Wilk Watchworks Maki and Cognatic

Ok, true confession time: I don't generally like skeleton watches. It's not that I don't like looking at watch movements – I do, really! There is something oddly satisfying about flipping your watch over to see its tiny engine hard at work, even if it's an undecorated workhorse. I just prefer to keep that window out back. More often than not, opening or eliminating the dial strikes me as less of a creative exercise and more of a "Hey! Look at this," gimmick. None of them appealed to me until the day my friend and Guest Bum Ian Tewksbury showed me the inky black mechanical beauty of his Wilk WatchWorks Maki. It was a revelation.
As I researched these watches, I discovered that Wilk was unlike other micro brands. A quick look at the website revealed a healthy variety of models and a fairly staggering array of options, yet all bore a distinctive, unifying design language. The dials are laser-cut or etched. Some are solid, others are sandwiches, some are skeletonized or cut away to reveal part of the movement beneath. I eventually contacted the man himself, Scott Wilk, of Ontario, Canada. He agreed to an interview and loaned me a Cognatic to go with Ian's Maki for this review.
Most microbrand owners I have met come from technical or scientific fields. A handful got their start in industrial design. Scott, on the other hand, has a fine arts degree and was a jeweler by trade before he discovered watches and I suspect his experience designing and crafting three-dimensional artworks is the key to his watches' unique appeal. They are deeply personal creations that owe little to established convention. Scott is not reinterpreting existing watch designs so much as exploring a new artistic medium.  
Buyers can order their watches in one of three ways: choose a competed model from Scott's inventory, order a customizable watch by selecting from a menu of options for assembly, or go full-custom by working with Scott to design a one-of-kind dial. Because Scott assembles each watch himself, and completes the much of the construction and finishing himself, he can offer an uncommon level of personalization. Poking around his site, it is impossible not to start designing your dream watch in your head. Do you want a 36mm, 41mm, 44mm or 45mm stainless steel case? Maybe black or gold ion plating, or perhaps jewelry-quality gold electroplating, and if so, how many microns thick? Which hand set? Mineral or sapphire crystal? Straight, tapered, or onion crown? With few exceptions, Scott uses mechanical movements from Hangzhou or ETA, but do you prefer hand wound or automatic? Perhaps a tourbillon? And what type of decoration? It is a watch nerd's dream, and we haven't even talked about the dials. Wilk offers copper, brass, bronze, sterling silver, mokume-gane (a Japanese alloy similar to Damascus steel), and the intense colors of solvent-dyed metal or anodized niobium. Straps include a host of exotic leathers. You can even choose and customize the movement retainer. If a selection like this fails to delight you, then you are just dead inside.
So let's get to the watches, shall we? I'll start with the Maki. It has a PVD matte black case, 41mm wide and 12.5mm thick, topped with a domed sapphire crystal. Another, flatter sapphire is around back. It is an ideal size for my 6.5" wrist, exuding proper wrist presence and slipping under buttoned cuffs. 

The dial, to the extent that it exists, is a laser-cut brass ring, oxidized to a deep grey color with italicized numerals and the Wilk logo suspended over the black mechanism below. Ian chose white dauphine hands, white lume, and an orange small seconds hand. In a departure from the standard Maki dial, he requested his without minute markers. A signed crown and sapphire crystals (domed in front) top it off.
This watch is fitted with a PVD black ETA 6497-1, a 17-jewel, hand wound movement with a 18k bph vibration rate and 50-hour power reserve. Unlike many skeletonized movements, this one eschews gilt and gingerbread for dark colors, clean lines, and a purposeful, modern look. Gold wheels, brushed gears, blued screws, and 17 red jewels peek through the wispy black bridges and plates, offering a bit or ornament, but in an understated, functional manner. Ian, a Douglas Adams fan, had the number 42 engraved on the winding gear because, yes, you can customize that too. Like most hand-winders, the 6497-1 emits an audible tick that is noticeable when worn, but I did not find it intrusive. 
Unlike a none-more-black phantom dial, the sober colors of Ian's Maki give it intriguing depth, and curious admirers require a second look before they realize what kind of intricate machinery is on display. Also, floating white numbers and hands provide excellent readability. The strap is a sporty padded black sharkskin leather and was excellent selection. Deep, craggy grain complements the dark and intricate face, while white stitching echoes the lume, creating a sporting appearance underscored by those race car numbers and exposed, stylized mechanism. I think the watch exudes the sort sinister elegance I romantically associate with antique sports cars, but not as oily.
The Cognatic Scott sent me came from his in-stock selection, so this is a watch you can buy exactly as-is, mildly altered with a strap of your choosing, or built from scratch after selecting from the broad menu of options. This one is in a 44mm wide, 55mm long case with a brushed body, signed crown, sapphire crystals, and a polished, concave bezel. It was a bigger watch than I would normally choose for this style, but it wears smaller than you might think, aided in no small part by the inward curve of the bezel and a modest 12.7mm thickness. 
Wilk offers several variations on the Cognatic dial, in different materials, both solid and semi-skeletonized, all of which feature a negative image of a gear, the teeth of which form the hour markers. The watch has a small second at 9 o'clock and the Wilk logo at 3 o'clock. I asked Scott to send me this model because the dial features a combination of his signature design elements. You won't find a printed dial on a Wilk; images that are not cut away are etched into the surface, so everything has an added dimension. The dial's surface has a distinctive character too. As mentioned above, the Wilk catalog reveals a dizzying selection of materials and designs, but it is apparent that Scott likes his metal to look like metal. Brushed surfaces and visible grain are favored over smooth polish or enamel. This particular piece has a vertical brushing and a dark oxidized patina. I think the partial cutaway on the left side is especially effective as the gear tooth image gives way to actual working gears.  
The movement is a gunmetal Hangzhou that is nearly identical in design to the 6497 above. Power reserve is closer to 40 hours than 50, but all other specifications are the same. [Not quite. Scott tells me the Hangzhou is now upgraded to 21.6k bph.] The decoration is a traditional scroll pattern engraved on the movement plates. In use, the most noticeable difference is the sound. Where the ETA had an audible tick, the Hangzhou is just plain loud. I was keenly aware of it on my wrist. It's not a deal breaker but does provide a bit of incentive to plump for the Swiss unit. 
Tick-tock aside, the Cognatic was an enjoyable watch. Its proportions made it easy to wear. The brown leather strap was soft, comfortable, and of high quality. I was unprepared for its nighttime appearance. The tapered silver and white hands glowed just as I suspected, but the luminescence from the logo and etched image caught me off guard. The hand painted red and grey-green lume may not be the most potent, but they make for a very cool effect nonetheless.
Given the quality of materials, level of customization, and painstaking hand construction and assembly that goes into these watches, you would think they would be absurdly expensive. You would be wrong. The Cognatic reviewed here is just $495 CAD or about $381 USD. A "standard" Maki starts at the same price, but Ian paid $2015 CAD ($1534 USD) for his customized piece. Of course, your options may be different and that is the beauty of a watch like this. You decide what is important to you, what is not, and how much you can justify spending. If you do opt for a custom built watch, you will also have to wait 4-5 months for it to be made, so the impatient among us might be better served chasing from the excellent in-stock selection.

Whatever you choose, there is something for everyone in Scott's shop, and they are all very good things indeed.

Pro: Freedom of choice.
Con: So. Many. Choices...
Sum: A unique, bespoke, handmade watch for an outstanding price.



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