One to Watch

Herman Tantriady of Lima Watch takes his time soaking in the process, artistry and storytelling inherent in watchmaking

Interview Patrick Kasingsing
Images Herman Tantriady

Selamat hari, Herman! What’s on your wrist right now?

Hi Patrick! As of the moment, I am wearing a 3D-printed prototype watch of an upcoming Lima model. I am currently developing a new diver’s watch, an extension of Lima’s Meca line, called Meca Revolt. I’ve been wearing it often to get a feel of what the overall design should be. 

You probably get asked this a lot, but for the benefit of our new readers, can you recount how you fell in love with horology?

I’ve always been into watches ever since I was a little boy. I always get excited whenever watches are given to me, like when my parents bought me a calculator watch, and then that plastic watch that can transform into a robot, or when my brother decides to pass down his unwanted watches. But I became a true enthusiast when I bought my first automatic watch with my first paycheck. After that, instead of conventional automatic watches, I found myself getting drawn more into designer timepieces such as the ones by Alessi or Philippe Starck, Braun, Muji, and other independent designer watches

Do you remember your first watch? What would you say are the qualities that attract you to a particular timepiece? What makes a watch more than a watch?

Oh, for sure! It was a Seiko automatic, with a red dial and stainless-steel bracelet. It costed IDR 440,000 (PHP1,500++ today) about 22 years ago. Watches are very personal things and one glance at what’s on a person’s wrist speaks volumes about their tastes and character. Personally, I prefer pieces with uncluttered designs, which is why I don’t like chronograph watches. The watch I wear must have the right size at 34-39mm diameter, with fine detailing and clean, simple fonts for the numbers. Sometimes, it is enough for an ugly logo to repel me from a watch that has everything that I desire.

A lot of people, myself included, wear watches not to be able to tell the time at a glance but for the sensation and appearance of having something wound around one’s wrist; it’s like wearing art, or architecture or being able to speak your mind with a flick of the wrist! I am attracted to watches and their capacity for storytelling: vintage watches, for example, can speak volumes of what it was used for previously by virtue of its state and appearance. It could be a military watch or a dress watch that somebody’s grandfather wore to his wedding. There are the high-end watch brands known for their prestige and craftsmanship; the intricacies and the complications of their movement lay this bare. Then, there are watchmakers with backgrounds in product design, graphic design, or architecture, and these varying fields give added flavor and character to the watches they put out.

Lima Astronomer

Has your attraction to different aspects of watchmaking changed over time? Are you more appreciative, say, of the utilitarian aspect of a watch over aesthetics? Perhaps the other way around?

Yes, at first when I started Lima, I was more concerned with the aesthetics and design attributes of a watch, but along the way, I started to pay more attention to how they work, function, and last. This is a consequence of my being an avid watch collector and wanting to see the pieces I own last. Nowadays I only buy watches that can last ‘forever’, has good value, and are worth passing down to my kids.

You are actually a graphic designer by training before starting the watch brand Lima; how has this made your entry into horology easier/challenging? Were there aspects or learnings from your former career that greatly helped you in this new field?

When I was planning to start Lima, I did not even know how to open a watch case and change the battery! I found a watch repairman online and asked him to give me a short course on watch anatomy and even watch history (he is a true watch aficionado!). My approach for Lima’s first model was basically to reinterpret my graphic design style into the form of a wristwatch. Was it an easy process? Honestly, yes as my design background and being an ‘outsider’ of the horology world then allowed me to create an original and distinct design that I felt stood out among probably tens of thousands of watch models out there. I was not limited by the standards or conventions of watchmaking and was able to bring an outsider’s perspective into this exacting craft.

What would you say is your proudest achievement under Lima in the seven years it has been in operation? What other watchmaking milestones do you wish to achieve in the next seven years?

My first proud moment was when I finally launched Lima at The Brightspot Market in 2014, where it was very well received! My second proud achievement was when Lima got invited to join Tokyo Design Week in 2016. And my most recent one was when our Lima Meca-01 model was featured in Worn and Wound last year. To me, it was like winning acknowledgment from a serious watch enthusiast and collector community!

Honestly though, I try not to be too ambitious with Lima. I enjoy the craft and wish I can keep practicing watchmaking for a very long time! 🙂

Lima Zenga

The mix of collaborators you have for Lima is an exciting blend of non-watchmakers (a concrete-making company, an illustrator, a product designer), which makes it exciting to anticipate what they’ll come up with; what’s the most challenging collab you’ve had so far? Who would you say is your dream collaborator for a Lima timepiece?

Yes, I thoroughly enjoyed my collaborations with these highly talented individuals and I’m glad to say that the products that resulted from these collaborations have received very positive responses from our customers. Right now, we are currently working with an internationally acclaimed graphic design studio and product designer for a new product. It is a challenge as there is a need to balance their distinct design approach with that of Lima Watch’s brand direction. Another challenge is it will be released at the same time as our upcoming Meca Revolt timepiece so we’re expecting some sleepless nights ahead.

As for my dream collaboration, it will be great if I could design a watch for one of my favorite brands, like Muji. 

What strikes me about the designs of your timepieces are while they all seem to adhere to a less is more approach, they all still manage to exude playfulness, warmth, and vibrance in their minimalism; there are many types of watches and watch users; how would you describe a prototypical Lima watch user?

Our watch was first intended for buyers with an eye for good design; they are not necessarily watch wearers or aficionados, but they would buy Lima watches as gifts for someone else, sort of like a designer novelty item. However, my love and appreciation of horology deepened throughout the past seven years, and it has also affected the way I envision the buyers of my watches; it is more important for me now to produce watches that collectors and enthusiasts can enjoy collecting and wearing.

You are not averse to experimenting with various materials for your watches; you’ve worked with wood, metals, and even concrete! What other materials do you envision playing around with? How has your market reacted to some of the more unorthodox material choices?

The problem with experimenting with unusual materials is that it tends to attract a very niche market. I am an industrialist at heart. Since the beginning of Lima Watch, we have prepared our watches to be mass-produced by creating clear, standardized operating procedures for our suppliers, so whoever makes our watch, there will be consistency in the details. Unfortunately, maybe because our first model was made of wood, we were perceived as a handmade, handicraft brand. We wanted to shed this image and that is why our watches now are not as customizable as they used to be.

As for one material that we’ve always wanted to use, that would be titanium, to enhance watch performance.

Lima PA:GI Disney
Lima Meca

There are experimental watchmakers and then there are the traditionalists; what aspects of each side would you say are important to learn for a budding watchmaker?

There are different types of watchmakers: you have the independent brand, the factory brand, and the artisan watchmaker. We personally adopt a bit of each type into our business model. Lima as an independent brand would want to have big production capacity, able to release 20-30 models a year as the factory brand is able to. But of course, we would also like to release limited edition watches with unique designs and movement complications like artisan watchmakers.

In the end, like how it is in other design industries, there are products made for growing revenue and limited-edition ones that showcase our capabilities and experiments.

There are those that appreciate watches as a product, and those enamored by the painstaking processes necessary to create it; what would you say is your favorite stage in the watchmaking process? Why are you attracted to it?

There are two design stages when we create our watches: the narrative stage and the design production stage. The Lima Meca, for example, we designed the story behind it first, coming up with vintage tin toys as inspiration, and implementing the winding key that gets these old toys to run in the product design. For the second stage, we embarked on the design of the watch itself, translating the vision into a timepiece that stands out, but also somehow still familiar to one’s eye, just like our childhood toys!

I love the design process most as it is the most rewarding one. Do you want to know which stage I hate most? Selling them! 🙂 •

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