How a Wristwatch Changed a Design Revolution

Last Updated:
January 27, 2023
Brian Wallace

Good inventions disrupt their own industry in their own time. Great inventions have ripple effects across multiple industries and eras. This is the story of how a wristwatch led to the creation of one of Nike’s most culturally iconic sneaker designs.


In 1960, Bulova released the first fully electronic watch to the public: the Accutron. Originally, the “open dial” model of the Accutron was developed as a salesman sample to explain the technology. However, consumer demand led Bulova to release the Accutron Spaceview in 1961. The “exposed window” design was so popular, customers paid to have non-Accutron watches converted to match.


Accutron Spaceview watches were a fashionable gift for years after their release. When architect Richard Rogers received one from his mother, the watch inspired him to create an “inside out” building. In 1977, he and Renzo Piano revealed the Pompidou Center in Paris, France to the public. Its open design moved all ductwork, plumbing, and electrical conduits to the building’s exterior. The building’s design was controversial at the time. 


In the early ‘80s, however, the Pompidou Center gained at least one fan. Nike corporate architect Tinker Hatfield was “super influenced” by his visit to the Pompidou Center. Seeing it inspired him to change careers from designing buildings to designing sneakers. Hatfield’s most famous creation was the Air Max 1, which contained a visible air bubble. By giving the wearer a peek into how the shoe worked, Hatfield’s design captured the popular consciousness. Air Max 1’s appreciate 28% each year.


A Gift That Inspired History

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