Dialled down: This artist is creating the tiniest watches in the worldLuke Benedictus
In recent years, there’s been a noticeable trend for watch cases returning to the smaller and more classical sizes of old. Robbie Jones (@tinyassprops) takes it to a whole other level. The artist creates impeccably detailed models of miniature watches. How tiny? They have diameters under 5mm wide.
“When I was five-years-old, my grandmother used to buy me clay to play with and I would just sculpt little people,” he explains over the phone. “That was my favourite thing to do and I’ve just been a model builder ever since. I’m 46 now and so I’ve been making miniatures for the bulk of my life.”
Robbie’s eye for making scaled-down products was honed during years working around the theatre – before becoming a full-time artist, he was Associate Professor of Theatre at the University of Nebraska. Along the way, he also worked as a scenographer and prop maker for the stage. “In theatre, traditionally a quarter inch equals a foot,” he says. “So I already had this idea about fabricating things on a tiny scale.”
It was during this period as part of his Tiny Ass Props business, Robbie started to get commissions to make the microscopic props for model figures from popular culture. When he was asked to tackle Walter White from Breaking Bad, the buyer requested the inclusion of the character’s TAG Heuer Monaco Calibre 12. Less than half the size of a thumbnail and exquisitely detailed with every sub-dial and red accent in place, this was to be Robbie’s first scaled-down watch model.
The eagle-eyed precision of these creations was immediately recognized by Robbie’s clientele who soon also began demanding watches with their models too. Minute versions of a range of watches soon followed: John Wick’s Carl F. Bucherer, Ron Burgundy’s Omega Constellation Electronic f300Hz watch from Anchor Man, the gold TAG Heuer Professional 1000 series that Leonardo Di Caprio wears in The Wolf of Wall Street. Using 3D resins, Robbie has created everything from a Patek Philippe Nautilus 5980 to a Casio Calculator watch and, not surprisingly, a bunch of James Bond Omegas, too.
“The most challenging was a Breguet that I did,” Robbie recalls. “It’s Bruce Wayne’s watch from Batman versus Superman. That was a tough one because it was a fully open [skeltonised] case with all these layers that I had to stack these little pieces inside of. That was extremely challenging.”
When the US rep from Breguet found about it, Robbie feared he’d be hit with a cease and desist letter over the intellectual copyright. Instead the woman was wowed by the pinpoint craftmanship of his efforts. “She sent me the history of that particular watch, four different books, and a whole bunch of swag – she was just super, super nice. So I had to send her a watch. As far as I know, she has one of my tiny little Breguets on her desk.”
The models may just be aesthetic replicas that don’t actually tick or tell the time. Yet just creating a new 3D model can take Robbie at least five days. “There are some watches I still can’t figure out how to make because of the complexity,” he admits. “To actually get that 3D model into real life, you have to make a lot of adjustments so that things can actually be visible. So the details have to be a little bit bigger than in life to allow the small negative space in between things.”
Robbie’s career as an artist is currently going full pelt – he’s unable to accept any new commissions for the next two years. But does he think that working at such a small scale all the time gives him a greater appreciation for the little things in life?
“It’s a double-edged sword,” he admits. “I have got a really trained eye. But the other problem is I’m obsessive compulsive as well. So that can be a challenge in life. The good thing is I’m so aware of the slightest things that the pieces I make are pretty good – my goal has always been to have that level of detail that goes beyond the naked eye, so you need magnification to appreciate all of the things that are going on.”
“But there are also challenging things about being an obsessive compulsive person as I’m sure my partner would attest. Like washing dishes is a huge thing for me because everything has to be perfect.”
Labouring over the creation of his tiny ass props, Robbie has learnt that his vocation ultimately comes down to a question of balance.
“It sounds pretentious, but I’m an artist,” he insists. “There’s more to life than just selling a whole bunch of crap.”
“What gets me up in the morning is to spend two days solid just working on a watch dial trying to tune in my 3D printer to the best possible degree. It can be really exhilarating to finally go, ‘Wow, I’ve pushed it as far as I possibly can.’ But then it’s also a problem because sometimes it’s like, ‘Am I losing my mind?”