Atelier Wen is (comparatively speaking) a higher-end “proudly made in China” watch company, and I find myself really liking its debut model. The brand’s first product collection is the Porcelain Odyssey, and it comes in two flavors: this white porcelain-dialed Hao and its blue-dial relative, the Ji. Proudly Chinese-made watches (outside of China) are actually something new. Even though many luxury watches (“Swiss” ones included) have been produced by Chinese factories for years, the concept of a home-grown Chinese watch, complete with local flavors and consumers in mind, is a relatively modern development. For the most part, Chinese watches did their best to look like non-Chinese watches.
I predicted the now steady wave of “proudly made in China” watches about seven years ago after my first trip to the Hong Kong Watch & Clock fair. At the time, I noticed watchmakers in China starting to embrace local culture, aesthetics, and style in watches that might have traditionally done their best to emulate the look of European watches. Exporting Chinese culture in a luxury timepiece is no easy task. I think the appeal of watches like Atelier Wen is mostly for existing watch collectors, but these watches do have the ability to rope in wearers who come for the cultural connection, as opposed to the horological part of the equation. While there is room to further develop for sure, I think Atelier Wen did a great job in making the Porcelain Odyssey Hao feel like a traditional watch from a poise and functionality standpoint, but also decidely not like something which is trying to look as though it originated from Europe.
Like many brands today, Atelier Wen started with a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter (featured on aBlogtoWatch here). We have a policy that watches we have never seen before be presented to the aBlogtoWatch audience as a promotional announcement. After a crowdfunding campaign is complete and watches are being shipped, we will certainly consider an editorial review — which is exactly the case here. There can be understandable hesitation about backing an unknown company on Kickstarter, but when things align properly, the result is an excellent product like the Atelier Wen Porcelain Odyssey that, in my opinion, came out pretty well.
The above-referenced post about Atelier Wen goes into a lot more detail about the source of the Chinese culture-inspired design elements. This ranges from the Chinese characters on the dial to some of the decorative elements on the dial and, of course, the caseback. The caseback is a clear way for the Hao and Ji watches to separate themselves from the pack, given the deep relief engraving of mythical Chinese bird that, to me, looks like a peacock dragon.
Perhaps that is intentional, as the Chinese movement-maker Peacock is responsible for the movement inside of the watches. Peacock is a competitor to the better-known Sea Gull in China. The movement inside the Porcelain Odyssey is the Peacock caliber SL3006 automatic. It looks a lot like an ETA 2824-2 automatic clone (with enough differences), and it also operates at 4Hz with about two days of power reserve. An ETA 2824-2 the movement is not however, meaning that the Peacock will not perform quite as well, and winding it has a distinct tactile sensation. Atelier Wen is quick to point out that is carefully checks and regulates each movement (with Chinese movements there are frequently rejects) and tests them in five positions.
The movement has the date disc taken out and, on the dial, we just have the time with subsidiary seconds. This placement of the seconds makes the overall design feel a bit more mature, to be honest, and I think it works really well. The level of design restraint on the dial is appreciated, as well as the combination of Chinese culture decorative elements with traditional rules of dial legibility.
One of the biggest selling points of the Porcelain Odyssey watch is the fact that both the Hao and the Ji use traditionally made porcelain dials. Altelier Wen points out that up to 80% of the dials must be rejected after they are baked (the process is similar to how enamel dials are made). This is because of how colors can change and look blotchy when not done correctly. What is impressive here isn’t just the lovely outcome of the porcelain dials but also how affordable Atelier Wen was able to make these. The result is a cost clearly above most Chinese-made watches, but a lot of value for the money if you know how to evaluate a good quality watch.
Blued-steel hands are used for the dial, and they look pretty good, actually. These are heat-treated hands and not coated or painted like some others out there at these price points. For those who know, heat-treated, blued hands are hard to come by at these prices (if available at all). The combination of the blued hands, porcelain dial, and overall excellent case construction make for a product that has the allure of a European luxury watch with the cultural (and construction) connection to China. Given that so many watches are both produced and consumed in China, I find this to be appropriate for the times.
Atelier Wen claims that the case design is inspired by French watches from the 1950s. I don’t know too much about French watches from the 1950s, but the case does, more or less, look like a TAG Heuer Carrera. So if there is one “homage” element of the Hao and Ji, it would be in the case. Atleier Wen points out that Japanese 316L steel (not Chinese) was used for the case — and I have to say it shows. This is Swiss watch-level case finishing and quality and, for the money, an excellent value.
Size-wise, the Porcelain Odyssey is a more modestly sized watch at 39mm-wide and 11.7mm-thick with 50 meters of water resistance. Over the dial is a 1.5mm-thick AR-coated and domed sapphire crystal. I found legibility to be high and glare to be low. As a thicker dress watch or daily wear wear for smaller wrists, this is a very good size.
When you see a brand also focusing on a good strap experience you know the people behind it care about watches. A few strap options are available for the Porcelain Odyssey watch including the stock blue calf leather and an available salmon skin strap which is interesting. The buckle is also well-done and according to Atelier Wen it is inspired by the look of Pagoda structures.
With mostly original parts and a lot of focus on detail and value for the money, it is hard to dismiss the Atelier Wen Porcelain Odyssey Hao if you are keen on the design. Clearly, the focus on Chinese cultural elements is meant for some customers and not others, but for those customers, Atelier Wen has something to take a very close look at. Price for the Atelier Wen Porcelain Odyssey Hao or Ji is $720 USD. See more at the Altelier Wen website here.
>Brand: Atelier Wen
>Model: Porcelain Odyssey Hao
>Price: $720 USD
>Size: 39mm-wide, 11.7mm-thick, and about 47mm lug-to-lug distance.
>When reviewer would personally wear it: As a dress watch or when wanting to show appreciation for traditional Chinese culture visual cues.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Watch collector interested in Chinese culture who is also interested in a well-priced porcelain dial with blued-steel hands.
>Best characteristic of watch: Excellent attention to detail and value all-around. Attractive legible dial and refined inclusion of Chinese cultural elements into overall composition.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Case very much looks like the design was borrowed from TAG Heuer (if that matters to you). Price point is high enough to merit a deep understanding of timepiece to know what you are paying for, so Atelier Wen (and fans) need to wait a few years for the larger collector community to catch up.