Watch Review: Atelier Wen Hao

Hello everyone, and welcome to another Singaporean review! This Sunday, I’m taking a look at the Hao from upcoming Kickstarter brand Atelier Wen.

The Atelier Wen Hao, with a Kickstarter price of $488 USD/ ~$667 SGD.

Atelier Wen will be launching their debut collection via Kickstarter on 19th October, with Kickstarter pricing being as low as $488 USD! They will debuting two models – a blue dialed Ji, and the white dialed Hao that I will be looking at today. Both watches are inspired by Chinese culture, and features porcelain dials! Atelier Wen was kind enough to send me a prototype of the Hao for an early review – let’s see if it’s any good.

Atelier Wen – the Brand

Atelier Wen is founded by the French duo of Robin and Wilfred. Both resided in China during various parts of their education, and in the process developed a keen fondness not only for Chinese culture, but Chinese horology as well. In fact, they say that Atelier Wen was “born from the collaboration of French and Chinese designers with the common vision of redefining the meaning of modern Chinese chic.” This is expressed in the brand name – Atelier, which means workshop in French, and Wen (文), the Chinese character for culture.

Atelier Wen’s logo – they stylized the Chinese character Wen for the top part to be reminiscent of a bird and the bottom part to look like a fish. Inspired by the Chinese myth of Kunpeng – cool stuff!

With Atelier Wen, Robin and Wilfred seek to challenge the oft-held perception of Chinese watches are being cheap, inferior, or rip-offs. They wanted to show the horological world that creating an original, high-quality Chinese timepiece – while paying homage to Chinese culture and designs – is possible. To do so, they teamed up with two local Chinese designers – Li Mingliang and Liu Yuguan – and came up with their first collection, the Porcelain Odyssey. They have also managed to secure FIYTA for assembly, so build quality and quality control shouldn’t be an issue. I like that Robin and Wilfred are taking the path less taken (instead of simply making cheap, if well-built, homage watches in China) by trying to introduce elegant, well-made Chinese timepieces to the world. I’ll say this – the odds are perhaps stacked against them (more on this later), but I applaud the bravery.

If you would like to read more about Atelier Wen’s compelling brand story, co-founder Robin posted a detailed explanation of their horological journey here. I suggest everyone to read it – it really is quite fascinating, and inspiring. They were also recently covered by the stellar New York Times, with the article being found here.

Atelier Wen Hao – Build Quality

Honestly, I’m pretty impressed with the build quality of the Hao, especially considering that the one I had was just a prototype!

Domed sapphire crystal, with 5 layers of AR coating applied.

Firstly, the Hao utilizes a domed sapphire crystal in its construction. As aforementioned numerous times in my previous reviews, I’m a huge advocate of sapphire crystal due to their inherent scratch-resisting properties. Personally, I always look for sapphire crystal in my modern watches as it adds greatly to the durability of the watch. The sapphire crystal here has 5 layers of AR coating applied to it, preventing potential nasty reflections from occurring and allowing you to view the full beauty of the porcelain dial (more on that later) unhindered. In addition, the WR rating of the Hao is stated as 5 ATM, which is pretty much standard for a dress watch – it’s enough that you don’t have to worry about it when you’re caught in the rain or running your hands under a sink, but this is one that should never come close to the pool for sure!

The Peacock SL3006 powers the Atelier Wen Hao.

Powering the Hao is the Peacock SL3006 movement, developed by the Dandong Watch Factory. For those familiar with Chinese watchmaking, Dandong Watch Factory – along with Seagull, Shanghai and Hangzhou – is one of the biggest players in the Chinese watch industry. Nevertheless, I must admit that I have little to no experience with this Peacock SL3006 movement, or any Peacock movement in general. Trawling through the net, I can’t seem to find any other brands using this particular movement as well. According to Atelier Wen, the Peacock SL3006 movement is a derivative of the Peacock SL3000, which in turn is a clone of the ETA 2824. The movement has 32 jewels, beats at a high beat rate of 28,800 BPH, hacks, and boasts 41 hours of power reserve. To assuage accuracy worries, the Peacock movements used in Atelier Wen watches will are be “thoroughly tested and regulated in 5 positions”, which should guarantee a +/- 10 seconds a day accuracy. In addition, there will be Côtes de Genève finishing on the rotor, with perlage on top of the plates. In my opinion, the choice of this Peacock movement will be a double-edged sword. On one hand, I admire Atelier Wen for sticking true to their dedication of celebrating Chinese watchmaking – a Swiss or Japanese movement in the Hao would have been out of place on this watch. Yet, the Peacock movement is relatively untried and untested, with a lack of track record. Servicing might prove to be an issue too, as your local watchmaker is highly unlikely to be familiar with this Peacock SL3006 movement. Whether people will pay $488 USD – not an insignificant sum – for a untried, untested movement shall remain to be seen, but I predict that this will be one of the main challenges Atelier Wen need to surmount if they are to be successful. That being said, Atelier Wen will be providing a 2 year movement guarantee with all watches, and I personally faced no issues with the movement during the week or so that I’ve had to interact with it. In private corresponding with Atelier Wen, they stated that “The reason why we selected Peacock is that we know from extremely reliable sources (government, industry insiders etc.) that Peacock has been churning out much higher quality movements than seagull lately.”

The strap is alright.

The Atelier Wen Hao prototypes comes on a alligator embossed, top-grain vegetable tanned blue strap. The strap features the quick-release mechanism, and comes on a custom designed buckle. I think the strap is alright – being top-grain and vegetable tanned, it’s a tier above those genuine leather straps one tend to see with most affordable Kickstarter watches. I have no complaints about it, especially considering the inexpensive Kickstarter pricing of the Hao. However, I would probably swap out the strap on my own personal model with a genuine Alligator or blue sharkskin one. The dial is so striking and exotic that it needs a similarly exotic strap to be paired with it. The default strap is decent and comfortable on the wrist, but it doesn’t do justice to the beauty of the dial.

Full calf leather blue strap (including the lining), which will be the standard option on production models.

After lukewarm early feedback (from reviewers) about the initial strap, Atelier Wen has decided to up the ante by including a full calf leather blue strap (including the lining) on all production models. According to them, the hot stamping of the text would be clearer and more durable this way. From the picture they sent me (see picture above), it certainly looks much better!

Add on options include a nubuck strap (with red lining), and a “secret” strap option.

For those who are still unsatisfied with the blue calf leather strap, Atelier Wen do have some strap options as add-ons. There will be a grey nubuck (see picture above) option, as well as a “secret” strap option. I had a sneak peak of the “secret” strap option, and I must say it really blew my mind – I think it’s the perfect accompaniment for this watch. If it was me, I would definitely gun for that strap option!

Overall, I’m quite impressed by the build quality of the Hao. The Peacock SL3006 movement will likely be an enigma, and I imagine that it might be a deal-breaker to some. In my personal opinion, I think Atelier Wen made the right choice – you can’t claim to celebrate Chinese watchmaking and culture without at the very least a Chinese movement at the heart of the watch. It’s a ballsy choice, but hey – if you want to change perceptions, you need balls.

Atelier Wen Hao – Design

That beautiful porcelain dial of the Hao is definitely the star of the show here.

Porcelain white dial on the Hao.

The main calling card of Atelier Wen’s debut collection is the porcelain dials. On the Hao, a “jasmine white” porcelain dial is used, with blue accents that is meant to be reminiscent of the famed QingHua Ci (青花瓷) of old. For more information on Chinese QingHua Ci, you can read a article by Christie’s here. According to Atelier Wen, the pristine porcelain dial is also where the Hao derives its name from – in Chinese, Hao (皓) is used to describe “a white that is resplendent and without blemish”, and is often used to refer to the purity of porcelain. This is the first time I came across a porcelain dial on a watch (in fact, I’m presently not aware of any other microbrand that uses porcelain for their dials), and it’s definitely unique in its appearance. As compared to enamel, there’s a flatter, sharper look to porcelain, one that’s really evokes the vases and china one sees in museums! I absolutely love it – it adds an understated elegance to the watch. That white and blue combination really celebrates Chinese tradition and art, in my (Chinese) opinion. I let Alexander (of Arcturus Watches) have a look at it, and he commented: “That looks like the rice bowl I have at home!”

Blue accents on the dial, heat-blued hands, and a sub-second dial to boot – what’s not to like?

The Hao is more than just a one trick pony though – it has a few more tricks up its sleeve aside from that gorgeous porcelain dial. Firstly, Atelier Wen chose to to include heat-blued leaf hands on the Hao. Not only do the heat-blued hands pay homage to the age-old craft of watchmaking, they are also simply stunning in the light. Under different light conditions, the heat-blued hands emits different hues – this is in contrast to ion-plated or painted hands. Unlike the aforementioned types of hands, the heat-blued hands here looks and feels alive. Secondly, the Hao also incorporates a sub-second dial, a vintage feature that very much complements the traditional nature of the dial. Atelier Wen states that the sub-dial arrangement is “inspired by a traditional time-measurement system called “Dizhi” (地⽀支) or “Earthly Branches”. The characters Mao 卯 (bottom right) and You⾣酉 (top left) represent the hours from 5AM to 7AM and 5PM to 7AM – that is sunrise and sunset.” Again, I love the Chinese influence and connection the sub-dial exudes. In addition, I love the symmetry in the dial – it makes the watch look balanced and elegant. In Chinese culture, we emphasise a lot on balance, yin and yang, and I see this watch illustrating that through it’s pure symmetry. Lastly, I think that the minute track used here is so strikingly unique – I certainly have not seen the design on other watches before! It’s intricate, yet oriental at its core. Overall, I absolutely adore the dial of the Hao – the Oriental inspiration is clear, and it’s very thoughtfully designed and constructed.

Unfortunately, the case is a bit pedestrian.

If I had a knock, it would definitely be the case. The dial of the Hao is so beautiful, intricate, and celebrated Chinese culture – in contrast, the case is somewhat of a let-down. Let me be clear, there isn’t anything much wrong with it. but there really isn’t anything worth of note either. There’s some contrast in polishing with the lugs being brushed and the case being polished, but that’s it. In general, it looks like a catalog case, and it disappoints especially considering how Atelier Wen knocked the dial out of the park. Atelier Wen states that they will be switching to a Japanese 316L stainless steel case in production models for “a nicer sheen and better durability”, but I would love for Atelier to have done something with the case, something that is evocative of Oriental design influences. To cite an example, the Arcturus LC-1 carried on its art-deco theme with striking lines indented along the side of the case. I think Atelier Wen wasted an opportunity here.

Beautifully signed crown.

We do however get a beautifully signed crown, which features Atelier Wen’s logo. According to them, designing the logo was a laborious and painstaking process. Their logo is based on the Chinese myth of Kunpeng (鲲鹏). In Chinese mythology, Kunpeng was a massive bird that could turn into a fish. It was used as an allegory of the concept of Yin and Yang. Similarly, Atelier Wen wanted to “combine the experiences of East and West to form a greater whole.”  They stylized the Chinese character Wen (文) for the top part to be reminiscent of a bird and the bottom part to look like a fish. The crown is nicely sized, which makes winding the watch an ease.

One of the most beautiful caseback that I’ve seen.

The Hao features one of the most stunning caseback that I’ve ever seen. It features a high-relief embossing of the aforementioned mythlogical creature Kunpeng, which served as inspiration for Atelier Wen’s logo. Look at that – it’s a piece of art! Whereas most other timepieces at this price point simply feature a simple laser engraving, the high-relief embossing here is intricate, and evocative. Job well done! In addition, the lining of the strap is stamped with the words “乘风破浪”, which can be roughly translated to “”ride the wind and break the waves”. According to Atelier Wen, this is a reflection of their brand as they attempt to “join the trend of modern re-interpretations of Chinese heritage and break preconceptions regarding the watch industry”.

I think Atelier Wen knocked it out of the park with the Hao. The white porcelain dial is striking and unique, with the crown and caseback intricately signed. The case could have been better, but all in all I think Atelier Wen did a really great job celebrating Chinese culture here!

Shootout: Atelier Wen Hao vs Maison Celadon Imperial Peacock

In many regards, Atelier Wen and Maison Celadon are very similar – both are brands that seek to pays homage to Chinese culture and change the perception most of us have towards Chinese watches. As such, the Maison Celadon Imperial Peacock  will be my comparison for today!

The Maison Celadon Imperial Peacock, priced at $998 USD/ ~$1365 SGD.

In terms of specifications, I think the Maison Celadon has a slight edge over the Atelier Wen. Both watches utilizes sapphire crystal and heat-blued hands (though the Imperial Peacock has heat-blued indices as well). The main difference stems from the movement. Both the Imperial Peacock and the Hao uses Chinese movements, but the Imperial Peacock uses a CG18 manual winding movement as compared to the Hao’s Peacock SL3006. The CG18 movement is developed by Maison Celadon in collaboration with Beijing Watch Factory – one of the stalwarts of Chinese watchmaking. I might be wrong, but I believe that the movement is exclusive to Maison Celadon – that is to say, unlike the Peacock SL3006, you won’t see the CG18 movement elsewhere. That exclusivity, as well as the beautifully Chinese scrolls striped finishing and engraving, makes me lean towards the movement of the Imperial Peacock. That being said, if you don’t like manual-winding movements, then the automatic Peacock SL3006 movement in the Hao will do just fine!

In comparison, the Atelier Wen Hao, priced at $488 USD/ ~$667 SGD. Look at that porcelain dial!

From an aesthetics perspective, it’s really a toss up. In my opinion, both watches celebrate Chinese culture and traditions through their designs, and I love them both. The Imperial Peacock features a detailed Guilloché depiction, while the Hao features that beautiful porcelain dial. Both watches have oriental designs and elegance in spades – it’s really a tie in the design department for me.

Where the Atelier Wen has the edge is in its pricing. At $488 USD, it is less than half the price of the Imperial Peacock! Yes, it is a Kickstarter pricing, but for those of you who love Chinese inspired designs but found Maison Celadon watches a tad too pricey, I think Atelier Wen presents a great alternative. I’ve handled both watches in the metal, and I have to say with the Hao, one does not feel any compromises in Chinese identity or design despite the significantly lower price tag. I’ll say this – overall, I think the Maison Celadon Imperial Peacock is the better watch, but at $488 USD/ ~$667 SGD, I believe that the Atelier Wen Hao presents a better value proposition.

Conclusion – so the Atelier Wen Hao “shiok” or not?

Definitely. I absolutely adore this watch – I love the white and blue porcelain dial, that sub-second dial, the heat-blued hands, and that intricate, beautiful caseback artwork. The case could have used more thought, but all in all I think the Atelier Wen Hao is an extremely compelling watch. I’m sure most will fall in love with it (it seems to already have created quite a furore in the Facebook groups) – the question most watch enthusiasts will ask is whether $488 USD/ ~$667 SGD for a untried, untested Chinese movement is worth it. As I only had the watch for a week or so, I cannot comment on the reliability of the movement, but given the relatively affordable price, I urge my readers to give it a chance. I think it’s a risk worth taking.

Before we go, a wrist shot.

As you may have noticed, I do not cover Kickstarter projects often. I tend to shy away from Kickstarter projects – I prefer to stick with tried and tested brands that has a track record. Nevertheless, occasionally a brand pops up offering something so different and unique that I just have to cover it. This is again the case with the Atelier Wen Hao, and I think it’s worth the leap of faith. I hope the project gets funded, because I simply cannot wait to see what else Atelier Wen conjures up!

All production models will come with a travel pouch made of top grain leather – a nice touch!

Atelier Wen debut “Porcelain Odyssey” collection goes live on 19th October, with Kickstarter pricing starting at $488 USD. A top grain leather travel pouch will be included for all backers – icing on the cake!

View more details on Atelier Wen’s website here.

Specifications:

  • Peacock SL3006 automatic mechanical
    movement with bidirectional winding
  • Côtes de Genève finish on the rotor,
    perlage on top of the plates
  • 228 components / 32 jewels
  • 28,800BPH frequency
  • +/- 10 seconds a day accuracy
  • Thoroughly tested and regulated in five positions
  • 41 hour power reserve
  • Japanese 316L marine-grade steel with step-
    case design, 39mm diameter and 5 ATM water
    resistance
  • 11.7mm thickness including 1.5mm-2mm thick
    domed sapphire crystal with 5 layers of anti-
    reflective coating
  • Mirror-polish finish, vertical brush on top of the
    lugs
  • Solid case-back featuring a high-relief
    embossing of an animal of Chinese legend,
    Kunpeng (鲲鹏), also used as inspiration for our
    logo
  • Polished and frosted finish
  • Individually and uniquely numbered (get in early
    for those single digits!)
  • Carefully-indented crown with embossed logo
  • Alligator pattern top grain vegetable-tanned calf leather – Nanking blue
  • Quick-release mechanism
  • Grey nubuck and additional secret strap options available… More details to follow soon!
  • High-tech zirconium oxide porcelain heated at
    1400°C, applied on thin copper base
  • Rhodium-plated metal indexes
  • Top grain calf leather travel pouch provided as extra
  • Lug-to-lug is 47mm
  • Lug width is 20mm

P.S Do check out the new “Discounts!” page for exclusive discounts for Wahsoshiok readers! More brands will be added very soon – stay tuned!

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