As the watch industry grows, and collectors become more conscious, the appetite for finer watchmaking has increased tremendously over the last few years. And Atelier Wen, with their new Perception collection, aims to bring the brand’s offerings onto the next level altogether.
About Atelier Wen
Atelier Wen is an interesting micro-brand, with its roots traced back to both France and China (hence, its brand name). The brainchild of two young Frenchmen, Robin and Wilfried, the two Sinophiles met each other while they were studying in Beijing in 2016.
Its debut piece, the Porcelain Odyssey, was a remarkable success. Originally intended for the Chinese market, the timepiece – which features Chinese motifs and traditional crafts – has seen a strong interest from global collectors. The confidence had certainly allowed the duo to dream and conceptualise the brand’s next major collection, christened the “Perception”.
Atelier Wen Perception
The Perception is Atelier Wen’s second collection, and the timepiece aims to celebrate Chinese craftsmanship and culture in a more elaborated manner.
Undoubtedly, the highlight of this piece lies in its dial. Atelier Wen had partnered with Master Cheng, whom according to the founders, is China – and possibly Asia’s – sole guilloché master craftsman.
Master Cheng, notably, has a rather interesting background. The man himself started off with a regular job in Beijing, and his love for guilloché was born from a chance encounter with an antique Russian guilloché cigarette box. That single instance had changed Master Cheng’s life forever, as he decided to drop everything behind to pursue his craft for guilloché. It is also noteworthy to point out that Master Cheng is a self-taught man, and his machines were all built by himself. These days, his works are done in a workshop housed within an actual cave, according to Atelier Wen.
The concept of bringing in a Chinese master craftsman and incorporating their work into the timepieces shows Atelier Wen’s shift in strategy – which is to be one of the best Chinese watch brands in the world. We certainly like where this is going, but before we get a little too carried away, here is what we think about the brand’s new timepiece.
The Case, Dial, and Hands
The new Atelier Wen Perception takes a different step from its original collection. For this new model, the brand appears to have adopted a sports watch concept, with inclusion of a sleek case and an integrated metal bracelet.
The 40mm timepiece features a stainless steel case, with an alternate series of brushed and polished surfaces to accentuate the brand’s attention to details. Notably, the case is not dissimilar to a shape of a Chinese pagoda roof, and its protruded sides certainly bears some form of resemblance to the iconic Nautilus.
One particular minor, but interesting element, that we like is at the 12 and 6 o’clock position of the case. It appears that the case is not cut on a single plane, but instead it is cut at an angle on each side, before they meet on the apex at the middle. This is a minute detail, but we certainly appreciate that additional work has been done to make the watch a little more special, especially since most manufacturers would have opted for a single straight cut horizontally.
The refinement of the watch certainly extends to the thin case profile (at 9.4mm), as well as its integrated bracelet. Atelier Wen had opted for a series of hexagonal central links and H-shaped links, which were rather nice and original. We like how it wears on the wrist, and it is admittedly a rather comfortable sports watch indeed.
The star of the show, no doubt, is its dial. As mentioned earlier, all the guilloché dials of this series are crafted by Master Cheng, and we were told that each dial requires approximately 8 man-hours of work. The finishing is exceptional, and despite it being a handcrafted piece of work, the dial looks almost as perfect as it gets.
Also present on the dial is a ring filled with the Chinese pattern motifs, hour markers, and the brand’s logo in English and Chinese. What is notable is the brand’s play on depth, and we can also see the “Sun Mao” (or, mortise and tenon) architectural principles especially when the different elements of the dial are joint together (e.g. the indices, which appears to hold the outer ring and are fitted onto the main guilloché dial.
We really like how refined the dial is, and we certainly do not expect this sort of work present on a fledgling watch manufacturer. During our short time with the watch, we certainly find ourselves stealing glances at the dial from time to time. The guilloché dial is enchanting, and the sunburst effects that came along with it certainly adds another whole new dimension to the timepiece altogether.
Finally, we have the hands of the Perception. The watch is fitted with a pair of thick leaf hands, filled with luminescence material. Another small observation is the seconds hand, in which the end portion is slightly bent at an angle towards the dial. This is another small detail, but one that reflects the brand’s keen attention to detail again. Brownie points for that.
The Movement: Dandong Peacock Automatic
The Perception is powered by a customised self-winding Dandong Peacock movement. Atelier Wen had notably selected the movement for its thinness, which is at 3.3mm.
We understand that the movement beats at 28,800 vph, and it has a power reserve of around 41 hours. In addition, the movement features some form of decoration, in the forms of Côtes de Genève, perlage, and light bevelling on the bridges. On top of that, the movement is also fitted with a tungsten rotor, with circular Côtes and black rhodium plating. Alas, as there is only a small aperture, we are unable to view the movement in full. That said, given the limited optics, we feel that the finishing of the movement is decent for its price range.
The Competitive Landscape
There are two ways to view the Perception – either as a sports watch, or a relatively ornate piece with a stunning handcrafted guilloché dial. There are competitors in either segment, but as a combination of both, we reckon the Atelier Wen Perception is arguably the first of its kind at its price range, at US$2,588 (approximately S$3,513).
The first piece on the list is the Louis Erard Excellence Guilloché Main II. Limited to a production of 99 pieces, the guilloché dial is produced in collaboration with dial maker Fehr in La Chaux-de-Fonds. Similarly, the dials are produced by a guillocheuse, who takes several hours to complete the dial on the manual rose engine lathe. This 42mm Louis Erard timepiece features a more contemporary take on the guilloché dial, and it is no less amazing as well. The price is a tad higher at CHF3,900 (approximately S$5,612).
We follow up with yet another Louis Erard timepiece, this time the original variant of the Excellence Guilloché Main. This is the first piece that was produced in collaboration with Fehr, and the inspiration behind this pattern is the Cube Wallpaper that was conceptualised by M.C. Escher. Similar to the timepiece above, the original variant features a modern take on the traditional technique, with a rather bewitching and mind-boggling pattern that is rather intriguing and conversational. As with the Main II, the original iteration is priced at CHF3,900 (approximately S$5,612), and it is limited to a production of 99 pieces.
Lastly, we have the Dietrich Skin Diver SD-1. This watch obviously does not have a guilloché dial, but we reckon it is suitable to compete as a microbrand with a solid metal bracelet. The Dietrich works well as a casual sports/tool watch, with a decent build quality and a rather refined bracelet. For someone who is looking for a comfortable watch with a sporty look, without the finesse and pizzazz like the Perception (or the Louis Erards), the Dietrich Skin Diver is definitely a piece worth considering. It is priced at US$1,050 (approximately S$1,425).
Following the success of the original Porcelain Odyssey, we are glad that Atelier Wen had continued with the project and produced something that is entirely different from its debut piece. We think it is remarkable that the brand has also chosen to highlight Chinese culture and craftsmanship, and what better way to do so than to collaborate with a Chinese master craftsman to produce such an enchanting piece of art?
The price point is also another positive consideration. For the early-birds who are entitled to purchase the watch at US$2,088 (approximately S$2,834), we reckon it is difficult to find something that is as well-priced as the Perception, when it comes to timepieces which involves a significant amount of manual work.
Overall, we like the timepiece. It tells a wonderful story, and the execution is wonderful. We love seeing brands doing something different, and Atelier Wen had surely broken the mould with this new and rather bold timepiece. If Atelier Wen continues to work towards this direction, we do expect some great things from this Chinese watch manufacturer.