August 4, 2020
by Ariel Adams
The Essence watch collection was an important break-out product for Swiss Formex because it combined noteworthy elements of the brand’s core DNA with a versatile and modern sports watch experience that was conservative enough for mainstream appeal. Products like the Essence help companies like Formex (and others who manage to release similarly successful products) exit the world of “microbrands” into the realm of boutique watchmakers that is a step up in both popularity and prestige. Today, I look at a further evolution of the Essence, which is the forged carbon-cased Formex Essence Leggera (reference 0330.4.6399.811).
Readers can view my full aBlogtoWatch review of the Formex Essence watch (in steel) here for information about the core product. The entire point of the Essence Leggera (light-weight) was to make a version of the popular timepiece platform that was trendy in a new way. The trend appeal of the Essence Leggera is both in the timepiece’s light weight (5o gram case), as well as its use of materials (case is primarily forged carbon and ceramic). With both lightweight watches and those built using such materials being popular, Formex has a solid mixture of elements that allow the Essence Leggera to appeal to new consumers, with an equal yet distinctive appeal from the standard steel version of the watch.
Forged carbon is a method of using carbon as a precision case material. It was popularized by Audemars Piguet, where it was used for rather expensive luxury watches prior to being eventually democratized. Audemars Piguet produced the material in-house, which meant that other companies using forged carbon had to replicate similar processes to achieve their own results. Not all forged carbon looks or feels the same, and that used by Formex is both smooth and “silky” to the touch (not rough or uneven). Forged carbon begins by compressing some carbon material and then baking it at a high temperature. The resulting block of “forged carbon” is then machined into the shape of a watch case.
This is also a nice way to get a black color for a watch. Unlike other forged carbon materials that have organic textures, the Essence Leggera case is very even and “perfect-looking” by industrial standards. It injects a warm organic feel to the watch, and Formex (for this particular version of the watch) uses a thin forged carbon dial which, when cut, has more of an organic texture. Other versions of the Essence Leggera have, for example, a meteorite dial (for the Essence Leggera Space Rock), as well as more conservative dial options. I fully expect Formex to keep playing with various aesthetic variants of the Essence Leggera in the future.
The matte black carbon case is paired with a polished black ceramic bezel. The polish adds a nice transition between the texture of the case and the sapphire crystal over the dial, and it also offers scratch resistance. (Ceramic is vastly more scratch-resistant than, say, a carbon bezel.) The bezel is polished on its outer angle and given a brushed finish near the top. This is a style popularized (for me) via the original Hublot Big Bang.
The overall composition of the Essence Leggera is quite nice, with a comfortable, sizeable, legible, and lightweight sports watch that you can also wear into some more elegant situations. The dial continues to be a selling point, given that it eschews a more wild design for something that very much feels like it comes out of the Swiss watchmaking tradition. The steel-toned hands and applied hour markers fit nicely over the carbon dial, offering both contrast and ideal size/proportions. A date window over the 6 o’clock hour marker serves to offer the important functions, but it retains the readability and symmetry of the dial.
Let us not forget that the Essence also includes Formex’s neat case suspension system. This allows the middle case to move a bit on springs. The goal is for the suspension system to absorb some of the shock and vibration that would otherwise flow into the space where the mechanical movement is — potentially hampering timing performance. It is unclear as to how important the case suspension system is when it comes to day-to-day use, but the storytelling value it adds to the watch is very valuable, indeed.
On the wrist, the Essence Leggera is 43mm-wide and 11mm-thick with a 49mm lug-to-lug distance. While not a small watch, the shorter lugs help it work well on even smaller wrists. The case is also water-resistant to 100 meters. The back of the watch has a sapphire crystal so that you can view the movement through a sapphire crystal window. The movement is produced by Swiss STP (part of the Fossil Group actually) and is the caliber STP 1-11 automatic, which here is both decorated (and with blued-steel screws), as well as COSC Chronometer-certified. Not all Essence collection watches have Chronometer-certified movements, but it appears that those in the slightly more expensive Essence Leggera collection are all Chronometers. A “Chronometer” label is printed on the watch’s dial. The movement operates at 4Hz (28,800 bph) with about 44 hours of power reserve.
Adding to the lightweight carbon theme is the strap deployant, which is also in carbon. To be fair, Formex has been using these carbon components in a few other watches. That said, the deployant now seems to feature a handy micro-adjust system that is discreet and appreciated in terms of functionality. Formex offers a few strap options, including black Italian calfskin leather, black rubber, or a black nylon fabric material. The rubber and leather straps are, in my opinion, the most comfortable. Formex has all the strap parts connected with tool-less removal systems, so swapping straps isn’t a challenge at all. I also like that the strap ends are designed to fit with the shape of the case.
In the end, I believe buyers of Essence Leggera watches might be incentivized to choose their own straps. For one thing, the straps all look the same, even though they are in different materials. They also lack a degree of style or personality, in my opinion. More important, for me, is the fact that while the fold-over deployant system is nice, it doesn’t really seem to add anything to the equation, save for bulk. It is true that, in a retail environment, consumers associate these types of clasps as being more high-end, but I don’t think they add comfort to wearing the watch. I would have preferred a traditional pin buckle strap clasp, and I sort of wish Formex might make one available. The pin buckle clasp will offer the same level of adjustability and be smaller-wearing on the wrist. I can easily see Formex Essence Leggera owners soon wondering what interesting aftermarket straps they can pick up (straps are 22mm-wide) to help add to the personality of this already nice timepiece foundation.
While the Essence Leggera watches cost a few hundred dollars more than the steel version (up to about $1,000 more than the base Essence model), the collection enters a new segment of the market at this price point. Owners of original Essence models should not be jealous, per se, but the Essence Leggera does add some neat features in terms of style, and for those who like lightweight watches for sports activities, this is a much better choice than the weightier steel model. Price for the reference 0330.4.6399.811 Formex Essence Leggera Automatic Chronometer Forged Carbon watch is $1,880 USD. Learn more or order via the Formex website here.