Reviewing The Ressence Type 1
Everything is constantly moving, changing position and revolving. In our review of the Series One, the first evolution, our contributor Max made fun of this display, with a “Look Mom, No Hands“. The concept is based on sub-dials continually revolving, as does the main disc into which they are set – like moons in orbit around a planet. Indeed, these Ressence watches use rotating dials equipped with applied white pointers, which rotate inside chapter rings. The beauty is somewhere else, inside the watch, with what drives the display: the ROCS, a complex tangle of gears that is able to transform one single indication (the minutes) into all the others (hours, seconds, AM/PM, day, date…) and to make all these indications revolve. So yes, Ressence also is an horological feast, and not only a designer piece. However, this not completely “out of this world” either. It remains simple and discreet.
What is the Ressence Type 1. Overall, it is a watch, it indicates the time and it wears on the wrist… like a watch should. “Thanks Monochrome, we didn’t see that…” Ok, but it’s not your typical watch, with a typical display and a typical movement, which drives 3 hands on the central axle. It is much more complex (mechanically) but also extremely clean, superbly simple in its design and in the end, playful (there’s a sort of magic trick in this display). For me, Ressence is 3 things: a display, a design and a mechanism.
The Ressence Type 1 does use pointers and tracks to indicate the time, however, forget about the idea of the 360 degrees rotation of hands on top of a plate, where minutes and hours are printed. The large dial indicates the minutes, while the sub-dials indicate the hours, seconds and day of the week. However, you’ll certainly have to look twice to understand how it reads.
As we’ve seen, the Ressence Type 1 has a complex, innovative and unique display. That usually mean, in independent watchmaking, a design that follows the same trend, being quite demonstrative and bold. Not at Ressence. Just like the display can be extremely discreet, the Type is an ode to purity. We have to look at Benoit’s background. The founder of Ressence is not born in the Swiss Jura, he was not educated with watches, gears and springs around him. Before creating Ressence, Benoit was a respected industrial designer, who has shaped high-speed trains, aircraft cabins, medical devices, leather goods and even hunting guns. And that certainly forged the design of the Ressence watches.
The Ressence Type 1 is like those famous designer objects. It is both extremely well conceived, complex and refined without a single once of ostentation, with an extremely clean, almost simple design. What makes a nicely designed object – whatever we talk watches or furnitures – is not the the successive addition of features but the removal of everything unnecessary. That’s exactly what the Ressence Type 1 is: the essence of a watch. Only the necessary is here, and sometimes even less. However, this doesn’t mean that this watch is basic. It is just cleaner, with unexpected finishes.
The case for instance is a simple band of titanium, circling the watch. The lugs are thin wires, but they are part of the case and not soldered or added to the case. All is machined from a single block of grade 5 titanium, with a minor polishing (also note that a 5N gold edition exists). As you can see, everything in this timepiece is round, clean and smooth. This pebble style is also reinforced by the absence of bezel, replaced by a highly domed sapphire crystal, and by the shape of the dial – well in fact the bridges of the ROCS system. The surface isn’t flat but is a 125mm radius sphere shape and requires specific know-how and tools to be produced – something that is even more true for the guilloché edition.
This shape and this design, combined with the lightness of titanium makes this watch extremely comfortable on the wrist. Nothing actually scratches or hitches. All is perfectly smooth and rounded. The back follows the same idea as the front, with a highly domed sapphire crystal. Then, the watch is relatively light at 84 grams and well proportioned, as measuring 42mm in diameter and 13mm in height – and considering the wire lugs, this small feel on the wrist is even emphasized.
Not only the hands (because there are no hands…) but the entire dial rotates. Everything starts with the largest pointer, which displays the minutes. This is the main dial, which drives all the other. This dial revolves on itself in 60 minutes, indicating the time on a large track positioned on the periphery – just like a normal watch. Then, all the sundials inside are also driven by this larger dial, meaning that all of them revolve too. Nothing stays in the same position but everything remains also quite understandable. The hours for instance are displayed in a “regulator style”, but what makes it easy is that the track remain horizontally placed, meaning that the 12 indication remains at 12. However, when the minutes indicate 60, the hour dial will be at on the lower half of the dial. When the minutes indicate 30, the hour dials will be on the upper half.
This display is in fact a bit like “Harvey Two-Face”. If you look at it from far and for just a second, you won’t notice it, to the exception of a strange position of the hands and dials. However, after a first closer inspection, you’ll see that what you’re looking at aren’t proper hands but pointers on plates with chapter-rings. And then comes the magic, when you see it in action, for instance when adjusting the time, so you can see the motion of the orbital discs in accelerate. That’s where you’ll catch them all, even the most jaded of your friends.
This display is unique because nothing is motionless, everything moves, but everything remains legible. To read the time, you just have to get used to this, and then it’s like a regulator: first read the minutes via the large pointer and then read the hours in the subdial. You’ll just have to find where it is on the dial. Believe us, after 10 minutes on the wrist, you’ll be used to it. You can see this display explained in details, with animations, on the website of Ressence here.
However, the good point is in the discretion of this display. On the contrary of some of the most innovative watches around, such as Urwerk or MB&F, this Ressence Type 1 is simple and unless you take a close inspection, this will remain an object that you and only you will appreciate for what it is. And this is certainly due to the clever design of Benoit Mintiens.
The originality, the industrial design and the non-traiditonal feel of the Ressence Type 1 can also be seen in the finishes. Actually, not what you can expect in an usual luxury Swiss watch. The dials and the chapter rings, actually part of the movement, are rather raw, with strong circular brushings. The pointers (we can’t call it hands) and tracks are directly engraved on these bridges and painted on top of it. However, do keep in mind that this Ressence is not unfinished. It is perfectly executed, very pleasant to look and touch, the adjustments are precise. Everything is done with care and is the result of the designer’s wishes.
In terms of mechanics, the Ressence Type 1 uses an ETA 2824/2 base calibre, which here only to bring power to the display. indeed, the date function as well as the pinions for the seconds and the hours on the central axle have been removed. The only thing that this movement activates is the pinion for the minutes. All the rest – hours, seconds and day of the week is resulting from the work of the ROCS module (Ressence Orbital Convex System), positioned on top of the watch.
Once the watch is assembled, it goes though a 500 hours testing process, including a control of the rate, a control of the water resistance, the control of the 36 hours power reserve, the control of the resistance to shocks and to temperature and finally, a final aesthetics Control – note that is this the kind of precess usually done in large manufactures.
As said, only the minute axle of the movement is still present. It actually drives the main bridge on top, indicating the minutes. All the rest is driven by several gears and wheels, transforming the informations of the minutes. On one side, the minutes are slowed down by a first series of gears which will turn 12 times slower – thus indicating the hours. On the other side, a series of gears accelerate 60 times the rotation, to obtain the seconds. And all of that revolves on 360 degrees, with orbital subdials acting like Moons around the Earth. In the Type 1, this module alone comprises 107 parts.