Wilbur - Designed for the Limitless Few
Written by Michael Thompson
When you see steam hissing from Jason Wilbur’s ears, he’s ready to tell you about his next watch design.
As the force behind WILBUR, his San Diego-based timepiece design company, Jason Wilbur’s often overheated mind has unleashed some of the earth’s most profoundly original wrist machines.
Wilbur makes watches for what he calls the ‘limitless few’ who despise boundaries and prefer to explore everything. He developed this directive after years of designing machines that range from experimental automobiles to military-style drones to acrylic guitars.
“I spent years sitting through focus groups and designing products for other people,” he says. “I have to do this. I may have started with inspiration from cars, but now I do this because I am obsessed, I have to rid my brain of these ideas. And the more it hurts the more I think it is awesome.”
Design the Future
With “Build Strong, Build True. Go Like Hell” as his company’s credo, Wilbur says his design process involves harnessing his ‘hurt brain’ and directing it to design the future.
“This is about taking risks,” he says. “It’s not about finding the perfect commercial object.”
And while he enjoys using all the newest design tools like 3-D printing and CAD prototyping, Wilbur ultimately approaches watch design as an artist. And like most artists, he’s not out to please everyone.
“I am not talking about money, I’m talking about mindset. Wilbur watches are for people who want everything around them to be made with a dreamlike quality, where everything is experimental,” he explains.
Collectors likely recall Wilbur’s first watch, the Devon Tread 1. That watch made waves in the watchmaking business in 2010 when it was nominated for a Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genéve award in the Design and Concept Watch category — the first American watch brand to receive a nomination for the prestigious watch industry award.
“Our designs might be too loud for some or they might be hated by others, but they will always be executed to the nth degree.”
Wilbur could be describing the LEO, his company’s latest watch, which is far from a classically designed timekeeper.
Yes, the LEO is round and rests on the wrist like a traditional watch, but its sculptural, multi-part titanium case does not frame the expected hour, minute and seconds hands. The LEO instead displays the time in an unusual manner on a dial that looks like a satellite tumbling its way around Earth’s orbit.
At the center of its extra-terrestrial puzzle the LEO displays the hour prominently – and digitally. And while this sort of ‘jump-hour’ digital display is not entirely unheard-of among Swiss watches, Wilbur’s other-worldly method of creating the hour digit, devised with famed Swiss movement engineering company Concepto, is a global premiere.
The hour digit that appears in the LEO’s central aperture is actually a mash-up of two otherwise indecipherable symbols that meet once per hour. Two sapphire disks, one clear and one brushed black, rotate twice a day on either side of the hour display. When they meet, those alien symbols form the correct hour digit at the dial’s center.
The LEO returns to earth for its minutes and the seconds displays, each of which can be viewed at the end of fixed bridges that double as hands.
Wilbur explains that the LEO took him seven years to finalize. But the base idea for the LEO’s galactic display took root in Wilbur’s psyche years earlier.
“I wanted to create something that sprang from learning in my youth about the Roswell incident with all its alien stuff,” he recalls.
“One of the aspects of that incident that supposedly ‘proved’ the alien nature of the event was the appearance of cryptic symbols on the side of twisted metal, none of which was apparently recognizable to anybody. I started thinking about creating symbols that on their own look otherworldly.”
Wilbur unspooled the Roswell thread from his youth and devised a secret language of a sort.
“No one on Earth who saw those pieces would know what the symbols mean. So I created my own code. On the watch the hours come together with those coded symbols,” he adds.
Wilbur will make fifty examples of the LEO in its initial JW 1.1 version, but he plans to eventually build three-hundred LEO watches in a variety of hues and with customized finishes and materials.
The LEO complements Wilbur’s existing lineup, which also includes the EXP watch and the Launch Edition, both of which are square-cased modular watches built with an artful mix of steel, ceramic and silicon components.
“We’ll make those in about 5,000 units per year,” he explains. “Two models are on the website now and two more are coming.” He notes that these modular designs offer him the creative leeway to create some ‘crazy’ Wilbur watches.
The Wilbur LEO JW1.1 is available for pre-order now on the Wilbur website. Prices start at $32,500.