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Marc Newson: The new guy behind the Apple Watch

Marc Newson The new guy behind the Apple Watch London Life Life & Style London Evening Standard


Apple announced that Newson had joined its design team last September, when the watch and the iPhone 6 were unveiled at the firm’s headquarters in Cupertino, California. But he had already been working with Ive on watches. ‘It started long before the launch of the Apple Watch,’ he says with an Australian twang.

Three years ago he and Ive collaborated to create a customised Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox watch for an auction of their favourite objects to raise funds for RED, the charity set up by U2's Bono to fight AIDS. It was Ive’s first watch but one of many for Newson. In the 1990s, he founded a company called Ikepod that made a few thousand watches. Ikepod and the Jaeger-LeCoultre collaboration ‘led Jony to the conclusion that it might be a good thing to get me involved on the Apple Watch,’ says Newson.

Given that this is his first print interview since he formally started his new role, let’s start with the formalities. What’s your job title? ‘I don’t really have one but I work on special projects.’ Is it full-time? ‘It’s about 60 per cent of my time.’ How long will you do it? ‘Indefinitely, I hope.’ Did you work with Steve Jobs before he died? ‘No, but I met him.’ Who earns more, you or Jonathan? ‘I think you can guess that.’ Ive is equal 637th on the latest Sunday Times Rich List, worth £150m.

Newson, 51, who was born in Sydney and brought up by a single mother before moving to London two decades ago, has designed for some of the biggest names on the planet. He holds the record for the most valuable work sold at auction by a living designer — one of his Lockheed Lounge chairs (opposite) went under the hammer at Phillips in London for £2.4m last week. The chair, one of his earliest pieces, is so chic Madonna has one. He could work for anyone, anywhere. So why did he choose Apple, based half the world away from his wife Charlotte Stockdale, the fashion director of Garage magazine, who works closely with Karl Lagerfeld at Fendi, and their two children?

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It's all about intelligence.

What about the suggestion that an object you replace after a year or two because it’s outdated cannot be a premium product because true luxury stands the test of time? Long silence. ‘The way I see it, it’s evolution, progress,’ Newson recovers. ‘And we are doing wonderful things. In one of the versions of the watch, the box it comes in acts as a charging device that you can use for other models. So it becomes a useful object and not something that will just sit in the top drawer of your cupboard for the rest of eternity.’

I notice he is not wearing his Apple Watch. Does he prefer one of his many analogue watches? ‘I’ve got some classic mechanical timepieces. I don’t see how they and the Apple Watch cannibalise one another or compete.’

What is Newson’s next move? He’s not allowed to say, of course. But the clue is in his job title. Don’t expect a Newson iPhone or iPad: stand by for something more. He’s particularly interested in what technology can bring to fashion. ‘We will start to see more technology embedded in garments — magic woven in. There are some incredible things that are going to happen.’

Another big leap would be a car. Both he and Ive are petrolheads. Each owns several hundred thousand pounds’ worth of mainly classic Aston Martins, Lamborghinis and Bentleys. Newson has designed a concept car for Ford. Car firms are racing to make their new models so hi-tech they create the auto-motive answer to the iPhone. BMW has even set up its own hi-tech division that makes electric cars with the prefix ‘i’. Why not accelerate ahead of the pack with an iCar? Newson does little to damp down the speculation: ‘There is certainly vast opportunity in that area to be more intelligent.’