Review: new entry level watch – Formex Essence 39 Automatic Chronometer “Space Gold”

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Formex may not be a brand that many might be familiar with, but this Switzerland-based manufacturer certainly gives its competitors (and potential owners) in the entry-level space something to think about.

Founded in 1999, the brand was the brainchild of two Swiss brothers, Hans-Peter and Ferdinand Grädel, who were both watchmakers and motorsports enthusiasts. Formex, for the uninitiated, is a portmanteau of the French phrase “forme extrème“, which means extreme shape.

The brand saw a revival in 2018. The brand had a change in leadership, and they launched the Essence Chronometer by way of a Kickstarter campaign. The CEO, Raphael Granito, noted this as the “Formex 2.0”, in which the brand promised to combine the brand’s original ethos with more refined aesthetics.

We have had the chance to get acquainted with the Essence 39 Automatic Chronometer for a couple of weeks, by way of a loaner, to find out how this timepiece stacks up in this particularly crowded field.

Review: Formex Essence 39 Automatic Chronometer “Space Gold”

The new Formex Essence 39 Automatic Chronometer “Space Gold” retails at S$2,800 onwards. The variation in this review is priced at S$4,050.

The Essence collection was launched in 2018, with the introduction of the 43mm variant that features a CNC-machined dial. It was initially priced at below US$1,000 (approximately S$1,350), and the watch was rather well-received with the funding goal attained within the first 30 minutes of the campaign.

The 43mm timepiece is certainly massive, which may be prohibitive to collectors who have a small wrist. There is also a recent trend where collectors are looking towards watches that are sized in the sub-40mm category, which makes the relatively modest 39mm Essence a rather compelling option.

As with most smaller brands, one of the key differentiating factors is certainly the value proposition. Formex offered this timepiece with COSC certification and a Swiss-made movement (in the form of the evergreen Sellita SW200 self-winding movement), and with its initial launch price, there are no doubts that the Formex Essence can be considered as a timepiece that is a “bang for its buck”.

The Case, Dial, and Hands

The Essence 39 Automatic Chronometer, as its namesake suggests, features a rather agreeable 39mm case. The watch has a rather industrial look to it, predominantly due to the four exposed screws that are located at the corners of the case. Notably, these screws – which hold the springs – are the hallmark of the brand’s patented suspension system, akin to the suspension setup that we have in a typical motorcar. The key job of the springs is to absorb the shocks and protect the movement from heavy impact. The only drawback is the brand had incorporated the four exposed screws in its design, which some collectors might think that it is a tad unrefined.

The stainless-steel case also features both polished and brush surfaces, as well as faceted angles which lends the Essence 39 a nice touch. We are also fans of the aggressively angled lugs, which reduces lug-to-lug length and provides more comfort to the wearer.

The highlight of this watch is certainly its dial. For this particular variant, the Essence 39 is fitted with a meteorite dial that features 18k rose gold plating. The end result is rather stunning, undoubtedly aided by the mesmerising pattern from the meteorite and the additional treatment that was done to it. We would also like to highlight that the date wheel – at the 6 o’clock position – is nicely incorporated, especially with a matching rose gold date wheel that blends nicely with the surrounding.

Complementing the dial are a series of faceted indices, lined with a strip of Super-LumiNova to provide some form of legibility in the dark. The hands are also faceted – which notably is a recurring design theme throughout the rest of the watch.

Overall, the Essence 39 does fairly well here. The built quality of the case is pretty solid, with some nice accoutrements that lends a nice touch to the watch. Granted, its aesthetics – particularly the exposed screws – may not be to everyone’s liking. However, having said that, the slightly off-tangent design certainly adds some character and style to the timepiece.

The Movement: Sellita SW200-1

Powering the Essence 39 is the reliable self-winding Sellita SW200. As mentioned above, the one key differentiating factor for Formex is that the movement that was used for this series of watches is COSC-certified, which meant that movement would operate within the tolerance level of between -4 and +6 seconds per day. The Sellita SW200 also boasts a power reserve of 41 hours, and it features the Glucydur balance wheel which is only available for the “Chronometer” grade movements.

In terms of finishing, the movement here features industrial grade touches such as brushed surfaces and perlage. There is nothing to shout about here, and it is understandable for a timepiece that is priced at this level. However, we would also like to take the opportunity to wax lyrical about the caseback, which has a design that is akin to the Sympathie-shaped cases that were made famous by Roger Dubuis. It is a very nice caseback for sure.

Competitive Landscape

The base Essence 39 is priced at S$2,850, while the version reviewed – fitted with the meteorite dial – is priced at S$4,050.

At this price point, the Formex certainly sees quite a fair bit of competition, from both smaller outfits and established names alike.

First, we have the Tissot Seastar 2000 Professional. The 44mm timepiece certainly pulls no punches, especially with its depth rating (600m) and technical performance. It is also a rather handsome piece, especially with the PVD-coated case and gradient blue dial with wave motifs. The only drawback is its slightly imposing size, but at S$1,565, there is really nothing much to find fault with this timepiece.

Next, we have the Series 8 880 GMT from Citizen. Citizen has always been known for its affordable quartz watches, but in recent years they have made great strides in producing mechanical timepieces. This is one example, featuring a nicely crafted sports watch with a GMT complication. The 41mm timepiece, at S$2,322, offers a great alternative at an attractive price point. Brand snobs, however, can perhaps look away.

Lastly, we have the Longines Spirit Zulu Time. The 42mm timepiece is admittedly a rather good-looking timepiece that is highly functional as well. While its retail price of S$4,800 is slightly on the steeper end, the Longines certainly offers collectors something rather compelling especially if one is willing to pay for the extra premium.

Concluding Thoughts

The Formex Essence 39 is certainly a well-made product that is executed nicely. The design is definitely not cookie-cutter, and the 18k rose gold plated meteorite dial is certainly quite beautiful.

Having said that, the Essence 39 is certainly faced with many tough competitors at its price point. There are quite a few compelling alternatives out there, and each of them are great in their own ways. While the Formex may be a nice watch, we are not entirely sure if it might be enough for collectors – especially the newer ones – to swing towards this small independent watch manufacturer. After all, for new collectors, brand equity and story might be something that is placed higher up on their list.

Then again, the Essence was a huge success when it was first launched on Kickstarter in 2018. Maybe, and just maybe, the author is just none the wiser when it comes to watches.


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1 Comment

  1. Those ugly screw heads simply remove this watch from consideration for me. Beyond the stark industrial look, the hollow heads will no doubt be lint and dust collectors.

    Terrific specs at a fair price, but the gimmicky and unattractive suspension system just does not work for me.