Cult Designer and Engraver Johnny “King Nerd” Dowell Talks Grail Watches and Artistic Inspiration

Johnny Dowell King Nerd

What was the last watch you bought?

The last watch I got was the Unimatic U4 Classic with a custom dial featuring the King Nerd logo below the 12 o’clock marker. I’ve always liked the quality of the Unimatic watches and I already had a couple. The guys were very kind and put the King Nerd logo on the dial and sent me the U4 after I helped them create the 1/1 bronze “William Tell” watch we did together with Massena Lab for the Phillips watch auction. The watch sold for nearly £13,000.

Do you collect anything outside of watches?

I collect comics, toys, sneakers, coffee table books and some football shirts. I’m basically still a big kid at heart and would argue the moment you stop loving toys and comics, you become very grumpy. I’m pretty grumpy already, especially in the mornings!

11 Unimatic X King Nerd X Massena Lab
Vacheron Constantin 222

Unimatic X King Nerd X Massena Lab / Vacheron Constantin 222

What’s at the top of your wishlist?

Whether I’ll ever be able to afford one remains to be seen, also whether I’d even have the confidence to wear it out is another, but if I had both those things I’d choose the Vacheron Constantin 222. I’ve always loved that watch, it’s in my top three watches ever. The 222 has the most perfect connection between the bracelet and watch case ever, it flows so perfectly together and from a design point of view it’s perfect. Believe it or not though, of all the watches I’ve been lucky to either see in person or try on, I’ve never tried on a 222, so whether it’s as good on my wrist remains to be seen.

What is a recent find or discovery?

I recently found a “Metropolitan Police War Instructions” book from 1939 in a charity shop. It was only for inspectors and sergeants and featured all details of what to do if there was a war. It’s a piece of history and really interesting. I always find these kinds of things interesting, moments in time that fascinate me. The past is out of our control, the same way space and sea fascinate me; they can’t be controlled either and we have no real power over them.

Nas Illmatic

What inspires you?

Most things inspire me. People, nature and anything to do with design really. It’s a hard question to answer because I feel like I get inspired by so many different things. I guess I see myself most inspired when I focus on something in particular. So, if I’m working on the designs for a motorbike collaboration, I get my inspiration from the people who buy this particular bike first, then the place the model of bike is used most, the city it’s used most in, the people, who they are, what they like and what I think they would like as a design on the bike they love and ride every day.

My mind then tends to run through a thousand really unorganised ideas I’ve had in the past. I try to picture these ideas on a bike or shoe, or whatever the project is, and from there I write a few notes and draw the idea in my mind before throwing the best few ideas I think would work onto paper and working from there. It’s a very, very unorganised way of working, but it seems to be the only way I know how to work.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep

What is a book, podcast or album that changed the way you think?

Again this is hard for me to answer. If I think of an album then Thriller made my imagination run wild at an early age because it came with such ground-breaking videos and timeless music, it was something I had never seen or heard before. Nas’ Illmatic album also did this, it’s basically a book describing 90s New York but in music form, possibly the greatest hip-hop album of all time. As far as books go, I’d say Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”, mainly because it got my imagination going and also made me fall in love with Blade Runner and sci-fi in general.

Who is a celebrity or person of note that you admire?

I can’t think of any one person specifically, but I like Stephen Fry, he seems pretty cool and I could probably listen to him talk all day. Louis Theroux also seems like a nice person and very interesting. David Attenborough, too. I’d love to spend time with him, he’s definitely an inspiring, amazing person. That man has literally seen the world twice over and all its most beautiful things. The likes of Jay-Z, DJ Premier and KRS-One, to name a few, are idols of mine and people I really admire, too.

What is your ideal long weekend?

My ideal weekend could be many things, but off the top of my head I’m thinking maybe listening to music by a pool somewhere in Italy or strolling around Venice drinking Campari Spritz all day.

What would we always find in your fridge?

Erm, apart from all the usual things like milk and bread (yes, I keep bread in the fridge). The things you’ll always find in my fridge are dark chocolate, cappers, jalapeños, palm hearts, oat milk, chorizo and sparkling water.

What is a rule or mantra that you live by?

I don’t know if I have one, but in an ideal world I like the idea of everyone being kind to each other. A little bit of kindness can change someone’s whole day in a good way.

What does the year ahead look like for you?

A couple more cool releases with my friends over at Leica, a bike collaboration I can’t mention just yet and a project with a whiskey brand.

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