Q&A with Celebrity Industrial Designer Marc Newson

B&W_Marc Newson_Manufacture Jaeger-LeCoultre© JohannSauty (7) copy
Marc Newson by Johann Sautry

The most expensive object ever sold at auction by a living designer was Marc Newson’s Lockheed Lounge chair. It was sold for $3.7 million in 2015 and was one of three. The extraordinary nature of the sale gives a peek into the exceptional nature of the Aussie designer. Born in Sydney, Australia, Newson graduated from the Sydney College of Arts in 1986. Not long after, he secured a grant to make chairs for Lockheed Lounge, from which the record-breaking auction chairs came. Soon thereafter, the designer made his way to Tokyo, where he lived, set up his studio and absorbed the best of Japanese minimalism before settling in London.

The best of his spare design can be seen in the best-selling Apple Watch, which Newson designed for Apple Corps and many other design projects. These include housewares like china and glassware, all manner of chairs, sneakers for Nike, pens for Montblanc, private jet interiors, luggage for Louis Vuitton and most recently, the Atmos 568 for Jaeger-LeCoultre. It’s a totally unique interpretation of an iconic clock that seems to run on air. It does, in fact, run on minute temperature changes (1 degree up or down).

Q: You were already a fan of Atmos clocks when you designed the Atmos 568 for Jaeger-LeCoultre. How did you approach this one? 

A: I feel privileged to have designed two previous Atmos clocks [561 and 566], and because of the Atmos 568’s expanded production potential I had to approach this project differently. The level of precision needed was greater, because the form has to be easily repeatable. And of course, the quintessential DNA of the Atmos had to be maintained and respected within the creative process.

I made the decision to inject a level of newness to the movement, which we achieved with the addition of uniquely designed decorative details such as the bolts that attach the movement and chamber to the glass. Utilizing smooth and brushed finishes to heighten shadow play and add depth. The crystal, too, has been designed to play with light, giving the clock an intriguingly new character from different points of view.

Marc Newson working on the Jaeger LeCoultre Atmos
Marc Newson working on the Jaeger LeCoultre Atmos

Q: Baccarat made the crystal globe, and it has been said that they are one of the few in the world who could have realized your vision, along with Jaeger-LeCoultre’s technical engineering. Is it difficult to find people who can actually bring your visions to life, technologically and practically?

A: Absolutely it is! I am glad to say that I have worked with some of the companies who put quality craftsmanship first. Companies who put excellence first, like Baccarat. These are the businesses who invest in producing excellence on an industrial level.


Q: What are your favorite types of things to design? 

A: I don’t have a favorite. Design is universal, and I approach each project in the same way, using the same set of principles. I see each brief as a set of design puzzles for which I will seek beautiful and innovative solutions.


Q: In your luggage design for Louis Vuitton, you made something that looks like a simple carry-on, but is totally unique. Do you find a lot of people don’t realize all the great engineering that often goes into your designs?

A: Yes, I think that’s true. Most people fail to realize that there is a huge amount of engineering involved in every project. Sometimes the smallest items can involve the most complicated engineering processes. A simple object may belie its very complex and difficult birth.


Q: Do your opinions change after you use the products you design for a while? 

A: This is an interesting question. And the answer is, sometimes, yes.


Q: You’ve said you do a lot of daydreaming. Is there anything you do to help renew or refresh your creative juices?

A: I like to get away and relax in beautiful places for this. I like spending time in the onsen in the countryside of Japan. I have a home, in Ithaca [Greece], where I enjoy just looking at the sea or building dry stone walls. The feeling of whizzing through the beautiful countryside in one of my beautiful, classic cars is like nothing else. But actually, a lot of the creative juices seem to happen spontaneously when I get a new brief. I am lucky that I really love my job, long that it may last!


Q: I’ve read about your contempt for current cars and love of antique ones. Would you be open to designing one?

A: Why not? I actually did design a concept car for Ford, the 021C, way back in 1999.

Apple Watch by Marc Newson
Apple Watch by Marc Newson


Q: Is it hard to juggle multiple design projects?

A: Not for me; it’s just mental calisthenics. The only difference is material and scale. It’s the same métier [profession], you just apply the same logic to many different things. That’s what keeps me sane. I’d go insane if I had to do the same thing all the time.


Q: Will you be in Miami for Art Basel?

A: I haven’t decided yet, my schedule is crazy around that time, but…


Q: What’s next?

A: We are very busy in the studio with some pretty huge projects—but they are totally confidential at this stage. I may be able to divulge more early next year. But I can say, I am continuing to work on projects with Qantas, Louis Vuitton, Knoll and Hennessey, among others!

Marc Newson working on Louis Vuitton Rollers
Marc Newson working on Louis Vuitton Rollers