Reading Time: 5 min | Sep 2021

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Design Icons

Bauhaus Icon Max Bill and his Watches for Junghans

2019 is the year of the Bauhaus – the worldwide most influential school of art, design and ideas celebrates its centenary. We celebrate this avant-garde movement by starting a special design dedicated Bauhaus expert series that guides you through the year

Where to find the best Bauhaus Design Events? What links Bauhaus Icons to iF? As a highlight, we will take you on a journey deep into our iF archives to find traces and names of the Bauhaus.

Our third encounter, after Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius and Prof. Wilhelm Wagenfeld is: Max Bill.

Max Bill certainly knew what time it was. It was his time - as well as that of Walter Gropius and Wilhelm Wagenfeld or Eileen Gray. Together with him, Max Bill, they shaped the avant-garde movement of the Bauhaus, which celebrates its centenary this year. Time for us too – to take a look into our iF archives again. Swiss architect, artist, painter, typeface designer, industrial designer and graphic designer Max Bill and watch manufacturer Junghans are part of the design excellence with diverse watches which remained classics until today.

Max Bill and the Definition of Design

Max Bill was born on 22 December 1908 in Switzerland. From 1924 to 1927 he went into training as a silversmith in Zurich. However, he was exposed from the arts and craft school in 1927, due to banal reasons – because he came to class without taking his makeup off from a party.

With the prize money he got from a chocolate factory for his poster design, he traveled to the Bauhaus in Dessau, where he studied at Josef Albers, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, László Moholy-Nagy and Oskar Schlemmer. This was a formative and future-setting experience for Max Bill.

He is best known as the driving force in the opening planning of the HfG Ulm (University for Design Ulm, Germany) and also as an architect and first principal of the school from 1950-1956. Max Bill invited art and design icons like Josef Albers, Walter Peterhans, Johannes Itten and Helene Nonné-Schmidt to teach the first 21 students at the school.

It was his vision that students and teachers live and learn together at this school – a concept he first witnessed at Gropius' Bauhaus school and which was later adapted by the renowned Black Mountain College.

It is said that the whole profession of the designer as we perceive it today was established and shaped at the HfG Ulm and Max Bill. His most known design classics are the “Ulmer Stool” and, of course, his formally plain dials for the watches of Junghans. All of Bills design classics have been honored with re-editions until today.

"A Piece of Design History on your Wrist" - Junghans Max Bill reloaded

Not only are the Junghans watches designed by Bill among the most copied items on the internet, the company just releaseed a self-winding watch created to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Bauhaus: "Automatic 100 Years Bauhaus". Why is there this fascination for the iconic Max Bill Junghans watches?

"The design of Max Bill distinguishes itself through its clarity and reduction. Concerning the wristwatches, which Bill designed for Junghans in the early 1960s, it is the good clearness of display. Especially outstanding is the typography of the watches with numbered dials, clearly rounded and without embellishment that displays the typical handwriting of the Bauhaus trained artist - this is even more evident, when you take a close look at the number 4", says Matthias Stotz, director of Uhrenfabrik Junghans GmbH & Co. KG. "These iconic watches show, until today, how the fascination for good, clear design cannot ever be broken", Stotz continues, "wearing a Junghans max bill is equal to wearing a piece of design history on your wrist!" In 1927, Bill arrived in Dessau and for the first time in his life, he saw a Bauhaus building.

He described it as "something never seen before: white walls and huge dark glass façades with the student residence at the forefront and the balcony doors accentuated in red lead." "This feeling of exhilaration experienced by Max Bill upon encountering the Bauhaus is reflected in the 1,000 limited edition Junghans max bill Automatic.

This watch bears the fundamental ideas ingrained in the very fabric of the Bauhaus. The matt silver dial commemorates the white walls of the building in Dessau, the anthracite-colored case is representative of the striking façade, and the red hands mirror the color of the famous red doors", states the company.

iF Awarded Designs by Max Bill

Max BIll's watch designs for German watch manufacturer Junghans were honored six times by iF in 1964. The style of the wall clocks and the wristwatch are popular design items until today and have the perfect timeless look with a vintage touch.

“The products we design in our office follow very much some of Bauhaus principles.”

Young Designers and the Bauhaus with Ana Relvão

Ana Relvão: "In high school I had a great art history teacher and I remember very well when he introduced the Bauhaus topic to us. It all started with the period of Gropius and the very rationalist approach, that denies any kind of decoration and identified the social need of finding "types" for daily objects. All this happened under the new paradigm that they were now built by industrial machines.

For the first time I understood that design can be used as a tool to develop honest products that speak the language of the tools they were made with. They have to serve social needs instead of focusing only on capitalistic motivations. The products we desig in our office follow very much some of the main Bauhaus principles, but of course adapted to contemporary needs. The Bauhaus isn't only a very inspirational school from the 20's century, it is also a way of thinking.

The glorification of the creative process's rational control, the artistic expressions and aesthetics determined by the function of the product, the social attention for material culture - this is all still seen today as a basis for the development of well designed, honest products. And this way of thinking extends to so many levels of modern life, architecture, art and music.”