Before getting into Kent Wang’s new Art Deco watch, one first needs to know two things…obviously, who and what is Kent Wang, and what is the Art Deco period. Kent Wang is a brand named after its founder. KW got its start in 2007 when Mr. Wang, frustrated by the lack of well-priced pocket squares, decided to take matters into his owns hands…or pockets as it were. From there, a brand of refined and classic men’s clothing and accessories emerged. From ties to bespoke suits to a couple of watches, Kent Wang is nice alternative to mainstream stores for higher-end dress wear needs.
Art Deco is a visual style that followed WWI and lasted through the 40’s (roughly until WWII). It’s a bold style that combined elements from the Craft period and Machine age. Ranging through all media from objects to graphics, and notably to architecture, Art Deco is defined by bold geometry with an eye for symmetry and flow, a use of strong colors and highly detailed decoration. There are many existing examples of the period throughout the states, but as a New Yorker, when Art Deco is mentioned, I always picture the Chrysler building, with its incredible spire. A cool off shoot of the Art Deco period is Streamline design, which infused the aesthetic with elements of aerodynamics for forms that exuded speed.
As a follow up to his first watch, simply titled the Bauhaus Watch, Kent has created an ode to the period, and somewhat to the watches of the time. When one looks at dress watches of the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s you have classics like the Cartier Tank or the Gruen Curvex. Both have rectangular cases and elegant dials that speak to the aesthetics of the time. Bulova in particular had a few watches with stacked geometric elements on the case, which must have served as a starting point in this design.
The Kent Wang Art Deco watch, however, is substantially larger than any dress watch from the 30’s would have been, measuring 38 (at its widest point) x 50 x 8.8mm (at the center). The geometry of the all polished case is striking, especially at this scale. The stepped decorative elements on the side, which add something distinctly Art Deco yet not overly ornate, turn the watch into a piece of wrist architecture. I was glad to see that despite the odd shape of the crystal, they did go for a sapphire.
The case back is unadorned polished steel with a circular display, revealing the manual wind Seagull ST17 movement within. Given the artistry that characterizes the time period, I do think there is a missed opportunity here for an etching. As is, it’s a lot of polished steel and a fairly unexciting movement. Something that spoke to the graphics of the period or even the pattern on the dial (more on that below) would have worked well.
The ST17 is an interesting choice. On one hand, I appreciate that they went for a hand wound movement. The act of winding is elegant and speaks to watches of the early 20th century. Do to unavailability of ETA movements, the SeaGull movement was likely chosen to keep the price and size down (an Asian Unitas-clone might have been another manual option, but far too large for the design). But on the other, the ST17 is clearly an automatic without a rotor, as you can see where the automatic-winding gears would have sat. The end result is a bit inelegant. A higher level of finishing could have helped cover this up (such as perlage in the missing areas) but as is, there is only a minimal amount of Cote De Geneve and blank steel. One positive, however, is that the winding is silky smooth.
The dial is much more lively, however, with a beautifully executed surface texture. Engraved into the pale silver/white dial is an Art Deco sunrise. There is a flat circular area around six, from which lines and waves radiate out. It’s simply a pleasure to look at. It’s a dynamic surface that plays with light and shadow, not just because of the texture, but the lightly metallic surface itself. The primary index then consists of black numerals in a very nice, friendly font that also speaks to the Art Deco period. Nice details like the not terminating stroke of the 6 and 9, or the over exaggerated curve of the 4, give it a very hand-designed quality.
Around the perimeter of the dial, following the barrel shape, is a black railroad index that supplies a nice break between the dial and the case, as well as some useable reference for the minutes. Lastly are two small Alpha style hands, one hour and one minutes. Lack of central seconds was a good choice, though I’d like a model with small seconds at 6. The hands, which are creased for added decor, are blue as well, though I think it is a chemical treatment, not heat, as it’s a very bright color. That said, it’s attractive and works well with the watch.
The Art Deco typically comes mounted on a 20mm faux-croc, but we had the pleasure of trying the watch on KW’s Genuine Teju Lizard, which would cost an additional $75. It’s a gorgeous strap with an elegant taper, no stitching and a smooth finished edge. The lizard skin texture is much more fine that that of gator or crocodile, for a smoother appearance. If lizard is your thing, grab one of these for any 20mm lugged dress watch.
On the wrist, the Art Deco has a curious presence. It’s a sizable watch with a strong, structural profile. At 50mm, it spanned most of the top of my wrist, which is atypical for a dress watch, but thanks to lugs that cut down sharply, it held on nicely. It’s an interesting mix of things, clearly looking like an old dress watch, yet also being large enough to be a contemporary casual watch. In the end, I suppose it comes down to how you wear it. That said, I don’t think I’d be comfortable wearing this with jeans, let alone a t-shirt.
In the end, the Kent Wang Art Deco is a very different and somewhat daring watch to make. There are few things currently on the market with looks that speak so strongly to the early 20th century, Hamilton’s Flintridge being the only other thing to really pop into mind. As such, I love that they brought it out, and it’s one of only two watches they currently make. As a stylish accessory to a suit for a special occasion, it’s a bit compelling. As a daily-watch, not as much. A little bit more finishing on the case and perhaps a slight overall reduction in size, and I could see this being more versatile. I also wish the dial had the brand name on it. Perhaps it’s Kent Wang’s thing to be discrete, but sterile dials feel weird on non-military watches, as though this were just a prop.
The Art Deco comes in at $450, $525 as tested with the Teju strap. This feels high for a watch with a SeaGull, though I imagine tooling on the case and production of the irregular sapphire are costly. The Teju Lizard strap, though an additional $75, seems like a worthwhile addition as it adds elegance that a faux-croc would likely have not had.
by Zach Weiss