Next in our series of ‘MrWatchMaster Meets’ is Raphael Ickler who is the founder of Defakto Watches, the Bauhaus-inspired company that focuses on contemporary minimalist design. Defakto is an independent German watchmaker that offers high-quality designed watches. The puristic Defakto watch collection offers in-house-manufactured, three, two-hand and even single-hand – watches in a range of different versions.
We bring you a fascinating insight into the man who single-handedly runs the Defakto business and his inspirations for the minimalist brand.
MWM: How did you become a watchmaker, what was the inspiration and what might you have done had it not been successful?
RI: I was surrounded by machines and watches as a kid, as my family has been in the German watch manufacturing business since 1924. After my Master’s studies at the Univeristy of Arts in Bremen, I decided to start the watch brand Defakto. At the beginning it was just a part-time thing, and I had to balance Defakto with a job in the Communication and Strategy department of a German music technology company. This period was creatively stimulating but difficult from a time-management perspective. Looking back, this was an important period in my life, as it allowed me to figure out what I wanted to do with my future. Looking back on my earlier jobs and internships, my main goal was to get away from the intellectual and creative restrictions of large companies, and to work in a sustainable, fully integrated and product-based manner. My daily work with Defakto reflects this drive perfectly. As I have no ‘Plan B’, I have to fully commit to what I’m doing right now.
Design is not about decorating functional forms – it is about creating forms that accord with the character of the object and that show new technologies to advantage.” Peter Behrens, Founder, Deutscher Werkbund (Munich, 1907)
MWM: Running an entire Watch Manufacture single handed is impressive – how do you do it and which elements do you enjoy and which do you not enjoy?
RI: Throughout the day, every step – from customer contact, concept, design, manufacture, watchmaking, photography, to logisitics and many other steps in between – is in my hands. I love the flexibility of being able to work in such diverse fields. Whenever I start to particularly enjoy a certain step of the process, creativity generally follows. I give these moments priority if possible. The underlying routine work is performed in ‘islands’. At night I am often creating concepts or doing manual work on the watches. I like the idea of 100% integration and hope that people can see this in the exacting standards of my watch collection. Of course, some of the necessary steps are no fun at all. No one will be surprised that paperwork is one of them.
MWM: Do you feel closer to your customers as a result?
RI: Yes, of course – I am sure both sides do. I really appreciate having conversations and giving support. As every finished watch is a personal object to me, interacting with someone who likes a Defakto watch is very empathic feeling. Due to the direct sales strategy of Defakto, I have personal contact with watch and design enthusiasts from around the world. This ‘one-to-one’ exchange with my geographically diverse customers gives me a chance to gain insights and have interactions with a wide range of interessting cultures around the world.
MWM: How does your family feel about your work?
RI: My family appreaciates that I work a lot from my studio/office at home. It is not always easy, but having your children around is great. My two-year-old daughter already sits besides me sometimes and works on some of my private watches: she cleans them with a microfibre, checks the strap and uses the high pressure air tool – voluntarily of course. But this is only one side: my grandmother once saw one of my completed watches and asked “Who’s going to need this? Everybody’s already got a watch.” A nice reminder that you can’t please everyone.
MWM: How would you describe the philosophy for the brand and what do you feel the brand stands for?
RI: Defakto is derived from the latin word “defacto”, which can be translated as “true, to the point, as it happens”. Hence my watches include a minimalistic design, high quality materials and our high manufacturing skill. Within this setup my aim is to display time in various ways – de-accelerating, pattern creating, interlacing. No Defakto watch offers a date display in order to fully concentrate on the now – the only moment where time is present. I think that transparency, pure form, and high functionality of objects and services, makes an important counterweight to time-, money- and brain-consuming new mainstream technologies and brand infected lifestlyes.
MWM: Where does the inspiration for your design originate from?
RI: Good design combines reflected sensitivity with physical materials, with the ultimate goal being purity. This is similar to good cooking or humour. Achieving visual balance and physical interplay dedictated to time is one of core design features of Defakto. My aim is to create puristic watches that have the aspiration to live within – and more importantly through – time to create a sustainable product that one will enjoy as much today as in future. To achieve this I try to eliminate all aspects that do not contribute to the sum of pure design and function. To improve in design generally, I try to concentrate on breaking the processes of daily life down to their purest elements and to work them arround the prejudging filters of my brain. As you enter this meta-level good ideas can evolve.
MWM: What are your future plans?
RI: I am convinced that Defakto has a lot of potential, as with time more and more people are finding their way to my online presence, which is a little ‘under the radar’ compared to other websites. At the moment I’m working on new models, including the possibility of a Defakto style GMT or maybe even a Chronometer in the future. Some smaller, very characteristic projects will be released soon. I am open to co-operating with all manner of artists, using Defakto as a platform to incorporate unique points of view, with the aim of releasing yet unseen limited edition watches. In general I want to keep Defakto as a ‘one-man’ company to protect the freedom and pleasure of work it allows me.
About Raphael Ickler
After graduating from the Master’s program in Digital Media Art at the Art University of Bremen, the 33-year-old designer and founder Raphael Ickler founded the independent watch brand Defakto in Berlin. The high-quality watches offered by Defakto are the result of a long family experience in the watchmaking industry. This tradition goes back to 1924, when Karl Ickler founded Ickler GmbH in Pforzheim, Germany, a city famous for the production of fine watches and jewellery. To this day, a fourth generation of Ickler family members manufacture high-quality watches and watch cases at the foot of the Black Forest. In 2017, the Defakto Design and Development Office moved to Karlsruhe.
Defakto is a member of the ‘Deutscher Werkbund’ – an institution founded in 1907 by Peter Behrens – the ‘Wiener Werkstätten’, as well as other collectives of craftsmen and professionals. The Deutscher Werkbund is an “association of artists, architects, entrepreneurs and experts” with a long history of innovation that gave rise to the Bauhaus movement. It remains a key initiator in the fields of modern architecture and industrial design to this day. In addition to the stand-alone watch design and the high-quality in-house production, Defakto’s one-man company structure is a further unique feature.