Atelier Wen Hao

Atelier Wen is a team of four designers: Robin Tallendier and Wilfried Buiron of France, and Li Mingling and Liu Yuguan of China. Their first watches, the white dial Hao and the blue dial Ji, are meticulously designed pieces that proudly celebrate Chinese culture and craftsmanship. They recently wrapped up a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, funding in the first 30 minutes and more than tripling their goal. They are currently available on Indiegogo for $548 USD. I got the chance to try  the white dial, Hao prototype.  

Atelier Wen Hao white porcelain

When I discuss watches with people outside of this hobby, many are shocked to learn of the massive role China plays in the modern watch industry. That manufacturing juggernaut produces watches and watch parts for a staggering number of brands including many of which still, quite legally, claim the “Swiss Made” label. Indeed, with precious few exceptions, most brands go out of their way to obscure their products’ true county of origin. This seems a shame because it perpetuates the myth that Switzerland is the only country capable of producing quality watches and because when you do quality work, you ought to be recognized for it. After trying for a week, I can say the Atelier Wen Hao is a brilliant showcase for Chinese watchmaking. 

Atelier Wen Hao white porcelain  wrist shot

The watch is decidedly dressy and sized appropriately. Its stainless steel case is 39mm wide and 47mm long, which puts it squarely in the mid-sized range. It was an ideal fit on my 6.5” wrist. An overall thickness of 11.7mm adds a touch of wrist presence that helps it meet contemporary expectations of size without appearing overly bulky. Indeed, when holding it in my hand for the first time, I was surprised at how solid it felt. Water resistance is a useful 50m. 

Atelier Wen Hao white porcelain  side

Overall case design is simple, yet thoughtfully executed. Two small steps up to the bezel and down to the case back break up its mirror polished but otherwise featureless profile. The smooth bezel is also polished and accentuated by a brushed rehaut and vertical brushing on the tops of the tapered lugs. The small, polished, and wide-toothed crown is signed with an embossed logo on its matte head. The gently domed sapphire crystal stands ever so slightly taller than the bezel. Inside, are five layers of anti-reflective coating. 

Of course, the porcelain dial is the real showpiece. Porcelain was invented in China about two centuries ago. It is a high-fired ceramic that is hard, impermeable, and usually a translucent white. The Hao follows the Quinghua Ci style, featuring a Jasmine White glaze with Cobalt Blue decoration. Unlike the pottery, the blue is pad printed, not painted and fired but the color is an excellent match. The overall layout is not unlike a marine chronometer. Interlocking hour and minute railroad track indexes anchor the layout. Tall Arabic numbers at 12, 2, 4, 8, and 10 mark the hours with tiny dots representing the remainder. The only English text is the brand name in serif title caps beneath the Atelier Wen logo.

Atelier Wen Hao white porcelain

The slender leaf hands are lovely; needle-like tips reach right to their markers and flashes of blue bounce from the inky surface when they catch the light just so. These are heat-blued, not chemically treated or painted. The result is amazing and quite uncommon in this price range.

Atelier Wen Hao white porcelain dizhi dial

My favorite element is the register at 6 o’clock. To my Western eyes it is merely a pretty small seconds display with a blued needle and railroad track index to mirror that of the main dial; however, there is more to it than that. The subdial also reflects a traditional time measurement called “Dizhi” or “earthly branches.” The characters on the left (You) and bottom right (Mao) represent the hours between sunrise and sunset. I should note that it is not a functional Dizhi cycle dial but the design is a nod to Chinese culture. 

Atelier Wen Hao case back

The Hao is rather understated on the topside; it gets a little wild out back. Four screws secure a thick case back bearing a detailed relief of Kunpeng, a mythical, birdlike creature. No mere laser engraving, the art stands 0.6mm from the frosted surface. Rolling waves reach upwards to the creature’s fish tail and outstretched feathered wings imparting a sense of weight, depth, and movement. In terms of both artistry and execution, this is among the most satisfying case backs I have seen on any watch. Period. 

Inside is a Peacock SL 3006, a high quality, 28.8k bph automatic movement based on the venerable ETA 2824-2. This 32 jewel movement hacks, hand winds, and has a 41-hour power reserve. The date disk is not displayed and has been removed. All Atelier Wen movements are regulated in five positions. 

Atelier Wen Hao white porcelain

The prototype arrived on an attractive 20mm, dark blue, crocodile embossed, calf leather strap. It is lightly padded and tapers to an 18mm polished and brushed buckle that is signed on the underside. Other options include gray nubuck and blue salmon. All are quick-release and hot-stamped with the phrase “乘风破浪" (ChengFeng PoLang) “to ride the wind and break the waves.” The watch ships in a blue, top-grain calf leather travel pouch with a suede lining. As someone who is personally committed to driving the display box to extinction, I could not be happier. 

Atelier Wen Hao case back

Atelier Wen has created a clean, functional, elegant timepiece that has immediately identifiable links to Chinese culture without looking like a novelty. You notice that the Hao is a beautiful watch first, then you appreciate its history and construction. The Hao and Ji watches will still be a good deal at the $720 retail price, but you can still pre-order one on the Atelier Wen Indiegogo page for $548. Hao is an impressive piece that celebrates its cultural roots in a brilliant fashion. I highly recommend it. ⬩

Atelier Wen Hao crown


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