China is often viewed as the world’s manufacturer. Everything from your iPhone, your kids’ toys to the space heater in the garage likely come from Chinese factories. The Middle Kingdom has simply mastered mass production at often the lowest cost, but overall quality can vary widely. Made in China is often associated with “cheap” in the West, but many of the nation’s home-grown brands manufacture very competitive products. Frenchmen Robin Tallendier and Wilfried Buiron, founders of the young microbrand Atelier Wen, have embraced both Chinese watch design and production, and add to last year’s inaugural Porcelain Odyssey collection with two limited editions in red and green.
The watches in question are part of the white porcelain dial “Hao” variant – joined by the deep blue porcelain “Ji” model. “Hao” represents a white that is pure and without blemish, and the dials in this line start with a copper base that’s treated with zirconium oxide porcelain and then heated to 1400°C. It’s not the same artisanship as enamel work, but the result is a very consistent, pure white dial with print colours inspired by Chinese culture. The original blue over white, for example, represented China’s renowned Qinghua Ci porcelains. All Hao dial designs are also inspired by vintage, mid-20th century “chronometer” dials.
The first of two new dials, the Hao Green Edition, is white porcelain with emerald green pad-printing. Green symbolizes health and purity in China, and the piece comes with a complementing 20mm green nubuck strap with desert yellow lining. The dial design itself has many Chinese elements, most notably at the 6 o’clock sub-dial. In lieu of numerals, two Chinese symbols – ‘You’ (酉) at the top left and ‘Mao’ (卯) at the bottom right – each cover a two-hour period. ‘You’ is 5pm to 7pm and ‘Mao’ is 5am to 7am (sunset and sunrise), derived from an ancient measurement of time known as the “12 Earthly Branches” (with each branch representing two hours). More traditional Arabic numerals surround the perimeter in two-hour increments with a minutes railroad track spanning the outermost edge. The same reference to Chinese porcelains from the prior Hao model is evident here as well.
The second new dial, the Hao Red Edition, celebrates the 2020 Chinese New Year with ruby red print. Red is among the predominant colours of the Chinese New Year and symbolizes fire, luck, happiness and celebration. Associated with its power to ward off evil, Chinese brides often wear red. Like the green variant, a complementing red calf leather strap with red lining comes with the piece. Both new models feature the collection’s signature hour and minute leaf hands, and in this case, they’re rhodium plated. A double-domed sapphire crystal with an anti-reflective coating protects the dial.
The stainless steel case of the Atelier Wen Porcelain Odyssey is a comfortable 39mm in diameter and 11.7mm in height with polished and brushed elements. Its shape was inspired by French watch cases from the 1950s, creating an interesting dynamic with an overall style of both French and Chinese influence. A nice detail is the brushed internal flange surrounding the minute track. The caseback sports a deeply embossed depiction of Kunpeng, an animal of Chinese lore. It’s said to be a giant bird (Peng) that can morph into an aquatic body (Kun) and is an analogy of the Yin Yang concept – the animal is not two separate beings, but simply two sides of the same element. The crown is rather flat with a wide knurled pattern that suits the case aesthetic well and both watches are water-resistant to 50 metres.
As mentioned earlier, the founders have embraced Chinese production and design, and that includes the heart of the collection. The movement is a custom-made Chinese Peacock SL3006 automatic. Founded in the 1950s, the Peacock Watch Company is among the best in China (along with brands like Seagull and Hangzhou) with tourbillon and other complex movements in its portfolio. See our article on Off-the-Shelf Alternatives to Swiss Movements for an in-depth perspective. This calibre has 32 jewels, beats at 28,800vph (4Hz) with a 41-hour power reserve. Functions include central hours, minutes and sub-dial seconds at 6 o’clock. The movement has been regulated in five positions for a competitive accuracy of +/- 10 seconds per day.
Both new Hao models are limited to only 25 watches each with a price of USD 790. Not bad for such a unique, thoughtful limited edition series that celebrates Chinese culture and production. As this is a second special series, serial numbers will start with the number 2 – 201 to 225. The two watches come with a leather travel pouch and all Atelier Wen watches have a two-year warranty. For more information and to make a purchase, visit the Atelier Wen website.