The future of stainless steel

Find out how design students challenge a traditional material in innovative ways.

Victorinox and ECAL innovate the material of the I.N.O.X. watch

To explore the possibilities of stainless steel in the watch industry, we wanted to ask the next generation of up and coming designers about their take on this traditional material. So we were delighted to collaborate with one of the most famous and innovative design schools in the world: the renowned école cantonale d’art Lausanne, in short: ECAL. Students from all over the world borrowed from areas such as medical surgery, nanotechnology or biomimicry, and applied this knowledge to the world of watches.

A story of tradition and innovation

Over the years we have built quite some expertise in working with stainless steel. About 100 years ago we were the first knife company in the world to work with this material. This innovation marked such a turning point in the quality of our products, that in 1921, we integrated the name for non-rusting steel “inox” into our brand name.

Ever since then, stainless steel has been at the core of our work. It’s this expertise which led us to the world of watches. With all our experience, it just seemed natural to start manufacturing timepieces. And that’s how the legendary I.N.O.X. was born: an homage to a material that keeps stunning us with its ingenuity.

Join us to explore the fascinating possibilities of stainless steel.

Stainless steel – 1 material, 11 innovations

Cold Spraying – reinterpreted by Maxime Augay, France
With a supersonic nozzle, metal powder is pressed onto a surface such as metal, ceramic or even plastic. Innovative material combinations can thus be achieved – leading to better quality or new visual effects in watch design. Image: Digital rendering by student
Explosive cladding – reinterpreted by Christian Hollweck, Germany When combining two different metals such as stainless steel and titanium through an explosion, super metals are created. The visual result on the surface of such explosions is stunning for watch design. Image: Digital rendering by student (based on VI original picture)
Explosive imprinting – reinterpreted by Christian Hollweck, Germany Through the pressure built up in an explosion, a hologram can be applied onto a metal surface on a nano-scale. Used for micro engravings on a watch, the images are extremely small and rich in detail. Image: Picture taken by the student, production by Bernhard Rieger
Stitching – reinterpreted by Nicolas de Vismes, France Stitching in stainless steel is a craft which was honed by its use in medicine. Rasps are tailor made for surgeons to carve out a recess in the bone in which to place an implant. Applied onto watches, stitching provides a surface sensuality and a handcrafted touch. Image: Digital rendering by student
UV Printing – reinterpreted by Sara de Campos, Portugal UV printing uses light instead of evaporation to fixate paint. That makes printing extremely fast, environmentally friendly and precise. The precision aspect is interesting for watch design: it allows fine gradients, patterns and high definition imagery. Image: Digital rendering by student
Honeycomb Tubes – reinterpreted by Hiroyuki Morita, Japan Inspired by nature, honeycomb tubes are rigid and at the same time flexible and lightweight. Its use in the watch industry not only has functional advantages. The geometric set-up is also attention catching in its design. Image: Digital rendering by student
Roll Bonding – reinterpreted by Adrien Cugulière, France Layers of different metals are passed through a pair of flat rollers to bond the layers, for example aluminum and steel. Punching and milling the top layer reveals the layer underneath creating new functional and ornamental qualities. Image: Digital rendering by student
Light Caustics – reinterpreted by Sumegha Matri, India

When light beams get focused and then diverted by a reflective material, caustics are created. For example the light reflection in a swimming pool. Applying an engraving according to the principles of light caustics on a watch surface, adds an almost “magical property”. Image: picture taken by student, Rayform SA

Tubular Laser Cutting – reinterpreted by Yen-Hao Chu, Taiwan A stent is a metal structure that is inserted into a blood vessel and afterwards expanded to open a narrowed artery to improve blood flow. By transferring the purely functional stent structure to design, an innovative look and feel is created and can be used for example in a watch strap. Image: Digital rendering by student
Inox Embroidery – reinterpreted by Aleksandra Szewc, Poland Embroidery techniques combined with stainless steel thread technology celebrate the qualities of stainless steel threads: safe to wash, corrosion resistant and durable, yet soft and flexible. This opens up new possibilities for applications in watch manufacturing. Image: Digital rendering by student
Micro Stamping – reinterpreted by Sara Regal, Spain Micro manufacturing offers new ways of working with steel. For example, piercing and bending metal sheets with Micro Stamping can be used for watch bracelets to create new patterns as well as functional forms that are stable and flexible at the same time. Image: IMP (industrial machine products)

The project was headed up by Alexis Georgacopoulos, Director of ECAL, and Thilo Alex Brunner, Head of Master in Product Design at ECAL. Under their initiative, designer and ECAL professor Alexander Taylor led students from all over the world through a three month project on discovering new possibilities for the use of stainless steel.

What is the future of stainless steel in the watch industry, Alexander Taylor?

Why didn’t you design watches in this project but focused on material?
I believe the students and designers should learn skills enabling them to be multifaceted in approach and work not only with the finished object, working in a way exploring first the ways in which we can work without the parameters of the object. The character of the object and the opportunity to create something new in both terms of aesthetic and production will come from a collaboration with makers and understanding of the designer to tailor the technologies to a particular need. During this process opportunities will inevitably present themselves beyond the original brief. By not focusing on a particular design of a watch it allowed us to let the process really inform and influence the formal outcome.

What makes stainless steel such an interesting material to work with?
It has such a beautiful and highly functional industrial quality, somehow hi-tech yet so familiar! It is a material with the ability to stimulate the senses and is associated with pioneering product / structures and performance. With this project however we illustrated how you can take a material which is so familiar and still propose absolutely new ways in which it can be fabricated or processed. 

Will we still use stainless steel in the future?
Stainless steel will be a material we use long into the future. Like all materials it is constantly evolving as are the ways in which to work with it and the application with which it is used. It will be engineered and adapted to suit many new demands however as a core material it has a quality associated which now more than ever relates to the consumer and values of quality.
 
Everything is going digital. Are your students interested in working with a material as sturdy and traditional as stainless steel? 
We are industrial designers who like to work on physical objects and with physical materials. In this digital era and into the future I think it is interesting how there is an important emotional attachment to the physical object which stimulates the senses and carries an inherent value and quality. A connection to natural materials and craftsmanship as an offset to balance against the digital world. 
 
At Victorinox, lots of craftsmen work on details and quality improvement of our products. Yet we have some of the most cutting edge machines producing our products. When it comes to craft versus digital – what skills does a designer need?
With something like a watch which is about the human connection, the designer has an opportunity to create a product with a connection beyond the function. The designer has a responsibility to search out new ways and collaboration to innovate and push the physical boundaries of what is possible. The roles of the craftsman and designer are evolving and together working alongside cutting edge technology, have the ability to produce exciting and powerful results.

Alexander's Favorites

Favorite Destination
Winter in Chamonix, Summer in the south of Italy

Favorite Dish
Simple local food! I love salad Caprese with balsamic or pomodoro Sicilian style, with an ice cold glass of wine

Favorite Smell
Fresh air!

Favorite Time of Day
First thing in the morning

Favorite Urban Escape
V&A Museum in London

Favorite Essential
My Stan Smiths

About Alex Taylor, Awarded British Designer, Professor at ECAL

Alexander is a product designer working for companies such as Zanotta, Established & Sons, ClassiCon and adidas. He’s been awarded “Designer of the Future”, with his “Fold” lamp, he also is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art. Alexander follows a transdisciplinary approach, working with some of the best craftsmen and industrial technology in the world.

The professors at ECAL at work – curated by Todd Selby

Photographer, director and author Todd Selby not only took photographs of the professors at ECAL but also interviewed them. Interviews with Todd are quite fun – they are a bit brighter, a bit more curious and surprising than any regular interview. Check out his discourse with Alexander Taylor and Team.

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Explore our I.N.O.X. watches

I.N.O.X. Carbon

black, 43 mm

I.N.O.X. Titanium

black, 43 mm

I.N.O.X. Titanium, 43 mm

gray, 43 mm
Limited

I.N.O.X. Titanium Sky High Limited Edition

white, 43 mm

I.N.O.X. V

gray, 37 mm

I.N.O.X. V

white, 37 mm

I.N.O.X. Professional Diver

yellow, 45 mm
Exclusively ours

I.N.O.X. Professional Diver

red, 45 mm

I.N.O.X.

red, 43 mm

I.N.O.X.

gray, 43 mm

I.N.O.X.

black, 43 mm

I.N.O.X.

blue, 43 mm

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