Xavier Dietlin, the man who enlightened horlogery
It’s almost two decades since Dietlin turned conventional into sensational, revolutionizing the way timepieces are displayed today, with the famous Raptor showcase, created for the Hublot brand. The glassless showcase had the ability to retreat within a few tenths of a second in its case when detecting movement, thanks to the built-in sensors.
It is just one of the achievements of the young designer, who can boast today that he has produced showcases for the most important luxury watch brands and not only – he also created for Mercedes Benz, Philip Morris and Huawei, as well as famous museums, including the MoMA Museum of Modern Art in New York.
How did you get to work with the most prestigious watchmakers?
It was a surprise even for me, even though I am from Switzerland, which is the land of watchmaking. Like every Swiss, we hear about watches all the time, we live among them. When I came into the company, my father was doing windows and doors, it was mainly a constructions company, nothing to do with watches. So, I had absolutely nothing to do with that and I found it very boring. But one day, by surprise, there was a competition in which Cartier asked my father to make a display case. In the end, I did it, because my father had no idea how to do that, and I was absolutely fascinated about all the energy we put in very small pieces and the incredible stories behind, by the minuscule things they put in a watch… I was fascinated.
So Cartier was out first contact with the watchmaking business. There was that competition, we lost, it doesn`t matter, because I was very young and had no idea about watchmaking, but I felt drawn by it and turned slowly intro the world of watches, and step by step, we started doing things in that direction. First, we did the design and then we started adding electronics, innovative digital effects, and we changed a lot of things slowly in the last 20 years.
I heard your team numbers only ten members… How do you manage to get such results with only a few hands?
It`s very easy to explain: if we were one hundred, it wouldn`t be the same. When you do thing with passion, you only need people that are close to you to do incredible display cases. I want to create the most innovative things, not to manage people. These are two different things. This is not my goal. My goal is to create. I am limited in quantity but it doesn`t matter.
Which are the most remarkable ones?
Of course, it`s the Raptor, but maybe what we changed generally is the relation between the product and the customer. By bringing the product closer, we changed the interaction of the customer with de product. And this changed everything. But what changed the game was the free access. You can touch de product, you can interact with it, so this is how I break the rules, I break the ice and I think it changed everything.
What was your most challenging request from a client?
Well, they are all crazy! Totally crazy. I only work with crazy brands. Most of the time they ask me tot do incredible things and I say: This is not possible! We are on Earth and we must stay realistic. So I change the request to make it normal. Sometimes I am the one surprised by the requests of my customers.
Do you think that these unrealistic requests have something to do with the AI thing, because of the fact that you can generate almost everything on a computer and make people believe it is real?
Maybe. But for me, everything in my creations goes back to the past. I use a lot of electronics, but everything I do is touchable. You can do digital at home, but when you come in the boutique you want to be surprised physically and what I want is surprize you with a box that opens itself, with a poetic display case, and this has nothing to do with artificial intelligence, but with physical contact and emotions. And I think that most of this comes from me being a 10 year old boy. At that age you wanted to be surprised, to be fascinated.
How do you integrate new technologies in your displays and showcases?
Everything I need. It doesn`t matter if it`s new or old, these are just tools that I need to surprise. I can be remote controllers, presence detectors, special effects… but I must tell you that I`m not fascinated by technology in any way. If you come to my house, a very old house from 1929, everything from furniture to decorations are old. I like to play vinyls. And you won`t find any technologies. Don`t get me wrong, I like that technology helps me to do incredible things, but it is only a tool.
What was your contribution to this year Watches and Wonders fair?
We did a lot of things, this edition was huge for us. If I`m not mistaken, I think I had 28 customers at the fair and all through the city. I did the Monolith and the Space Oddisey for Urwerk, Jaeger LeCoultre, Tudor, Hublot, for which we did incredible things. I think it was one of the greatest fairs we participated to.
What inspires you when you create a showcase?
Everything, theatre, museums, music – I love music so much hand sometimes I get new ideas while listening to music.
You come from a family of ”metalliers”; do your children follow your steps?
Yes, this is really new for me because they are 17 and 19 and they never told me if they would come to work in the company, but recently, six months ago, they told me they are fascinated… so whenever I have a new project, I first present it to my kids, I want to know what they think. Next year we want to do an event with my father, me and my kids, because now we are three generations in this field, and my kids entering the business would make them the sixth generation in this „metier”.
What would be the most daring thing you have in mind right now?
Difficult to say… Now, I am fascinated by secret cabinets. The kind that you don`t know how to open, you don`t know what is it and you have to do something specific to open it. It`s my new thing, my new game, and I never know where I will go next, because everything can change the next moment or something unexpected happens, but I only dream to surprise myself.