Review: Ressence Type 1S
Years ago, and I mean many years ago, I met a guy called Benoit Mintiens. Benoit was and still is a car guy. He’s a watch guy too. And back then he showed me an idea he was working on called the Ressence Type 1. Everyone thought he was mad. He is mad. The Ressence Type 1 is absolutely mad. Here it is.
A massive thanks goes to the guys at Art In Time who allowed us to film this and a whole host of other incredible timepieces.
You know that scene in The Matrix where Neo is looking at all the code and Cypher says, “I don’t even see the code. All I see is blonde, brunette, redhead. Hey, you want a drink?” I got the same vibe from Benoit. Not that I expected him to screw us all over for a bite of steak, more that I got the impression that this was a man who sees things differently to you and I.
The watch, the clock, whichever form you like, has looked like it looks for centuries. Two hands, maybe three, reading out the basic perimeters of time: hours, minutes and seconds. You could say it’s a format borne of the technology that created it, that, like the wheel, the hands go round because that’s the universe’s path of least resistance. Perhaps in an alternate timeline where gravity pulls in a different direction, we might have seen clocks with displays that look more like the fuel gauge of a 50s Cadillac.
But we don’t, and so a circle with two uneven lines in it has become the international symbol of timekeeping. It’s baked into our psyches, seeded when we are born and for Benoit, that wasn’t enough. He saw the time and instead of thinking, “I’m late for work,” he thought, “I can do better.” Or at least, “I can do different.”
Doing different isn’t exactly hard. When we walk, we swing the opposite arm to whichever leg goes forward to help us balance. You can easily do that the other way around. It’s not very good though. I wouldn’t recommend it. So being so bold as to alter timekeeping itself takes equal parts madness and bravery, because when you tell people you’ve decided to change how clocks work, the first question you’ll get is always going to be, “Why?”
That’s the question Benoit got. Over and over again. But it didn’t stop him, because his idea was so good that it makes you sit and wonder why nobody has ever done it before. The visual principle is so satisfying and arresting that it should be badged as a class A. They should go to schools and warn children about it before they get hooked.
Just as timekeepers have always had, there’s hours, minutes and seconds. There’s days of the week, too, although if you want, the Type 8 will slim that down to just hours and minutes. The hands that display those functions go round. So far, so normal. Where it all gets a bit Neil deGrasse Tyson is when the hands, that are going around themselves, also go around each other.
There’s nothing static in this universe. Nothing at all. Relative to other objects, something might seem static, but it’s all moving. Stand on the equator and you’re already going 1,000mph. That’s on a planet that’s orbiting the sun at about 100,000mph in a solar system that’s going 500,000mph. And so on. So although we sit unmoving at our desks waiting for a motionless hand to reach 5:30, actually we’re never at rest. And so the constant shifting motion of a Ressence feels, fundamentally, like it makes sense. Like that’s how it was always supposed to be.
What looks so simple on the outside is anything but on the inside, and it’s through the observation of this watch’s creation that it becomes plain why no one has ever been mad enough to attempt it before. Benoit is no watchmaker; he’s a dreamer, a designer and an artist, and so to have his vision realised in metal took a lot of persuading. All the usual suspects laughed and then slammed the door in his face, but for reasons that will always allude me, that didn’t deter him one bit.
Let me explain why this seemingly simple watch is just so incredibly complicated. Quite incredibly, the movement itself is completely standard, an ETA 2892. No wizardry going on there at all. So, what’s the big deal? The big deal is that to turn the output from your typical movement into the Type 1S, you need to add another 150 components. Eighteen of those parts are additional gears, which is almost twice as many wheels as the base movement has.
Okay, great, so it’s got more parts! Big whoop. There are loads of watches with more parts than that. That’s true, but there aren’t any that do what this watch does with them. Not only are the gears arranged in a multi-planetary array to enable the eight dial elements to rotate amongst one another, they’re also arranged in a spherical formation. And what’s really going to bake your noodle is that this spherical formation doesn’t just happen on one axis—it happens on two.
What you might struggle to realise on a 2D screen is that the dial of the Ressence is very much constructed in three dimensions. Where most are flat, the Ressence’s time-telling display curves in all directions, laid out on a small patch of a great sphere. That presents a problem, because watch movements are built in flat layers, the gears meshing with one another on the same plane. Do that on the Ressence’s curved dial and it’ll glitch out harder than an alpha release of Cyberpunk 2077.
What that means is that for the dial-side gear train to work, the gears have to mesh … at an angle. Not 90 degrees or anything straightforward like that, but at perfectly calculated angles such that the dial disks don’t wobble around like an old hubcap. I say perfectly calculated angles; I mean 3 and 4.75 degrees precisely. This whole delicately balanced array is supported by a network of angled bridges that span the 42mm watch and keep everything secure under a domed sapphire crystal that doesn’t so much sit in front of the dial as we’re used to but all around, like the watch has been vacuum-packed inside it.
Thanks to a compact titanium construction and Adrian Newey-esque packaging, the watch is just 11mm thick and wears like a button. It’s not cheap, pushing $19,000, but it’s so avant garde, so conceptual, I reckon they could stick any price tag on it and it’d still sell.
But we’re not wrapping up our journey into the alternative just yet, because it would be remiss of me to skip the real party trick of the Type 1S: the way you wind and set it. A conventional crown would be as welcome on a watch this sleek and futuristic as a pig on a plane, and so it has been dispensed with entirely. Instead, you get a very big, very satisfying lever which twists to wind and set like you’re going to put the watch down and watch it scoot away by itself. It’s the perfect flourish to this perfectly mad thing.
What do you think of Ressence? Cool or gimmick?