February 17, 2023
It’s often said that certain watches need to be experienced in person in order to be fully appreciated, and the Formex Essence Leggera is certainly among those timepieces. Between its high-tech materials and impressive list of specs, the Essence Leggera undeniably represents an incredibly compelling offering, but it’s not until you actually get one on the wrist that you really get to appreciate all of the various ergonomic details that go into the design of these watches. Based upon the same core concept of its flagship Essence lineup, the Formex Essence Leggera is the sportier sibling that features an ultra-lightweight case crafted from carbon fiber composite and ceramic. When the model initially debuted in 2020, it was exclusively offered in a 43mm format; however, last year in 2022, a smaller 41mm model joined the lineup that offers identical styling but with a more compact profile. Known as the Formex Essence Leggera FortyOne, this 41mm reduced-size version has quickly become one of the brand’s bestsellers, and after getting a chance to spend some time with one over the course of the past few weeks, it’s easy to understand the model’s popularity, as it is easily one of the most comfortable watches that I have worn in recent memory.
The case of the Formex Essence Leggera FortyOne measures 41mm in diameter by 11mm thick, with relatively short lugs that are set 22mm apart and extend to create a fairly compact overall lug-to-lug profile of 46.4mm. Like all Formex Essence models, the case features the brand’s signature suspension system, which both helps to protect the movement from shocks and impacts, while also allowing the case itself to slightly flex in order to ensure greater comfort on the wrist. On the Essence Leggera models, the center part of the case and the signed winding crown are crafted from black zirconium oxide ceramic, while the outer case and caseback are made from a proprietary matte black carbon fiber composite material. The black ceramic bezel features a polished rim with vertical brushing on its top surface, and surrounding the bezel are four exposed bolts, which are part of the case’s suspension system and have become an integral part of the Formex Essence collection’s visual identity.
Protecting the dial is a flat sapphire crystal with an anti-reflective coating, while the screw-on carbon composite caseback is fitted with a second sapphire crystal that functions as a display window to enable you to look at the self-winding movement inside the watch. Although there will undoubtedly be some collectors who would have liked to have seen a screw-down crown, I’m not entirely sure that including one would have been possible in this particular instance due to the fact that the crown assembly needs to be allowed to move freely with the middle section of the case whenever its integrated suspension system flexes throughout the day. That said, despite its push-pull crown design, the Formex Essence Leggera FortyOne still offers 100 meters of water resistance, meaning that it is more than capable of standing up to the various types of moisture contact that come from daily wear and use.
Aside from its high-tech case materials, the integrated case suspension system is probably the Essence Leggera’s most interesting and unusual feature. By having the inner portion of the case that contains the movement be a separate component from the external section that makes up the lugs and crown-guards, impacts to the outer case get partially redistributed before they reach the movement housed inside the internal section. Pressing on the caseback will compress the suspension springs, and the middle part of the case will move upwards by about a millimeter or two, before immediately returning to its original position as soon as you remove pressure from the caseback. Similar to an elastic waistband, you will almost never actually notice the case suspension system engaging as you move throughout the day, although it will constantly flex as needed to accommodate your wrist any time that your arm presses into the reverse side of the case. The only real drawback here is that dirt and grime could potentially build up between the two case sections over the course of long-term ownership, although a similar statement could apply to rotating bezels or any other kind of multi-component case assembly.
The type of proprietary carbon composite material that Formex uses has a much smaller and more densely packed structure compared to the large waves that you get from certain other types of carbon-based materials, such as those used by Richard Mille or Panerai. Consequently, the outer case of the Formex Essence Leggera FortyOne almost looks like it has a matte black PVD finish when viewed from a distance, instead of having a gray wavy appearance like traditional forged carbon. Aside from its strength and lightweight nature, the carbon composite material used for the outer case offers significantly less thermal conductivity than traditional metal alloys, meaning that other than the sapphire display window in the caseback, the watch isn’t cold against your wrist when you strap it on first thing in the morning. With that in mind, having the crown and bezel made from ceramic ensures that these wear-prone components are going to remain largely free from blemishes for the foreseeable future due to the incredibly high scratch resistance that is inherent to zirconium oxide-based ceramics.
Formex offers the Essence Leggera FortyOne with a variety of different dials, although the Arctic White version featured in this review might be one of my favorites in the lineup. The matte white dial features horizontal lines engraved into its surface, which is an aesthetic feature found on many of the different Essence and Essence Leggera models. At the 6 o’clock location is a date window with large arc-shaped bevels on either side, while the hour markers are represented by applied faceted batons that are finished black and filled with blue-glowing, Grade A BGW9 Super-LumiNova. The time is displayed by a trio of centrally-mounted hands, with the hour and minute hands appearing in a blunted alpha shape, while the seconds hand is a thin needle with a barrel-shaped counterweight. To match the hour markers, all three of the hands receive a metallic black finish, and the hour and minute hands receive matching blue-glowing Super-LumiNova inlays to offer increased viability in low-light settings.
All of the dial text appears in gloss black to offer maximum contrast against the crisp white surface, while the minute track is printed along an angled chapter ring that surrounds the periphery of the dial. Although I’m often a stickler for minute hands not reaching the individual markers of the minute track, this is one of those instances where the elevated structure of the chapter ring might make this impossible. Even still, there is a sufficient difference in size between the hour and minute hand, so confusing the two at a glance won’t be an issue at all, and the black finish on the hands themselves offers plenty of contrast against the stark white backdrop of the dial. The beveled sides for the date aperture help create a cohesive overall appearance, and since the Formex dials are produced by the brand’s in-house dial manufacture, they offer a level of attention to detail that stands up to the scrutiny of high levels of magnification.
Powering the Formex Essence Leggera FortyOne is a Chronometer Grade version of the Sellita SW200-1 automatic movement. Core performance specs are a familiar operating frequency of 28,800vph (4 Hz) with a power reserve of approximately 41 hours, although since the Essence Leggera uses a Chronometer Grade version of this popular movement, it represents a step above the standard variety that can be found inside most watches that run on this frequently used Swiss mechanical caliber. In addition to being COSC-certified and guaranteed to keep time within -4/+6 seconds per day, the Chronometer Grade version of the SW200-1 also benefits from upgraded components and finishing, such as a glucydur balance wheel, blued screws, and perlage on the visible bridges. Additionally, the version that Formex uses comes fitted with the brand’s custom skeletonized oscillating weight, with all of this visible through the sapphire display window in the caseback.
The short lugs and placement of the springbar holes mean that the Formex Essence Leggera FortyOne can only be used with straps that have curved ends (or pass-through style straps with curved spring bars). While this significantly decreases the number of compatible third-party options, the straps that Formex offers for the Essence Leggera are all very comfortable, and a big part of this is due to the brand’s patented fine-adjustment deployant clasp. Crafted from the same black carbon composite material as the outer section of the case, the clasp features a double push-button release and is signed with Formex’s logo. Pushing only one of the two buttons engages the integrated micro-adjustment system, which allows for 7mm of total adjustment in single millimeter increments. Countless brands have their own versions of micro-adjustment claps, although the real genius of Formex’s design is that it offers an incredibly functional system while adding almost no additional bulk to the overall size and profile of the clasp.
Quick-release spring bars are used for attaching the strap ends to the lugs, and another quick-release springbar is located at the clasp, meaning that the carbon composite deployant clasp can also be quickly transplanted during tool-free strap changes. While one end of the clasp is attached by a springbar, the other end is fitted with standard sizing holes, meaning that the straps can easily be adjusted on the fly should you need more space than what is provided by the integrated fine-adjustment system. At the time of writing, Formex offers leather, rubber, and nylon straps for the Essence Leggera FortyOne, with each one available in a handful of different colors. Additionally, the brand also offers the watch with the option a black NATO strap that comes with curved spring bars, although this option naturally lacks the wonderful carbon composite deployant clasp that is found on the others. Although slightly visually inauspicious, the black rubber option is incredibly comfortable; however, my personal favorites among the various available options are the updated nylon straps that were just released earlier this year in January 2023.
Crafted from a canvas-style nylon material with a black microfiber lining, the two-piece nylon straps taper from 22mm at the lugs to 20mm where they meet the clasp, and they feature curved ends with integrated curved quick-release spring bars. While the material itself is slightly stiff, this actually ends up working in its favor when it comes to promoting comfort. Not only does the somewhat rigid structure help to keep the case of the watch centered on the wrist, but once the strap is connected to the deployant clasp, it almost forms a flexible cuff that sits around your wrist rather than being strapped down onto it. With this design, virtually no pressure is put on the sides of your arm, and the only thing you end up feeling is the caseback and the soft microfiber lining of the strap against the underside of your wrist. Although the black rubber strap is equally comfortable, I personally feel that the woven texture of the nylon straps offers a much more elevated appearance, while still playing into the modern and sporty styling of the watch itself.
Between its carbon composite and ceramic construction, integrated case suspension system, and very well-conceived deployant clasp, the Formex Essence Leggera FortyOne easily represents one of the brand’s most modern and tech-forward offerings. Additionally, with an official retail price of $1,790 USD when purchased on one of the rubber or nylon straps, the Essence Leggera FortyOne costs the exact same as its larger 43mm sibling, and only represents a small premium of a few hundred dollars compared to the standard stainless steel Essence models. Both ceramic and carbon fiber are typically accompanied by price premiums, and the fact that you get both, along with a truly unique case construction and chronometer-rated movement undeniably represents a very compelling offering at well under $2k. Just by looking at its specs, there is already a lot to love about the Formex Essence Leggera FortyOne, although my appreciation for the watch has grown significantly over the course of the last few weeks, and I’ve found myself wearing it far more than I ever initially anticipated. For more information on the Formex Essence Leggera FortyOne, please visit the brand’s website.