Looking at the map of the watchmaking scene, Atelier Wen holds a rather special place. A brand created by two Frenchmen, Atelier Wen celebrates Chinese culture and craftsmanship. Dipping into China’s rich artistic heritage to adorn its dials, Atelier Wen also takes pride in its origins, including its manufacturing location. With the first series, the brand stuck to classical Chinese artistic skills with its porcelain dials and traditional motifs. With the second watch, the Atelier Wen Perception, the brand brings Chinese craftsmanship to the forefront again, yet in a surprising marriage of a guilloché dial housed in a sporty-chic steel case with an integrated bracelet. Is the name Perception an invitation to change our perceptions about watches “Made in China”?
Atelier Wen is the brainchild of Wilfried and Robin, two close friends from France who came together while studying in Beijing in 2016 through a shared passion for China, its culture, its artistic crafts, as well as its watches. More often than not, the concept of “Made in China” produces a low perception of quality and a negative image. This is where Atelier Wen wanted to change things, with watches that were “proudly made in China” and deeply inspired by the country’s culture and ancient craft techniques. As such, the first series, a classic, elegant watch, was fitted with a porcelain dial that was made by a Chinese artisan and inspired by antique porcelain. There’s a rich cultural heritage in China, and despite our distorted vision, there are also impressive skills to be discovered.
Once again, the Atelier Wen Perception is proudly made in China and brings to the table a unique guilloché dial inside a watch that plays with the trend for sporty-chic designs and integrated bracelets. The dial is made by the sole guilloché master craftsman in China (and probably in Asia), Master Cheng. Working in a traditional manner, Cheng has built all his engine-turning machines without any outside help. For a long time, he’s been working for Swiss brands via middlemen, but now he practises his art on a watch that is proudly made in China.
The Atelier Wen Perception dial is traditionally executed using a hand-controlled rose engine. It takes up to eight hours to create the pattern on a single plate, resulting in a dial with great depth and texture. The pattern is called Sunmao (mortise and tenon) and has a 4-layer structure that increases in size from the central axis to the periphery. Even though the pattern is a classic of the guilloché technique, it has a solid sense of Chinese identity.
The sharply contrasting aesthetics of the dial and the sporty steel case manage to feel coherent and unique at the same time. You have traditional technique on one side and modern steel-sports inspirations on the other.
The overall concept behind the Atelier Wen Perception is clearly taking cues from the trendy luxury sports watch category, with its thin, shaped case and an integrated bracelet. The case itself is impressively made, with a real sense of detail. The base, with some scalloped edges, is made from 904L stainless steel and is delicately finished, with a combination of vertically brushed surfaces and strong, contrasting polished accents on the sides of the case, and on the concave, circular bezel. The proportions of the case are spot-on, with a modern yet relatively compact 40mm diameter and pleasant slenderness, with a 9.4mm height. The case features all the necessary equipment, including a sapphire crystal on top with an anti-reflective coating, a screw-down crown and 100m water-resistance. And although the watch you see here is an early prototype, the definition of the parts is already very satisfying – and will be better once the watches enter production.
The Chinese influence is clearly visible on the dial and caseback. The latter has a semi-circular opening revealing parts of the movement (mostly the regulating organ and the rotor when it spins); the rest is deeply embossed with a traditional Chinese motif. The dial, which is available in three colours – grey, as seen here, and salmon and ice blue – reveals its powerful guilloché pattern and a Chinese motif in the form of a minute track decorated with a traditional huiwen pattern and printed in white Super-LumiNova. Hours are marked thanks to recessed rhodium-plated markers, logos are printed inside cartouches and the hands, which are leaf-shaped and filled with SLN, are either heat-blued on this grey model, or rhodium-plated on the salmon and blue versions. The display is a classic time-only without a date to ruin the beautiful guilloché pattern.
The bracelet fitted to the Atelier Wen Perception is another impressive element. Once again, it is made of 904L steel and is finished to high standards, combining vertically brushed surfaces and polished bevels on the edges. The folding clasp is not to be overlooked, mainly because it is fitted with a clever, easy-to-operate micro-adjustment system. Pressing the brand’s logo allows extending the length by about 1cm – a rare feature in this price range that demonstrates the attention to detail.
Since the bracelet is equipped with a quick-exchange device, it can be replaced with a rubber strap fitted with its own folding clasp. Indeed, the system is not quite as refined as that of an Overseas, but it’s easy to operate and does the job perfectly. And then, you have a watch that can be worn either on steel and be slightly elegant or sporty with its rubber strap.
Under the embossed caseback is a typical movement from Chinese manufacturing, the thin Dandong Peacock. But once again, inside the Atelier Wen Perception, it goes through a different control, since the movement is adjusted in 5 positions and exposed to heat and cold. It’s also finished with stripes, perlage and light bevelling on the bridges, and the rotor is tungsten with circular stripes and black rhodium plating. This movement, also used in the Atelier Wen Porcelain Odyssey, beats at 4Hz and stores up to 41 hours of power reserve.
Allow me two comments. One is more on the objective side of things, and that is about the impressive quality of this watch. When you touch it, hold it or strap it around your wrist, you see that the Atelier Wen Perception has been conceived and executed with great attention to detail. The finishing is tight and on par with some European-made watches in the same or higher price ranges. Furthermore, the watch is packed with features (904L steel, complex clasp), and the dial itself, a hand-made guilloché dial executed in the most traditional manner, justifies the price alone. The design is personal and unique, yet there’s an undeniable coherence with a modern interpretation of classic codes from Chinese culture.
On a more personal note, I must applaud the boldness of the founders. Trying to manufacture a watch that is proudly made in China, knowing the perception we almost all have of this “Made in China” stamp, is not an easy task. What Wilfried and Robin have demonstrated here is that there’s room on the market for beautiful and soul-packed watches made in China. There are true artisans with skills and passion, and if you ask suppliers for quality, a Chinese watch can be impressive in its execution.
Availability & Price
The Atelier Wen Perception is not released as a limited edition, but its production is limited by the number of dials that can be produced – about 500 pieces a year. The pre-order campaign is now closed, and the watches will be available for regular orders at the end of 2022. The retail price will be USD 2,588.
For more details and orders, please visit atelierwen.com.