The Casio F91W is the Ford Model-T of digital timepieces. It’s cheap (retailing for around $19 today), its battery lasts forever (around seven years), and it’s remarkably durable. When it was introduced in 1991, the F91W was one of the only affordable digital watches on the market, and it’s remained amazingly popular with everyone from retro-nostalgic 20-somethings to, surprisingly, suspected al Qaeda operatives.
“To us, this model is somehow the root-level, basic, generic digital wristwatch,” says David Reinfurt, one half of the New York duo Dexter Sinister. Earlier this year, Reinfurt and his partner, Stuart Bailey, were invited to reinvent the F91W by the artist Erik Wysocan.
Dexter Sinister launched their reverse-engineered F91W, which they call Watch Wyoscan, 0.5 Hz, on September 29th. Watch Wyoscan, which looks much like the F91W. In fact, its exterior body is exactly the same. What has changed is its guts. The designers removed the manufacturer’s circuitry and replaced it with what amounts to a tiny computer: new circuit boards and a new software, written by Wysocan.
Instead of displaying the time consistently across the watch’s quartz crystal face, the software only allows one segment of the familiar 7-segment number system to display at a time (watch the video to check it out). So instead of being able to glance at the time, the wearer is challenged to parse it out of a wave of segments that float from left to right across the screen. Or as Reinfurt notes, “it takes time to read the time.”
It’s a playful (and, at $175, novel) project, but it comes with hefty conceptual underpinning. By drawing out the seemingly simple act of glancing at the time into a series of discreet moments, the designers are pointing out the arbitrary systems we use to define time. People who buy the limited-edition watch will also receive a fascinating history (PDF) of how modern notions of “time” developed alongside networked systems, like the atomic clock in Boulder, Colorado, or Apple’s own network of servers.
Wysocan says that he plans to turn this into a recurring project--he’s already talking to a second group of artists interested in taking on the F91W. You can buy Dexter Sinister’s version at Project No.8 in New York, Stand Up Comedy in Portland, or online at Halmos. Photograph by Jason Fulford.