A few months ago I wrote on these pages that real innovation in the watch world (apart from mind-boggling complications) is becoming increasingly rare. I stand by that statement today, but rare does not necessarily mean extinct. Imagine if it were possible to alter the way time is displayed without changing the fundamental way our brain perceives it? On a classic watch-face, our brain sees the angle between the hour and the minute hands and instantly realizes what time it is. It’s similar to the way we perceive words when reading: the human mind recognizes words from their shape and not by the single letters. Each word is a symbol much like Chinese and Japanese ideograms. And, what if it were possible to make a real MECHANICAL watch with some of the convenience of a modern-day smart watch?
To be honest I’d never heard of the Ressence brand before, despite being a long-time watch enthusiast. Its peculiar name is a portmanteau of Renaissance and essence. That all changed on a freezing December evening when I was invited to the Great Masters of Time store in central Milan to discover the current line-up and the latest timepiece out of the company headquartered in Belgium.
Now Belgium isn’t the first place that comes to mind when discussing luxury watches. But fear not, the watchmaker has a plant in Geneva and has been officially certified by The Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie in that it meets the standards required for excellence in the field of horology. Honors like this have been bestowed in the past to the likes of Patek, Lange, AP and Vacheron so I shouldn’t be too concerned about spending five-figure sums on their watches.
Seeing and holding a Ressence watch for the first time is an intriguing experience. The strongly domed crystal and domed dial set just fractions of a millimetre below it are a sight to behold. The general thinness and lightness belie what is in practice an extremely well built and sturdy timepiece, especially in the titanium versions. Fit and finishing are what you would expect from watches costing upwards of 17.000 Swiss francs ….for the base model.
The current line-up consists of 5 watches all with crown-less quasi-circular cases, two of which have oil-filled upper chambers (isolated from the mechanical ETA movement), which make the strongly lumed dials look like an OLED display from an Apple Watch. They have to be seen to be believed. Technology is pushed to the limits: a micro bellow compensates for variations in temperature so the expanding oil will not make the crystal shatter during the hotter seasons. The absence of air between the dial and the crystal make the watch perfectly readable underwater at any angle. It’s No surprise then that the type-5 is a fully certified diver watch.
The Ressence motto is “beyond hands” and that takes us to the dial. The basic configuration of all the faces is an external minute tracking disk and an internal much smaller and not co-axial hour disk that rotates around a central axis. The hour disk “orbits” around the center while always keeping the 12 o’clock marker (in this case the Ressence “hand” logo) at the top. The hour hand internally rotates inside the disk to reflect the time. The angle between the hands is the same as a regular watch so reading the time isn’t as difficult as it would seem. Some models have additional complications like a day or date disk, oil temperature gauges and in the case of the new type 2 model, which was the focus of the evening’s event, a mode indicator (more on that later).
Given the shape of the crystal and terrible lighting I was unable to shoot any pictures or video that do the watch justice. For that I encourage the reader to head over to the corporate website for some stunning photos and specs for all the models.
After about 20 minutes of drinking Prosecco and eating canapés (or drinking them as Rick would have it), we were introduced to Gaëtan Gaye, international brand director for the company. It’s easy to see why Benoît Mintiens, founder of Ressence, would want a guy like Gaëtan to lead the marketing team. A young man in his late thirties with a short beard, messy hair and a twinkle in his eye, he can boast marketing experience in the Richemont group and Corum Watches. His extensive knowledge of watchmaking and general “savoir-faire” left me speechless. Had I not called upon my highest degree of restraint I would have signed off one of my kidneys and plonked over 40k CHF for a Type-2 right there on the spot.
Externally the titanium type-2 remains faithful to the company’s design language. No day or date complications or oil to be seen, but a multi-time zone GMT function governed by what Ressence calls an E-crown. This watch contains, in addition to a modified ETA automatic movement, micro-motors and a micro cpu board with Bluetooth powered by a small battery that itself is charged by solar cells or with the aid of an LED light-emitting dongle. The watch can be set by using an app on your smartphone, or by rotating the recessed “latch” in the back of the watch. Smart shutters on the watch face open and close automatically to let light in when the charge in the power cell is running low. An accelerometer detects taps on the watch: its function is to change time zones or to enter the set mode. The current mode or time zone is indicated by a multicoloured dial. If this wasn’t enough the watch will sync every day to your smartphone to ensure the time is always spot on. It can also sense if the watch isn’t being worn and enter a low power mode. This consists of reducing power consumption of the electronics to the bare minimum AND disengaging the mainspring to make sure that when you pick the watch up you won’t need to wind it! You won’t need to set it either because, if your smartphone’s nearby, it will automatically set the correct time, whatever city in the world you wake up in.
By the time Mr Gaye had finished demonstrating everything my mind was blown and my head was swimming! Never had I seen such passion and attention to convenience put into a watch. And, let’s be honest, the functionality as described above wasn’t built in for the hell of it but because it gives the user some real practical benefits found only on fully computerized smart watches.
When the event was had finished we all headed over with the other participants for a spot of dinner. I slowly walked out of the watch boutique with a heavy heart and a lump in my throat knowing full well that I would probably never own one of those mini electromechanical marvels. But that didn’t make the experience any less special. Such is the world of a watch enthusiast/“journalist”. Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.
Many many thanks to GMT Italia (Great Masters of Time) and Ressence for hosting this special event for the Italian Watch enthusiast group “Forchette e Lancette” (forks and watch hands).
Great Masters of Time
Forchette e Lancette IG
The name’s Luigi but his friends call him Gigi. Italian lifelong watch enthusiast, born in southern Italy, but grew up in London, with an English (dare we say Scottish) dry sense of humor. Started the hobby in early childhood with a Timex Mickey Mouse watch, and has been going through the ages with all manner of timepieces (quartz, digital, Swatches etc. etc.)
Has been living in Milan since 1981 and works as a financial controller in a bank. Loves films and often uses obscure quotes. Only took “the red pill” in June 2019 and shot all the way down the watch collector’s rabbit hole at supersonic speed spending most of his disposable income in useless things you strap around your left wrist. Is a big fan of Tudor and currently owns 4 of their watches.
Is considering selling a kidney or mortgaging the family home to fund the purchase of a Ressence Type 5 oil filled diver’s watch.
Is an avid amateur photographer and has recently taken to watch photography and watch review videos on YouTube.
Instagram: @timetotalk_watches, YouTube: Time to talk watches