puts us in many stores where we are the only watch/accessory being sold. For the same reason, we do not actively place in watch stores/watch departments. The Nooka customer is buying a design [or a fashion] experience, not a timepiece.
JS: “Watch People” are sometimes a tough crowd to break tradition with. Have you found that your consumers — particularly those buying your watches made with rare materials — are in line with the classic collector, or do they represent a new genre?
MW : I think we’re helping create a new genre. We get so many emails from people who write “I never wore a watch until I found Nooka”, so we may not be a brand for ‘watch people.’ The models with rare materials are good for press, but the bulk of sales come from our watches made with standard materials, and, overwhelmingly, of the color black. That said, we have a model coming up this fall, the Nooka Zonâ„¢, that I think will appeal to the Watch People.
JS: Speaking of materials – one of the many highlights of the Nooka line are the materials you choose to work with. What combination of elements has been your personal favorite to date?
MW: I love the polyurethane body of the zubs and the same material on the new camo COTNâ„¢ models. They feel like flesh. I would like to work more with farm-raised crocodile, but getting a consistent grain has been difficult for a company like ours with small runs. The aluminum case with the polyurethane straps on the AL line creates a new feel with the case being so lightweight.
JS: The piece you worked on for the Lego event in Tokyo, Peace Memorial for Great Buildings Lost, communicated your very intense feelings for architecture. What does a watch, as a more isolated medium of expression and identification, mean to you?
MW: I’m a city person and have been obsessed with architecture from a young age. The intense feelings from that piece show what an emotional endeavor architecture is! A building or structure can be used my so many people over long periods of time, and this process imbues them with special meanings. Architecture is big, watches are small. All man-made objects tell; a design story, a material story and a contextual/personal story from the way the individual interacts with the object. What an iconic building can do for a city, a Nooka can do for individual style.
JS: Nooka watches really follow that classic “take something old and reinterpret it” design principle. Is this concept a big theme in the classes you teach at Parsons?
MW: Yes and no. The reason I went into teaching was a reaction to the lack of basic skills I found in design school graduates. Therefore, I focus first on basics and then concepts. Of course, lots of Nooka philosophy gets into the lessons!
JS: Watches have the potential to become a strong medium for collaboration. Most recently you’ve worked with Shin Tanaka – do you have any plans to increase the frequency of these collabs?
MW: Yes. We’re going to work with some smaller clothing brands with similar philosophies. I’ll try to keep my blog up to date on what’s coming up.
JS: Uh oh — Snoop’s rocking a Nooka? Who’s your dream celebrity spokesperson?
MW: Hmmmm. Kanye West [He already has a few and we'd love to work with him], Daniel Day Lewis, Madonna, Kylie Minogue, Ewan McGreggor, Mario Lopez? [I'm really not on top of who's a celeb these days.]
JS: It appears — due to your site redesign and some key copywriting changes — that Nooka has plans to expand beyond watches. Is that true – and can you tell us anything about it?
MW: We can save it for a larger article later if you want, but we will present a new way to carry your credit cards and other products to debut this fall.
JS: Anything else coming up in ’08, personally or professionally, that we should know about?
MW: We may do our first trade show in Mainland China this summer, which is exciting. Personally, I'd like to start a rock band as my guitar playing is not improving on its own.