Young watch brand Atelier Wen has placed its eggs fully in the basket of its Perception model. The Perception watch fully embraces the brand’s focus on Chinese manufacturing and aesthetics, with the trendy concept of the integrated bracelet watch in steel. What is interesting is that Atelier Wen is a hybrid brand, in a sense, because while the company has a distinct Chinese theme, its founders are not Chinese. Having done business in Chinese-speaking parts of the world, as well as being involved in the watch industry, the founders of Atelier Wen believed their concept for a watch brand would do well in centers of Sinophilia. There is, of course, a vividly pragmatic angle to the Atelier Wen, and that is the simple fact that China already builds so many watch parts that it would not be too far a stretch for the brand to produce a watch in China that more proudly looked the part.

In general, the “proudly Chinese watch” trend is here and only growing. It may not be a force whose size will ever seriously challenge European luxury watches or precision Japanese tools, but the number of brands and watches that are not only made in China but proudly and loudly designed there (by Chinese companies) is growing. Even since Atelier Wen debuted its first model, the Atelier Wen Odyssey Hao, in 2019, the number of original-looking mechanical watch companies from China has really expanded. The United States may remain the solid leader of the luxury watch market globally, but China is second. That means the Chinese market is ripe for further segmentation and differentiation with the businesses benefiting from luxury watch demand not only being foreign luxury companies. (To learn more about the founding of the Atelier Wen brand, you can listen to my aBlogtoWatch SUPERLATIVE podcast interview with its co-founder Robin Tallendier.)

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As of this writing, the Atelier Wen Preception watch is hard to get. Not on purpose, but the watch is sold out for at least several months, and to order one, Atelier Wen seems to be asking for a deposit. That means enough people got excited about the design and price of this watch to be willing to wait for one. It is very uncommon for products to remain on “waitlists” for very long after their first debut, but it goes to show that, despite the crowded and competitive nature of the market for integrated bracelet steel watches, demand for the Atelier Perception is impressive.

Aside from the original design and meticulous attention to detail, what watch enthusiasts should probably most take notice of in the Perception watch collection (there are a few dial colors available at this time in addition to the pictured light blue) are the hand-operated guilloché machine-cut dials. Like much more expensive watches, and distinct from less expensive stamped versions, the traditional-looking hand-turned rose engine dials on the Perception watches are the real deal — and, apparently, created by China’s only “guilloché master.” That means each of these dials is created individually by a delicate hand-operated procedure. The finished dials are later electroplated to get the finished colors, and the outcome is very pretty. The handmade dials are certainly a major selling factor for the Perception products.

Even though the market for steel watches with an integrated bracelet is increasingly popular, the Perception is able to stand out from the crowd enough to be different. The case shape, with its dramatic flared flanks, transitions to a soft, rounded, and polished bezel before you get to admire the decorative dial. The bracelet is removable, but neatly integrated into the overall profile of the case shape and has an elegant taper to it. Lots of thought went into the bracelet, not only from a visual perspective but also a functional one. The watch bracelet was easy to size with an appropriately sized single screwdriver, and it also has a thoughtfully engineered deployant clasp with two interesting systems (in addition to wearing with an attractively slim profile). The first system in the deployant is a push-button operated micro-adjust system that has a few positions. Most importantly, whether it is open or closed, the watch looks the same from the outside. (I say this to contrast with some micro-adjust systems that look a bit ugly when they are in “expanded” positions.) The other interesting system in the deployant is a sliding expansion in the foldover clasp, the purpose of which is to open up when you are putting the watch on to make it easier to place your fist through the open bracelet (which can be an issue). The extension freely slides (although there is a screw you can use to tighten it, if you like) and is locked in place when you close the deployant.

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The Perception case is produced from 904L steel, which has a slightly brighter tone than 316L steel and thus polishes up very nicely. The case is 40mm wide, 9.4mm thick, and has a modest 47mm-long lug-to-lug distance. The case is water resistant to 100 meters with a screw-down crown, and over the dial is a flat AR-coated sapphire crystal. A smaller crystal is used on the back for the mouth-style opening there which allows for a partial view of the mechanical movement on the inside. The overall shape of the Perception is handsome, with a distinctly Chinese architectural look. That means a lot of strong lines and dramatic contrasts between curved and flat surfaces. More Chinese heritage design elements are found on the stone lion-style caseback design, as well as the decorative geometric pattern on the periphery of the dial around the legible hour markers and hands.

Inside the watch is a Chinese movement that was produced exclusively for Atelier Wen. The brand worked with historic Chinese watchmaker Dandong/Peacock to create the caliber SL1588 automatic. It is a 4Hz, 41-hour power-reserve automatic movement with a decent level of decoration. While it may not be quite as accurate as a COSC Chronometer, Atelier Wen does remark that the movements have each been shock- and durability-tested, which I think is pretty interesting. In any event, some of these Chinese-made mechanical movements don’t have the best histories for performance, so these extra assurances and working with Dandong to produce something exclusive for the Perception was probably the right move for Atelier Wen in the pursuit of a higher-end prestige product.

Each Perception watch comes with both the matching steel bracelet and an extra rubber strap (this one came with a white one, but a blue one is also available), and they are relatively easy to swap out on your own given the quick-release “pinch” spring bars. Packaging is accordingly nice, which is important given the more elevated price point of this model. The overall presentation is about as good as I’ve seen from a Chinese product at this price point, of this type. Atelier Wen went out of its way to imbue the Perception with a lot of personality and visual pizazz. It might not have the best movement on the market or the most affordable price, but it is a great mixture of elements along with a pretty dial and brand story that you can’t really find elsewhere. The Perception also ranks high in overall comfort, making it a suitable daily wear or something to wear with a suit. Price for the Atelier Wen Perception Piao (with the blue) dial is $3,288 USD. Learn more at the Atelier Wen website.

Necessary Data
>Brand: Atelier Wen
>Model: Perception (Piao model as tested)
>Price: $3,288 USD
>Size: 40mm wide, 9.4mm thick, 47mm long lug-to-lug distance
>When reviewer would personally wear it: The visually stunning dial gets extra attention, but this watch is as versatile as any steel watch on a bracelet.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Modern watch lover with a fondness for Chinese culture/watches who wants an integrated bracelet watch in steel with a bit extra personality.
>Best characteristic of watch: Manages to be both original and familiar in its wearing experience. Dial is very nice to look at and overall profile and case are handsome. Nicely engineered deployant.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Still seems a bit expensive to some. Movement is nice-looking but might not perform as well as more established calibers. Oddly incongruous graphical logo.

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