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Atelier Wen Perception: Update #3 - Designing the Best Watch Clasp

by Atelier Wen on

Hello everyone,

We hope that you are all well.

First of all, we would like to wish all of you a happy, healthy and prosperous new year of the Ox! It is quite an understatement, but we think we can all agree that 2020 is not going to be remembered as a great millésime. As such, we are glad to be, finally, moving towards a new year, which, we hope (and believe!), will be known for its great rebound. So here is to hoping we can all be healthy, we can all travel again, we can all be successful, and we can, last but not least, all get great new watches.

We have been very busy lately in regard to our upcoming Perception series, and, today, we have an exciting news to share with you all.

But before that, here is a quick summary of what we have been up to lately.

As you may know from our previous updates, we entered the prototyping stage back in December, which itself is made of two separate phases. The first one is to translate the designs into 3D files and to generate the corresponding technical drawings. With our first series, we did this in-house, yet while Li Mingliang and Liu Yuguan for sure did an amazing job with this task, this was not their main area of expertise, and, as such, the complete exercise took us months. This was then followed by a few weeks of back-and-forth between our designers and our different suppliers, which made the whole thing a complex and lengthy affair. Learning from our experience, we decided, this time, to give the task to our different manufacturing partners, and to let Li Mingliang and Liu Yuguan focus on what they actually do best i.e. designing some great watches.

Li Mingliang (left) and Liu Yuguan (right)

Since December, we have therefore been in daily contact with our different suppliers to oversee this extremely important step. The difficulty of this task is a rather unique one. This is going to delight our consultant friends, but the whole exercise very much fits the 80/20 framework: 80% of the watch technical drawings can be done right easily and quickly yet the remaining 20%, that is to say all the little details which will actually make the watch an interesting and quality one, require the most effort. Hence, while we got some first renders as early as January, it then took us a good 3 months to define all the tiny little details that will make the Perception stand out as truly one of the best Chinese watches and not just yet another steel sport chic piece. The level of attention is very much on the micro end of the continuum: there were weeks where all we managed to discuss were a bunch of angles on the bracelet links. If we take a step back, the contrast between the amount of time spent discussing the watch details and subtleties and its actual size is quite vertiginous!

So a few days ago, after dozens of iterations and an equal number of headache-inducing annotated screenshots with areas of improvements (we are seriously wondering whether some of our suppliers will ever want to work with us again - we are real pains), we finally validated all the components and gave each of our suppliers the go-ahead. We are now entering the second phase, which is to actually make those prototypes. We are crossing fingers, and if everything goes well, in 2 short months, the first prototypes should be with us. We just cannot wait!

Technical drawings

While working on the definition of all the details, there was something which increasingly bothered us: the clasp. At the beginning, it was just some mild, slight annoyance, because, let’s face it, the clasp was already quite nice. It was already quite elaborate, with a cool integration of the Atelier Wen logo with the links. And everyone seemed to like it as well! But still, the more we looked at it, the more we worried about what would actually happen if one’s ideal size were to be between two links. Robin has a large watch collection, and when we discussed the topic, he said that this is extremely annoying and, basically, the reason why he does not wear his bracelet watches much. He also added that even if a bracelet may initially fit your wrist well, variations in temperature and humidity can swiftly change this and ruin the fit. We were now convinced that we needed to have a micro-adjustment mechanism of some sort: the clasp was no longer adequate.

The question was how. We first brought the topic to our bracelet manufacturer who suggested having some intermediary positions/holes within the clasp, but this idea was immediately dismissed because it would mean that to adjust the bracelet you would actually need to dismount it (and if you do not have the tools to do so, you would need to visit a watch shop and often pay for the service). This went completely against our ethos of having an extremely sleek and convenient solution. So it was a big no.

The solution our supplier initially suggested. Not our picture

Not really knowing in which direction to pursue our efforts, we decided to purchase samples of some of the best clasps available on the market in order to understand what makes them great and come up with our own attractive solution.

The first one we ended up getting is one frequently found on many micros and which includes a clever and smooth extension mechanism. We purchased it based on the recommendation of our bracelet supplier who told us it is quite cheap and good value for the price. It turned out he was right and the clasp we received was solid and easy to use. However it was definitely too massive, looking like a sizeable metal block which completely broke the bracelet aesthetic. What is more, the extension part was just a plain metal band which contrasted with the rest of the bracelet links. Lastly, it was also lacking some refinement: it felt rather rustic to us and there was just nothing really special about it. So, once again, we had to give it a no.

The first clasp sample we purchased. It is used by many microbrands

We then wanted to spice things a little and purchased an Omega Seamaster clasp. It was much better than the previous one, yet there were two main flaws which prevented us from adopting a similar layout: (i) the extension part was, once again, just a plain metal band and, (ii) in order to be adjusted, the watch would need to be removed from the wrist. While Omega’s product was super qualitative and rather convincing, it was still far from our objective of providing, quite simply, the best clasp possible. Again, we had to give it a miss. Nevertheless, the sturdiness and nice finish of all the inner parts of the clasp left us a very positive impression, and we thus decided that ours would need the same level of attention.

An Omega clasp. Picture not ours

Where do we go from here? We identified the « on-the-fly » feature to be a key one, so we started looking for clasps sporting one. Two with relatively similar designs stood out: the one of the Moser Pioneer Centre Seconds Rotating Bezel and the one of the IWC Mark XVII. Getting a standalone Moser clasp proved to be impossible, but we still managed to lay our hands on a second-hand IWC one. We immediately loved the micro-adjustment feature: operated through a large, central push button, it was extremely intuitive, sleek and easy to use. You did not need to remove your watch to adjust it; all was needed was to push the large central button to either tighten or loosen the fit. To say that it was intuitive would be an understatement - this thing was as smooth as it gets. In a nutshell, this was the user experience we were after. There were, of course, aspects of the clasps which we liked less, such as the finish of the central button and inner parts, and the slightly unnecessary complexity of some parts of the mechanism.

An IWC Mark XVII clasp. Picture not ours

We still decided that this would be a good starting point, and worked with our clasp supplier to design one which would deliver a similar sleek and smooth experience yet address the aforementioned shortcomings. The end result is made of no less than 25 parts (yes, 25 !) and it is, quite probably, one of the best clasps available on the market. We are not saying this because we are the ones manufacturing it but simply because the bracelet integration, the ease of use, the finish, the overall experience (how cool is it to just push that big button) will all be close to perfection. All you will need to do to adjust your bracelet will be to push that big Atelier Wen button, and seamlessly, it will tighten or smoothen. No need to remove the watch from your wrist or do anything else. It will be as sleek as it gets. The finish, as usual, will be meticulous and intricate. Judge it for yourself!

Our own clasp

Some may dismiss spending this much efforts, time and financial resources on « just » a clasp as an overkill, but for us, this is precisely the definition of quality. Sure, we could have done like pretty much anyone else and use an off-the-shelve clasp that is adequate and does the job, but then what would be the point? If each element of your watch is not actually bringing interest, then why make watches in the first place? Some may find our product philosophy a little extreme, but to us, there is otherwise no point. Beyond the idea of making the very best Chinese watches available, we « simply » want to make amongst the most interesting watches in the industry, and that is why we are committing so much resources to our products. We know some of you would like the watches to be released faster, but please, bear with us, this extra time will be all worth it, we promise.

Thank you for your time.

See you soon with some more exciting news!

Very best,

Wilfried and Robin

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