[VIDEO] Owner’s Review: The Formex Essence Leggera

A big part of the appeal of micro-brands* rests in their ability to exercise a greater level of general creativity to bring a specific vision to life, something we’ve always found value in around here. We’ve seen some pretty sophisticated stuff take shape, from unique hand sets and dials, to wandering hours and composite cases. One brand in particular has proven rather adept at implementing what I have no issues calling exotic engineering solutions to their watches, and that brand is Formex. With “roots in high-end watch manufacturing” that should come as no surprise, and while the brand’s own aesthetic has undergone some pretty wild transitions, they seem to have landed in a cohesive space with their latest generations of watches in the Essence, Reef, and Field collections. 

*Okay, Formex isn’t exactly a micro-brand. They are attached to that noted “high-end watch manufacturer” in a way that very, very few brands (large or small) are. This allows them access to engineer solutions for things like quick adjustment mechanisms in a manner that almost zero micro-brands can. Formex is a small (but not really) manufacturer that produces their own watches, which take full advantage of that fact. The micro-brand or small-independent nomenclature doesn’t neatly apply here, but given the price points that Formex tends to play in, I view them along the same lines as more traditional micro-brands the likes of which we frequently discuss around here.


[VIDEO] Owner’s Review: The Formex Essence Leggera

Sellita SW-200
Cool Gray
Super Luminova
Gray Sailcloth
Water Resistance
10 Bar
Lug Width
3 yrs

The Essence Leggera is emblematic of Formex’s manufacturing capabilities, and is packaged in a mature design with broad appeal beyond the extreme sport watches the brand has been accustomed to designing. There’s certainly a ‘sporty’ edge here, but it doesn’t fall into any well defined genre boundaries. This particular owner’s review will focus on my own Essence Leggera 41 in the cool gray colorway, which takes the watch into a more stealthy direction when compared to the regular steel Essence collection, which gets colorful dials and full bracelets. The Essence Leggera is, well, lightweight (Leggera literally translates to “light” in Italian) and sleek. But it’s more than that, too. 

The Essence Leggera first entered my radar after getting my hands on one at a Windup Watch Fair. I had been aware of Formex, but their aesthetic had never quite clicked for me. Truth be told, I’m still not sure it does, but something about this watch hit differently. Things had been toned down, the case was manageable and unbelievably lightweight, the cool gray dial immediately reminded me Audi’s Nardo Gray (which, I’m told, was the inspiration), the case suspension system had been gracefully implemented, and the quick adjustment system in the clasp was ingenious. In short, the watch was impossible to ignore. 

I didn’t purchase the watch then, but it’s safe to say that it was something I kept thinking about and coming back to until, at another Windup Watch Fair, I managed to nab one prior to the show opening (sorry). Many months later, it’s still a watch I think about, and find myself judging other watches against, for better or worse. This watch is something of a bar setter when it comes to unique and interesting features packed in a sub $2,000 package. But, like every watch, it’s not without fault, and that’s just fine.

The Essence Leggera is offered in both 41 and 43 millimeter case sizes, and both wear a touch smaller than advertised. In steel, the Essence is also offered in a 39mm variant. At 41mm, the case measures 47mm from lug tip to lug tip, and a hair over 11mm in thickness. All pretty attractive numbers, but that’s only half the story here. The case (and the clasp) are constructed from a proprietary carbon fiber composite. The bezel and crown are rendered in zirconium oxide. All pretty exotic sounding stuff. The result is a watch that weighs, in total, just 60 grams. For context, the titanium Tudor FXD with velcro strap (so no clasp at all) weighs 82 grams. A watch with a similar footprint to the Formex, the Sinn U50, with full steel bracelet weighs 150 grams. 

This is a very light watch indeed, but it’s not “completely disappears in the hand” light. There’s just enough heft to the head of the watch to provide a satisfying presence on the wrist to me. For some, this watch will definitely fall into the “oh that’s way too light” category, but that’s kind of the point of this variant. The watch also walks a fine line between plastic-y and exotic, on which it falls just onto the right side of. 

Like the numbers found in the measurements, the weight of a watch is just one part of the whole, and shouldn’t be isolated from the total experience. It either works or it doesn’t, and in this case it’s part of the story being told by Formex here. This isn’t just the Essence, it’s the Essence Leggera, after all. From my perspective, if the watch is comfortable on my wrist, the exact numbers don’t really matter all that much. Only when a watch starts getting in the way of my activities do I start thinking about the finer measurements in any detail.

Generally when I think of a thing that’s been designed to be lightweight, such as a sports car, or a watch like this, it comes with details about everything that’s been removed for the sake of saving a gram here and a gram there (the door handles have been replaced with pieces of fabric!). The Essence has still managed to keep one of its most defining features, and that is the Formex case suspension system. The central portion of the head of the watch “floats” within the carbon case, and if you press against the back of the watch it will raise itself out by a millimeter or two. 

This proprietary suspension system has been a calling card of Formex since the beginning, back in 1999. It works by integrating four springs between the upper and lower portions of the watch case, and absorbs knocks and shocks that it might be subjected to on your wrist. If you’re not the type to subject your wrist to such knocks and shocks, it’s still pretty useful as it allows for some give in the case when bending the wrist. It’s such a simple yet graceful solution to, if I’m being honest, not really a problem that I experience with my other watches, but I would consider this an ergonomic feature that I’d love to see explored by more brands. 

As well as it seems to be implemented here, my one concern is the potential for debris or dirt particles to enter the space between the upper and lower portions of the case, and become stiff or otherwise stuck at an odd angle. There’s a separation between the components that’s small, but it’s kind of constantly opening on the wrist with small movements. That said, there are screws and bolts in the case that I imagine would allow you access to clean the inner portion if needed, for the DIY types among us.

The case suspension system isn’t this watch’s only party trick, though. Perhaps the most useful feature of the watch is the quick adjustment system built into the deployant clasp. It’s not immediately apparent, but the adjustment is built into the posts that hold the strap in place, which move along a rail along the inner portion of the clasp. The posts can be freely pushed deeper into the clasp, thus tightening the strap, and with the press of the button along the 9 o’clock side of the strap release, can be pulled back out. This means that adjustments both fore and aft can be made on the fly, without even removing the watch from the wrist. 

This is an incredibly intuitive system that doesn’t add anything in the way of bulk to the clasp, and uses existing components to make the adjustments. We’ve seen plenty of deployant adjustment systems that can be tightened on the fly without removing the watch, but few that can be loosened as well without removing the watch, and none that can do so without digging the clasp uncomfortably into the wrist. I would love to see this exact system refined and brought to many more watch straps and bracelets, as it’s among the most efficient systems I’ve come across. 

As good as the idea is, I will say that it’s not entirely smooth in practice. It requires a bit of awkward tugging and pulling to use, but nothing that can’t be forgiven considering the price point of the watch. If this were a $10k watch I’d have a far different reaction to it, but as it is I celebrate the ingenuity and practicality of the solution for a very real need. The idea of turning the strap posts into a rail inside the clasp is so simple it has me wondering why we haven’t seen it pop up elsewhere. 

These watches are offered with a multitude of strap options, and even come with a very nice nylon NATO style strap (from WatchGecko, no less), but I’d argue that a big part of the joy of this watch is this carbon clasp and the adjustment mechanism within. The straps can all be changed without a tool thanks to tabbed spring bars, and what’s more, the clasp can also be changed out the fly as it too is attached with a quick release spring bar.


Overall, I’d call the aesthetic of this watch unique. It pulls together all of these features together in a cohesive manner, in a sleek package with a straightforward sporty style. The thin hour markers and hands are reminiscent of the Pro Pilot X from Oris, which don’t necessarily recall a specific style or genre, but this watch isn’t really presenting itself as anything specific. Formex’s own website describes it as such: “The Essence Leggera is an ultra-light and uncompromisingly forward-thinking high-precision Swiss Made watch.” They are forcing you to make of it what you will, rather than pre-defining it. 

The gray dial is unique in that it’s just not a color we see all that often, especially executed like this. There’s a gloss to the dial but it doesn’t really make itself apparent unless in the right light, or at the right angle (and I’m not talking orthogonality here). It seems to fall within satin territory, but definitely has a ‘pop’ to it (nickel in the jar). Thin spears make up the hour markers and hands, filled with a slim vein of lume down their center. I could use more lume, of course, but it’s not the worst offender I’ve seen (looking at you Norqain Wild One). 

Inside, Formex is using a chronometer certified Sellita SW-200-1 with a date at 6 o’clock and a 41 hour power reserve. The movement is visible through an exhibition caseback, which I personally could do without here. The movement isn’t exactly pretty and I wouldn’t call this formal wear by any stretch, but it doesn’t hurt the overall experience of the watch. What is nice is the chronometer spec movement, which keeps time dutifully within -4/+6 seconds (better in my experience) per day.

The Formex Essence Leggera in cool gray is priced at $1,790, which includes taxes, duties, and shipping. When you read that I hope you were immediately reminded of why I tend to use this watch as a standard by which I tend to judge other watches in this price range. There is a lot going on with this watch, and easily justifies its price point, in my opinion. Does it do all of those things with grace? Maybe not, but it does them nonetheless, and that’s a damn tall feat at this price point. 

The Essence Leggera is an impressive watch, but that doesn’t always translate into a great watch. At this price, the impressiveness of what this watch is far outweighs the need to be truly great. This is a very good watch, and more importantly, a superbly impressive watch. It speaks volumes to what can be done with these materials and a bit of knowhow (albeit with access to in-house manufacturing). 

What this watch has really done for me, outside of the pleasure of ownership of course, is reframe the use of exotic and clever materials and engineering by much higher end brands, and place them into a value context that didn’t exist before. When a brand boasts of carbon this and ceramic that, to justify a higher price point, I’m now forced to look a bit deeper to fully appreciate what’s been done. The Essence Leggera crystallizes that which can be done under $2,000. 

That said, there are still plenty of other great watches out there around the $2,000 mark. And there are other similarly positioned watches at higher price points. Two watches in particular come to mind, and these are the Norqain Wild One, and the Christopher Ward C63 Colchester.


The Norqain offers a proprietary NORTEQ case with rubber bumpers, all of which seem to offer a similar vibe to the Formex, with its carbon case and suspension system. The Norqain gets a slightly more prestigious Kenissi movement, which has a higher power reserve, but overall, in practice shouldn’t differ wildly from the Selitta in the Formex (other than bragging rights?). If anything, it might even be easier to service. The Norqain weighs 84 grams and is sized a bit larger all around (see our full review of that watch right here), and features a more complex case construction but the benefits of which aren’t quite clear beyond the same shock absorption that the Formex has. The Formex looks like the clear winner here, all things considered, but that’s not to take anything away from the Wild One, I’d just say that watch feels like it needs a little more time in the oven, especially next to the Essence Leggera. 

Next, on the other end of the spectrum is the C63 Colchester from Christopher Ward. It’s ultra lightweight with an injected carbon case, gets a trick hidden crown, and has the same chronometer spec Sellita movement inside. There’s no awesome clasp here, and the dimensions are a tad bigger all around, but the price is just $1,325 on a nylon strap. This watch feels right in line with the Formex, in that it’s a few features light ( no case suspension or quick adjust clasp), but overall a similar concept at a slightly lower price. This is a great option that didn’t get quite the attention it deserved upon release if you ask me. 

So how do we make sense of the Formex Essence Leggera? In my mind, this is like a concept car with loads of amazing ideas not seen anywhere else. But it’s a concept car, so the build quality maybe isn’t quite up to snuff. That doesn’t change the fact that there’s some awesome ideas at work, and you can actually own it and wear it. And it’s just $1,800 bucks. There is so much to be excited about with this watch on a conceptual level that it’s easy to look past the weak points and enjoy everything that this watch is. And what this watch is is seriously impressive. 

The Essence Leggera is a ton of watch for the money, and while it’s not without fault, its concepts come together incredibly well as usable, practical, and most importantly, fun. Formex.

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Blake is a Wisconsin native who’s spent his professional life covering the people, products, and brands that make the watch world a little more interesting. Blake enjoys the practical elements that watches bring to everyday life, from modern Seiko to vintage Rolex. He is an avid writer and photographer with a penchant for cars, non-fiction literature, and home-built mechanical keyboards.