When is the last time you read a story about a brand owner who actually studied industrial design and worked in the watch industry for several years before creating his own brand? Seriously, how long has it been?
I do know a few people like that, but they are as rare as snow leopard sightings in its natural habitat. I don’t literally mean catching in the sense of extending my arms forward in hopes of hugging the animal but catching as in sighting one and snapping a decent photo of it. I was so glad, then, to speak to Peter Cho from Jack Mason, because he is a truly rare breed of a man.
When I say “rare breed,” I mean that he’s a gentleman and down to earth (don’t get me started on what most such people are like), and because he’s a legitimate designer who has worked for watch brands before creating Jack Mason. Is he a unicorn? A snow leopard? Perhaps both, to be honest.
I met Peter in the flesh at the 2022 edition of the Wind Up Watch Fair in New York City. On the same day, I got my first hands-on experience with a Jack Mason watch, the Strat-o-timer, specifically. This elegant and sporty GMT’s blue and red bezel caught my eye from a distance, and I couldn’t help myself stopping by the Jack Mason booth. The rest (as you soon will see) was history.
This article is the story of a man whose passion for horology began at the same time he started working in the industry, a man who has patiently fine-tuned his design skills and let his evolving personal taste in watches age like a good wine before deciding to launch out on his own with his own watch brand. This story, then, is one about passion, patience, and resilience.
Peter Cho, Founder Jack Mason
Seeing Things in Three Dimensions
While these profile stories typically begin with an in-depth analysis of the person’s first horological encounters, I’m going to take a different path with Peter Cho’s story. Not only did Peter work as an industrial designer for many years before creating Jack Mason, he also developed a particular way of seeing watches. While most people I talk to have described a watch as being a talisman—something that can bring good luck or mark an important event in life—watches for Peter mean something different. To him, a watch is a multilayered object with many facets. Each facet means something different and requires different skills in its manufacture.
Think of a diamond that has different sides or a Rubik’s Cube.
I imagine Peter taking a close look at a 3D prototype of his latest collection through a watchmaker’s loupe. Each time he looks at it, he discovers something new about the watch, as if the more time he takes to look at it, the more it reveals itself to him. As a writer, I think in two dimensions—the pen and paper or, more specifically, the keyboard and the screen—but as a watch enthusiast, I can relate to how Peter looks at a watch. The more I wear a watch in different situations, the more I understand it. In that vein, Peter’s work is that of a sculptor who takes time to look at his work in between every two knocks of the chisel.
You wouldn’t be surprised to hear that Peter comes from a family of artists. From painting to sculpture, the environment he grew up in was that of creatives who can see things from different perspectives. If he had been born in a family of engineers, perhaps Peter would have ended up working for Jaeger LeCoultre and created the brand’s latest and most complicated caliber. As a designer and artist, however, Peter walked on the path of product design that he studied at New York City’s Parsons School of Design.
I find it fascinating to hear Peter describe his own affinity for three-dimensionality. I believe that we are all born with a particular talent for something even though we don’t realize it at first (or ever). Peter’s greatest inborn talent (greater than his other skill, that is) is thinking in three dimensions. I guess one could be a great designer and create intricate two-dimensional designs but never graduate to thinking in three dimensions.
The best way I found to understand what he means is by handling the Strat-o-timer myself. The watch is made up of several layers from the applied markers to the design of the hands and the case profile that all come together harmoniously. Each function of the watch corresponds to a layer that has to be thought through carefully in order for it to make sense when looking at the watch as a whole. The more complications we add to a watch, after all, the harder it is to make it legible and elegant, and the Strat-o-timer is definitely an elegant timepiece.
From Parsons to Movado
After graduating from Parsons, Peter got only one job offer. This might sound disappointing at first, but hold on for a second: Peter’s one and only job offer came from Movado. The latter is the type of Swiss brand that you probably have heard of but don’t know much about. To be frank, I hadn’t heard of it myself. Movado is an old house of horology founded in 1881 in La Chaux-de-Fonds and has a long track-record of bringing forth innovation in the domains of movement construction and design. Peter started in their New Jersey office and worked a few weeks in La Chaux-de-Fonds alongside one of its senior designers.
As early as day one on the job, Peter knew he had found his path. He fell in love with the watch industry and never once looked back. It was in working with a seasoned designer that he realized that watches have many layers and that their function is not just to tell the time. He started to see watches, as many of us do, as pieces of art. In particular, he became sensitive to the delicate balance of adorning watches with the proper dimensions. As Peter told me, it’s easy to get proportions wrong.
I totally agree.
During the many years he worked at Movado, Peter fine-tuned his appreciation for design and the current design trends with certain brands. Speaking of proportions, he admires Nomos and the brand’s capacity for making watches with interesting complications that still look simple and legible. It’s as if Nomos could design the perfect watch as easily as you can tie your shoelaces, as if it came absolutely naturally and without effort. What he admires, I would say, is the result of decades of experience and repetition. It’s what the author Robert Greene describes as mastery, that state of being where we get into a flow state and become able to create beauty effortlessly.
As Peter indicated, it’s difficult to design a minimalist watch that has a strong visual identity. Think of the dozens of soulless “fashion watches” designed by people who mistake minimalism for the absence of things. Minimalism, or should we say essentialism, is about putting only what is useful and removing the superfluous. Since I know you love my sculptor analogy, then imagine again the work that the sculptor has to put in order to chisel out one piece of rock at a time until he reaches near perfection.
Simplicity in design sounds easy as a goal, but as we will see below with Peter’s latest model, it is not.
The Strat-o-timer As an Example
Let’s take the Strat-o-timer as an example to demonstrate how Peter works. Creating a GMT does not seem to be an easy task because this type of watch displays different types of information. Generally, a GMT has a date complication, a fourth hand indicating the GMT time, as well as the regular hour/minute/second handset that indicates the local time. I’ve come across many GMTs that are hard to read because the design is all over the place. Creating a GMT requires a special type of designer, one that can highlight the important stuff while removing the less important stuff.
When Peter designed the Strat-o-timer, he got some backlash for using this particular type of handset and this particular typeface on the bezel insert. His goal was to create symmetry and functionality that he would match with elegance. He chose, for example, rectangular applied makers because they are easier to read than painted ones, and he chose thinner baton style hands for their elegance because they work well with the markers. These might not be the most creative choices, but they make a lot of sense put together, because then he had to highlight the GMT hand and scale on the bezel.
The typeface used for the date complication and on the GMT bezel insert is simple, modern, and easy to read. Peter framed the date window to match the applied markers, and chose a white date disc to match the appearance and width of the hour markers. Put together, you have a watch that serves three distinct purposes and does it well: indicating the local time, the date, and the GMT time. Underneath this beautiful watch beats the new Miyota 9075 true GMT caliber (it’s the local hour hand that jumps), showing that Peter can not only design a nice watch but also use the latest technology available.
Often what happens when I write an article about a watch or a brand owner is that I only understand what drew me to write about the watch or person while typing. What I did not understand at first is that what makes Peter so good at what he does is this: he doesn’t seek to be recognized for creating the latest trend in watch design, whether by creating something bizarre or forgotten for decades. He instead seeks to create elegant and effective designs. As mentioned above, baton hands are not new, but his way of using them shows his talent for design.
To me, the Strat-o-timer has already become a classic.
A Holistic Perpective
Peter also mentioned Christopher Ward as being a brand he admires. He not only admires the fact that CW provides excellent quality watches for comparatively little money but likes the holistic perspective they take to conceptualizing watches. Christopher Ward is known for the Light-catcher case that has been thought through from all angles (top, bottom, and sides). This company’s timepieces are also endowed with the same attention to detail when it comes to colors, typefaces, and handsets. They have created a unique DNA for their brand just like Peter is creating a unique DNA for Jack Mason.
When looking at watches from a holistic perspective, we of course are talking about proportions. I’m astonished by the high number of watches I come across that have—according to yours truly—faulty proportions that range from a dial opening that is too wide relative to the case dimensions to hands that are too short or date apertures that are too big. Worst of all is when I see a time-only watch with a large case and tiny markers that create an empty space as wide as the Great Rift Valley in Africa is long, and it makes me wonder what has gone wrong there.
Looking again at the Strat-o-timer, we can see Peter’s greatest design to date and one that checks off many of the boxes of effective design: a holistic approach to form and function, as well as an emphasis on certain details that are too often overlooked. There is the seven-part Jubilee-style bracelet, for example, that feels solid and looks elegant. I’ve rarely come across such a nice bracelet, and again, Peter did not create the Jubilee bracelet, but he revisited it and adapted it to make it work for the Strat-o-timer.
Conclusion: It's About Watches, Not Peter
Profile stories generally linger on the person’s personal background. In this case, though, although we did touch on this very briefly, we mostly looked at Peter’s way of designing a watch and the products of his brilliant mind. Do you even know what Peter’s first watch was? Nah, you don’t, and I won’t tell you because it doesn’t matter. What matters is how Peter approaches design and his particular affinity for three-dimensionality.
What also matters is how Peter perceives Jack Mason and where he wants to take the brand. Peter’s full name is Peter Cho and therefore the brand was not named after him but after the son of one of his business partners. Looking at photos of the Strat-o-timer, you will notice the Lone Star logo from the state of Texas where the brand is established. Peter and his colleagues aim to make Jack Mason watches into Americana, in other words, objects that evoke deeply rooted American culture and traditions.
Peter’s plans for the future include moving assembly of these watches to the United States besides continuing to push boundaries of accepted design language and creating exquisite timepieces. Who knows? Perhaps in a few years, we may see 100 percent American-made Jack Mason watches. I sure hope so.
Thanks for reading.