Las Vegas’ most iconic sign has been memorialized on postcards, in movies and through countless kitschy souvenirs. Now, the fashion-forward set looking for a classier way to express their nostalgia for vintage Vegas can do so through their wristwear.
Fossil, the maker of watches and leather goods, recently released a limited-edition watch inspired by the work of Betty Willis, the designer of the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign and many others. Each facet of the watch harkens back to the traditional sign aesthetic — the layered silver and gold case in classic midcentury shapes, the starburst at one end of the red second hand, the luminous color, reminiscent of neon tubing, in the numbers.
An image of the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign is imprinted on the watch’s black dial in glow-in-the-dark ink, causing it to appear only in the dark — similar to the city of Las Vegas itself.
“I didn’t want to just copy the sign design, like the iconic Las Vegas sign,” designer Brenden Sullivan says. “I wanted to really take a look at more of her work and sort of just the work of the period … and then sort of translate that into something unique and original to present to commemorate that whole language rather than just a single sign.”
Generally, commercial designers like Willis are not deified the same way other artists are, so “the whole thing’s kind of a love letter,” the Neon Museum’s operations manager, Bill Lee, says. “It is a total tribute.”
The limited-edition piece grew out of a Neon Museum tour that Fossil creative director Kaspar Spurgeon Heinrici took while on vacation in spring 2015. The tour, coupled with Willis’ death in 2015, inspired him to commemorate the underappreciated art of sign making as well as Willis’ often little-known place in its history.
The watch comes with a booklet featuring photos from throughout her lifetime, including ones of her and her daughter at work at a drafting table. The watch is sold at the museum, online at fossil.com and in select Fossil stores for $125.
“Initially getting inspired by Betty’s work, it only got cooler once I got to talk to her daughter and learn about the woman,” Heinrici says. “Because I think anybody who did know her, and I never got to meet her, but you get the sense that she was extremely humorous, and just had a great passion for life that led her down the path to design.”