September 23, 2022
by Ariel Adams
At an event in the popular Swiss mountain town of Zermatt, within a venue outfitted with theatrics and pizazz, watchmaker NORQAIN proudly introduced its most important collection to date: the Wild ONE. The circumstances around the development of the Wild ONE collection, its launch, and the technical and functional innovations in the products each merit a separate discussion. There is simply a lot to unpack about this watch, as well as the story around it. Given that aBlogtoWatch is probably going to be writing about different Wild ONE watches for a while, my hope is that over time, more casual watch hobbyists will more deeply understand what NORQAIN and Jean-Claude Biver were trying to do, and how this will set a future tone for the young but quickly growing Swiss NORQAIN brand.
NORQAIN was launched in 2018 by a few prominent 30-something professionals who all had experience in the watch industry. aBlogtoWatch was there from the start because I really admired what the team brought to the table, their energy, their desire to focus on more accessible price points, and their ability to work with the finest watch suppliers and talent in Switzerland. During the pandemic, NORQAIN co-founder Ben Kuffer happened to meet the legendary Jean-Claude Biver, who was in a state of semi-retirement. Biver had, for a few years, been seeking someone to mentor. In his own words to me in late 2018, he was seeking to “give back” to the younger generation. At the time, he wasn’t quite sure how to do that. What he came to discover is that by mentoring a younger watch brand with a spirit he could relate to, Biver could continue to have an important influence in the industry, but without a full-time commitment. It is important to also remind people that Jean-Claude Biver and his son Pierre Biver are also due to launch a boutique high-end watch brand in early 2023, news of which they originally launched in a SUPERLATIVE Podcast episode. The brand will be known simply as the eponymous “Biver” and will be extremely high-end with very low production numbers (under 30 pieces per year). So, Mr. Biver’s ability to work with and have an influence on a larger luxury watch demographic is, for now, entirely consolidated to his participation on the board of NORQAIN. That is an excellent position for NORQAIN and, according to Biver, his choice to do this was related to seeing much of himself in the younger Ben Kuffer.
After two years of development, the first result of the NORQAIN and Jean-Claude Biver relationship is the launch of not just a few watches but an entire concept. As part of the larger NORQAIN Independence Collection (based on the case shape), the Wild ONE has a 25-part case with segments that can be made in a variety of colors, possibly other materials, and a dial that can be manufactured to take many forms. To me, this is really an evolution of what Jean-Claude was doing with the Big Bang at Hublot in regard to creating a fun, sporty, modular watch concept that could take on many forms with many materials but all fit into the same collection. The idea is that you can industrialize one overall shape, that itself can take on a variety of styles and themes in order to introduce variety and choice to a market, and that is very much still obsessed with novelty and exclusivity. This way NORQAIN can use the Wild ONE as a platform to make new watch models for years to come.
Where Jean-Claude outdid himself compared to Hublot is by making sure that the Independence Wild ONE watches are not just aesthetically interesting but that there is a true performance story (many of them, actually) behind the product. Of course, the people at NORQAIN were responsible for much of the leg work but Mr. Biver guided them, challenged them, pushed them, and made sure the team had his blessing and feedback along the way. From a performance perspective, the NORQAIN Wild ONE watches are like mechanical G-Shocks in principle. The case is very lightweight and designed to be highly shock-resistant, using buffer structures that absorb impact. Casio has been doing this with extreme success for nearly 40 years, but the mechanical watch industry has only used shock-absorbing buffers rarely. Mr. Biver pointed out how this was one in some early Wyler brand watches, and I know that Bremont incorporated a shock-absorbing movement-holder ring into their larger Martin Baker watch collection. NORQAIN beats them all in technical achievement and grace as these shock-absorbing elements aren’t hidden, but rather part of the case construction itself.
Three primary materials are relevant to understanding the Independence Wild ONE case construction. First is titanium – which makes up the inner core of the watch and is where the movement is held. Titanium is an excellent material for this given its strength, weight, and ability to create an effective water-tight environment for the watch movement. The Wild ONE case is water resistant to 200 meters and NORQAIN recommends it for swimming and light diving – so a tough inner cord to hold the mechanical movement is important. The next layer of the case is what interests me the most and should be the cause for the most community questions and curiosity – it is a one-piece section of natural rubber.
Not all rubber is created the same, either in formulation or form. This rubber is quite hard and meant less to regularly bend and more to absorb larger impacts and vibration shocks. NORQAIN worked with a specialist supplier who really went out of their way when it came to the materials used in the Wild ONE. Using a sophisticated form of injection molding, the rubber section is formed with incredible detail, and then later finished by hand. To my knowledge, the Wild ONE has the first case made with large sections of rubber that are hand-finished. This is important because after the rubber section is formed, it must be cleaned up with areas cut off and beautified. There is no automated way to do this, and, while rubber doesn’t sound like a traditional luxury watch case material, in the NORQAIN Wild ONE, rubber is akin to gold.
Finally, the Wild ONE case is sandwiched with sections of a new material that the brand called NORTEQ, developed with supplier BIWI SA. A carbon composite with a few notable properties, NORTEQ is the final piece of the shock-absorption and lightweight puzzle. It weighs about 6.25 times less than steel and is also slightly elastic, meaning it can absorb shock while deforming in tandem with the rubber parts of the case. NORTEQ is formulated from a few materials including carbon, sustainable castor bean oil, pigments, and a secret formulation all developed and manufactured in Switzerland. What impressed me most about the material is its pleasant tactile experience, high-end feel, and ability to be rendered in a few colors. Carbon is black after all, which is why most carbon and carbon polymer blend watches are black in color. While not all colors are available, NORTEQ can be produced in more than just black. For now, NORQAIN has introduced a limited edition version of the Wild ONE in a burgundy red color to show what they can do. The brand hinted at more colors to come. Of course, more hue variety is available for the rubber section of the watch, as well as for the dial.
Speaking of the dial, NORQAIN uses a laser-cutting technique for each of them, which results in an interesting three-dimensional structure. The variety of designs that can be laser engraved is nearly limitless. You can already see NORQAIN experimenting with this in the NORQAIN Wild One Hakuna Mipaka limited edition, developed with brand Ambassador Dean Schneider. His watch’s dial has a “Lion fur” texture meant to evoke the animals he is famous for playing with on his popular social media accounts. It will be interesting to see what direction NORQAIN takes creatively when it comes to the dials of future Wild ONE watches. Over the faces are applied hour markers and hands that are polished and show a true “Jean-Claude Biver” look. This is also how the otherwise matte-finished sections of the Wild ONE watch connect the concept to the world of luxury and lifestyle. The Independence Wild ONE is meant to be a sports watch, for sure, but also one that you can dress up to be more elegant if the situation calls for it. The dials are pretty, but if I had an opportunity to design a Wild ONE watch I might experiment with more matte-finished surfaces and give the watch a more instrument-like dial design. Of course, with the modularity of the Wild ONE concept, all of that is possible.
Inside the Wild ONE watch is a movement NORQAIN refers to as its “Manufacture” Calibre NN20/1. This is a version of the Swiss Made Kenissi movement that has been used by a few other NORQAIN watches. Perhaps it has now been modified a bit more to give NORQAIN an exclusive look. Since this is not an in-house movement, some enthusiasts might take issue with the “manufacture” statement. NORQAIN might just want to modify that to say “exclusive movement.” The automatic movement is visible through a sapphire crystal window on the rear of the case and it operates at 4Hz with about 70 hours of power reserve. The NN20/1 movements are also each COSC Chronometer certified, which is a welcome touch.
In addition to the shock-resistance and durability features of the Independence Wild ONE, what the team is probably second-most proud of is how comfortable it is on the wrist. The case has a new sculpted rubber strap, which, combined with the overall light weight, does indeed make for a wristwatch that you barely feel is there while worn. That type of “discreet wearing” experience is solidly in tune with many contemporary notions of what wearing a high-end sports watch is like. This is contrary to the somewhat traditional notion that a good watch is heavy, metal, and tank-like.
That’s all I will say about the NORQAIN Independence Wild ONE watch collection, for now. I will return to this conversation after having done a full review, as this watch is easily one of the most important models of late 2022. I think the final thing to comment on is the price. These are not budget watches, but they are a lot of value for the money, and nothing else on the market offers this type of case construction or material choices. Most of the watches you might compare the Wild ONE with are going to be much more expensive. That said, I want to give a shout-out to Swiss Formex, which has its own shock-absorbent carbon case concept in the Essence collection, which might be a good option for people who can’t quite afford what NORQAIN is offering with the Wild ONE watch.
Four watches make up the debut collection, including two limited editions. The non-limited edition Wild ONE watches include the Wild ONE Black & Blue, which comes as the reference NNQ3000QBA1A/A001/3W1AR.20BQ (blue rubber strap) and NNQ3000QBA1A/A001/3W1BR.20BQ (black rubber strap), as well as the Wild ONE Black & Khaki as the reference NNQ3000QBK1A/B002/3W1KBR.20BQ (khaki green rubber strap) and NNQ3000QBK1A/B002/3W1BR.20BQ (black rubber strap), that all have a price of 4,950 Swiss Francs. Next is the reference NNQ3000QBX1LA/B001/3W1BR1.20BQ limited edition of 500 pieces Wild ONE Hakuna Mipaka for Dean Schneider which includes actual South African sand in the rubber material construction, and retails for 5,250 Swiss Francs. The final launch model of NORQAIN Wild One is the Burgundy & Gray reference NNQ3000QUG1LA/G001/3W1GR.20RQ which is a limited edition of 200 pieces with a retail price of 5,350 Swiss Francs. Learn more at the NORQAIN watches website here.