If you try and reimagine a timeless classic, please reconsider. A perfect example of something that doesn’t need fixing but has been taken on as a design challenge is the Casio F-91W.
Created in 1989, the digital watch is iconic for its simplistic design and affordable price of under $20. Everyone immediately recognizes the F-91W, and it’s shown a lot of staying power as a fashion staple despite the rise of smartwatches. It remains one of the most popular watches on Amazon and frequents lists of the best digital watches. Needless to say, a great watch. Which is to say, it isn’t broke, and thus doesn’t need fixing... let alone inverting.
A sullied reputation — In the early 2000s, the F-91W gained an association with terrorism after documents leaked out of Guantanamo Bay which created a link between the watch and its use in bomb-making. Some prisoners were even unfairly held in detention because of the link.
Industrial designer Finn Magee thought to give the F-91W a fresh coat of paint that would free it from the negative associations.
“[The F-91W] was associated with nefarious practices on both sides; serving as a bomb timer circuit for insurgents and as a criteria for rendition by western forces,” writes Magee. “The Reworks came from wondering what a more positive appropriation of the watch could be like.”
An impossible task — While the intent is admirable, does anyone’s mind really float to images of 9/11 when they see an F-91W on a person’s wrist? Maybe older generations, but it’s doubtful that the history is going to shy anyone away from wearing one, or has sullied their view of the watch at all. The sales data doesn’t seem to indicate so, either. So there’s nothing hurting the F-91W, but maybe Magee could really improve on its design with some smart improvements? Unfortunately no. What he came up with as a new rendition is, to put it charitably, terrible.
On his site, Magee explains his process: “Strip down, Stainless steel backplate punched and polished, Display insert CNC machined, Extension link and movement holder 3D printed in nylon, Neoprene gasket water-jet cut, Case tapped, drilled and fitted with stainless steel grub-screw, Movement marked with edition number, Re-assembly, inspect and polish.”
The reimagined F-91W looks like a minimalistic, inverted version of the original. The problem is that all the specific design touches of the original are what makes it special — that’s where all the nostalgia associated with the watch lives. Get rid of too much and you just have a sad-looking generic watch that looks like someone at the factory made a mistake.
Trying to redesign a classic is a losing game. There’s really nothing that makes Casio’s watch special nowadays besides its form over function design that harkens back to simpler times. That’s the whole reason to buy the watch. The retro design feels cool but this new one? Not cool.
If you have an F-91W and really want one of these redesigned models, Magee offers his services for a fee.