It’s hard to make an original wristwatch these days. But hard doesn’t have to mean impossible, as evidenced by the Swiss-made Klokers Klok-01 that I’ve had the pleasure of testing over the past few weeks. This watch, funded on Kickstarter and costing a hefty €399 ($445) today, stands out with its eye-catching mechanism for telling the time. Instead of rotating hands pointing at the time on a circular dial, the Klok-01 inverts the whole process and rotates the dials around a fixed center point.
This is not a smartwatch, and I’m glad for it. No Bluetooth connectivity, no notification mirroring. It’s a device for telling the time, but it’s also a social instrument, as I quickly discovered during a weeklong trip to New York where everyone enquired about the Klok’s provenance and functionality. As such, it’s rather a good entry point to the whole culture that surrounds watches. Those among us who collect watches and spend large sums of money on them do so, firstly, for the knowledge of having a precise, caringly crafted timepiece, but also for the sheer glory of it.
So here’s how the Klok-01 works: there are three dials, each of them rotating with the time. Hours are on the outermost circle, minutes are in the middle, and seconds race along closest to the center. One line straight down the middle tells the time by intersecting each of the dials. It has an integrated magnifying lens, which looks like it protrudes from the watch’s domed, transparent-polymer cover, but actually sits underneath it. Is this the most efficient way of telling the time? Of course not. But it sure is an enchanting way to do it.
I think a big part of the Klok-01’s aesthetic appeal stems from the fact that its visual gimmick is also a functional thing. Those rotating dials feel alive with the motion of time, lending the whole watch a throwback feel that evokes overly complex inventions of human technological past. Who doesn’t like the charming, fairy tale images of overelaborate gizmos that make funny noises? The Klok watch only makes the steady ticking noise of a quartz movement, but you get the idea. It’s a tiny bit magical.
I don’t often like gadgets that are designed primarily to look great rather than work great. And my initial impression of the Klok-01 was not a hugely positive one. This watch has no backlight or illumination, so seeing it in the dark is a no-go. I was also disappointed that I could never, even after hours of tinkering, line up the three dials so that they corresponded perfectly to one another — the minutes would always be a little out of sync with the hour dial. But those concerns mostly faded away once I started wearing it.
The default leather strap that comes with the Klok-01 is excellent. It’s soft and supple, adapting to the contours of my wrist instead of pressing against them. Klokers offers a variety of other strap colors and materials (they all fit just as nicely), and the company has invented an effortless detachment mechanism. You just press the red button at the Klok’s lower left, and it slips on and off any compatible strap with ease. It can then just sit by itself as a standalone timepiece, and the watch-less straps are also pretty enough to be worn as bracelets by themselves.
The subtle advantage that the Klok-01 has over most other watches is its space efficiency. It has no lugs and it has practically no bezel, so all I have on my wrist while wearing it is a big, pretty display of time in motion, framed by two thin bands of leather. With a 44mm diameter, this is intended primarily to serve as a men’s watch, but I find its lightness, high degree of comfort, and unisex styling make it more versatile than the typical dress watch of this size.
Am I going to argue that an unnecessarily complicated watch is worth hundreds, whether you’re spending euros or dollars? No. I enjoyed the frivolity of wearing this watch, but I wouldn’t advise anyone to buy it if they actually need to tell the time. One of the unique oddities of the Klok-01 is that when a new hour approaches, the hour dial can make it look like that hour has already passed, so I often found myself panicking that it’s 4:55PM when it was in fact 3:55PM. And, as I’ve already mentioned, all this watch can tell me about the time when it’s dark around is that it’s still happening. Tick and tock and all that.
But the Klokers Klok-01 has taught me to appreciate the concept of a dress watch, a device that is worn with a social rather than functional purpose. I admit to enjoying the attention I received from people asking about the watch I was wearing and how it worked. When I snuck the Klok-01 into photos for my MacBook Pro review, readers responded with as many questions about the watch as they had about the laptop. It’s a conversation starter and a cool thing. It doesn’t make the world better through its functionality, but it kinda does through its very existence. A great gift, if not a sober purchase.