telier Wen is an independent watch brand celebrating Chinese culture and craftsmanship. The brand was born out of a passion for horology and a deep admiration of China’s cultural heritage and craftsmanship talents. “We believe in transparency and taking pride in our origins and that is why we want to celebrate Chinese culture, crafts and watchmaking. We aim to do so by manufacturing the absolute, very best Chinese watches ever,” say the founders, Wilfried and Robin.
The two close friends from France came together while studying in Beijing in 2016 through a shared passion for China, watches and starting new things. Disappointed by the lack of awareness surrounding Chinese craftsmanship and deep cultural heritage, they decided to create Atelier Wen in a bid to celebrate those with individuals from all over the world.
The new Perception series will be quite special because the dials will be handmade guilloché using a rose engine by China’s (and probably Asia’s) sole guilloché master craftsman. His workshop is in an actual cave, and he needs 8 hours to do just one dial.
Master Cheng is China’s only guilloché master craftsman. He is completely self-taught and has built all his machines by himself without any outside help or inspiration. He does not come from a “craft” background at all - he used to have a regular, steady job in Beijing, but, one day, upon seeing an antique Russian guilloché cigarette box, he fell in love with the craft and decided to leave everything to do guilloché.
His wife and kids thought he became crazy, but nonetheless he moved to the countryside and set up his workshop in a cave. He struggled for many years, but today, for the very first time, a dial of his making will be in a Chinese watch, and, for the very first time as well, he will be fully acknowledged as the creator of those dials. Thus far, all of Master Cheng’s customers have been Swiss brands via middle men, and the fact that he is the one who did those dials had always been kept a “secret”.
It takes him 8 hours of work to engrave just one of dial. This is an extremely intense activity: he needs to stay completely focused during the whole of the 8 hours and, at the tiniest mistake, he will need to start all over again. Operating a rose engine necessitates an enormous amount of skill as Cheng will need to switch between the different rosettes by shifting the cam at very precise timings (a little too late or too early and the pattern will be off) and as he will need to apply varying amounts of pressure throughout the process; you usually want to create some visual depth hence some parts of the pattern will need to be deeper while others will be shallower.
In addition to finding exactly the right amount of pressure to apply at the right timing, an overall balance needs to be kept as too much pressure and it is possible to pierce through the dial blank and too little and the pattern won’t be visible enough. And if the pressure is too uneven, if there is too much variability in it, then the pattern will feel too irregular. At the slightest mistake, the dial will become scrap and Cheng will need to start again. An extreme amount of focus is needed and absolutely no vibrations are tolerated around the machine. This is why Cheng decided to install his workshop in a cave.
When Porcelain Odyssey was sold out, the Atelier Wen’s founders decided to move forward with the development of Perception, as they explain: “We had a long reflection period and came to the conclusion that, in order to properly celebrate Chinese culture and craftsmanship like we want to do, we would need to become one of the single best Chinese watch brands. So, in a way, there is a little bit of a strategy shift as compared when we created Porcelain Odyssey. We want to become one of the very best Chinese watch brands instead of just a premium lifestyle label, and Perception is somewhat of the stepping stone for this new path.”
While being part of the whole “steel sport chic” trend, the design of Perception is still unique.The goal was to reach something which would be less of a literal “pasting” of Chinese elements but rather an interpretation of key aesthetic concepts to a watch format. Chinese architecture is the series’ red thread, and this can be seen through different elements, including the unique dial structure which follows the traditional “Sunmao” (i.e. mortise and tenon) architectural principle - with fours levels stacked on top of each other and all dial elements are nesting into each other.
The best way this inspiration can be felt though is through the gripping contrast between the dial depth (the guilloché helps a lot in that regards) and the watch’s extra thinness - only 9.4mm, including caseback and crystal. It creates a sort of vertigo feeling, which really conveys the architectural inspiration.
Pricing: Pre-order price: $2,088 Retail price: $2,588