Beyond hands, beyond traditions, beyond many things that you thought acquired and mandatory in watchmaking, including the fact that a high-end watch comes from Switzerland and nowhere else, but not beyond style and horological interest (really far from that…). Ressence is apart, in terms of look, of provenance, of display, of spirit, of technology and at Monochrome-Watches, this is just what we love. For the coming months, we’ll review the entire Ressence collection, including the oil-filled Type 3 and the Diver Type 5, and we’ll explain everything about the technologies used. But the starting point has to be the Ressence Type 1, and here is our review.
Brief history of Ressence
Our first contact with Ressence dates back to 2011, in an article that Frank, our Editor-in-Chief, had the good idea to name “A Belgian Treat of Horological Ingenuity“, something that perfectly sums up what we are going to talk about. Everything started at Baselworld 2010, when a Belgian man, Benoit Mintiens, showed the very first prototypes of a watch with an extremely pure design, a innovative display and a modern taste, quite 21st century, but not being Sci-Fi either. Everything was there. The Zero Series of 2011 built up a DNA that can be explained in these two words: “beyond hands”. The idea is here: no hands, no dial. Forget about your classical conception of the watch, with 3 hands rotating on top of a plate with indexes.
An early Ressence watch, the Series One: Type 1003
The concept is based on sub-dials continually revolving, as does the main disc into which they are set – like moons in orbit around a planet. Everything is constantly moving, changing position and revolving. In our review of the Series One, the first evolution, our contributor Max made fun of this display, with a “Look Mom, No Hands“. Indeed, these Ressence watches use rotating dials equipped with applied white pointers, which rotate inside chapter rings. However, this not completely “out of this world” either. It remains simple and discreet. The beauty is somewhere else, inside the watch, with what drives the display: the ROCS, a complex tangle of gears that is able to transform one single indication (the minutes) into all the others (hours, seconds, AM/PM, day, date…) and to make all these indications revolve. So yes, Ressence also is an horological feast, and not only a designer piece.
The brand grew and so was the collection. In 2013 came the Type 3, the first ever oil-filled mechanical watch. Now you might have these words “What? Oil in a watch? Why?”. Well, without going into the details of our coming review, the idea was just to create the clearer possible display, something that allows the wearer to have this unique sensation of a watch without crystal, without any void between the dial, the hands or the sapphire glass, like if you had a screen in front of you. And believe us, achieving such a display had been quite a challenge. Finally, in 2015, using the Type 3 as a base, Ressence came with the Type 5, the first mechanical dive watch with zero reflections underwater, legible in all the possible positions (divers will understand the mirror issue here…). Then again, Ressence innovates, surprises and creates curiosity. All of that might have triggered your interest, so now it’s time to look at the Ressence Type 1 in details.
The Ressence Type 1 – Review
What is the Ressence Type 1. Overall, it is a watch, it indicates the time and it wears on the wrist… like a watch should. “Thanks Monochrome, we didn’t see that…” Ok, but it’s not your typical watch, with a typical display and a typical movement, which drives 3 hands on the central axle. It is much more complex (mechanically) but also extremely clean, superbly simple in its design and in the end, playful (there’s a sort of magic trick in this display). For me, Ressence is 3 things: a display, a design and a mechanism.
The Ressence Type 1 – A display
“Sorry Monsieur, where are the dial and the hands?” (Swiss-French accent mandatory). Well my friend, there are hands and dials, but not like you and your old-school traditions can conceive it. The Ressence Type 1 does use pointers and tracks to indicate the time, however, forget about the idea of the 360 degrees rotation of hands on top of a plate, where minutes and hours are printed. The large dial indicates the minutes, while the sub-dials indicate the hours, seconds and day of the week. However, you’ll certainly have to look twice to understand how it reads.
Not only the hands (because there are no hands…) but the entire dial rotates. Everything starts with the largest pointer, which displays the minutes. This is the main dial, which drives all the other. This dial revolves on itself in 60 minutes, indicating the time on a large track positioned on the periphery – just like a normal watch. Then, all the sundials inside are also driven by this larger dial, meaning that all of them revolve too. Nothing stays in the same position but everything remains also quite understandable. The hours for instance are displayed in a “regulator style”, but what makes it easy is that the track remain horizontally placed, meaning that the 12 indication remains at 12. However, when the minutes indicate 60, the hour dial will be at on the lower half of the dial. When the minutes indicate 30, the hour dials will be on the upper half.
This display is unique because nothing is motionless, everything moves, but everything remains legible. To read the time, you just have to get used to this, and then it’s like a regulator: first read the minutes via the large pointer and then read the hours in the subdial. You’ll just have to find where it is on the dial. Believe us, after 10 minutes on the wrist, you’ll be used to it. You can see this display explained in details, with animations, on the website of Ressence here.
This display is in fact a bit like “Harvey Two-Face”. If you look at it from far and for just a second, you won’t notice it, to the exception of a strange position of the hands and dials. However, after a first closer inspection, you’ll see that what you’re looking at aren’t proper hands but pointers on plates with chapter-rings. And then comes the magic, when you see it in action, for instance when adjusting the time, so you can see the motion of the orbital discs in accelerate. That’s where you’ll catch them all, even the most jaded of your friends.
However, the good point is in the discretion of this display. On the contrary of some of the most innovative watches around, such as Urwerk or MB&F, this Ressence Type 1 is simple and unless you take a close inspection, this will remain an object that you and only you will appreciate for what it is. And this is certainly due to the clever design of Benoit Mintiens.
The Ressence Type 1 – A design
As we’ve seen, the Ressence Type 1 has a complex, innovative and unique display. That usually mean, in independent watchmaking, a design that follows the same trend, being quite demonstrative and bold. Not at Ressence. Just like the display can be extremely discreet, the Type is an ode to purity. We have to look at Benoit’s background. The founder of Ressence is not born in the Swiss Jura, he was not educated with watches, gears and springs around him. Before creating Ressence, Benoit was a respected industrial designer, who has shaped high-speed trains, aircraft cabins, medical devices, leather goods and even hunting guns. And that certainly forged the design of the Ressence watches.
The Ressence Type 1 is like those famous designer objects. It is both extremely well conceived, complex and refined without a single once of ostentation, with an extremely clean, almost simple design. What makes a nicely designed object – whatever we talk watches or furnitures – is not the the successive addition of features but the removal of everything unnecessary. That’s exactly what the Ressence Type 1 is: the essence of a watch. Only the necessary is here, and sometimes even less. However, this doesn’t mean that this watch is basic. It is just cleaner, with unexpected finishes.
The case for instance is a simple band of titanium, circling the watch. The lugs are thin wires, but they are part of the case and not soldered or added to the case. All is machined from a single block of grade 5 titanium, with a minor polishing (also note that a 5N gold edition exists). As you can see, everything in this timepiece is round, clean and smooth. This pebble style is also reinforced by the absence of bezel, replaced by a highly domed sapphire crystal, and by the shape of the dial – well in fact the bridges of the ROCS system. The surface isn’t flat but is a 125mm radius sphere shape and requires specific know-how and tools to be produced – something that is even more true for the guilloché edition.
This shape and this design, combined with the lightness of titanium makes this watch extremely comfortable on the wrist. Nothing actually scratches or hitches. All is perfectly smooth and rounded. The back follows the same idea as the front, with a highly domed sapphire crystal. Then, the watch is relatively light at 84 grams and well proportioned, as measuring 42mm in diameter and 13mm in height – and considering the wire lugs, this small feel on the wrist is even emphasized.
The originality, the industrial design and the non-traiditonal feel of the Ressence Type 1 can also be seen in the finishes. Actually, not what you can expect in an usual luxury Swiss watch. The dials and the chapter rings, actually part of the movement, are rather raw, with strong circular brushings. The pointers (we can’t call it hands) and tracks are directly engraved on these bridges and painted on top of it. However, do keep in mind that this Ressence is not unfinished. It is perfectly executed, very pleasant to look and touch, the adjustments are precise. Everything is done with care and is the result of the designer’s wishes.
The Ressence Type 1 – a complex mechanism called ROCS
“Sorry Monsieur, but where is the crown?” (Swiss-French accent again mandatory). Well, again my friend, there’s none. So how do you do to wind the watch? And to set the time? Yes, Ressence watches are not only innovative in the way to display the time but also in the way to interact with the watch. In fact, the very first watches of the brand did have a classical crown, as seen here. This changed with the arrival of the Type 3 and the implementation of the same kind of mechanism in the Type 1. In fact, everything is done via the caseback. Turning it anti-clockwise allows to wind the movement. Turning the caseback in both directions and you’ll be able to adjust the time and if you turn it clockwise, you’ll adjust the day of the week. Simple, intuitive and interactive. Ps. the large disc with the Ressence Logo printed is actually the rotor of the movement. Again, everything has been designed to be clean and uncluttered.
In terms of mechanics, the Ressence Type 1 uses an ETA 2824/2 base calibre, which here only to bring power to the display. indeed, the date function as well as the pinions for the seconds and the hours on the central axle have been removed. The only thing that this movement activates is the pinion for the minutes. All the rest – hours, seconds and day of the week is resulting from the work of the ROCS module (Ressence Orbital Convex System), positioned on top of the watch.
An look an the innards of the Ressence Type 1 and its ROCS module
As said, only the minute axle of the movement is still present. It actually drives the main bridge on top, indicating the minutes. All the rest is driven by several gears and wheels, transforming the informations of the minutes. On one side, the minutes are slowed down by a first series of gears which will turn 12 times slower – thus indicating the hours. On the other side, a series of gears accelerate 60 times the rotation, to obtain the seconds. And all of that revolves on 360 degrees, with orbital subdials acting like Moons around the Earth. In the Type 1, this module alone comprises 107 parts (including gears, wheels, bridges, screws and jewels).
Once the watch is assembled, it goes though a 500 hours testing process, including a control of the rate, a control of the water resistance, the control of the 36 hours power reserve, the control of the resistance to shocks and to temperature and finally, a final aesthetics Control – note that is this the kind of precess usually done in large manufactures.
Conclusion about the Ressence Type 1
Yes, a Ressence indicates the time, it has a mechanical movement, it refers to fine watchmaking and it does require some serious skills to be manufactured. However, even if it has a link with traditional watches, it also brings something fresh and new. From the very beginning, Ressence has been applauded for a simple reason: it is mechanically complex but at the same time, it is extremely easy to understand and to apprehend. It is a mix of a didactic toy with a inspired industrial design, with all the respect due to horology. The idea is a complex mechanism transformed into a clean display with several discs that revolve and indicate the time in a way that is just a bit different, at least after a closer inspection. Ressence is about that: discretion in the originality. More on ressencewatches.com.
Specifications of the Ressence Type 1
- Case: 42mm diameter x 13mm thick – grade 5 titanium – sapphire crystal on the front and on the back – 10m water resistant
- Movement: ETA 2824/2 base calibre, in-house ROCS module on top – automatic winding – 36h power reserve – 28,800 vibrations/h – hours, minutes, small seconds, day of the week – unique revolving display
- Strap: several leather and fabric options, with titanium pin-buckle
- Price: 17,500 Euros or 20,600 USD (both inc. taxes)