It gives me great pleasure to unveil our latest limited edition, a collaboration with Atelier Wen based on the brand’s wonderful integrated bracelet, sports chic, 100-meter water resistant watch named Perception. Our version features a matte-brushed and high polished grade 5 titanium case and bracelet. Its unique dial is executed in a stunning red that we feel perfectly captures the essence of emotion and celebration. Accordingly, the watch is named Xi (喜) which, translated from Mandarin, means “jubilation.” And while the watch is remarkably well finished, it features an absolutely ravishing guilloché à main dial individually crafted by Master Cheng Yucai, and it is to me a fantastic act of contemporary formed art design.
Perhaps what I like best about it as well as the brand Atelier Wen as a whole is that they showcase the very best artisanal and watchmaking capabilities of China in a refreshingly modern way. But in order for me to tell the story of Atelier Wen and our collaboration, I need you to jump back in time with me six years to when the brand was still in its concept phase — to a dinner held in Beijing, where the two young men Robin Tallendier and Wilfried Buiron were attempting to convince Tallendier’s parents of the worthiness of their project to change the watch-buying public’s perception of Chinese watchmaking.
Robin Tallendier’s parents were unimpressed, to say the least. This was after they had queried Robin and his partner Wilfried Buiron, about the progress of their “watch brand.” A project that each of the young men had sunk a total of 6,000 euros into, which represented a significant amount of both individuals’ savings.
The objective, the pair of Sinophiles had proudly declared to their parents, was to showcase the true artisanal beauty and construction quality that resided deep within the massive juggernaut that was Mainland China’s mechanical watch industry, but remained a secret to the general watch-buying public that only associated the country with inexpensive and even counterfeit watches. In response to the question about the situational status of their brand Atelier Wen, a name derived from the French word for “workshop” and the Chinese word for “culture” (文), Wilfried promptly extracted 3D-printed plastic mock-ups and various disassembled watch components. Tallendier’s parents stared at these in silence. Says Wilfried with a laugh, “Honestly, this moment did not go very well at all.”
But what Tallendier’s parents couldn’t see yet was encoded within these seemingly random pieces of plastic and metal — the geometric blueprint of what would prove to be the most ambitious watch brand that has yet to emerge from China, and an utterly unique cross-cultural project that represents one of the most thrilling overtures in contemporary watchmaking. The thing to understand about Tallendier and Buiron is that they represent two of the finest minds of their generation. They both recognized from an early age that the future lay in collaborations between East and West, and accordingly, both sought out degrees at Peking University. Tallendier, who is also a graduate of London Business School and a horological devotee since the age of 14, made such an impact while in China that he was appointed an “Execution Expert” by the Chinese government, which gave him unparalleled access to the legendary Mainland watch companies, including the famous Dandong/Peacock company. He was also a private equity hot shot until he decided to dedicate his life completely to Atelier Wen. Buiron, who was raised in Hong Kong, graduated from not one but two of China’s top universities, Peking University (where he befriended Tallendier) and Tsinghua University. His command of Mandarin is so complete, he is something of a television personality in China. He is also the founder of a successful start-up, Zaapi, which builds digital commerce infrastructure for Southeast Asian MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises). That both young men are now part of our modern horological community represents a huge asset to us.
The (Watch) Face of Contemporary China
Atelier Wen started with a timepiece named Porcelain Odyssey that showcased the art of Chinese porcelain for its dials. But the duo rapidly followed this up with their integrated bracelet sports chic, 100-meter water resistant timepiece, which they presented to me in my Geneva apartment last year, just a few days before Watches and Wonders. Despite my busy schedule, the watch made me stop, sit down and examine it in detail. Immediately and instinctively, I wanted to collaborate with them on a series of limited edition watches based on this model.
Because Perception is a work of remarkable maturity and sensitivity. It is balanced and ergonomic, beautifully constructed and a wonderful microcosm of nuanced refinement, as evident in particular in its guilloché à main dials. These dials are the fruit of the lifelong dedication of Chinese Master Cheng Yucai to the art of rose engine turning. Fascinated by this traditional English and Swiss decorative technique, which uses gear reduction driven by the human hand to transform elaborate large scale patterns into minute extraordinarily complex engraved dials, but unable to access the largely antique machines needed to perform this mimetic act of transubstantiation, Cheng did the seemingly impossible and designed and built his own. Says Buiron, “In so doing, he received multiple patents on his machine.”
“For the circular panier design of our collaboration named Xi, we asked him to create 36 separate sections at the edge of the dial, instead of the normal 24,” Tallendier elaborates. “As these patterns converge at the center, they become so tiny that keeping them distinct is an incredible challenge.”
Buiron recalls, “After the first attempt, Master Cheng examined the dials under magnification and he decided that they were not good enough. We did a Tencent Meeting call where we drank beer with him and watched as he took a pair of shears and cut every dial in half so they wouldn’t be used for anything else.”
But the point is that Perception represents something unique — a modern Chinese timepiece.
Says Tallendier, “When most watch brands want to make a model that is Chinese themed, they will invariably make a dial featuring a golden dragon or a Chinese astrological sign. To us, this was facile and clichéd. We both lived in Peking and explored as much of China as we were able to. What we see is a vibrant, dynamic and incredibly modern city. So we wanted to make a watch that was similarly modern and that responded to the needs of the contemporary customer yet continued to draw on the city’s impressive traditional roots. This was the impetus for Perception.
“We took inspiration from the shape of ancient pagoda rooftops for the case sides, and from the windows of pagodas for the center links of the bracelet. We were both fascinated about a type of traditional building construction method called Sunmao (榫卯), which doesn’t use nails or cement but uses complex interlocking joinery. Our dial is actually two layers that are 0.5mm and 0.4mm in thickness. The top level is made of the special copper compound and has the guilloché pattern engraved on it. The bottom features the indexes which fit through slots cut into the upper dial. Both levels are locked in place by the chapter ring without using any screws or soldering or glue. We wanted to express what we love about Chinese culture in a more complex way.”
Atelier Wen × Revolution Perception – Xi
The pair worked with a casemaker named Mr. Liang. While the steel version of Perception already presented challenges in terms of the perfect integration between the watch head and integrated bracelet, which is seamless and without gaps, the use of grade 5 titanium significantly increased the level of difficulty. Says Tallendier, “Honestly, Mr. Liang was not so happy about the requests we made. When it came to grade 5 titanium, he has to invest a lot to be able to achieve the mirror polish of the concave bezel and the same treatment on all the bevels of the watch and on the bracelet.”
“Ultimately, people like Mr. Liang and Master Cheng are willing to accept these challenges too because they love the idea that Atelier Wen showcases their true capacity; the beauty and quality they are able to elicit,” Buiron adds. Indeed, the integrated titanium bracelet even features a quick micro-adjustment system where you are able to increase or decrease the bracelet length with a mere push of the Atelier Wen logo.
Tallendier reveals, “This is actually version two of the micro-adjustment mechanism; we are constantly seeking to improve every aspect of our watches.”
As a demonstration of their slavish attention to every detail of their watch, Tallendier and Buiron pushed their movement maker to create a slimmer version of their most ambitious automatic caliber. Says Tallendier, “We convinced the Dandong watch movement factory to make a thinner version of their SL1 automatic caliber. For us, it was really important that Perception features a sense of elegance in its proportions. We wanted a 40mm case size, but also a slim profile. Thanks to the creation of the SL1588 for us, we were able to keep the thickness of the watch at just 9.4mm.”
Buiron explains, “We wanted to create a contemporary watch for the modern customer and part of that was offering multiple ways of wearing the same timepiece, in particular on the titanium bracelet, but also on a variety of multi-colored straps. In order to do this, we had to ensure a quick-change system was fitted to the spring bars and that it was intuitive and effortless to use, but also very secure. Rubber straps have become a real staple in the luxury watch market, and so we wanted to make sure that this was offered along with the bracelet. After much debate, we decided to feature the white colored rubber strap with our red dial model, as we feel the combination is really fresh and uplifting.”
I can state without a moment’s hesitation that the Atelier Wen × Revolution Perception – Xi made in collaboration with Revolution is uplifting indeed. It is uplifting for its design appeal and the sheer luminous beauty of its handcrafted dial. It is uplifting as it represents a strong value proposition for a watch with a grade 5 titanium case and guilloché à main dial. It is also wonderfully ergonomic and made with impressive quality. But it is perhaps most uplifting because it is the labor of love of two men who want us to change the way we see Chinese watchmaking, and as such, the watch is an expression of their sincerity and passion for the country and its artisanal and watchmaking capabilities.
Available in 100 limited and numbered pieces, it is priced at USD 3,400 net each and is available to the public for purchase on RevolutionWatch.com on 18 April 2023, 10pm SGT / 4pm CET / 10am EST. For enquiries, email [email protected]
Atelier Wen × Revolution Perception – Xi
Movement: Self-winding extra thin Dandong caliber SL1588; 41-hour power reserve
Functions: Hours, minutes and seconds
Case: 40mm; grade 5 titanium; water resistant to 100m
Dial: Red guilloché with “Sunmao” structure; rhodium plated applied indexes
Strap: Titanium bracelet and white colored rubber strap
Price: USD 3,400
Availability: Limited and numbered edition of 100 pieces