March 1, 2024
gorillia fastback wristwatch

Freedom

It’s a topic that draws a lot of passion and discussion, with millions of people throughout history fighting and dying to achieve it. Freedom isn’t usually discussed with watches that much because for most enthusiasts it isn’t really connected to the topic. However, if you were able to speak candidly with watchmakers and designers working for major brands, freedom becomes a holy grail.

Freedom in the corporate world of product development doesn’t exist. Or at least, it doesn’t exist for most people. Almost every single decision has to be justified, approved by committee, weighed against costs, and finally vetted by management as being “brand appropriate.” Almost every product you see has been beaten into submission and watered down until it fits a narrow segment of a specific market. In the process, originality might have been murdered, innovation neutered, and the spark of inspiration snuffed out.

Basically, it’s tough to make something progressive unless it’s only you making the decisions. Of course this isn’t always a bad thing. A group of engineers telling the designer that what they have drawn is physically impossible to make with current technology saves a lot of wasted attempts at fabrication. A group of accountants telling the engineers that the material they have specified will annihilate the budget and bankrupt the project helps save a worthy product with only a few minor tweaks.

But this process can be terribly taxing on a creative mind, leading to one of two outcomes: succumbing to the system or revolting against it. I’ll give you one guess as to which one I’m going to cover today.

Gorilla Fastback wristwatch

Holy grail of designers

Creative freedom is what almost all designers yearn for because, as they can tell you, they have some great ideas (shocker, I know). The problem (as they see it) is that those ideas rarely fit well, if at all, with whatever company they are working for.

Gorilla Fastback wristwatch

For Gorilla co-founders Octavio Garcia and Lukas Gopp, working most recently with Audemars Piguet presented some amazing opportunities for design. But along with those opportunities came limitations. The requirements for design at Audemars Piguet are, I am sure, rather specific and oriented toward steady progression of the brand (and rightly so).

Judging by the success of the last decade for Audemars Piguet, this was a good strategy and one that Garcia and Gopp obviously excelled at. Yet there comes a time in every designer’s career when he or she wants to be free to design what they like and make final decisions with no interference. That is where the Gorilla Fastback comes in: it is Garcia and Gopp’s first watch designed in complete freedom and in a relative vacuum of design direction.

View of the crown and caseband of the Gorilla Fastback

Obviously since this is the first timepiece of the newly launched brand, there was no platform to build off or adhere to and no need to fear alienating loyal customers (one advantage of having no existing clients). The only requirements were those set themselves.

Octavio Garcia, having grown up in Chicago in the 1970s and 1980s, is heavily influenced by comic book superheroes and American automotive design, while Lukas Gopp was inspired to become a designer by changing bicycle technology with the meshing of materials, engineering, and design thinking.

Gorilla Fastback relaxing on the grass with a friend

 

The design brief they created for the Gorilla brand and the first timepiece called for a “distinctive, recognizable piece with a strong, engineered formal language” while exploring the mix of advanced materials as far as possible within the budget constraints. This left the rest of the direction wide open for whatever ideas the pair could come up with.

Borrowing cues from the world of mid-century automotive and sports watch design, and adding in a healthy dose of technical materials, the Gorilla Fastback is the result of wanting to make something bold and, most importantly, accessible.

A rejection (of sorts) of “Swiss-ness”

Since Octavio Garcia is American and Lukas Gopp is Austrian, there is no resolute adherence to Swiss watchmaking tradition ingrained in the two. This leads to a watch focusing on design for design’s sake, utilizing a combination of materials in ways that one typically finds on high-end watches but at a much more reasonable price point, and seeking to create a persona of cool independent of any tradition and implied (or bogus) heritage.

Gorilla Fastback wristwatch

The Fastback is a watch that doesn’t aim to be Swiss, but instead aims to be interesting – and interesting it certainly is. It has already garnered a lot of highly divided attention with people either hating it or “digging it” (actual comment seen many times).

It seems the problem with the haters (yes, I’m going to call them that) is that they seem to think that because Garcia and Gopp previously designed for Audemars Piguet, whatever else they design should follow a similar path. But that is just the reason it doesn’t.

Gorilla Fastback box

Imagine a dog being let out of a cage: the first thing it does usually isn’t to go back into the cage. No, when the dog gets out, it runs! And that is what is happening here, Garcia and Gopp are stretching their design muscles and exploring things that are wild.

Maybe the direction of Gorilla will continue down this exact path or maybe it will shift in a new direction. One thing is almost certain, the next watch design they release will be different, but will likely feature changes that the duo decided on after the first watch was put through its paces.

This is the natural evolution of ideas, and designers will almost always hone in on what they truly want to create when given enough iterations. This is the first iteration of a product that probably had many design challenges along the way. The next wave of ideas will bring new problems, new solutions, and more interesting choices.

It might still not be considered a grand hit with the broadest of audiences, but then what really is? Many people dislike the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak (gasp!) – particularly when it was new back in the 1970s – and couldn’t care less about the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso, two watches out of dozens that are considered iconic by most.

The reality

If anything, this should make it clear that a divisive design isn’t a brand killer; poor quality, bad service experiences, and unjustly high prices are. Those are three things that don’t seem to be a problem for the Gorilla Fastback. People who have seen the latest production pieces, the watches that will actually ship, are unanimous in praising the extremely high build quality and value of the watch, regardless of the opinion of the design.

Gorilla Fastback side on

The Gorilla Fastback comprises forged carbon for the center case and an anodized aluminum character line between the center case and the polished ceramic bezel. It has a titanium case back and screw-down crown, both finished to the highest degree and fitting together very well. The dial design might leave some people wanting, but it really is an interesting take on what I would call mid-1950s American automotive dash design.

The dial reads crisply and clearly. Some have commented that the hour indicator is confusing, but I find it no more so than many indicators that stray from the traditional three-hand layout.

The combination of the forged carbon, titanium, and ceramic makes for a light watch given its size, and allows it to feel less intrusive than some might guess if they prefer smaller watches. But at the end of the day it was designed to be bold, so the designers probably won’t apologize for its size or design choices.

And I would agree that they shouldn’t have to.

It isn’t as if they just released an updated version of an iconic watch that strayed far from its norm (like, say, a giant 49.25 mm Patek Philippe Nautilus); the brand is new and this is the first watch, it has to find its crowd. I’m sure it will, as almost everything does.

Gorilla Fastback wristwatch

The reality is that it is hard to design in a vacuum, and to create something where nothing existed. It is possible that there will be a version 2 that is smaller with a simpler or more modest dial, but only if the designers want to convince the “haters” to buy the watch. If the reaction is positive and they sell enough pieces to continue the brand, Gorilla could become a bold new player in the micro brand market and create interesting and well-made watches at affordable price points.

Because I am of the market that this watch is aimed at, I really enjoy this watch and am struggling with the urge to pre-order one. I think the venture is an awesome one and, more importantly, a noble one considering the current luxury watch market. With prices continuing to generally climb, affordable watches are an absolute must.

Distinctively ngraved back of the Gorilla Fastback

And for an industry star like Octavio Garcia to step away from haute horlogerie in pursuit of a well-made and interesting watch available to the everyday WIS, he should be applauded.

High-end watches are awesome, and almost all of my favorite pieces cost upwards of $100,000. So unless my entire life path changes drastically, they will remain out of reach. Having the ability to buy a cool watch from a designer who has had his influence on the Royal Oak (among other things) is a pretty awesome thing. Think of Gerald Génta or Eric Giroud, who both designed watches that became famous and watches that have been less famous.

Gorilla Fastback on the wrist

If Gorilla catches on, and either the Fastback or a future model becomes something universally coveted, then the discussions surrounding this watch will take on a whole new aspect. It is history in the making, and I for one love the thought of being part of that history.

But before I storm the Swiss Federal Assembly, let’s do that breakdown!

  • Wowza Factor * 8.2 The wow factor of this watch is due more to the price point and construction materials, which seems like a real bargain for what you get.
  • Late Night Lust Appeal * 67.8 » 664.890 m/s2 Some serious lust appeal, almost 50 percent more force than a rocket sled keeps you up all night thinking about this seriously cool and affordable offering.
  • M.G.R. * 15 The lowest score I’ve ever rated a movement because this is the most standard of movements I’ve written about. The Miyota 8215 is by no means a high-end movement, but it’s a workhorse that will take a fair beating and keep on keepin’ on.
  • Added-Functionitis * N/A Basic movement means no extra functions, not even a date (which many will say is a win), so we can skip the Gotta-HAVE-That cream even though this watch might still swell your interest.
  • Ouch Outline * 7.8 Getting your hand caught in a medieval trebuchet that you built. I like to make things and the latest was a trebuchet for a pumpkin chunking exhibition. But loading the machine isn’t always easy and my hand paid the price once. But I’d do it again to get the Gorilla Fastback on my wrist!
  • Mermaid Moment * Designed by who? Made from what? For how much?! All it takes to fall in love is to know the details and realize why this watch could be a game changer. Better call up the reverend and book the chapel for a Christmas ceremony!
  • Awesome Total * 884 Add the number of materials in the rather stout case (4) to the price in U.S. dollars (880), and when the shock wears off you are left with one affordably awesome total!