The “new” Formex’s second major product is the Formex Essence — which I have reviewed here today. The Essence comes after the Formex Element (aBlogtoWatch review here), the product that really relaunched the brand, in my opinion. Today, Formex has beaten the odds by relaunching as a re-imagined version of the original and not totally sucking at it! What can I say? This under-$1,300 (or even $800, depending on the version) Swiss-made watch is hard to beat for the money. It’s comfortable, attractive, easy to read, and ticks off a lot of boxes watch enthusiasts have on their meticulous lists.
While not exactly a visual copy, the Formex Essence means to live in somewhat the same universe at the Royal Oak, or any high-end “sporty” casual steel watch. It has the “look at me” polish of a piece of jewelry (because steel loves a good, flat surface finish), with the timeless good looks of a horological instrument. No, it doesn’t have the marketing power of an Audemars Piguet to imply that “wearing an Essence means you are rich,” but it also won’t cause any timepiece enthusiast to seriously doubt your purchase.
Formex is an affordable brand, and it’s also a brand that the enthusiast community is currently building on its own. It will take some years now to see how wearers of Formex watches will help shape what our perception of the brand will be. I actually recall the first person I saw in the real world wearing a Formex Essence — and I have to admit I was shocked at who was wearing it. It was an older gentleman and not someone who looked like he was about to go take out his motorcycle. He chose his with a metallic brown dial and matching brown leather strap. It suited him just fine, and I was impressed that he chose it. I never would have taken him as a Formex customer, and yet, there he was having bought it with his own money after choosing between it and other products.
Adhesion to a certain set of Swiss design rules helps the Essence looks its best. The case is on the larger size (for a dressier watch) at 43mm-wide, but it has a relatively modest 49mm lug-to-lug distance and a case that is just 10mm-thick. Mind you, that is 10mm-thick with Formex’s patented case-suspension system. It is a carry-over from the original Formex brand, and the concept is to shield the watch movement if your wrist is to experience a lot of shock of vibration. It is pretty cool, actually. The steel case is water resistant to 100 meters and over the dial is an AR-coated sapphire crystal.
Formex designed the Essence to have its strap or bracelet replaced without any tools. The Essence does feel nice on the strap, but I won’t really take it off the bracelet since I find the experience to be more visually appealing and the bracelet is comfortable. The bracelet has a micro-extension system for optimal comfort, and so does the deployant buckle for the strap now, that I mention it. I think it’s pretty cool how part of the deployant system is made from carbon, as opposed to metal.
It would be hard to claim that parts of the Essence dial were not inspired by the more modern version of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and Royal Oak Offshore — namely, elements such as the dial, hands, and hour markers. They aren’t 1:1 copies, by any means, but they are thematically closely related. That doesn’t really bother me because the details are pretty much all right from the design of the date window to the proportions of the hands and hour markers. Blue is a lovely dial color, but Formex also offers the Essence in other tones, such as silver, brown, gray, and degrade gray.
To make things a bit more complicated, Formex offers the Essence with two movement “grades” that correspond to different dial styles. For instance, this is the blue dial for the COSC Chronometer certified movement dial, whereas the non-COSC movement version has a slightly more simple sunray blue dial. While I am not entirely sure why Formex offered the Essence with and without COSC Chronometer Certification (architecturally similar movements, mind you). This practice isn’t without precedent in the boutique brand universe, but I do think it needlessly makes consumers stop and have to make an awkward choice.
So let’s talk about that for a moment. This COSC version of the Formex Essence with its different dial (on a bracelet) costs $1,265. The non-COSC version, also on the bracelet, costs $890. The is a $375 difference for one movement being certified as being of a particular accuracy. It doesn’t actually mean the non-certified ones aren’t as accurate. Practically speaking, the COSC movements can have some upgraded parts and are regulated more carefully. The movements inside the watches are made by different companies, as well. The non-COSC Formex Essence models have Swiss ETA 2824-2 automatic movements (4Hz with about two days of power reserve). The COSC Essence watches contain a Swiss Sellita SW200. The SW200 is more or less a clone of the 2824, but in this execution, it has not only a COSC Chronometer certification but also some aesthetic enhancements, as well such as a custom Formex rotor and thermally blued screws.
Is it worth spending a bit more money for the COSC Essence watch? I think most watch-lovers wanting the best experience will probably go there. Then again, you really don’t lose too much with the non-COSC version, and it does keep the watch under $1,000 (under $800 on a strap) and offers a lot of bang for your buck. I will also say that I don’t think Formex is making much money on the difference. The $375 really probably does only cover the increased costs for the movements and the COSC Chronometer certification fees (not a free service).
Where Formex will struggle for a few years longer is simply getting their name out there. I think the products are starting to add up to looks that have real value and fashionability. These days, in order to sell luxury products, you also need a brand. Formex is working on it, and its success will rely as much on its ability to keep projecting a brand personality message as in its efforts to make a beautiful timepiece. For now, they have some really solid products with fair prices to boot.
The Formex Essence is a practical daily-wear for someone who wants to show a bit of an active side, does not want to look as though they are showing off, but who wants to demonstrate to the world that they respect the values in life which complement wearing and knowing about good timepieces. Novices to modern mechanical watches not eager to buy from a larger company will especially like the Formex Essence, if anything because the watches are from a respectable little brand but have the build quality of many corporate brand watches. Price for this reference 0330.1.6331.100 Formex Essence Automatic Chronometer Blue watch is $1,160 USD on a strap and $1,265 USD on the steel bracelet. Learn more at the Formex website here.
>Model: Essence (Essence Automatic Chronoeter Blue reference 0330.1.6331.100 as tested)
>Price: $785 – $1,265 USD
>Size: 43 mm-wide, 10mm-thick, 22mm-wide strap, and 49mm lug-to-lug distance.
>When reviewer would personally wear it: It is a really compelling daily wear that mirrors the comfort and versatility of a much more expensive steel lifestyle sport bracelet watch.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Anyone who admits the style and universal appropriateness of something like a Royal Oak but balks at what it costs to purchase.
>Best characteristic of watch: Formex did a great overall job and even managed to retain the case suspension system in a relatively slim package. Quality suggests a more expensive product, and style is nearing on sexy.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Dial design might be considered a bit derivative (but to others that is a plus-point). Hardware equipment-style brand logo feels a bit out of place at this more elegant affair. Arguably, needless consumer confusion with the multiple watch movement options.