Halcyon is a newer watch brand from China that launched via a successful campaign on Kickstarter. The brand has released a few watches so far, each featuring a different limited-edition, hand-painted porcelain dial featuring the same watch case style. Halcyon was founded by people with some experience in the watch industry, and you can tell that the brand has a very specific concept behind it (even if it isn’t for you). The idea is to offer a more distinctly Chinese-culture version of the “art watch,” featuring some level of hand-applied artisanship. European — and to an extent Japanese — watches have had success in this area when they combine traditional watchmaking with one or more decorative arts. European watches of this ilk tend to be extremely expensive. First, Japan realized that there was a market for lower-priced artistic craft watches, and later, various creative minds in China realized the same thing. Rather than try to emulate European or other foreign crafts, many of today’s more interesting Chinese art watches borrow from local culture and history — this is exactly the point of Halcyon. Even the brand name alludes to the mentality that things in the past were better. Clearly, enough timepiece consumers feel the same way.

Halcyon is based in the city of Jingdezhen, China, which, for over 1,500 years, has also been a home for traditional forms of porcelain and pottery making. The company was able to use local talent to offer one of the more affordable hand-painted porcelain dials available. In fact, porcelain dials in wristwatches produced in any volume are exceedingly rare. I believe that the rest of the watch’s components (except the movement, which is sourced from Seiko) and the assembly occur far from Jingdezhen in the Chinese city of Shenzhen. Mostly known for its adeptness in designing and manufacturing electronics, Shenzhen is ideal for watchmaking because of the availability of talent as well as precision mechanical engineering and manufacturing.

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The difference between standard enamel dials and porcelain ones is really the base material for the face. Enamel dials are often metal, whereas porcelain dials are ceramic. Produced using traditional techniques, the porcelain dials are polished to a vivid white with a very smooth surface. Over the porcelain base, Halcyon uses its master enamel painter who then creates miniature compositions on each dial. The enamel paints are baked for permanence. On this particular Halcyon Origin Dragon watch, most of the porcelain is painted with the dual Chinese dragon motif. The off-centered dial for the time is actually printed. (Painting it with such precision would be a huge pain.) In addition to this “clouds and dragons dial,” other hand-painted enamel dials from Halcyon tend to feature landscape paintings that evoke traditional Chinese artistic practices.

The good news for Halcyon is that it can purchase a large number of blank porcelain dials to plan future watches far in advance. This seems to be what it is doing, and the brand appears to have intentions to ramp up production beyond the small volume of limited-edition watches it has produced so far. Thinking this way is important if the company is going to maintain a price for its product that clearly beats what is offered by brands mainly located in Europe.

In addition to a fancy dial, Halcyon wanted to offer something special for the case. The solution was to opt for treated 925 silver (as opposed to all steel). The caseback of the watch is produced from steel; however, I don’t know if silver takes to the laser engraving process as well. The case also has an interesting crown design that is intended to give the watch case a cleaner, more symmetrical look. That said, many people will likely remark that the Halcyon case and dial concept seems to be suggestive of Jaquet Droz (not a bad thing). The sterling silver case weighs 64 grams alone and is specially treated with a rhodium coating to prevent tarnishing. The traditional problem with silver watch cases is the tendency to tarnish. So what we see in the otherwise rare silver-cased watches that come to market is often a non-tarnishing silver alloy or coated silver in the case of Halcyon. For the most part, the watch case looks like steel, although a careful hand will feel that it weighs a bit more.

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The Halcyon Origin Dragon case is 43mm wide, about 12mm thick (I think the porcelain dial must add some thickness), and has a roughly 50mm long lug-to-lug distance. The case is water resistant to 50 meters, and over the dial is a lightly domed sapphire crystal. The case wears on the larger side but is still dressy thanks to the all-polished surfaces of the silver case and the mostly rounded edges. The back of the watch is laser engraved and has an interesting bird-style motif that adds character. However, I couldn’t find more information on the Halcyon website that explains the origin or meaning of the caseback artwork.

Inside this Origin Dragon and other Halcyon watches is a Seiko NH05 automatic mechanical movement that operates at 3Hz with about two days of power reserve. My guess for this choice is that it is small enough (17.5mm in diameter) to be off-center in the case so that the desired off-centered display for the hours and minutes can be achieved. This is a more economical and practical solution than trying to find a suitably sized movement that has an off-centered display for the time.

The location of the movement also has an effect on the position of the crown. A standard crown placement at the 3 o’clock position on the case would not work with a standard crown stem. Thus, the decision was made to have a crown positioned at the 12 o’clock hour indicator. This crown position also allows for a cleaner-looking case, given the lack of a crown sticking out of the side. The problem is that the placement of the crown interferes with where the strap is supposed to go between the lugs. So, Halcyon seemed to decide on an interesting solution, that perhaps not everyone will find entirely satisfying: a tiny crown that requires the strap to be removed in order to operate and adjust.

It isn’t really a huge deal to remove the strap (thanks to the tool-less spring bars) to adjust the time, but it is also not the most refined experience in the world. Thankfully, the Seiko NH05 is an automatic, so if you wear the watch regularly, you shouldn’t have to mess with the crown too much. I think it is nice that Halcyon wanted to go for a cleaner-looking case and opt for an interesting asymmetrical dial display, but in the future, I believe it would be wise to engineer a solution so that users can adjust the crown without having to first remove one of the straps. The straps are 22mm wide, and the strap that comes with the Origin Dragon is black leather. I can see some lighter blue or gray-colored straps going with the enamel-painted porcelain dial design rather nicely.

This Halcyon Origin Dragon watch is limited to just 20 pieces. Other Halcyon watch models are also limited, but not seemingly as much so. The other model currently available on the Halcyon website is the Sea & Cliff, which the company says is limited to 100 pieces, and it has a steel (versus silver) case. In all fairness, to be considered a serious art or decorative watch brand takes a few years, at the very least. In a short time, Halcyon has done a lot, and I think any company seeking to feature hand-applied art on a wristwatch should be noticed by the collector community. Longer-term success for Halcyon will not just be in refining its product and trying to determine the best pricing, but also in staying ahead of the artistic curve. Not only does the company need to continue offering something that other watchmakers do not, but it also needs to learn its audience well and anticipate what they will want next (before they even know). The brand’s less limited models and those with a steel case are less costly, but even at its current price, the Halcyon Origin Dragon timepiece beats the majority of the European competition. Price for the Halcyon Origin Dragon watch is $4,199 USD. Learn more at the Halcyon Watches website.

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