If you’re an enthusiast and collector like me you may not be all that familiar with the Swiss brand Formex. If you’ve heard of them at all, you may think of them as the brand with the cool app that lets you virtually try on their watches. Perhaps you think of them as the brand that makes very bold, very large sports chronographs. Or maybe you’ve heard about their fully suspended case design, or perhaps their patented micro-adjustable, carbon composite deployant clasp. But here’s something that you may not know; They make a seriously fine watch.
I’ve just spent a week with the Formex Essence, a sporty three-handed sports watch. I have to say I came away with a newfound respect for the brand. For the first time ever I’ve actually seriously contemplated selling my 39mm blue-dial Rolex Oyster Perpetual, purchasing the Essence, and sticking the leftover four grand in the bank. That’s how good I think this watch is. Read on for all the nitty gritty details.
Let’s start with the obvious stuff. At 43mm it’s not exactly a small piece, but it’s considerably more reasonable in size than Formex’s other offerings which land in the 46mm space. On my 7.5” wrist it looks right at home. The 316L stainless steel case offers up the perfect balance of brushed and polished surfaces and light-reflecting angles. When I glance down at it on my wrist the other piece that comes to mind besides my OP is the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. No, it doesn’t have the hexagonal bezel, but the suspended spring screws (more on those later) along with the beautiful H-pattern stainless steel bracelet and the forty-five degree sloped bezel really do give it a Royal Oak vibe.
One of the signs of a superb timepiece is that you forget you’re wearing it. The bracelet on the Essence is of the same quality as the rest of the watch, meaning excellent. The tight link pattern just melts into the wrist, and despite the case’s larger size after awhile you do forget you’re wearing it. It doesn’t have any odd pinch points. It doesn’t pull at your arm hair. It’s not too heavy. It’s right up there with my Rolex OP, Submariner, and Grand Seiko in terms of ultimate all-day comfort.
The bracelet comes with a butterfly clasp, which at first I found a bit unusual on a sports watch. While they do provide a seamless look that you don’t get with a traditional folding clasp, the downside associated with most butterfly clasps is the lack of any kind of micro adjustment. You do your best to get a good fit by adding or removing links but there’s nothing much beyond that. Until now. Formex’s patented butterfly clasp gives you a small extension, essentially amounting to about half the width of one of the links. Think of it as a miniature divers extension and you’ve got the idea. Not only does it allow for a perfect fit, but it can be extended or retracted without removing the watch, allowing for fine adjustments throughout the day as your wrist size expands or contracts. And when you decide to change it up for a new look, it has an integrated quick release system so there’s no fiddling with a spring bar tool and potentially scratching up the back of the lugs in the process. The entire design is brilliant.
The innovations don’t stop there. If you’re more of a strap kind of collector Formex has you covered there as well. Opt for one of their deployant-equipped leather or rubber straps and you’re in for a real treat. With most deployant clasps your adjustment is limited to the holes punched in the strap, but Formex’s unique carbon composite deployant adds a patented micro-adjuster that provides for 7mm of additional adjustment, again without having to remove the watch from the wrist. As on the bracelet the straps have integrated quick-release spring bars. Whether you go for the exquisite stainless steel bracelet or one of the finely crafted strap options, the perfect fit with the Essence is always just a quick click or pinch away.
So, what about those sprung case screws I mentioned earlier? Allow me to explain. The founder of Formex is an avid outdoorsman. Along with skydiving, snow boarding, kite surfing, and downhill skating, Raphael Granito is also a car racer (I like the guy already.) When he started the brand in 1999 he was looking for a hook. Something that would tie the collection into the world of cars and racing, and so the patented Formex suspended case was born. In essence (forgive the pun) the main watch head consists of two independent sections. The outer section contains the brushed case sides leading into the angled and beveled lugs. The inner case houses the actual movement, dial face, crystal, and case back. The inner case is suspended within the outer case by four springs located under the exposed screws at the four corners of the bezel. Holding the watch by the side with two thumbs underneath you can easily push the inner case up and witness it rise almost a full millimeter above the outer case. This includes the crown which is attached to a stem that rides in a channel cut into the outer case.
Now to the big question. Does the suspension system actually DO anything? Well, yes and no. The original concept was simply an idea to tie the watch into motor sports, and not really something to protect the movement. But what Formex found was that the suspension system, working in conjunction with the micro adjusters, allows for that perfect fit that I mentioned earlier. As your wrist inevitably expands throughout the day, allowing the outer case to exert more pressure against the skin, the inner case is free to move upward thereby reducing said pressure. It actually works, and can be demonstrated by pushing down on both top and bottom lugs while wearing the watch.
Aesthetically the Essence really nails it for me. The deep blue dial features a vertically brushed surface treatment intersected by individually machined horizontal lines. Each polished and applied index marker is treated to several coats of Superluminova, as are both of the dauphine style hour and minute hands. The seconds hand reaches all the way out to the track on the angled rehaut. A deeply inset date window at six o’clock with beveled edges finishes off the beautiful dial.
Protecting that dial is an AR-coated sapphire crystal, while the transparent case back offers a view of the nicely finished, COSC-certified Sellita SW200 chronometer grade Swiss movement beating at a healthy 28,800 vibrations per hour. For those less interested in the accuracy of a COSC-certified movement the same watch can be had with Sellita’s elaboré grade movement for $500 less.
Where does all of this leave me? As I mentioned earlier I compare the Essence quite favorably against the Rolex Oyster Perpetual and even the AP Royal Oak. It’s got the knock-em-dead good looks and superb quality of timepieces costing several thousands more, as well as all of the incredibly cool technical innovations mentioned above that most of those more expensive watches don’t have. Would I give up my OP for an Essence? It’s SO close. If it were three, even two millimeters smaller I honestly don’t think I’d hesitate to say goodbye to the OP and welcome the Essence into my life. It’s really that good, but at 43mm it’s just a bit larger than I’d personally prefer, especially if were I pairing it with a nice suit or tux. Not that I actually WEAR a suit or tux all that often mind you. Hmm, maybe there’s room in the watch box for just one more.
Perpetual Girl loves the Essence as much as I do, but frankly it’s way too big for her 6 1/4” wrist. She looks like a six-year-old wearing Daddy’s watch. I think Formex is missing a big segment of the market with this one. Perhaps offering it in a smaller size as well to suit a large portion of the customer base with smaller wrists? If that were the case we’d almost certainly buy them in his and hers. We ARE Love ‘N Watches after all!
So there you have it. If you’re OK with the size and you’ve always lusted after a nice Rolex OP, or even the much higher priced AP Royal Oak, you really need to give the Essence a hard look. Just as I was, I think you’ll be very pleasantly surprised. formex.com $1,265 USD on bracelet $1,160 USD on strap
- Material: 316L Stainless steel
- Size: 43 mm
- Patented suspension system
- Crystal: Sapphire with anti-reflective coating
- Case Back: Screw-back sapphire exhibition
- Water Resistance: 10 atm
- Inter-lug Width: 22 mm
- Sellita SW200 Chronometer grade
- COSC Certified
- 28,800 vph
- Stainless steel H-Link with patented micro-adjustable butterfly clasp
- Strap Option: Italian calf leather or black rubber with patented micro-adjustable carbon composite deployant clasp.