Review – Ressence Type 3, The Oil-Filled Watch That Goes Beyond Hands
When it comes to unique displays of the time, you probably thought you’ve already seen everything: wandering hours, chains, magnetic balls, liquid-filled capillary, rotating prisms… Same goes in terms of complications and construction of the overall watch. Well, think again. The Ressence Type 3 features both a highly unusual display and an almost unique construction. Certainly, the Type 3 doesn’t have the visual flamboyance of a MB&F, the bold high-tech design of an URWERK or the apparent complexity of a HYT. However, underneath this restrained facade hides a watch filled with oil and which does not use hands to display the time. And that makes the Ressence Type 3 very special to us.
An oil-filled watch? A bit of background
Sorry? How can a watch be filled with oil? The idea of filling the case of a watch with oil is not new, and not exclusive to Ressence – although admittedly this was never a popular feature… at least not until 2013, when Ressence introduced the Type 3, taking this idea to a whole new level. The concept was borne from the observations by divers of a critical issue with their watches: under water, a watch is only legible from certain angles (mainly, when looked at straight on). However, when you look at your watch diagonally, the view starts to become distorted and finally, the dial becomes like a mirror, preventing the wearer from being able to read the time . Quite problematic, you’ll agree. I’m sure some of you reading this have already experienced this issue, which is due to the presence of air in-between the crystal of the watch and the dial. Optical distortion, they call it. Whatever the watch and its quality/performance, it will happen (even on a Rolex DeepSea or Omega PloProf).
The demonstration of the issue, here with a classical dive watch and another oil-filled Ressence, the Type 5
The eventual solution to this problem was to entirely fill the watch with a liquid (usually oil), including the movement and the area between the dial and the crystal – an approach that requires the watch to be hermetically sealed. This was not as problematic as it might sound as dive watches were already designed to be air-tight (a concept explored by Sinn and Bell & Ross). The result was a dial that was legible at every angle, without reflections and with almost no distortion. Unfortunately, this concept worked only on quartz watches, as the balance wheel of a mechanical timepiece cannot oscillate properly in a viscous fluid – although ironically this idea would eventually lead Ressence to create their own oil-filled dive watch, the Type 5… Well before that though, it was the Ressence Type 3 that would revolutionize the idea of the oil-filled watch, by being the first mechanical watch liquid-filled. And believe us, this was no easy feat to accomplish.
The Ressence Type 3
What is the Ressence Type 3? Put simply, it is the first mechanical watch to be oil-filled – not the only, as the brand now has a second watch based on this concept, a dive watch named the Type 5. Beyond the basic challenge of filling the case with oil, there are many other issues. As we mentioned before, a mechanical movement simply can’t work properly if all its parts are bathing in liquid, even more so if this liquid is viscous, such as oil. Why? Well, it prevents the balance wheel and the escapement parts from oscillating normally, as the oil will drastically slow their movements – ruining any possibility of precision. Thus Ressence had to find other solutions to create a watch filled with a liquid. Could it be water? No, because even if water has a much lower viscosity, it will nevertheless affect the running of the balance wheel and escapement. Plus you really don’t want to have your movement parts floating in water… Rust is not a watch’s best friend.
So, how did Ressence manage this? By keeping things simple. Its first watch, the Type 1, was based on a dual construction: first a mechanical movement, then, a display module on top. Both were independent of each other and linked by only one axle – the minute axel – going from the mechanical movement into the top module. This was responsible for replicating the hours, minutes and seconds. That’s the starting point of the Type 3: a separation of the time-keeping and time-displaying elements. This still leaves the problem of having a liquid in a watch though. Obviously it can’t be in the movement however, it has to be in the display module, comprising the dial and the indications of time. This is where the Type 3 is such a mechanical beauty… Unlike the Type 1 the display module is not mechanically linked to the movement at all! How? That’s the magic trick we’ll explain in this review. Thus, we have two independent modules: one traditional area for the classical mechanical movement and a second one, hermetically sealed, filled with oil, for the display. And for this Ressence Type 3, there’s also the design, the construction of the case, the way to set the time, the display in itself… Fasten your seatbelts, there’s a lot going on.
The Oil-Filled concept in the Ressence Type 3
So how is the Ressence Type 3 constructed? It actually relies on 2 main modules and one device to create the link between them. As we said, there is no mechanical link between the movement and the display. In a traditional watch (whether mechanical or quartz, with traditional hands or a specific display), there’s always a link between the movement and the display – and in some cases, the movement is the display. If we take the example of a classic mechanical movement, the wheels and pinions are calibrated to indicate the second, the minute and the hour. In the middle of the movement, you have axles that drive hands, which rotate once per minute, once per hour or once per 12 hours. Basic. With Ressence, it’s a bit different, especially with the Type 3 – as the Type 1 (non-filled watch) kept the use of an axle to drive a display module. How does it work here:
- First you have the movement module, which comprises a customized ETA 2824/2 ébauche. The only role of this movement is to precisely indicate the minute. All the rest of the indications are calculated later. Thus, no need to make it complex. It is automatic, reliable and precise enough when well adjusted. This movement is enclosed in the lower part of the case.
- Then you have the top module, oil-filled. This comprises the display module, a.k.a the ROCS, which, from the minute and with the help of several gears, can indicate the minutes, the seconds, the hours and the date. This module is in fact a hermetically sealed “box”, which is entirely filled with oil. However, because it’s airtight, you need something more to create the link between the movement and the ROCS, as no mechanical axle goes out of the ETA movement to drive the module…
- A magnetic device to create the link. It is built in two parts: one pole of the magnetic module is attached on the movement side, and driven by the minute axle. The other pole of the magnetic module is attached underneath the ROCS (display module) and drives the display. Because of the natural attraction of magnets, when the lower magnet rotates (under the influence of the movement), it drives the upper magnet (the one bathing in oil) to indicate the time. Simple on paper, certainly not to achieve.
An exploded view on the ROCS (comprising the bellows on the far right)
That explains the mechanical part. However, having a watch filled with oil also presents a number of other interesting outcomes. The first is a great benefit: a watch with a unique look and feel. Having the dial bathing in oil means no distortions and almost no reflections. It also create a screen-like display. As there is no visible gap between the plate and the crystal, it feels like you can touch the hands and that they are almost digitally displayed on a screen – of course, they are purely mechanical, no worries. However, this feeling is kind of unique – and when used on a dive watch, you can benefit from the use of oil to make a zero-reflection / distortion watch (a.k.a, the Type 5).
On the other hand, having a watch with a sealed module filled with oil and driven by magnets also leads to several technical challenges. The first is pressure. Oil is a liquid and thus, it is influenced by temperature. When the temperature is high, it expands. When the temperature is low, it contracts. And in the case of an air-free hermetic case, expansion can cause an explosion and contraction can cause an implosion… rather problematic, you’ll admit. The solution can be found in bellows (7 small bellow are integrated in the top module), which compensate for the changes in oil volume. This is also the reason why this watch features a temperature indicator, so you can be sure you’re using it in ideal conditions.
Finally, there’s the issue of the magnetic drive of the module. As there is no mechanical link, there’s a possible latency and inconsistency between the movement of the two magnets. For instance, if the Ressence Type 3 undergoes a shock, you’ll see that the top module will move (and not the movement of course), simple because of the absence of mechanical axle. The solution to prevent excessive movement is a hydraulic brake. Underneath the runner (the small second if you like, however in reality a 360-second indicator) are placed some blades that will act like brakes, slowed by the viscosity of oil, and that will simply slow the movement to prevent excessive rotation.
The design and display of the Ressence Type 3
Apart from the mechanical marvel, the Ressence Type 3 is also a very special design and a unique display (beyond hands… remember that). First of all, there are no hands on this watch. Yes, you can see markers and batons, but forget about the concept of a traditional hand, those thin and long metal sticks used to indicate the time. Here, everything is based on the ROCS. Just like the Type 1 and Type 5 we reviewed already, the Ressence Type 3 uses a series of gears/wheels and discs to indicate the time. The first element is a large convex plate covering the entire dial, and rotating according to the minutes. On this plate a minute hand is printed, pointing to a track on the periphery. This is the base.
Then, by using simple calculations (1 hour comprises 60 minutes, 1 minute comprises 60 seconds), you have the dedicated gear ratios to display the rest of the indications. One series of gears accelerates to indicate a sort of second (the runner, making one rotation very 360 seconds, placed on the photo here at exactly 9). Another series of gears slows the minute movement 12 times to indicate the hours (indicated by a sub-dial, here at 11). In fact, the Ressence Type 3 can be seen as a regulator watch, with the dissociation of the minutes (centered) and the hours (off-centered), however in this case the entire dial is rotating (see this animation to understand). Furthermore, the Type 3 indicates the day of the week (here at 3, with weekend days shown in orange), the date, on the periphery of the dial (and indicated by an orange arrow at 6) and the temperature (just to be sure that oil is not going to expand or retract too much).
On top of that, there’s the overall design of the watch, a mix of modernity and minimalistic approach, fused with organic and industrial inspirations… Yes, that’s a lot. The main attraction to us, here at Monochrome, is the combination of an extremely technical and unique content whilst still maintaining a discreet appearance. While some of “indie” watchmakers use bold and super-masculine designs, Ressence keeps things ultra-sleek. The Type 3, even more than the Type 1 or Type 5, feels like a 2.0 object, dictated by industrial design codes. It feels almost like a tech item – but then again, it’s pure mechanics and it is in fact quite respectful of watchmaking traditions. The case feels like a pebble, without a single asperity. The watch is super-smooth and everything that touches your skin will be a domed sapphire crystal – quite a pleasant feel.
The case is composed of a titanium ring with integrated lugs – here black DLC-coated, but also existing in a non-coated version. The dimension is actually quite impressive on paper, at 44mm x 15mm. However, once on the wrist, this watch feels much smaller than expected, due to this absence of an external case. The main part of the case is actually composed of two highly domed sapphire crystals, that entirely cover the watch, giving it this pebble appearance. Super smooth, super comfy, quite unique in its design, the Ressence Type 3 feels terribly modern – a sort of round Apple Watch but much, much cooler.
The last “weird” aspect of the Ressence Type 3, which is not remarkable at first but that really contributes to the sleek look, is the absence of a crown. In fact, we’re so used to having one on our watches that most here didn’t even notice its absence at first. However, once you know, you see how pure the design becomes. No crown means another way to adjust and wind the watch: the caseback. Rotate it in one direction to wind, in the other to set the day or the date, and in both directions to set the time. Finally, the caseback encloses the winding rotor of the watch, almost seamlessly integrated under the crystal.
Conclusion about the Ressence Type 3
Overall, the Ressence Type 3 is a proper horological marvel, both technically and visually. It is a new experience, in terms of perception, of interaction and of style. As a horological UFO, it remains however technically profound and visually hyper-restrained and wearable. It is a piece that doesn’t broadcast its technical nous, a piece that might be questionable for some, however once explained, even for the most inexperienced of us, it becomes clear that it has some really innovative spirit in its blood (…or oil, in this case). Of course, due to the no-crown construction, the daily use is not as practical as your good old Submariner. It requires you to read the user manual. Of course, the construction is much more sensitive than a traditional watch, and shocks and extreme temperatures are also not very good friends of this watch. However, it remains certainly easier to live with and to wear than most “indie” watches, without compromising the horological marvel that we, at Monochrome, cherish.
A watch for connoisseurs and design lovers, which can be had for 33,500 Swiss Francs (before taxes) in 4 editions: black dial / titanium case – black dial / DLC titanium case – sandblasted grey titanium dial / titanium case – blue dial / titanium case. More details here, on the website of the brand.
Specifications of the Ressence Type 3
- Case: 44mm x 15mm – titanium (black DLC on one version) – highly domed sapphire crystal on both sides, caseback used to wind and set the watch – water resistant to 30m
- Movement: ETA 2824/2 base, modified – in-house ROCS module for the display, filled with oil – magnetic transmission between the 2 modules – display via discs – hours, minutes, runner, date, day of the week, temperature
- Strap: leather strap on pin buckle
First thank you so much for your articles well written and understandable even for a French guy.
Talking about oil, this is not the first time a liquid is used inside a wristwatch. Remember Bell& Ross where liquid silicone was used to be able to resist to high depth pressure on its dive watch. And maybe also the positive collateral effect was similar for a legibility point of view under water.
Regards (of course) and not regardless (typographical mistake).
allow me to answer in English for all our readers, and not in French (j’aurai pu vous répondre en Français, avec plaisir, ce qui explique pourquoi j’essaie de rendre les articles simples, même pour les non-anglais).
So, it is indeed not the first time a watch is filled with oil, and, as you can see, I mention this in the first paragraph of the article (and also Bell & Ross watches). However, it is the first time that oil is filled in a mechanical watch (and not a quartz watch). And that’s quite an achievement.