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We created Atelier Wen to share with the world our vision for modern, high-quality watches with a Chinese soul. The name, Atelier Wen, combining the French word for workshop, “Atelier,” and the Chinese word for culture, “Wen”(文), is a reflection of our identity as a Franco-Chinese team. Together from our Beijing-based studio, we reflected for over a year on how to convey a story of Chinese tradition and watchmaking within a modern-looking watch. Today, we are proud to share with you our maiden series, Porcelain Odyssey, and invite you to be the first to take part in the journey.

Hao (皓), Qinghua Ci-inspired porcelain dial with heat-blued hands.

Ji (霁), Nanking-blue porcelain with rhodium-plated indexes.

To appreciate the universe of Atelier Wen, one must go back to why we started it. The initial impetus was our observation of a contradiction. Indeed, even though an ever-increasing number of “Western” brands produce in China, public perception continues to be that quality horology is the sole preserve of Old Europe. Try to square that circle. Further, we did not just want full transparency. As four admirers of the incredible richness of the Chinese heritage, we wanted to create pieces that were authentic reflections of their origins. Indeed, Wilfried was born in Hong Kong, lived in Beijing and speaks Chinese like a local (in fact, he’s somewhat of a TV celebrity in China!). Robin is a Chinese watch guru and a foreign advisor to the Chinese watch industry. Our designers Liu Yuguan and Li Mingliang come from one of China’s finest design academies and specialize in watch design and traditional Chinese art.

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Atelier Wen watches are therefore an homage to Chinese watchmaking. But more than that, they are an attempt to bring you along a voyage of our vision of China; a China that is colorful, meaningful, and full of poetry.

Looking towards Wanchai from Hong Kong Star Ferry Pier.

High-relief Kunpeng embossing set against Beijing’s renowned CCTV Tower.

To bring this vision to life, as opposed to almost all other brands, we scoured China from the northern province of Liaoning to the southern province of Guangdong, looking for manufacturers for all our components ranging from the porcelain dials to the traditional heat-blued hands. Not only has this allowed us to genuinely “cut the middleman,” reducing prices by 25%, but it has given us unparalleled visibility over our production ensuring that we are able to deliver products of the utmost quality.

A quiet morning in the Summer Palace.

Porcelain Odyssey is composed of two models set apart by their dials. These use zirconium oxide porcelain heated to over 1,400°C that combines traditional aesthetics with high durability. Moreover, as the process is very difficult to control and we select only the most pristine dials, wastage rates can reach 80%. This is why porcelain dials are hardly ever found on watches below $1,500. However, thanks to our strong ties to the local Chinese watch industry, we have created porcelain- dial watches at a fraction of their regular price.

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Ji, cloudy reflections.

Hao’s hands natural hue is revealed under sunlight.

The first model, Ji (霁), uses an uncommon blue porcelain for its dial. Replacing the traditional railway pattern along its extremities is a stylised “Huiwen” (回纹) motif where each indent represents a minute. Further, in a search for volume and contrast, the dial features manually-applied rhodium-plated hour dots and baton markers as indexes. The last focal point of the surface is the sub-dial. Its purpose here is symbolic rather than functional and represents a Taoist concept called “Bagua” (八卦), in which each symbol represents a cardinal direction, indicating the position of the sun in the sky and thus the corresponding time.

Paying homage to an important Chinese concept – Bagua (八卦).

The second one, Hao (皓), uses a jasmine white porcelain dial adorned with blue elements in homage to the famed Qinghua Ci (青花瓷) porcelains. This model features traditional heat-blued hands that are particularly difficult to make and radiate a mesmerizing range of hues. The sub-dial here is an homage to a traditional time measurement system called “Dizhi” (地支) or “Earthly Branches.” Indeed, the stylised characters Mao 卯 (bottom right) and You 酉 (top left) represent the hours from 5AM to 7AM and 5PM to 7PM – that is sunrise and sunset. The asymmetry introduced contrasts with the rest of the watch face and creates quite a gripping impression.

Stylised Dizhi (地支) cycle.

The case is made of 316L steel with a step-case design and is 39mm in diameter. Notably, we get our raw materials specially imported from Japan as Japanese 316L is more durable and gives off a purer sheen. After fusing into its final shape, the case is meticulously hand-finished to a mirror-polish and vertically brushed on top of the lugs. It is then combined with a beautiful 2mm-thick sapphire crystal treated with five inner layers of anti-reflective coating.

Japanese 316L steel has a purer sheen and greater durability.

We carefully etched our logo on the crown.

One of the most striking aspects of the design is surely the caseback. It features a 0.6mm high relief frosted and polished embossing of an animal of Chinese legend, Kunpeng (鲲鹏). Said to be a bird that could transform into an aquatic being, Kunpeng was used as an allegory of the concept of Yin-Yang – the idea that two elements that may appear in conflict on the surface can come together as a greater whole. We found particular resonance in this story with our team and brand concept.

High-relief embossing of an animal of Chinese legend – Kunpeng.

We put extreme care in selecting our caliber – the Peacock SL 3006 automatic mechanical movement. Indeed, having personally visited most movement factories in China and tested a number of their movements, we have no doubt that Peacock is the leader on quality. But we weren’t content to stop there. Indeed, we have negotiated with Peacock that they provide us with a tailor-made top-grade SL 3006 movement. This one is machined to a higher degree of accuracy and tested continuously for close to a month to ensure high durability and a daily accuracy of within 10 seconds. After leaving the factory, the movements are then sent to our assembler, Fiyta, who once more ensures their accuracy by testing and regulating them in five positions.

To assuage any remaining concerns, we have also agreed with Peacock on a 2-year warranty. Any issues with your watch? Send it to us in China where we will personally handle your watch and return it to you good as new – free.

The production model will have the entire date mechanism removed.

Top-grade Peacock SL-3006 automatic movement rigorously tested and adjusted in five positions.

Finally, the strap. Our initial choice was a crocodile-pattern calf leather (seen in some pictures here). However, we gradually understood that most of our early followers had a preference for natural leather patterns – so we listened. As a result, the default strap we will be providing is a midnight blue top grain calf leather hot stamped on the back with the Chinese proverb “乘风破浪” – to ride the wind and break the waves. In addition, we are offering two straps as add-ons – grey nubuck and blue salmon – to make the watches even more versatile. To make swaps easier, all three straps use quick-release mechanisms.

Extra strap – genuine blue salmon leather with orange top grain calf lining.

Extra strap – grey nubuck with red top grain calf lining.

Default strap – top grain blue calf leather.

The Kickstarter campaign for Atelier Wen will go live on October 19th with both models available to early backers for as low as $488 (over 30% off retail price of $720). In addition, anybody wanting extra gifts (somebody say free salmon strap?) can head straight to our website at atelierwen.com

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