Although we are still in the early days of China’s emergence onto the global horological stage, the rate of evolution among the leading group of Chinese marques is genuinely impressive. Over the course of a handful of years, Chinese brands have grown from low-cost simple movements and familiar themes to avant-garde, truly unique complications and surprisingly refined executions, all without fully abandoning value-driven pricing structures. ATOWAK sits at the wilder, more experimental end of this affordable Chinese watchmaking revolution, with a specialty in exotic wandering hours complications and a penchant for wild sci-fi design concepts. Only three years on from the launch of its first wandering hours design, ATOWAK has refined the concept through three successive series of releases. For the fourth iteration of the brand’s flagship complication, however, ATOWAK has raised the bar significantly, delivering a more complex, thoughtful form alongside a bevy of technical and finishing improvements. The new limited edition ATOWAK Spaceship — rendered here in the “Nebula Silver” colorway — is wild, solidly detailed, undeniably fun proof of just how much high-concept Chinese horology has improved in a few short years, while still charging a small fraction of similarly themed Swiss designs.
Although the ATOWAK Spaceship’s stainless steel case is far from small on paper at 42.5mm wide and a dense 16mm thick, this complex asymmetrical shape is a testament to the power of contouring. The overall form is vaguely teardrop-shaped, flaring outward at 6 o’clock and tapering to a chunky, angular central lug at 12 o’clock. ATOWAK expands on the basic shape with a deft blend of facets and streamlining, creating a shape that feels sleek and futuristic, but with enough technical complexity to rightly earn the “Spaceship” nameplate. The case sides are the most straightforward and familiar elements here, with an upper horizontally brushed layer, a lower polished layer, and a deep, dramatically angled undercut that minimizes the Spaceship’s de facto footprint on the wrist. The upper case surfaces add greater visual depth to the mix. The 12 o’clock end of the case is gently bowed upwards, creating a complex rounded surface for the crisply detailed lateral case brushing to interact with. A set of four stylized case screws along this surface adds a sense of technicality and ruggedness on the wrist, while the matte blasted notched cutouts on each side of the case both remove visual weight from the design and increase the overall sense of visual depth. ATOWAK wisely restricts its branding to an engraving on one of these cutouts, leaving the skeleton wandering hours dial free to focus on functional elements. The entire case bevels sharply downward from roughly the center line to 6 o’clock, leaving a broad, polished slope and a final case screw to surround the dial. The brand echoes this treatment with the combination lug and crown guard assembly at 12 o’clock, using a polished bevel to visually separate this element from the broader case at large. This leads to an impressive amount of finishes across the Spaceship’s case surfaces, all solidly executed and with clean, crisp transitions between each. The brand itself claims that each Spaceship example requires a 60-step case finishing process, and given the intricacy on display, it’s easy to see how. Compared with previous ATOWAK models, it’s a major step forward in both concept and execution, even if it may not trouble the deep five-figure Swiss models that inspire it under a loupe.
With that said, the real centerpiece of the ATOWAK Spaceship’s case — arguably even the entire design — is its massive, intricate sapphire crystal. Crafting a crystal to match the compound curves, flares, and abrupt angular slopes of the Spaceship’s case is no mean feat for any watchmaker, and ATOWAK succeeds here without the use of a bezel to potentially hide the edges. It’s an immediately striking element on the wrist, even when viewed alongside the rest of the futuristic design, and again shows a marked improvement in technical complexity over previous ATOWAK generations. The Spaceship’s central lugs are also reworked from previous models, with a new flush-mounted quick-release system and contoured lower surfaces that make for a surprisingly comfortable, balanced feel on the wrist. ATOWAK finishes the case with a sapphire display caseback. Like most exotic cases of this type, the ATOWAK Spaceship is far from a dive-ready timepiece, but a minuscule water resistance rating of only 30 meters firmly relegates this one to non-sporting use.
ATOWAK is no stranger to spectacle-driven dials, and the Spaceship is no exception. Although it uses the same wandering satellite hours concept as previous models, the Spaceship abandons the revolving hour barrels of its immediate predecessors in favor of a Starwheel-style set of rotating hours disks mounted to a central rotating assembly. Timekeeping is relegated to the lower third of the dial, where a broad bi-level scale hosts the minutes markings in black and pale lime green lume. The current time is shown through the hours disk currently passing through the scale, which features both streamlined Arabic numerals and a line index for accurately reading the current minutes. It’s a surprisingly legible and intuitive system after a short acclimation period on the wrist, with boldly sized numerals that help to make accurate reading easy at a glance. With that said, timekeeping to finer accuracy than simple minutes is a tricky ordeal for the Spaceship. Unlike some of its predecessors, the Spaceship does technically have a running seconds hand, but this polished three-armed wheel design is difficult to track with any sort of exacting precision. Technically each of the 12 small lumed segments around the outer edge of this wheel can be used to mark out five-second intervals, but a lack of visual differentiation and surrounding visual context makes this method impractical. In reality, this seconds display is more about adding a layer of kineticism to the Spaceship’s layout, and on that front, this seconds hand is broadly successful. Coupled with the unique minutes scale, the striking white striped satellite assembly arms, and the wild asymmetrical case, this is a design that wouldn’t look out of place on the wrist of Geordi LaForge as he worked on the starship Enterprise’s warp core. The fact that it also works as a bold, futuristic conversation starter in the real world is certainly a plus, as well. ATOWAK finishes the Spaceship’s dial with a rippled matte black base surface, creating a quietly detailed backdrop for the intricate assemblies above.
Exotic as it may seem on the surface, the ATOWAK Spaceship is powered by a heavily modified variant of the familiar Miyota 9039 automatic movement. With most of its architecture carried over from the pedestrian Miyota 9015, the 9039 inside the Spaceship is astoundingly affordable for this sort of complication, and should prove mercifully easy to service over time compared to its in-house exotic counterparts. However, this particular 9039 is topped with an in-house wandering hours module, so it’s far from pedestrian. In addition, the 12 o’clock crown uses a proprietary 13-component system (including a miniature three-piece gear train) to connect with the movement within, although it should be noted that the system leads to a unique, almost “crunchy” tactile feel during crown operation. Despite the exotic additions, performance is largely in line with more standard 9039s, including a 38-hour power reserve and a 28,800 bph beat rate. The finishing on this 9039 is simple and businesslike, with soft diagonal striping for the bridges and an ornate, radially brushed labrys-shaped cutout rotor.
ATOWAK pairs the Spaceship with a series of quick-release FKM rubber deployant straps (each model will be delivered with two straps in dial-complementing colors). Our “Nebula Silver” review sample arrived with straps in black and deep midnight blue, and both strap options proved soft, flexible, and exceedingly comfortable right out of the box. A stylized, tapering series of vents extending down from the central lugs helps to tie these straps into the wild sci-fi aesthetic of the rest of the design but also helps to keep the watch cool and breathable in hotter weather.
As Chinese horology continues to gain prominence on the world stage, the brands behind this new Chinese watchmaking bonanza are rapidly redefining the boundaries of what entry-level luxury watchmaking can be for the adventurous consumer. With its avant-garde sci-fi-inspired case design, show-stopping complications, commendably solid fit and finish, and a handful of unique technical innovations, the new limited edition ATOWAK Spaceship stands as one of the most exciting efforts in this new Chinese push to bring haute horlogerie to the masses. Only 300 examples of the ATOWAK Spaceship will be produced for each of its five colorways, leading to a total production run of 1,500 pieces. The ATOWAK Spaceship will be available starting October 24, 2023, exclusively through the brand’s e-commerce platform. MSRP for the ATOWAK Spaceship stands at $1,899 USD as of press time, but pre-order buyers will have the option to purchase a $50 coupon to save $500 off the final purchase price. For more information, please visit the brand’s website.
>Model: Spaceship Nebula Silver
>Price: $1,899 USD
>Size: 42.5mm wide, 16mm thick, 50mm lug-to-lug
>When reviewer would personally wear it: When introducing new friends to mechanical watchmaking, or as a conversation-starting weekend wear.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Enthusiasts looking to add a haute horlogerie look to the collection without the usual price tag.
>Best characteristic of watch: Attention-grabbing complications; solidly improved case finishing and on-wrist feel; a design that feels right out of “Star Trek.”
>Worst characteristic of watch: Simplistic movement finishing; beefy dimensions won’t suit all tastes.