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Remembering Death

Why we created a skull-themed watch

The Memento Mori is a statement piece. Its dark aesthetic and skull motif may place it firmly in the wardrobe of the lead singer of a heavy metal band, but its inspiration comes from a much more universal sentiment – the desire to live in the moment. To live a story worth telling.

Epictetus, the stoic philosopher, urged his students to remind themselves that they are mortal when kissing loved ones like “those who stand behind men in their triumphs and remind them that they are mortal.” In fact, as far back as Socrates, thinking men have been urged to meditate on death as a pathway to fulfilment.

It’s a morbid, unpleasant thought, but as anyone who has had a close encounter with their own mortality will tell you, nothing puts life into clearer perspective than having its inevitable end presented to you on a silver platter – or, in the case of the Memento Mori watch, a surgical-grade stainless steel case.

With the launch of the Memento Mori Pocket Watch, the redesigned wristwatch, and the new limited editions, we wanted to take a dive into the inspiration for the watch and the design process of the newcomers.

1 Remembering death2 Memento mori3 Ambition meets constraints4 Next steps

Memento Mori

What does death mean to you?

To some, a skull represents death. To others, like artist Quang Ramsing Fleuret, it represents a life lived. Whatever you believe about what happens to us after death, the only way we know for certain we survive death is in the stories shared about us when we’re gone. We’ve left this mortal coil and won’t be adding any more chapters to the books of our lives, so it’s up to us to make sure that what’s in those books is epic stuff. A riveting short story outlives a drawn-out account of mundanity because that’s the life most of us want to live. We dream of lives of wonder, intrigue, and adventure, but very few of us have the courage to create that life for ourselves. The Memento Mori watch was designed to act as a push toward the life you want to lead, or a gift to someone you know who harbours those unrealised dreams.

The Memento Mori artistic trope calls for the use of skulls, hourglasses, decomposing fruit, or flickering candles to invoke the idea of mortality, and for us, the skull was the clearest way to bring that concept to mind. Also, an hourglass on a watch would be redundant, so a skull on a watch brings the two strongest symbols of mortality together - the passage of time and its end. The tougher decision was between the mechanisms, dials, and casebacks.

Ambition Meets Constraints

How we designed the Memento Mori

A quartz mechanism is lighter, thinner, and less expensive than automatic mechanical clockwork, and it’s more reliable to boot. Still, there’s something about winding the watch to get it going that reinforces the idea of time being limited. It makes the concept tactile, in a way – brings it to life. The decision to go with Quartz had more to do with the dial than the clockwork itself.

The three most common ways dials are given motifs:

  • A simple print. The skull is printed onto the dial before the watch is assembled. This is the least expensive way to decorate a watch face and the least durable. But since it’s inside the case, not much can happen to damage the paint that wouldn’t destroy the watch at the same time, which is why most manufacturers of affordable watches go for this method.
  • PVD coating/plating. This process allows for ultra-thin and durable metallic prints to be made on the dial before assembly. Their shine is an eye-catcher and they don’t add much thickness to the watch, but they’ll look as flat as they are. Beautiful and shiny, but lacking depth.
  • Embossing. The thin metal sheet that makes up the dial is placed in a machine press that bends it into the shape of a mould. This results in a three-dimensional raised motif that casts shadows and catches light on its curves. This sort of dial makes a watch feel more “alive” than any of the flat surfaces but adds both thickness and weight to the watch. Plus it’s way more expensive to make.

We wanted the Memento Mori watch to look fantastic. We wanted it to be a statement piece. That’s why we went with two of the most expensive options on that list. The whole dial is first embossed with the skull and banner design and then PVD coated matte black. Then, the letters and numerals are PVD coated metallic gunmetal grey like the hands, adding a contrasting shine to the design. The thickness and weight this adds to the watch forced our hand somewhat as to the choice of mechanism. Adding all this to a mechanical watch would have made it thick, heavy, and clunky. We intended to make a statement watch, not one that stuck out like a sore thumb.

Settling on Quartz movement also allowed us to decorate the caseback with something beyond the boring flat stainless steel back with ATM info and branding. Summing up the inspiration for the Memento Mori, the words “Don’t tell me how to live” are embossed on the matte black caseback.

Next Steps

Our source of inspiration: you

The first edition Memento Mori was very popular, and we soon wanted to expand upon it with other options. We love customer feedback because it helps guide us down the right path. We have hundreds of ideas about what to do next, but without you, they remain ideas only. The most requested addition to the Memento Mori collection was a pocket watch. And based on purchase history we learned that a Memento Mori with a steel strap would be a welcomed addition as well.

We then started thinking about how we can make each Memento Mori watch unique. We have a wide range of natural stone jewellery and a lot of people love the fact that no stone is exactly the same. This lead us to consider Memento Mori watches where the eyes were colourful gemstones, each unique, or shaping the whole dial out of natural stone, but none of these proved feasible in practice. The answer lay in a method of forming steel where each item gets an individual pattern. Damascus steel is made by folding two types of steel on top of one another and twisting or bending it to get unique patterns. The case and dial of our new limited edition Memento Mori watches are made of Damascus steel, meaning each carries a one-of-a-kind pattern. The one you have on your wrist is uniquely yours.