Atelier Wen Perception: Production Update #5 - The watches are shipped (after a little stutter), Events in Hong Kong and Singapore
This greeting arrives rather belatedly, but here’s wishing you all a wonderful start to the New Year! It’s been two grueling months since our previous update, but at long, long last, we’re equal parts relieved and utterly exhilarated to announce that the wait is finally over! From our initial anticipated delivery in November getting derailed due to the disruptive slew of COVID lockdowns throughout China, to a particularly stuttering turn of the year, it’s been no easy road. But what these blips and lessons have counted for is this: the inaugural batch of Perceptions have nearly all been shipped, and are either already on your wrists or well on their way to being so!
As we have so fastidiously sought to convey throughout all our previous updates—and for those of you who wish to hear it—this is the most recent chapter in the Atelier Wen story...
Christmas springs an unwelcome surprise
‘Twas (in some places) the night before Christmas when the first 缥/Piāos went out into the world. Their departure from our assembly facility in Foshan was meant to be the beginning of the end of this first journey in Perception. It signaled a wait—in bated breath—for the response from you, our earliest supporters in this second line of watches. And that wait took just about three days, as the first recipients in Hong Kong unwrapped their boxes to reveal the shimmering blue fish-scales beneath. But as it turns out, we were not quite there just yet.
Amongst the handful of early recipients, we began to receive a few reports that a number of pieces appeared to be exhibiting a clearly undesired visual stutter in the sweeping of the seconds hand. Even then, it was an issue we were familiar with, and one that was inherent to the class of seconds-hand mechanism that we had deployed in the Perception line. In order to achieve the extraordinary slimness in the ultra-thin movement that we had chosen to deploy, the central seconds had to be driven indirectly by spring tension—in much the same way as many iconic movements including the likes of the Zenith calibre 133, the Omega 30T2SC and even Patek’s revered 324 SC.
All indirect central second movements require a delicate setting for the spring underneath the second hand pinion. It has to possess an exact tension; too much and the watch would lose significant amplitude (and therefore accuracy), and too little and the energy conveyed through the gear train from the mainspring barrel would cause the seconds-hand to undergo the visible stutter that our watches were exhibiting. But we were certain we had ensured that when the movements left the factory in Dandong, their tension had been spot-on, with nary a missed beat in the silken sweep of their seconds. In fact, we had made sure of it, working during the months of May and June 2022 with Tristan Ledard, an exceptional watchmaker in Brittany, France, and the teams in Dandong to refine the bending angle of spring underneath the second hand pinion, and yet the reoccurrence of this visual peculiarity was undeniable.
When several more customers reported the issue on the 31st of December to form a grand total of 6 affected watches, we decided then we had to react despite the small number of pieces that had surfaced, and so react we did. We were quickly able to put a temporary pause on the shipment of the 影/Yǐng and 霞/Xiá, though by this time, more than half of both the Piaos and Wristcheck’s 传承/Chuan Chengs were already on their way to you. We did not wait to check back and forth throughout our supply chain to find the cause of the issue, urging our suppliers to focus all their efforts on this occurrence and seeking feedback from the few of you in Hong Kong who had already received their Piao. What we found was that the stuttering phenomena was in fact present in a substantial minority of the pieces that had been shipped out. And though we initially suspected that the issue lay with some sort of mechanical alteration, perhaps caused by indelicate logistics between Dandong and Foshan, the true culprit for the stuttering turned out to be something seemingly far more innocuous.
As we mentioned in one of our previous updates, Perception’s hands had changed from the initial prototypes to their current iteration, and we had gone back to the same hand supplier we used for the Porcelain Odyssey. And as it turns out, that miniscule shift in the centre of gravity of the seconds-hand—as well as the marginal increase in overall weight of the hand—was enough to throw the spring tension off and render it just shy of sufficient in some of the initial pieces. While our movement-makers in Dandong tested the watches well within our standards, they did so without the updated hands, using testing hands that were lighter, more uniformly-balanced, and that required less tension in said spring. It was for these reasons that some of the pieces delivered wound up with an irregular sweep of the seconds.
A little stutter... But nothing more!
Needless to say, we set about remedying the issue immediately, engaging once more our aforementioned watchmaker extraordinaire in France, Tristan Ledard, in the hopes of resolving things as swiftly as possible. For those of you outside the pre-order batch who did not receive our email about the issue, it is worthwhile to note that Tristan is in fact a former recipient of only the second ever edition of the Académie Horlogère des Créateurs Indépendants (AHCI)’s F. P. Journe Young Talent competition back in 2016. Tristan also worked for F.P. Journe and for Roger Smith, and is in the process of creating his own fully handmade debut watch – besides being a great friend, Tristan is, to us, the embodiment of independent watchmaking. Tristan’s expertise had been integral in fine-tuning Perception from the early stages of its development, and true-to-form, he helped us come up with a solution to this mechanical conundrum, preparing video demonstrations and detailed instructions.
As it turns out, the key to the problem lay in a minor modification of the spring, altering the angle at which it applied its tension by about 10 degrees. We had initially planned on flying Tristan himself into Hong Kong, but stricken down by a bout of COVID, we had to come up with an alternative solution. This was easier said than done, given the number of parties we had to coordinate with. With the Chinese New Year manufacturing breaks looming, it was imperative that we act fast. For those of you unfamiliar with the country’s specificities, it is the occasion of a (at least) one-month long, country-wide break. There is no derogating to it meaning that, in essence, for at the very least one month, all companies in China stop operating. We were truly not keen on missing the CNY deadline and delivering the rest of the batch in March, hence acting fast was truly a key necessity. We had about 15 days to identify the source of the issue, come up with a plan and matching processes, solve the issue, pack the watches and dispatch them – a huge lot to do within an awfully small shot timeline.
It was only with the aid and herculean efforts of our partners in Dandong, Foshan, Shenzhen and beyond, that we were able to iron things out and concretise a gameplan within 48 hours. We also saw the need to be front-facing and remaining as committed as ever to ensuring that things were well taken care of, it was agreed that Robin would fly into Hong Kong from Paris on the 1st of January—so as to coordinate the logistics in the local time zone and speed things along.
Two possibilities sprang to mind: we could either get watchmakers to manually modify the springs for the customers who sent their watches in, or get Dandong to reproduce the springs with the alteration readily-made and ready to be swapped into the affected pieces. While either solution was viable, the sense of urgency we felt—in wanting the watches delivered into their respective owners’ hands at the soonest and without any further delay—compelled us to act on both. Placing the additional order for replacement springs with Dandong, we reached out to experienced watchmakers (Bryan in Hong Kong and, later on, Willie in Singapore), briefing them on the situation and having Tristan convey his instructions and video demonstrations for the fix. Repairs began even before the recalibrated springs were ready—though our counterparts in Dandong ensured these came swiftly after, managing to revise and produce the remediated springs within just two days – something extremely unusual in an industry where lead-times are usually quantified in weeks, if not months! They even sent three of their own watchmakers from Dandong to the assembly facility in Foshan to conduct the spring-replacements, which in truth was a big reason why the pieces were once again ready to ship before Chinese New Year. The pieces were packed and ready to leave on Saturday January 14th, and by January 15th EOD all our local suppliers had closed their facilities for the national Chinese New Year holiday. The past few weeks have therefore been immensely hectic for our team, to say the least, with our time entirely consumed, first by the sourcing for watchmakers, then the arrangements for the additional springs from Dandong, and then now by the logistical labyrinth of arranging couriers from all around the world to and fro our watchmakers.
And now that we may somewhat look back in retrospect on the unfolding of events in and around the turn of the year, we truly cannot place enough emphasis on how superlative a job these have done in aiding our navigation of this stutter. From the bottom of our hearts, we cannot thank enough the three watchmakers from Dandong for their insane accomplishment of replacing almost 300 springs in the span of a few days, as well as Bryan and Willie, who were flexible enough to offer us their services at a moment’s notice in two of our largest markets.
As things stand, the watchmakers have had the needed parts and tools delivered to them, and have already received many of the watches in need of remediation. The majority of the remaining affected pieces are also already on their way to them, and we should have the springs changed and the watches heading back to you in the next week or two. Thank you so much for your patience and understanding, and please don't hesitate to reach out should any more of you experience the stuttering issue; you can reach out as before to email@example.com for any such or additional queries!
New year, new events
January also saw us host another wonderful evening with the global Atelier Wen family, this time at Percy’s in Hong Kong. Thank you all so much for the overwhelming response—more than 40 people showed up despite the short notice of only 2 days. It was wonderful being able to put faces to names in this amazing community that you all have helped us to forge! Special thanks are also in order to collector and great friend of the brand, @Watch_Ho, as he helped make the necessary arrangements in coordination with Robin's time in the city. Featuring bites, booze and the best company (as well as quite possibly the first ever Mexican-wave watch roll), here is one photo taken at the event!
Hong Kong also played host to Wristcheck’s collection event for their sold-out collaboration with us, with both Robin and Wristcheck CEO, Austen Chu, in attendance. To all those who made it down for the event and/or purchased a piece, thank you so very much for making this first collaboration such a roaring success! It was heartening and immensely moving to meet the collectors who helped the collab take-off, and it gives us huge boost in confidence for both our coming launches, as well as any future collaborations that come about!
In between the two events, Robin took some time to swing by Singapore for a quick stop, and though he was only in town for two short days, we figured it would not do to miss out on the opportunity to cobble together a quick meet-up! Once again, despite us only sending out the invitation at 2 in the afternoon, about a dozen of you appeared that evening for cocktails and wrist-talk, and we are truly moved by the enthusiasm and passion you continue to show for the brand.
For those of you who had prior commitments, look out in early February, because we’ll be doing something a little less impromptu this time!
What's next for Atelier Wen?
That is, we hope, the question of everybody’s minds, and without giving much away, aside from the upcoming second-batch of Perceptions, we are working on several extremely exciting projects that will be gradually be announced over the course of the year. The one little teaser that we will clue you in on is the fact that the 传承 was simply the beginning of our work with the industry’s movers and shakers, and what is round the corner just as big in every sense. Keep a look out in the weeks to come!
The team is growing!
There is something very special with this update. For the first time in our company's history, it is not written by Robin but by Ignatius, our very first hire. It feels slightly surreal to us, Robin and Wilfried, that our company is growing to the point where it not just two university friends but rather more like a "real" company, with external individuals helping us build the vision we share. It is honestly extremely exciting that the project can now live through individuals others than the 2 of us - it makes the whole seem more real and it reinforces the confidence we have in the mission. Ignatius joining us occurred organically and smoothly; here is what he shared about the journey via his Instagram account:
"for reasons unknown but time will tell" — Lucky, Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot
Been taking a bit to enjoy this one before posting because it's a piece that means a whole lot to me on several different levels.
@atelierwenluxury is a brand I've been keeping tabs on since mid-2020 as I began my collecting journey. Both the project and the pretty porcelain drew me in, and when they announced they were working on a hand-guillochéd piece, my early love for Breguet coloured me well-intrigued.
After meeting Wilfried in-person at the first prototype showcase in April '22, I jumped on it and decided to purchase Perception to mark the completion of my MA. What a year it's been since then.
It would not be far from the truth to say that my collecting journey and community have grown around the brand. I've gotten to know many of you through conversations that began with this very watch, and learnt to step out from the introverted, insular shell of academia that had been my home for the previous 6 years.
And it feels entirely surreal for that journey to have now come full-circle. Being officially invited onto the team was not something I could have foreseen, even with Robin and Justin first sounding me out to write the manual back in Nov.
There'll be time yet to talk about the piece's details, but first, I'd like to continue pinching myself and dwelling on how things sometimes, in some ways seem to fall into place.
A very warm welcome, Ignatius!
See you soon,
Wilfried & Robin & Ignatius