Time and Light: Candela

Port speaks to the team behind the bold new Panerai design collaboration, Candela, currently on display at the Salone del Mobile in Milan

Candela – the hypnotic, slowly rotating, glowing circle, originally produced for Officine Panerai at the London Design Festival – has landed at this year’s Salone del Mobile. Designed to develop the key elements of the historic watch company founded in Florence in 1860, the installation mirrors the brand’s focus on design – which functions as much a vocation as it does for research and innovation – and draws visually on the luminescent dials which, since they began supplying the Italian Navy, have come to characterise the brand’s watches.

Named after the unit used by scientists to measure the luminous intensity of light, Candela was dreamt up by a British design team comprised of designer Felix de Pass, graphic designer Michael Montgomery and ceramicist Ian McIntyre. Now currently exhibited as part of the Salone del Mobile at La Triennale di Milano, an art and design museum in Milan, until 22nd April, it will eventually become part of the permanent display for the exhibition. Here, Port spoke to the team about how the idea developed, the significance of working with Panerai and what it means to be part of the Triennale’s permanent collection.

Could you describe Candela?

Candela is an immersive time-based installation. Combining digital and analogue technology, the project experiments with the light-retaining properties of the phosphorescent material used on the face and dials of Officine Panerai watches. The installation consists of a large mechanical wheel that gently rotates through 700 programmable LEDs housed within a ceramic casing. The face of the wheel is coated with a phosphorescent material that becomes charged by the light sources. The LEDs are programmed to turn on and off in a sequence that creates a perpetual ebb and flow of luminous patterns. The rich layering effect is a form of mark-making that exploits the ‘memory’ of the phosphorescent material and how it changes over time.

Where did the idea for Candela come from and how did it develop?

Panerai asked us to create an experience which offers a new view on the concept of light and time, based around the brand’s key values and philosophy. For us, Candela summarised all of Panerai’s values and at the same time it looks like a design object.

Candela installed in La Triennale di Milano

What did it mean to work with Panerai on this project?

This project gave us the chance to utilise and experiment with specific light-retaining properties, and the material Super-LumiNova typically found on the face and dials of Panerai watches. It was also an exciting challenge to combine the digital with the analogue, applying a high tech approach (using 700 individually programmed LEDs) with a low tech result (light is retained physically within the Super-LumiNova, before fading over time). This is how watch makers must feel all the time!

How did each of your particular disciplines come into play on this project?

We all come from different design disciplines but each of us collaborated equally on every aspect of the project. This created an exciting dynamic and led to unexpected solutions. The form of Candela was carefully detailed, we were able to hide the motor within the base to make it as simple as possible, and the back was just as important to us as the font. Super-LumiNova starts life as a solid ceramic, so this played to Ian’s strength and is why we decided to house the LEDs in a ceramic casing. The graphic patterns were developed by all three of us on site and are programmed through a theatre lighting desk which made it easy for us to play around with what worked.