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"San Francisco Treasure” Jony Ive Talks Apple Watch at SFMOMA Gala

"Jony has been able to design work at a scale that's never been done before," said equally famous designer Yves Behar, who was chatting with geneticists about lab-made meat technology.


Jony Ive, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Design, was honored as a “San Francisco Treasure” by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art last night.

At the Julia Morgan Ballroom on the 15th floor of a building in the city’s financial district, museum patrons mixed with Ive’s tech friends for cocktails outside the dining room. The museum board members bemoaned their current lack of a permanent space (SFMOMA is being renovated), but were excited about the crowd’s reaction to Ive, who has risen in celebrity as the public face of Apple’s creative team.

Probably the most influential designer in the world, Ive gamely posed for selfies in his conservative gray suit and tie. After cocktails, he would take the stage to speak about his latest creation, the Apple Watch.

The hors d’oeuvres were skewers of crispy pork belly with carmelized apple. A DJ played British pop music from the ’60s.

“There’s something about right now — the museum being closed and your ability to interact with Jony’s design on a daily basis — a lot of people have a relationship with his work already,” said Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher, curator of architecture and design at SFMOMA. “Tonight, we have our best attendance ever.”

“Jony has been able to design work at a scale that’s never been done before,” said equally famous designer and Fuseproject founder Yves Behar, who was at the party chatting with geneticists about lab-made meat technology.


The voice of one of the evening’s hosts, Candace Cavanaugh, was heard over the speakers, hushing the crowd to a murmur.

“Tonight we honor Jony Ive — if you take a look around the room, you’ll notice we’re surrounded by photos Jony took himself,” she said. “I hope you take a moment to reflect on his pieces.”

His photos were of iPhones and Apple Watches, which seemed to float at various angles against a white backdrop.

Ive, who wore his hair cut to the same quarter-inch length as his beard, was chatty, but his PR handler, in a purple lace dress, said he wasn’t giving any comments. She wrapped her arm around the waist of a reporter who approached to say hello. Thwarted, we started talking to Ive’s friend, Kurt Dammermann, who was nearby.

“We’ve all got 10 of Jony’s things in our homes right now,” said Dammermann, who works at PCH Lime Lab, which is somehow related to Apple.

What does PCH make?

“I can’t tell you that,” he said. “We manufacture things for people.”

Wait, Kurt, does your wife know what you do?

“Why would I tell her?” he said. “The secrecy creates a great launch.”

Investment banker Charles Schwab was there, too, joking with people that now they were actually, “Talking to Chuck.”

“San Francisco is arguably one of the design capitals of the world,and Apple leads the parade in technology design,” Schwab said, about why Ive was deserving of recognition.

Cocktails wrapped up, and the crowd moved into the ballroom for dinner.

During dinner, Ive spoke onstage about the Apple Watch, giving a history of timekeepers, from the clocktower to the smartwatch: “I think it’s part of the human condition that when we see something huge and powerful, that we aspire to make it smaller, and personal,” he said.

With the iPhone, he said, he had the freedom of building something entirely new. Working with the watch’s form factor is harder, since it already has such a history: “There are cultural and historical implications and expectations. That’s why it’s been such a difficult and humbling program.”

Ive said he thinks the watch didn’t “pop down to the ankle,” because the wrist is “a remarkable place for certain things.”

“Obviously, you’re not going to read ‘War and Peace’ on your wrist. But for lightweight interactions, for casual glancing, it’s absolutely fabulous,” he said. “And I think this is the beginning of a very important category. With every bone in my body I know this is an important category, and this is the right place to wear it.”

 Jony Ive
Jony Ive

And because it’s a new product, he said there’s “a childlike awe and curiosity” about what the Apple Watch might do. As an example, he spoke about its alarm-clock function.

“Just yesterday, somebody was saying, ‘Wow, do you know what I just did? I set the alarm in the morning, and it woke just me by tapping my wrist. It didn’t wake my wife or my baby,'” he recounted. “Isn’t that fantastic?”

Out in the foyer, Dede Wilsey, the exuberant San Francisco philanthropist, was chatting by the elevators with interior designer Ken Fulk.

Why was she here?

“I’m a friend of Jony’s,” Wilsey said.

It’s interesting that SFMOMA is focusing on tech and design, focusing on the iPhone.

“Well, I struggle with that damned thing every day,” she said.

It’s beautiful though, aesthetically.

“Beautiful with that pink cover I put on it,” she said.

Fair enough. And what was she was wearing?

“Oscar,” she said, referring to the late designer, De La Renta. “I stay loyal.”

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