C-Suite Agenda

How A Gift Changed Design History

Sometimes a simple gift can inspire someone to create something amazing. That was the case for Tinker Hatfield, an architect for Nike who went on to create one of the most iconic sneakers of our time. So what was the gift that led to this great inspiration?

It all starts with Bulova, the wristwatch company that created the Accutron. The 1950’s saw watch companies experimenting with the very first generation of electronic watches. The earliest models functioned similarly to mechanical watches, with an added motor and battery. However, these watches had similar accuracy limits of traditional watches and were prone to failure and difficult to repair. Around ten years later the Accutron was released.

The Accutron was the world’s first fully electronic watch. This watch featured an “open dial” demonstration model that was marketed as a salesman sample. The design was a hit and jewelers started requesting these watches due to the consumer demand. With the window model being so popular, the watch was named the Accutron Spaceview. Movement- view watch designs became so popular that conversions were made to existing dials to allow view of the inner workings of any watch.

Since 1961, over 200 models of Accutron have been released. Some famous wearers include Joe DiMagio, Paul Newman, and Elvis Presley. Presley was frequently photographed wearing one of the many Accutrons from his large collection. Accutron was available for all wearers due to the many models they featured, not just the rich and famous.

In fact, by 1976 over 5 million Accutron “tuning fork models” were sold worldwide. While people enjoyed the style and design of Accutron, these watches did more than just keep time: they even took us to the moon. 

The Accutron Astronaut was developed to meet the demands of high speed flight and space travel. This model operated at higher temperatures, was resistant to disturbances, and had extreme time precision with only a less than 2 second deviation per day. The technology that created this watch was even adopted by the US Air Force, the CIA, and NASA. The Accutron Astronaut was present on 46 Apollo missions and was used in all 5 lunar orbiter satellites.

Back on Earth, the design of the Accutron Spaceview was having large impacts on design movements.

After being gifted an Accutron Spaceview from his mother, Richard Rogers was inspired to create a new building that echoed the same design. Rogers was an architect, and with fellow architect Renzo Piano, he went on to create the Centre Pompidou. This building, opened to the public in 1977, was intended to appear transparent, with column-free spaces for added flexibility. This open design moved all ductwork, plumbing, and electrical conduits to the exposed exterior of the building, revealing the inner workings much like the Accutron Spaceview.

When first opened, the building sparked controversy. Located in the 4th arrondissement, the contemporary, high-tech style clashed with nearby traditional buildings such as Notre Dame. But, over time, the Centre Pompidou gained admiration and even won the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2007. It is now viewed as a must-see spot for anyone who is visiting the area. The design of the building even went on to inspire other architects, bringing us back to Tinker Hatfield.

Hatfield went from designing buildings for Nike to designing shoes in 1987. After visiting the Centre Pompidou on a trip to Paris, he felt inspired and wanted to translate that similar design into the shoes he was making. After his visit, Hatfield created the transparent air bubble element that showed the inner workings of sneakers, similar to the Accutron Spaceview. The first shoe to feature the design was the Nike Air Max 1, one of the most iconic shoes of our time. After the sneaker was released, more Nike Air designs were released with the air bubble feature including the much loved Jordan line. 

The Nike Air Max 1 is considered by many to be one of the greatest sneakers of all time due to its fashionable design as well as its functionality. The newest designs are popular even today with hip hop and gabber subcultures, and the shoes appreciate in value 28% each year! The sneaker is so popular that there is even an “Air Max Day” that was established to commemorate and celebrate the day the Air Max was released.

A simple watch was able to inspire a generation’s worth of new designs. Even 60 years after, we are still seeing the creative movement that this design started with its unique features.

Written by Brian Wallace.
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Brian Wallace
Brian Wallace is the Founder and President of NowSourcing, an industry-leading content marketing agency that makes the world's ideas simple, visual, and influential. Brian has been named a Google Small Business Advisor for 2016-present and joined the SXSW Advisory Board in 2019-present

Brian Wallace is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow him on LinkedIn.