For all its storytelling, watchmaking can often be an impersonal affair. Among the most glorified timepieces, many are wrapped in tales of exploits performed by those we’ll never meet: space travelers, adventurers, racing legends, and heroes of wartime derring-do. Of the watches outside this intrepid realm, many align themselves with poetic contexts, sometimes hyper-specific (sunrise over the slopes of Mt. Iwate, anyone?). The remaining watches typically draw upon updated archival designs that, while often beautiful, lack a certain je ne sais quoi with regard to who was actually involved. Sure, a neo-vintage piece is nice. But what else makes it special aside from the glassy-eyed nostalgic “remember when” sentiments that it triggers?
Newcomer Arsène Lippens seeks to address this impersonality with its Visionario collection, launched earlier this month. A project of three friends and co-founders, Arsène Lippens takes its name from the grandfather of Dries Lippens, the brand’s CEO. If there is an origin story here, it likely begins with Dries’ inheritance of his grandfather’s watch collection 10 years ago. Even before that, the younger Lippens recounted memories that would be familiar to any collector who has attended a modern watch event. Recalling the way his grandfather — by all accounts, a true watch maven — would compare watches with his friends is oddly reassuring. As it turns out, we aren’t the first generation to wrist-check one another. These tender moments led to the formation of the brand and its ethos-capturing motto, “A new sense of belonging.” But can this wistfulness produce a watch that collectors will want to wear? If early indications are any help, the answer is a resounding “yes.”
The Visionario collection, aside from its familial origins, is special for its technical and design cohesiveness. Using an uncommon automatic chronograph caliber produced a throw from the Arsène Lippens’ headquarters in Neuchâtel, the watches set themselves apart at an early stage. Design-wise, they echo the sort of styling found on other neo-vintage pieces with recognizable qualities like Breguet numerals, paired with unique ones such as the automotive-inspired bezel. In another personalized touch, the double-step look comes from the similarly decorative appearance of the front grill on 1941 Pontiac Streamliners. Fortunately, the Visionario’s specs are a bit more svelte than the hulking 2.5-ton coupe with a 115” wheelbase.
In contrast, the Visionario comes in a 39.5mm steel case, an impressively small diameter for an automatic chronograph. A 45.5mm lug-to-lug measurement also helps with wearability while blessedly standard 20mm lugs make strap compatibility a cinch. Other elements are period-accurate, such as a push-pull crown, water resistance of 3ATM, and a box-domed crystal shape that contributes to the 13.5mm overall height. While it’s not a watch designed for outdoor activities, indoor cats will still appreciate the anti-reflective and scratch-resistant sapphire glass, ensuring a clear dial picture for as long as possible.
The dials are certainly the most notable part of the Visionario collection at a glance. Arriving in seven different colorways, each connects with a different aspect of Swiss (and global) nature, continuing the theme of personal connection begun at the brand’s outset. Snow from Mont Blanc inspires the white dial while more below-the-horizon features like onyx rock, roses, and desert sands inspire the black, salmon, yellow, and terracotta dials, respectively. While standard for a collection these days, the green and blue dials (inspired by Swiss forests and clear skies above Geneva) are sure to be popular offerings. It’s a testament to both the design and manufacture that each dial variant holds its own, although the terracotta and salmon are standouts.
Normally, a bi-compax design would be the most interesting thing about a chronograph, yet the Visionario has more to offer. With the subdials occupying the 3 and 9 o’clock positions, the dial features three different styles of markers in just 10 positions. Impressively, it doesn’t look disjointed, as the eye is drawn to the prominent printed pulsation track around the dial’s exterior. Beneath this is arguably the best feature of the Visionario: the La Joux-Perret L113 chronograph caliber, a rare bird, indeed. Part of the Citizen Group as of 2012, LJP chronographs pop up from time to time but rarely in watches that draw mainstream buyers. The biggest players using these movements are likely Frederique Constant and Alpina — hardly household names among the hoi polloi — so fans of the Visionario are getting a high-quality and rare movement for less than the going rate.
Circling back to Arsène Lippens’ community-first ethos, the brand is testing a “Loyalty Token” system for backers on Kickstarter. Those supporting the project will receive (in addition to a watch, of course) tokens that can be redeemed in the future. These tokens don’t yet have a stated value but the exchange rate will be announced once the brand’s community platform goes live in April 2024. More tangibly, Arsène Lippens ensures a personalized experience for backers via a nearly unheard-of offer for watches in the sub-$1,000 range: a custom caseback engraving for each buyer. Add it all up, and the Visionario shows immense promise for those seeking a more personal touch. The Arsène Lippens Visionario is available until December 15, 2023, via Kickstarter starting at 1,650 CHF. Learn more on the brand’s website.
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Brand: Arsène Lippens
Case: 316L stainless steel. 39.5mm diameter, 13.5mm thick, 20mm lug width, 45.5mm lug-to-lug
Water Resistance: 3ATM
Crystal: Anti-reflective sapphire box-dome shaped
Strap: Saffiano leather or Nubuck leather with pin buckle. Metal “Beads of Rice” bracelet with butterfly deployant clasp available starting at 1,750 CHF.
– REF. 0898-N – “Neve”, white dial
– REF. 0898-PN – “Pietre Nere”, black dial
– REF. 0898-BC – “Blue Cielo”, blue dial
– REF. 0898-A – “Abete”, green dial
– REF. 0898-SA – “Sabbia”, yellow dial
– REF. 0898-T – “Terracotta”, red-orange dial
– REF. 0898-S – “Salmone”, salmon dial
Movement: La Joux-Perret Bi-Compax L113 automatic Swiss-made chronograph (center hour, minute, second hands chronograph function)
Power Reserve: 60 hours
Price & Availability: Starting at 1,650 CHF (approx. $1,829 USD at time of publication) via Kickstarter