Editor’s note: This is a longer hands-on review of the Formex Essence Thirtynine. If you are strapped for time, you can read our quick review here. For our other detailed hands-on reviews, please head to our dedicated reviews section here. This is NOT a sponsored post.
Needle In A Haystack
There is a Jenny Lawson quote that reads: “They should change ‘like finding a needle in a haystack’ to ‘like finding a pen that works in that drawer filled with pens that don’t work’”.
When it comes to the 2’000 AUD mark, scoring a watch release that can set itself apart from the obscene number of watches in the market today is a herculean task.
Formex thanks to its distinctive design codes, patented systems, excellent dial executions, intuitive and comfortable bracelets, use of COSC-certified movements, in-house capabilities, attention to detail, and the ability to listen to its customers has managed to achieve the rather impossible.
In a short period of time since its resurgence, Formex has made it easy for watch enthusiasts and collectors to find that proverbial needle in a haystack or rather a ‘watch that ticks all the right boxes in that drawer filled with other watches that rarely do so at this price point’.
Here are six reasons why we believe that the Formex Essence Thirtynine will be a game-changer not only for the brand but also for the watch industry.
Reason 1 – The Fastest Draw
Imagine you are on a movie set of a Western. Think you are the modern day John Wayne (just with diminutive wrists, though the legendary actor is famous for having small feet). Just like Rudolph Valentino wearing the Cartier Tank in The Son of the Sheik — even though its not era-appropriate — you wish to nonetheless wear a wristwatch.
Everything around you is as if in sepia mode.
There is a shuffle of horses. Dust everywhere. Moments pass. The brown haze clears, the smoke begins to lift, the fog thins, giving momentary glimpses of dark silhouettes, that one second are a strong vision, and the next fizzle away like a candle blown.
The dial of the Formex Essence Thirtynine that changes from light slate to brown charcoal is the quintessential embodiment of this make-believe but magical moment.
The execution of the dégradé de couleur dial with the added individually CNC machined — not stamped mind you — horizontal lines is not only a poetic vision of pure cinematic grandeur, but also is insanely legible; no matter night or day, or clear skies or a smokey movie set.
In my opinion the Formex Essence Thirtynine with the colour gradient fumé dial sets the tone for one of the best timepieces around the 2k AUD mark in the market today. It’s been said that it can resemble the iconic and stunning Patek Philippe 7118/1A-011, or even has some styling from the Omega Aqua Terra watches.
In pictures, I can see that too. In person though, not so much. And try getting any of those for 2k!
The Formex Essence Thirtynine is fortunately not a ‘homage’, with enough features of its own to stand tall and independent.
The 39mm collection comes in six varying dial colour options — mother-of-pearl, white, blue, green, dégradé, black — and form the lifeblood of the brand’s phoenix-life growth since Raphael Granito’s takeover of the brand.
Given Formex produces all their dials in-house at their Jura facility, it’s no surprise that these are becoming a big draw when it comes to choosing their watches over others.
Reason 2 – You Are In Good Hands
Formex first began its watchmaking journey back in 1999, and switched hands around 2015/16.
Given its a young brand trying to reinvent itself and also fighting its way to the top in an overcrowded entry-level Swiss luxury watch market, it’s vital for them to establish a sense of confidence amongst the watch community.
And I reckon that with Formex, they definitely have a handle on things. Play with the Formex Essence Thirtynine in person and you realise that there is nothing ‘entry-level’ about it.
When it comes to quality, I would say that since Raphael Granito’s (CEO) takeover, the Formex brand has substantially improved. Given he is associated with a number of watchmaking companies, it’s only beneficial for watch enthusiasts to have faith that watches by him would be of premium quality.
Raphael’s family owns Dexel SA, a company that is known for development and production of special watch components for other well-known Swiss brands.
As far as I know Dexel is also a majority stakeholder in Cadranor SA, a company specialising in the manufacture of Swiss made dials, which completes its collection of high-end products.
Czapek for instance is going through a moment of boom. Their solid silver dials are made by Cadranor SA. The rather handsome Czapek QUAI DES BERGUES retailing for 12’000 CHF features a silver dial.
As I see it, Formex has the wonderful opportunity to use the established expertise of Dexel SA for cases, clasps, bracelets and Cadranor SA for dials as subcontractors.
This means that Formex watches are exemplar of being par excellence in terms of innovation and quality.
Also, and again I can’t 100% confirm this, but as far as my research tells me, brands like Graham, Ulysse Nardin, Carl F. Bucherer, Girard-Perregaux, Maurice Lacroix and Hublot use or have used their products.
Ergo, you are in excellent hands with Formex watches.
Reason 3 – The Crux
The crux or ‘essence’ of a watch often lies in the myriad tiny features that help it to come together; it is the attention to detail.
From the dial to the case to the movement, the Formex Essence Thirtynine is choc-full of details that relegate the timepiece to a class way above its asking price.
We have already mentioned how the dégradé de couleur dial also features a vertical brushed finish with CNC machined in-house lines. Besides the very clear horizontal lines with no QC issues, there’s much more to marvel at.
Take for instance the appliqué indices. On first glance, they are simple stick shaped. But look closer, you can’t help but admire the detailing.
Filled with bright and long lasting BGW9 Super-LumiNova in the center, the indices are fairly raised for legibility and 3D effect, along with forming a sort of octagonal shape rather than being straight rectangular. This geometric play is welcome, and is further enhanced by the presence of mirror polished bevelling.
To provide continuity to the watch as a whole, this polishing is also present on the hands and the case, with the latter having been executed by hand. The hour and minutes hands also feature lume, and are again designed with sloping angles to aide legibility. Another instance of the impressive attention to detail that I was talking about.
Remember, all this in a 2’050 to 2’250 AUD timepiece — depending upon the strap or bracelet option — is truly commendable. Dare I say it’s Grand Seiko territory.
The case is mostly brushed, but again feature perfectly rounded off polished bevels. This polished chamfering is also present on parts of the stainless-steel bracelet and the buckle of the new deployant clasp. The bezel is brushed on top, but polished on the slopes.
In resting mode, the brushed surfaces reign. But when light caresses the case, or if you swing your wrist, the polished surfaces all come to play. It’s a party where the watch hands, indices, bezel and bracelet flirt with light. Almost bling but without the cheapness. With the Formex Essence Thirtynine elegant and sporty have a new address.
We all know how much the Tudor BB58 has been a runaway success. One of the most fascinating design features on the BB58 is the fine brushing of the case that is remarkably contrasted by highly polished edges. The same is true for the Formex Essence Thirtynine.
The Formex further introduces a dramatic slope to the short and tapered lugs, along with the four functional screws (and we will talk about them more in a bit with the Patented case suspension system).
Circling back to the dial, I am also impressed by the execution of the date window. In this newer smaller Formex Essence Thirtynine, it sits better on the dial than its 43mm counterpart, due to the sizing of the movement used. Not only is it geometrically pleasing, it is not simply framed or left without a thought; again commending the brand’s attention to detail mindset, it features rather unique execution of sloping ramps that provide the date with a visual 3D effect. Also, the date wheel is matched to the light shade of slate present in the gradient dial.
As much as I like the dial, and printing of the text is not very legible. Of course it doesn’t hamper the readability of the time, so maybe I am just nitpicking here.
On the whole, a number of key details that make great a dial have been followed: the dial features minimal text, the appliqué logo is welcome, the handsets go to their respective positions on the dial perfectly, and the minimalistic peripheral minute track features a slope that again adds to the dial’s three-dimensionality.
Reason 4 – The Quality Heart
The Formex Essence Thirtynine features the Sellita SW200-1 movement that has been COSC-certified (again for about 2k AUD that’s very impressive).
Sellita SW200-1 is a clone of the ETA 2824-2 and the bread n’ butter for a lot of brands. It is used by other established brands as well, such as Christopher Ward, Baume & Mercier, Oris, Eterna and Bell & Ross. Trustworthy, easy to repair, parts available, and still Swiss pedigree.
This can come in four grades, starting from a movement that’s been adjusted only in two positions to a top-grade version that’s COSC-certified.
In the case of the Formex Essence Thirtynine, they have opted for the adjusted in five positions COSC-certified version which should have an average accuracy of of -4/+6 seconds per day.
This 25.6mm diameter (or 11 1/2’’’ (ligne) and 4.6mm thick movement comprises of 25 red rubies used for pallet jewels, features hacking seconds and an Incabloc anti-shock device, beats at the frequency of 4Hz (28’000 A/h), and provides a power reserve of 41-hours. It is a workhorse movement, highly trusted and widely used within the watchmaking industry.
The movement is encased inside a 39mm diameter and 10mm thick 316L stainless steel case with an impressive for slim wrists lug-to-lug spacing of only 45.6mm. This makes it even shorter than the lug-to-lug of the 39mm Tudor BB58’s spacing of 47.2mm (and also slimmer compared to the 12.5mm thickness of the BB58).
Even if you consider the 9’o clock to 3’o clock reading including the crown, it reads as only 41.6mm. And the dial itself reads as only 30mm. The truth is, Formex Essence Thirtynine does wear small. And for anyone with slim wrists who finds that even the Tudor BB58 sits large, the measurements of the Formex Essence Thirtynine are divine intervention.
But small doesn’t necessarily mean inadequate; with a practical 100m of water-resistance, a useful 20mm lug interhorn spacing for ease of aftermarket strap swaps (as long as they have curved spring bars), and a decent 124g weight (with bracelet), the Formex Essence Thirtynine is ready for daily wear.
When it comes to sizing, I have seen numerous comments online how they should also release a 41mm version to sit in between. Personally, I think that’s not necessary. For those with slim wrist, the 39mm version is perfect. And or those with larger wrist, or who like me would prefer more real-estate, the 43mm version checks all the boxes. Mind you, I have a ~16cm wrist, and I prefer the sizing of the 43mm version. And the recent Formex Field Automatic also sits nicely in between these readings.
One thing to note here though, is that the 39mm version actually wears smaller because of the way the dial has been executed. We have posted another review going hands-on with both the 39mm and 43mm Formex Essence models, and also the 42mm Formex Reef. If you wish to see how all three compare in sizing, please head here. We have also used other 39mm diameter timepieces from other brand’s such as Audemars Piguet, Breguet, and Tudor to really put the sizing in perspective.
But I do have a humble suggestion to offer on the movement. Switching over to SW300-1.
Not only does it make it more uniform across the range with it being also present in the Formex Reef collection, but it is also a premium version of the SW200-1 and also features slightly improved power reserve and can also make the Formex Essence Thirtynine even slimmer. In fact, with a slimmer case, the 43mm will wear smaller, eliminating the need for a 41mm new model.
Better still, Formex can have an alternate line with movements by Schwarz-Etienne. It might make the watches a bit more expensive, but look how Ming watches have benefitted from that – perhaps limited edition and a more premium version?
Reason 5 – Intrinsically Competitive Pricing
“Beware of little expenses: a small leak will sink a great ship,” said Benjamin Franklin.
Retailing for 2’050 AUD on a green, brown or black NAPA leather strap or a black rubber strap, and for 2’250 on a stainless steel bracelet, the Formex Essence Thirtynine is aggressively priced ensuring that no chink in its armour causes it to fail; when you hold the watch, you can see that for this price, no expenses have been spared.
To put it into perspective, here’s listing — in order of what I feel best match what the Essence is offering — a few watches that in my opinion compete best with the Formex Essence Thirtynine.
The first watch I would compare this to would be the Monta Noble Time & Date. It uses the SW300-1 (but not COSC-certified) movement. It features a similar and nice gradient dial framed inside a 38.5mm diameter, 9.7mm thick case with a lug-to-lug of 47mm. It retails for 1’760 USD (~2’500 AUD).
The Baume & Mercier Clifton Baumatic 10551 features a similar lacquered grey gradient dial and a COSC-certified movement tucked away inside the 40mm x 11.3mm steel case. The Baumatic BM13-1975A provides an impressive 5-day power reserve. It comes on a polished/satin-finished bracelet with a triple folding clasp. Handsome, but features a lower 50m water-resistance and retails for a higher 4’950 AUD.
The Maurice Lacroix AIKON ref. AI6007-SS002-630-1 with a green sun-burst dial. It measures at 39mm diameter, 10mm thickness, and 47mm lug-to-lug. 200m water-resistant, the caliber ML115 ticking inside is a modified version of the same Sellita SW200-1 (non-COSC). I have always liked the finishings on their watches and the bezel design, but it retails for a slightly higher 1’800 CHF (~2’700 AUD).
The Frederique Constant Highlife COSC ref. FC-303N4NH6B is another contender here. It features the FC-303 CALIBER which is essentially the SW200-1. It measures 41mm in diameter with a 45mm lug-to-lug and features 50m water-resistance. Very distinctive looking timepiece, and retails for 3’159 AUD.
The Bell & Ross 05 ref. BR05A-BLU-ST/SST uses a similar case design and a Sellita movement. The calibre BR-CAL.321 is derived from Sellita SW300-1 (and non COSC-certified). It measures 40 x 10.5 x 47mm. Kinda iconic and cool, but it does retail for a much higher 7’300 AUD.
I can’t vouch for the built quality on this one given I have never handled one, but Direnzo DRZ 04 Mondial Grey fumé provides stiff competition to the Formex Essence Thirtynine, at least price wise. It features a non COSC-certified Sellita SW-200-1 (Elaboré + Incabloc) movement cased inside a 40mm diameter and 11.9mm thick 316L steel case. The lug-to-lug is larger at 48mm. Both watches have a 100m water-resistance. It retailed for 720 CHF (~1’100 AUD) + customs duties and taxes (and is now sold out).
Verdict: Of course depending upon personal design tastes and watch attributes, you can choose which you like. I obviously like all of these, that’s why they are listed.
That said, the Formex Essence Thirtynine features a lot of bang for your buck, and the case design is rather unique.
Reason 6 – The Added Ethos
The Formex Essence Thirtynine also has two patents added to the mix here; and they are something that actually make wearability of this better. Not just aesthetic, but useful.
- Patented case suspension system: This is one of Formex’s trademark design features, one that I am yet to see on other brands. It is something that Raphael has carried over from the 1999 design principle, and I am glad they have retained it. Besides making for a cool feature to show off, it is practical when it comes to challenging shocks and also allows more flexibility on the wrist. Comfort all around. Now you can enjoy your life with a sports watch that actually can take some beating of playing around
- Patented micro adjustment system: The straps come with a fantastic carbon fibre composite and stainless steel deployant clasp with patented fine-adjustment. Gone are the days when in summer you wrist size would change and the watch would become tight or loose. Now you can adjust the clasp, on the fly, without even taking off the watch.
That’s All Folks!
There are a couple of things I would like to suggest.
I am quite (non-rationally if you ask my wife) in love with the bracelet and clasp that comes with the Formex Reef, and I wouldn’t mind the option of that being included here. Alternatively, with the butterfly style clasp-here, I would prefer to see a nice jubilee-style bracelet instead. That said, I do like the built-in extension in the bracelet included.
This is more of an observation rather than a critique but I don’t understand why the crown design execution on the 39mm version is different from the 43mm version? Personally, to maintain a sense of uniformity across the board, I would have preferred them to be the same (and I prefer the execution of the 43mm version which has an indented feature to it).
I will wrap this up with a quote by my favourite author, P. G. Wodehouse: “It’s a funny thing about looking for things. If you hunt for a needle in a haystack you don’t find it. If you don’t give a darn whether you ever see the needle or not it runs into you the first time you lean against the stack”.
As watch enthusiasts and collectors, we are always on the hunt for ideal daily wear watches. The quest is always on, seldom resulting in satisfaction.
And then sometimes, when you aren’t actually looking, you aren’t giving a darn, a perfect daily wearable watch just lands in your lap. This is what kind of happened when Markus from Formex Watches kindly sent these over to be reviewed.
If you are in the market for a great 2k ballpark timepiece that does it all, look no further; the Formex Essence Thirtynine is truly a game-changer.
For more information on the new Formex Essence Thirtynine and other Formex watches, please head to their website here. All images unless otherwise stated are ©Watch Ya Gonna Do About It.