Swiss-made has been the symbol of high quality timepieces for a very long time. But four young men want to break the rules and hope to take high quality Chinese mechanical watches mainstream by setting up Atelier Wen. What is more intriguing is that the members of the team come from different corners of the earth, with Wilfried and Robin hailing from France and designers Li Mingliang and Liu Yuguan from China.
Atelier Wen – ‘Cultural Workshop’ – combines the French word for workshop (Atelier) and the Chinese word for culture (Wen). The name is an embodiment of product as it is led by French and Chinese designers with a mission to redefine modern Chinese fashion and display it in a novel form that speaks to all who appreciate items with unique aesthetics and a story to tell.
“We want to show Chinese horology can be just as advanced and refined as European horology,” says Wilfried. “But to a larger extent we want to burnish the image of ‘Made in China’ in the eyes of the world by bringing Chinese chic to the world stage.”
Robin Tallendier, co-founder of Atelier Wen, is a Chinese watch guru and Execution Expert at the China Horologe Association (CHA). Robin worked in the French Chamber of Watchmaking in Shanghai and with Christie’s in London before being appointed to the CHA – a government organisation that oversees and promotes business in the Chinese watch industry.
As an industry insider he and his team members know that most big Western watch brands actually outsource their production to China without acknowledging it. Thus they believe that the technical expertise in China is more than enough to make high quality mechanical watches, and want to unveil a Chinese soul that would wear ‘Made in China’ as a badge of pride.
Fellow French team member Wilfried Buiron is also an Old China Hand. Born in Hong Kong, he has lived in Beijing, studied at Tsinghua University – the best in China – and speaks Chinese like a local.
Meanwhile, Chinese designers Liu Yuguan and Li Mingliang come from one of China’s finest design academies and specialise in watch design and traditional Chinese art. In this way Atelier Wen was born, with this unique team committed to making beautiful Chinese watches.
The first series of Atelier Wen – Porcelain Odyssey – launched on Kickstarter in October. This collection comprises models Ji and Hao.
“We wanted to choose materials with a connection to traditional Chinese crafts – and from silk to porcelain to enamel – the range of choices is wide indeed,” says Wilfried. “The final choice of porcelain dials was a personal one as our team finds their aesthetics particularly interesting and attractive in watches. Also, it is quite rarely used in watches, which for us added to its appeal as we wanted to make watches that stood out not only for their concept but for their materials and design.”
Inspired by a blue shade of Yuan Dynasty pottery, designer Liu Yuguan uses uncommon blue porcelain for its dial. Inspired by the beautiful and historical Chinese culture, the Ji features a unique sub-dial with Taoist concept known as ‘Bagua’, which is related to time as each symbol represents a cardinal direction indicating the sun’s position in the sky .
Another model designed by Li – Hao – is a white porcelain dial timepiece created in homage to the famous Chinese Qinghua ci porcelains. This prestigious watch combines a jasmine white porcelain dial and a structure similar to 1950s French and Swiss chronometer dials.
Hao also upholds a unique sub-dial with Chinese characteristics in homage to Chinese time measurement called ‘Dizhi’, with the characters ‘Mao’ (5:00am-7:00am) and ‘You’ (5:00pm-7:00pm) .
“During the entire design process what we were aiming for was an aesthetic that would be unmistakably Chinese yet could be worn by anyone,” Wilfried explains. As such, its Chinese characteristics are subtle, implicit and can appeal to the French or Italian watch aficionado in the same way as the Chinese watch enthusiast.
“In doing so, we have strongly set ourselves apart from other Chinese brands that sometimes attempt to display a Chinese identity but often lack subtlety in design, which therefore completely loses its appeal for an international audience and even Chinese audience to a large extent,” he says.
These two models feature the Peacock top grade SL 3006 movement in a 39mm case made of 316L steel with step-case design and dual mirror-polish. Liaoning Peacock Watch Company, the most famous watchmaking company in the country, has a long history in this industry and was a key manufacturer of Chinese Standard movements.
Another highlight of the watches is the 0.6mm high-relief frosted, polished embossing of Kunpeng, an animal of Chinese legend.
Each model offers three strap options from blue calf leather grey nubuck to blue salmon leather. The artisan also hot-stamps the Chinese proverb ‘Cheng Feng Po Lang’- to ride the wind and break the waves – which is a blessing and the brand’s ambition to harness modern art to showcase Chinese heritage and the Chinese watch industry.