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The Atelier Wen Perception: Why a Controversial Watch Deserves Your Attention

  on Gear Patrol

When you first see the Atelier Wen Perception‘s dial, all of the watch’s other interesting features become secondary: its elegant take on the integrated-bracelet trend, the brand’s controversial “proudly made in China” ethos and its exotic features — it’s all overshadowed as the dial’s shimmering guilloche texture steals the show. Even more stunning is its price for what it offers.

Founded by two sinophile Frenchmen, Robin Tallendier and Wilfried Buiron, Atelier Wen’s second product, the Perception, offers a ton of talking points. Number one is the aforementioned real guilloche dial, produced by China’s only known master of the craft — and nearly unheard of in south-of-five-figure-price territory. But how does this ambitious product and the brand’s unique approach come together as a whole?

After spending some time testing the Atelier Wen Perception, here are my impressions.

The dial is incredible, and completely unheard of at this price

Again, this dial is utterly mesmerizing.

Guilloche (or guilloché) sometimes refers to a pattern, but in a strict sense, it’s a technique of decorative machine engraving. Similar patterns on watches thatdon’t cost five figures are usually achieved by stamping or CNC, but when you see one that’s been produced in the traditional way, using a hand-operated rose engine lathe, you get it: there’s nothing like the real thing.

Carved into metal (in this case, copper), the the geometric patterns of the Perception’s dial come to life as they glint in different lights and angles. There are three available colors, but the version I reviewed has a pale, metallic blue finish, which can even take on the rainbow effect of oil slicks at times when it catches sunlight or colors from the environment. Try as I may to convey through pictures and words just how cool the effect is, there’s nothing like seeing it in person.

In case you can’t tell, I’m smitten with this dial. And aside from the guilloche texture, other elements such as the (“sunmao”) Chinese lattice-style minute track, three-dimensional indices and legible, lumed hands complement it well.

The Perception’s dial has an incredible story

That’s the draw of the dial’s visual effect, but knowing how it’s made only adds to its charm. Rare and expensive, real guilloche dials are typically only found from high-end brands such as Breguet or independent watchmakers such as U.S. watchmaker JN Shapiro, for example; there probably aren’t many masters of the craft in the world.

Atelier Wen’s dials are made by Cheng Yucai, the only such master in China and possibly in all of Asia. Mr. Cheng is very impressive himself: completely self-taught, he designed and built his rose engine lathes from scratch, without the help of technical drawings of existing machines. His own rose engine lathes are patented.

Take a peek into the Cheng's workshop with our mini-documentary series, Inside the Atelier.

It takes Cheng about eight hours to complete a single dial. And just to add some color to your mental image, his studio is in “an actual cave,” according to Atelier Wen.

It doesn’t look like a Royal Oak or Nautilus

The Royal Oak and Nautilus watches designed in the 1970s by Gerald Genta are currently the height of hype. Any watch with an integrated bracelet and even vaguely octagonal (or similarly geometric) shape is inevitably seen as drawing upon their iconic status.

Yes, the Perception is part of a current trend of such watches, but Atelier Wen managed to avoid looking like a homage. Its case shape and bracelet nod to the Patek Philippe Nautilus in particular, but other elements (not least, that dial) give the Perception a character all its own.

It nails the specs, with bonus points for thinness

Contrasting brushed and polished finishes, double-domed sapphire crystal, ample anti-reflective coating and a sport-watch-appropriate water resistance of 100m — these are all specifications that are standard among luxury watches above and below the Perceptions’s price point, but they’re not a given. Atelier Wen not only checks all those boxes, but further ups the proposition by using 904L stainless steel, otherwise known as Oystersteel when used by Rolex for its superior hardness and shine compared to the more common 316L variety.

Best of all, the brand managed to keep the case remarkably thin, at just 9.4mm. So many watchmakers inspired by Gerald Genta’s greatest hits are distracted by the likes of integrated bracelets, octagons and exposed screws. They ignore Genta’s basic tennet of thinness that makes those watches so wearable, but Atelier Wen got that right, too.

Atelier Wen Perception: The Verdict

This is a watch full of talking points, quirks and impressive qualities. In the end, I understand those who feel hesitation about dropping more than $2,000 on a watch with an unfamiliar movement. But with the brand’s openness it doesn’t feel like a gamble, and considering all that it offers, the Atelier Wen Perception seems like a remarkable value.

For those that are drawn to its dial, story, style and other qualities, I see no red flags that should stop you from pulling the trigger. I’d love to add one to my own collection, despite not being especially enthusiastic about the luxury sport watch trend myself. It’s a watch that feels special for a host of reasons, but it’ll be that dial that takes your breath away on a regular basis.

This article has been modified for brevity.

Read the full, original article here.

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