How an innovative Belgian reinvented clockwork with his revolutionary time machines – now available on MR PORTER.
On the wrist, the Ressence Type 3 watch looks like you’re wearing a slug of liquid metal with hands and dials floating on top of it. The entire face rotates and, as it does so, the three discs within it also rotate. There’s something planetary about the movement – which can be viewed in action here. And it’s unlike any watch you will ever have seen before.
Ressence is a different type of independent watchmaker. Before founder Mr Benoît Mintiens, 43, came up with the concept that would become Ressence – a portmanteau of “renaissance” and “essence” – he did not take the traditional journey through the Swiss Jura mountains to study fine watchmaking in the ateliers of the established maisons. No, the rise of Ressence is much more interesting than that, as one would expect from these crownless wonders.
Ressence watches have become a calling card for designers and tastemakers from Singapore to Silicon Valley, but that doesn’t mean the Swiss establishment doesn’t respect them, too. The Ressence Type 3 claimed the prize for Horological Revelation at the 2013 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie – the Oscars of watchmaking – alerting the old boys of Geneva to the fact that there is still a future in mechanical watches, and that they don’t have to come from Switzerland or with a touchscreen. This is fine watchmaking for the 21st century.
“If I were to sketch it in binary terms, we are a design company with a fine watchmaking component,” says Ressence’s designer Mr Mintiens. “We have a wider appeal than most high-end independent watchmakers because we put beauty and innovation first.”
Mr Mintiens, to put it bluntly, isn’t even a watchmaker, and that is what makes Ressence so wonderful. He’s a well-known, award-winning industrial designer who’s based in his hometown of Antwerp – Belgium’s answer to the UK’s Sir James Dyson or Switzerland’s Mr Yves Béhar.
Mr Mintiens has spent most of his professional career conceiving products that make life easier, faster, more streamlined – from high-speed TGV trains to an electric car-sharing service to air conditioning units and vacuum cleaners that look like works of art. And it was out of the desire to create beautiful, useful things that this unique start-up was born.
First revealed in 2010, a Ressence watch has no hands, a dial that appears to float and a crownless case that puts the comfort of the wearer first. Using a patented system of convex discs called the ROCS (Ressence Orbital Convex System), these 125mm semi-spheres of high-grade German silver create a fluid, organic display that shows not only the hours and minutes, but also seconds and days of the week.
“We represent an independent way of thinking about fine watchmaking – no less expertly handcrafted, but with an industrial design philosophy that seeks to be progressive with a clear, graphic aesthetic that is decidedly 21st century,” says Mr Mintiens.
Winding and setting the Type 1’s revolutionary display are done via a patented sapphire disc system on the rear of the 42mm titanium case. The lack of a crown on a mechanical watch is, according to some, as significant as Patek Philippe’s 19th-century introduction of a winding stem, which eliminated the need for a key. Ressence has removed the crown entirely, simplifying the process internally while making the watch itself even more comfortable on the wrist.
The Type 1 is at the core of Ressence’s collection and, though one would never know it from the simple, clean look of the watch, it houses an incredible 208 components, assembled by master watchmakers in Switzerland. The feel of the watch is just as important as the design, according to Mr Mintiens. He constructed the Type 1 to have the rounded, clean feel of a pebble, both on the wrist and in your hand. The face of the watch never stops moving.
The masterful Type 3 (quirkily, there is no Type 2) is an entirely new take on watch design and energy transmission. While the appearance of this signature model might resemble that of the Type 1, the calibre and display are far more complex, indeed revolutionary.
Instead of the gears and discs in the Type 1, the Type 3’s case is divided into two distinct compartments. The lower half houses the time-keeping mechanism, which is mounted to a series of purpose-built magnets that drive the discs in the display compartment.
It is here where the Type 3 elevates itself into the highest echelons of design and timekeeping concepts: the display compartment is filled with 35.2ml of oil. With more than 150 components, including 35 gears and 52 jewels, of the 400 found in the Type 3 suspended in oil, we see a world first in watchmaking, with the display discs appearing to float, devoid of any sapphire crystal casing.
The scientific reason for this is that light, as it travels from one material to another – say from sapphire crystal to air – can refract and distort perception. With the Type 3, there is simply no room for distortion. The result is a new type of visual clarity and immediacy, giving a Ressence wearer something new. Having a significant percentage of the watch’s movement suspended in oil gives increased efficiency and functionality.
The Type 1 and Type 3 are made from grade-five titanium, which makes them supremely light and comfortable. Mr Mintiens’ watches epitomise clean, organic product design, coupled with cutting-edge material science, all in a beautiful Swiss-made package.
“We believe that Ressence doesn’t fit into any category,” says Mr Mintiens. “It is truly a unique proposition in the design and time-telling world.”
With Ressence, Mr Mintiens has created something entirely new – where the movement, dial, case, and hands are one – and the world is beginning to take notice.