First Look: Formex Essence Automatic Chronometer (COSC)

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Switzerland’s Formex is releasing two new versions of their Essence watch, one with a standard ETA 2824 Elaboré grade movement and another with a highly decorated COSC-certified Sellita SW200 (in-hand here). At $685 via Kickstarter (40% off retail), the COSC-certified model has our special attention.

The Sellita movement has a custom skeletonized rotor, lovely decorative engraving throughout, blued screws, and looks great through the rear sapphire crystal. Needless to say, getting a COSC-certified watch at this price is noteworthy.

Shown here is a prototype of the Essence, which hits Kickstarter today. Other dial colors will be available.

The blue dial is reminiscent of some of Omega’s Aqua Terra models, with deeply machined horizontal stripes countered with vertical brushing. As the light changes angle, this dial turns from light blue with dark markers to a dark blue with light markers (this morphing appearance can make some photos misleading). The mirror polish of the applied markers is picked up by the faceted hour and minute hands, all of which are filled with Super-LumiNova BGW9. Under a loupe, the way the hour hand hovers just above the dial and just inside the indices is impressive. The color-matched chamfered rehaut holds a white minute track and is attractive and legible.

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Case work is relatively sharp, and the various polished and brushed surfaces show no slop. The vertical brushing on the top of the large, chamfered bezel seems to extend the dial’s brushing beyond the crystal. The bead-blasted surfaces inside the otherwise polished hexagonal heads on the four front-mounted bolts are especially interesting. Those bolts pass through the bezel and mid-case, and finally thread into the case back. The large crown gets the same treatment.

Most interestingly, the Essence houses a shock absorption system whereby the mid-case is suspended within the surround on springs, such that the inner watch actually moves within the case. This is not entirely unlike a car’s shock absorption system. How effective this mechanism is in protecting the movement is unclear, but it does make the watch adjust itself dynamically as you move, and it’s quite comfortable because of it.

In the production model, the Formex branding and model name will move down one line.

The Essence is a pretty big watch at 43 millimeters across, 49 millimeters lug-to-lug, and a little over 11 millimeters thick. I have a pretty wide 7.25-inch wrist, and the Essence fits me well, though its close to the upper limits of what I prefer to wear. It is definitely not following the downsizing trend.

At this price and with a COSC movement, I’d expect less from the strap, but the soft, slightly aged blue leather with its lightweight carbon-fiber deployant clasp is something to behold. I’m familiar enough with this kind of molded carbon fiber (largely from bicycle frames and motorcycle parts) to know it is far stronger than its muted plastic appearance suggests. Ten years ago, when this material was less common, I may have felt it was too much like cheap plastic, but in 2018 it’s easy enough to embrace these composites.

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This clasp is an odd-ball in that it uses two release mechanisms, both of which need to be opened in order to get the Essence around my meaty paw. The downside is that these two mechanisms overlap, thus requiring that you open and close them in a specific order (large one first to open, small one first to close). As one who owns deployant clasps with a single release mechanism, I’ll lodge a solid complaint here. The upside is that the deployant clasp is quickly changed out for a standard pin-buckle, and one can also opt for a rubber strap ($100) or a steel bracelet ($160), should the leather not suffice.

Too often leathers that try to match a dial are shades away from a good match, but the meted blue leather here works perfectly with the Essence’s brushed blue dial. Spring bars are the increasingly popular quick release type, which I have mixed feelings about because, should they break, they’ll be a pain to remove and you’ll be left with a needless hole in the strap. But opinions on quick-release spring bars vary widely, and I’m sure many will prefer them. Formex has also equipped the steel bracelet with a custom system that allows one to remove and replace it without tools, and though I’ve not used that mechanism the idea is certainly appealing.

The final production model will feature matching lume on the hands and indices.

In an attempt to overcome the problem of fitting a watch while shopping online, Formex offers up their TryOn App. One prints out a wrist band, puts it on, and uploads a wrist shot that the App “sees” in order to properly size and place the virtual watches. I haven’t had the chance to check this out, but the one review in the App Store says that, “The image quality of the virtual AR watches are awesome, there’s nice reflection too.”

These days it’s rare that a month goes by without seeing a watch brand do something new, and Formex has offered a number novel approaches with the Essence Automatic Chronometer. For a self-proclaimed “established brand” to offer a watch on Kickstarter isn’t entirely novel, but they may have broken some records by issuing a COSC-certified watch that way. They seem to be in the running for the least expensive COSC-certified watch, too. Kickstarter

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At age 7 Allen fell in love with a Timex boy's dive watch his parents gave him, and he's taken comfort in wearing a watch ever since. Allen is especially curious about digital technology having inspired a revival of analog technology, long-lasting handmade goods, and classic fashion. He lives in a one-room schoolhouse in The Hudson Valley with his partner and two orange cats.
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