Hands-on with the Kent Wang Art Deco

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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.

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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.

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image via: http://www.thewatchguy.com/pages/BULOVA.html

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Images from this post:
Zach is the Co-Founder and Executive Editor of Worn & Wound. Before diving headfirst into the world of watches, he spent his days as a product and graphic designer. Zach views watches as the perfect synergy of 2D and 3D design: the place where form, function, fashion and mechanical wonderment come together.
wornandwound zsw

20 responses to “Hands-on with the Kent Wang Art Deco”

  1. spencer says:

    Meh..

    Square watches are not my cup of tea.

  2. Bud says:

    I have to be a bit mean. The Asian movement with “missing” gears is very disappointing. Then, I got to the price. It’s a “designer” watch, so one might expect to pay for the name if it’s Lauren or Varvatos, but Wang?
    Kent may want to change his first name to Vera if he expects $450 for that watch.
    A scathing comment I know, but warranted in this case.

  3. Joel says:

    way, way, way too large

  4. Josh says:

    The front of this watch is fantastic. I love the dial and the case details.

    I also think it’s a shame they went with the Sea-Gull ST17 movement. I’m pretty sure the Miyota 8N33 is the same size (perhaps a touch smaller) than the ST17 and is a dedicated manual wind movement. It’s skelentonized, I believe, but would likely look very nice in this case because of the finishing.

    I agree that the price is too high for the movement, not because it’s a Sea-Gull, but because the finishing doesn’t convey that much value.

  5. Li Wang says:

    Kent Wang (no relation) has some nice intentions here, but I think the execution is bit underwhelming, especially the case size as you’ve mentioned.

  6. austin says:

    I like the fact that W&W covered this piece. It’s outside of the usual fare for the WIS community, and I appreciate the design’s intentions. It’s a fashion piece, marketed to fashion folks, so it will never really gain a foothold with those of us who nerd out about movements. At least it’s not a quartz. It would have been way too easy for his team to drop in a Ronda (especially with the lack of running seconds) and charge the same amount – the majority of his target audience DOESN’T GET IT!

    I agree with the other commentors – it’s a little too big. maybe just 10% smaller and it would really strike a great balance.

    Kudos to Kent Wang for getting into the watch game – i think it’s an accurate reflection of where his brand is, and where it wants to go.

    Would any of us kick a Ralph Lauren Safari out of bed? I don’t think so!

    • BJS314 says:

      eh, there’s nothing wrong with quartz movements. Like anything else, there are certainly good and bad ones. But they have their place. It’s not logical to assume that a watch must have be an automatic to be a “good quality”. Sure, it takes skill to create those kinds of movements, but it takes skill to create good quartz movements as well.

      I’ve already got to pick out dress clothes, shave, polish my shoes, color coordinate socks, check and send emails, check and send texts, make calls, talk to my wife, make sure my son doesn’t forget his lunch, etc. etc. I can’t add to that correcting the time and winding a watch everyday or night. Quartz’s balance out a man’s watch collection and put the things that most important out front. Watches are not one of those things.

  7. Dennis says:

    I’m tempted to buy one.

    Art deco design generally appeals to me, so it’s not surprising that the case and dial appeal to me. I’m pretty sure that they, along with the unusually shaped saphire crystal account for most of the price. A more decorated movement would be nicer, as would flame blued hands with matching applied numerals. Rose or yellow Gold plated hands and numerals would also suit the design well. However, such details would have significantly increased the price, so I can forgive their ommission. Though I also find myself wondering whether I could get a local watchmaker could customize it a bit.

    For what it’s worth, I’d wear this watch with jeans and a nice dress shirt. I often dress up a pair of jean, so the combination would suit my preferences. With a t-shirt? Probably not. Though, anything goes while lounging around home!

    • Will F. says:

      Frankly if you’re into Art Deco, I’d check on eBay for a nice Longines, or Benrus, or Wittnauer, etc.

      Those can be had for the same price or less, will look more appropriate (unless you have gigantic wrists), and won’t go out of style due to the monstrous case size (which this certainly will in a couple years).

      Oversized divers are cool. Oversized dress watches aren’t.

    • BJS314 says:

      Immediately took Will’s advice. On eBay now. lmao. I guess for a vintage model, I could put up with hand winding. I wish someone made a truly beautiful, correctly sized art deco style watch between $200-500…that was quartz. lol

    • Dennis says:

      Will, that’s a good suggestion. And a vintage art deco watch would probably come with applied numerals, and any blued steel would be flame blued.

      My wrists are smallish but very flat so I can get away with slightly larger watches than Zach, so there is indeed a good chance this watch would be too big for me. On the other hand, the vintage art deco watches I’ve seen are far too small by current standards.

      So ideally I’d like something in between. There are some current production Longines watches that come close, but they’re at a signifcantly higher price point….

  8. BJS314 says:

    I agree. I’d be willing to wear it in casual settings, but no way I could slip this under a dress shirt or suit cuff. It’s simply too big to be stifled by sleeves.

    I would have preferred a logo on the dial. Who’s it by? That’s what people will ask. And I don’t see the designer’s name anywhere. And its Art Deco, it would have been compulsory for the time period to have a cool logo or the name in ornate lettering. It’s a missed opportunity and misunderstanding of the genre. The size is also not true to the Art Deco time period as well.

    Besides the size, caseback and missing logo – the dial and case is fantastic. It’s beautiful and well proportioned. I like that the numbers were organized in a round rather than square layout. It’s really great. It would have been very clever to replace the Six position with a date indicator!

    For $500, a tonneau ought to be a quartz. It’s only going to appeal to a set crowd and you might as well make sure its fitting for casual watch wearers.

    I love tonneau’s but only own one because no one seems to understand the market. There’s either plain and uninspired or overly expensive. No where in that mix, do I want an handwind or automatic. Not at this pricepoint. I’m not going to wear it often, so I want it to read the right time every time I put it on.

    All that aside, its attractive. I’d give it a try, if it were free.

  9. Pat says:

    Great review, excellent points made in the comments. This watch is enormous. Priced way too high for the movement.

  10. Felix says:

    From the preview pic I was very excited. The further into the review, the less excited I got. I really wanted to like it, but the proportions are off, and why not just put a solid case back on it!

  11. Cliff says:

    It looks nice in the first few pictures but then I saw the size of it on the wrist. It’s just too big.

  12. X2-Eliah says:

    Well. Yeah. This is def. a watch for “normal people”, not folks deeply clued up in watch stuff.

  13. Giles says:

    I think this is a great looking watch and agree with the comments around size, given the styling this is clearly in the dress category but size means it will be impractical and lacks the finesse it really needs.

    I’m also surprised by the price, better to make is cheaper and go quartz or do the job properly an put in a miyota automatic moment.

    As a start point it’s great with a few refinements I’d buy it.

    I do also like the no-logo approach, too many watches are defined by the brand rather than their design or build qualities.

  14. Pascal Leers says:

    I like the design. I would like to see more watches like this.

  15. J_Lind says:

    It’s beautiful looking. I like the concept and design. Severely overpriced though. The major problem and complete deal breaker is its movement. Price point is about 4X what it should be sold for. No USA watchmaker will touch it for servicing because of the Chinese Sea-Gull ST17 inside it. Been there, done that. Won’t even open the back as soon as they find out is has a Chinese movement. Their general response: “It’s a Chinese watch (movement) and I won’t touch it; too many problems. Throw it away and buy another. If you paid that much you feel pain pitching it, you paid way too much.” They (collective experience) have encountered manufacturing QC issues when disassembling them and a complete inability to get any parts. If a watchmaker cannot get parts, he’s not going to want to service the movement, not even for a cleaning and relubing, as part of that service includes replacing any parts as needed in the process. A reputable one will insist on total movement disassembly so as to properly clean and lube everything properly. If I pay that much for a watch I want one that can be serviced, not one the watchmaker will tell me to throw away.