There is no doubt about it, the face of the watchmaking industry has changed with the arrival of dozens of Kickstarter projects… Some more inspired than others, some worthy of being covered on MONOCHROME, many failing to catch our interest. With such a large amount of new “brands”, differentiation is key. Atelier Wen, the project of two young Frenchmen, is all about that. Slightly vintage-inspired watches but with a rather unique focus on China – both for the design, the manufacturing and the targeted audience. Overview of their inaugural collection, the Porcelain Odyssey.
Behind Atelier Wen are two young (23-year-old) Frenchmen, freshly graduated but with a passion for watches. One of the two, Robin, has been collecting watches since the age of 14, with a focus on Chinese watchmaking. Since then, he’s been doing several internships, including at the French Chamber of Watchmaking, and a permanent advisor position to the Chinese government (again in the field of watchmaking). Thus, when they started to shape their horological project, these two immediately thought about China – not only for the production of watches but also for the design and the potential target audience. Atelier Wen was born.
The inaugural collection, named Porcelain Odyssey, is undeniably inspired by Chinese art and traditions. And what’s better than traditional Chinese porcelains, with their signature white and blue colours, to represent China? Well, a quick look at the dial of these new watches will give you an immediate answer. Several other references to China are visible on the watches, as we’ll see later.
The Atelier Wen Porcelain Odyssey are reasonably sized watches with a 39mm stainless steel case, inspired by the shape found in the 1950s on French watches. As we had the chance to have one example in our hands for a few days, we can tell you that the case is well designed, well finished and well assembled (especially for a watch priced below EUR 500). The lugs have a mix of brushed and polished surfaces, the casebands are polished and so is the bezel. A nice detail is the large internal flange, circular brushed, that surrounds the dial.
On top of the watch is a thick sapphire crystal that brings nice reflections and slight distortions (something that I personally like, as it makes the watch more lively). A leather strap with alligator pattern in “Nanking blue” completes the watch. It features quick-release spring bars. The caseback is solid steel with a deeply embossed animal of Chinese legend, Kunpeng (鲲鹏), also used as inspiration for the logo.
Moving to the most important part of the Atelier Wen Porcelain Odyssey: the dials. This is where the brand differentiates itself, by providing a clear, easy-to-understand Chinese inspiration as well as a material in line with the concept. The dials, available in white or blue, are made in zirconium oxide. Behind this barbarian name is in fact porcelain, applied on a thin copper base and heated at 1400°C. The result is a milky, warm dial with rich colour. Certainly, enamel would be even nicer, but it would also result in a completely different price. But don’t get us wrong, the result is already very pleasant.
Two designs will be available. The first one, Hao (皓) uses a white porcelain dial adorned with “blue elements in homage to the famed Qinghua Ci (青花瓷) porcelains“. It also has heat-blued leaf hands, remaining consistent with the overall porcelain look. Also, a nice touch can be seen in the sub-dial at 6 o’clock, which “is inspired by a traditional time-measurement system called “Dizhi” (地⽀) or “Earthly Branches”. The characters Mao 卯 (bottom right) and You⾣ (top left) represent the hours from 5 AM to 7 AM and 5 PM to 7 PM – that is sunrise and sunset.”
The second dial is a deep blue porcelain named Ji (霁), a name is derived from the Chinese word, Jilan (霁蓝). It features a stylised “Huiwen” (回纹) pattern on the periphery of the dial. This blue dial features applied hour dots and baton markers as indices, as well as rhodium-plated leaf hands. The sub-dial is here different too, as inspired by a Taoist concept called “Bagua” (八卦). Each symbol represents a cardinal direction, indicating the position of the sun in the sky and thus the associated time.
Powering the watch is an automatic movement, the China-made Peacock SL3006. This movement has a 4Hz frequency and a comfortable 41h power reserve. It is adjusted to +/- 10 seconds a day.
What can we conclude about the Atelier Wen Porcelain Odyssey? Well, one thing is certain is that these watches are different. Certainly, some won’t appreciate the strong Chinese inspiration but we have to recognize consistency and differentiation in the project – and an overall nice execution of both the case and the dials.