Atelier Wen Perception: Production Update #2 - Further Quality Improvements - We Are On Track
It has now been slightly over a month since our last production update, and the time has thus come for a second review of the state of manufacturing activities. This new update is much less comprehensive than the previous one, but, fret not, there is a good reason for this: things are moving according to plan. We still have some cool information and progress to share with you all, so sit back, and enjoy the read!
Credit: Edgar Koh - @edgarkoh on Instagram
In our last piece, we explained to you everything we had been up to in the month following the opening of the pre-orders. We genuinely strived hard to listen to your feedback and spent a rather substantial amount of resources and time to address those. It was not easy as there was a need to, first, properly define the issues (harder than it sounds), then find ways to correct them, and, eventually, to have suppliers agree on the required changes. Those usually meant extra work, and, as you may be expecting it, they were not particularly happy about this. As a result, the cost of almost every component has risen on an individual basis. This is nevertheless something we are willing to go through as it will enable us to make and deliver watches which are sincerely aligned with our vision. Noticing how inconvenient it can be to be dealing with manufacturing matters while being outside of China, we decided to hire a local 3-person team of supply chain consultants in order to make sure Perception is produced on time and within our quality standards. Again, this was not a negligible expense (especially when you consider that the consultancy we hired mainly works with Fortune 500 clients), but we felt it was worth it. As a result however, we will have to increase Perception retail price by 7% to USD 2,788 in order to at least partly cover for these hikes.
We still had to take care of some production matters during the month of June. The first one relates to the hands. We felt they were of adequate quality, especially for the price point, but still, we believed they could be improved. There was nothing inherently bad with them, and none of the various journalists, reviewers, collectors and friends who handled the prototypes had anything negative to say about them. That bothering impression we had was stemming from the fact that the hands we used on our Porcelain Odyssey models were exceedingly good, in an almost surreal way. Quite a few photographers enjoyed taking macro pictures of them, and they received glowing feedbacks, being compared to hands found on watches 50x the retail price of Porcelain Odyssey. See for yourself:
Credit: Zen Love - @zlo_watches on Instagram
We felt we were somehow regressing and we did not like that feeling at all. We thus decided to cancel the order we had with this new supplier and instead reverted back to the previous one. This will be mostly visible on Ying (the grey dialled version of Perception) which boasts heat-blued hands for which we really felt the gap with Hao was substantial. So if you are one of the 41 individuals who ordered a Ying, you are in for a treat! The gap was narrower for the white gold-plated hands found on Piao (blue dial) and Xia (salmon dial), but still, even if the improvement is small, we feel it is worth it. You can now therefore rest assured that you will have the best possible hands on your Perception.
Another component which kept us busy is the movement. As some of you may recall, we were striving to remove the “ghost” position stemming from the absence of a date window. The caliber powering Perception is named SL-1588 and is a derivative of Dandong’s new ultra thin SL1 base. The SL-1588 is made exclusively for Atelier Wen and includes modifications such as a slightly slimmer profile, better accuracy (+/-10s/d upon leaving Dandong vs +25/-15s/d for regular Dandong movements), longer power reserve (41 hours vs 38 hours) and an overall better finish. The SL1 is however, at the onset, a movement with a date function and the fact that we decided not to have a date window on Perception meant that there was a “ghost”, useless position when pulling the crown. We were absolutely not thrilled with this as it would then feel like the watch is not completely “finished” i.e. as if some aspects had been neglected and not taken care of. But good news, after extensive negotiations with Dandong, they agreed to further modify the movement so as not to have this bothering “ghost” position.
We did not stop things there with the movement. The base SL1 included the possibility of having engravings on the top bridges but we were not hugely fond of those as (a.) they were extremely limited and (b.) the font offered for these engravings was a rather “neutral” Helvetica-like one which is not really aligned with the brand identity. We thus pushed for extra engravings as well as for the use of our brand’s font, Trajan Pro. The first query was actually quite easy to settle, and, in exchange of a relatively small premium, Dandong agreed to add extra content.
The font issue was harder to solve as the chisels Dandong owns and uses for movement engravings were not suited at all for the fine serifs of our font. In the grand scheme of things, this issue was a rather inconsequential one, especially given the fact that these engravings won’t be visible to anyone but our after-sales watchmakers. We could have easily not implemented those finishing touches. Let’s face it, they bring no use and deliver no technical improvements. But, still, it was bothering us. We have an holistic vision of quality, where it is more like an overall philosophy rather than a purely utilitarian concept in which it is a tool to bring “tangible” improvements. We are adamantly convinced that in order to reach the stage where we are creating superior use and value (what the utilitarians seek), we need to have a constant quality mindset. We need to have it at the core of everything we do, almost like a religion, so that then we are able to create superior watches.
We therefore did not give up and ended up funding the acquisition of a new chisel able to handle our font’s specificities. And here is the result:
Dial production is going well, and we are extremely pleased to share that Cheng has greatly improved the quality of his craft. One of the factors which made this possible is the fact that we have upgraded the chisel used to engrave our pattern from one made of tungsten to one with a diamond tip. This enables Master Cheng to make the dial pattern neater, sharper and better defined. The improvements we are witnessing are also heavily due to Master Cheng’s continuous and tireless dedication to simply making better guilloché. We almost exclusively communicate with him via a WeChat group where himself, Wilfried, Robin, and the 3 supply chain consultants are present and it is not uncommon to wake up to messages from him saying that he has been working all night long to try to improve. Please see here a few pictures of a dial he actually rejected - even this one is actually miles ahead of the ones we installed in the prototypes.
The first message is from Cheng. It literally translates as: "From 12 o'clock last night until now - I'm going to take a break"
Cheng is also pleased by the progress his apprentices are showing, and he expects the one who has already been with him for more than 3 years to be able to make complete dials starting from the end of the year. This means that, if things go well, we will hopefully be able to increase production volumes in 2023.
The last component on which we worked is the on-the-fly micro-adjustment mechanism found on the bracelet clasp. While it was extremely practical and definitely a game change for the wearing experience, we found the actual mechanism present in the prototypes to be somewhat rough with a sliding action that could feel a bit “difficult”. We thus re-worked the mechanism in order to correct this.
That is pretty much it for the production updates. We are still on track for a delivery in November 2022. We really can’t wait for all of you to receive your watches.
Those of you who are already subscribed to our newsletter may have seen it that we recently launched a new series of content that will consist in a deep dive on Perception’s design and features from the point of view of the people who actually made and conceptualised the range i.e. our designers and suppliers. We will be jumping to the other side of the mirror to explore what it meant for them to actually create Perception. There will be 6 episodes, shared with our subscribers on a monthly basis.
In the first episode, we began by exploring the case design. Alfred, a Hong Kong-based watch designer was heavily involved in the project before Li Mingliang and Liu Yuguan stepped in, and he is the one who came up with the case shape. Here is what he had to say:
Perception is inspired by the popularity of integrated bracelet steel sport watches and is meant to be Atelier Wen’s take on the genre.
The series’ strong Chinese character can be understood though its traditional Chinese architecture inspiration. More specifically, it is the Xieshan roof style which acted as its design red thread. It can be found on different parts of the case.
Firstly, on the left and right flank which feature gently curved angles reminiscent of the typical pagoda roof silhouette. It is also visible through the subtle ridge running along the middle of the case on the top surface, which also has the effect of distributing light more evenly and thus creating overall visual balance.
Finally, via the convex bezel draws inspiration from hipped roofs and adds a fair dose of softness in an otherwise very angular and sharp watch. To round things off, it was paramount to have alternating fine satin brushing and mirror polishing to achieve the desired elegance.
Stay tuned for episode 2, which will be released in a few weeks.
See you soon,
Wilfried & Robin
PS: And please don't forget to join our exclusive WhatsApp group if you do not want to miss any further updates!