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A Conversation With

Markus Walchli

Formex: The Product, the Community, and the Open Road - A Conversation

with Co-owner and Brand Director, Markus Walchli

Words by Chris Antzoulis (@poppingcrowns)

Some folks in the watch community may view the time we are in now as a renaissance of independent and micro brand watch companies and I, for one, wouldn’t deny that. However, while there are brands that are new to the scene having great success, there are also brands who are veterans in the space, and whose communities serve as a bedrock to the brands’ identity. Formex has been around since 1999; that’s 25 years! In my eyes, that makes their original watches neo-vintage at this point. Not only do they make some of the best and most innovative watches in the community, but they continue to put themselves out on the road merging the two pillars of their brand — their products, and a growing community of fans. I’ve recently had the pleasure of borrowing three models in Formex’s Essence lineup, and speaking with Markus Walchli, Formex’s U.S. based Brand Director, to talk about all things Formex and the community of people they serve with their watches. 


Markus Walchli, Co-Founder and Brand Director

If you’ve been to a watch convention in North America, and you’ve checked out Formex, you’ve almost certainly met Markus. He’s likely sized a watch for you on the spot, taken the time to show you all the incredible manufacturing innovations that set Formex apart, and has helped you realize the passion that goes into every detail of their products. Markus does 20-25 days of watch conventions a year, like the WindUp shows that you likely know about. “Before the pandemic there were really three shows for watch enthusiasts in the U.S. – the WindUp shows. But post pandemic it almost feels like there’s a new watch show popping up every other day.” Markus went on to further explain:


"For brands like ours that aren't widely available in retail stores, it's a great chance to let people experience our watches firsthand. This personal touch helps enthusiasts connect with us and feel the passion behind our brand. We try to be at as many shows and events as we can, but we have to balance the benefits with the costs—travel, booth expenses, and ultimately time away from family."


Formex is focusing harder on these types of interactions, growing their community in new ways and through more enthusiasts. While many of you know about some of the watch conventions, you may not know that Formex spends a tremendous amount of time at watch group road shows; this is on top of the days spent at conventions. Specifically, Markus was telling me about a recent  RedBar Road Show that Formex helped organize with brands like Fears and Christopher Ward. The RedBar Group is the largest watch collecting community, with chapters in many major cities (and some not so major cities and towns) all over the world. Here in the United States, Formex, along with the other brands mentioned have been touring up and down the east and west coast and some cities and towns in between, stopping in at different RedBar community meetups to present their lineup of watches, give sneak peeks at what’s coming next, and offering up personal experiences to enthusiasts who may not otherwise get the chance to go hands-on with these products.


Left: Markus Walchli; Right: Raphael Granito

“We like the idea of doing these sorts of micro shows with community members,” said Markus. And for them to be true “mini conventions” it was in the “common interest” to have other brands be involved. Formex thought about who they’d want to share time and the road with. Markus said that brands like Fears and Christopher Ward have enthusiastic fans and the consensus among the brands was, “why can’t our customer be your customer too, and vice versa?” Another example of these collaborative efforts among independent brands are the Intersect Watch Shows, where Markus is one of the organizers, along with the owners of Nodus and Jack Mason. After Atlanta in March, Intersect will be coming to Los Angeles on July 27th and Austin on November 16th.


Walchli at Intersect Atlanta 2024

If you’re a passionate enough enthusiast to be attending local community meetups for watch collectors or shows organized by independent microbrands, then you’re already in so deep that the opportunity to go hands-on with watches you don’t normally have the chance to see is a no-brainer. Markus put it as “sharing our passion and growing the community." In these instances, you get to meet the founders of brands, or employees that are so excited to be working for an independent watchmaker, that they themselves are enthusiastic fans. “A good number of Formex employees started as customers and fans,” Markus said. He proceeded to give me the example of Formex’s Swiss based photographer, Valentin. “Valentin is a watch enthusiast and came to try on an Essence 39 at our showroom in Biel-Bienne. A couple months later, he started working at Formex and lives his passion by documenting everything from developing a new watch, working with raw materials, assembling tiny pieces and zooming into the tiniest details of our watches. ” Markus was smiling ear-to-ear, I could tell that there’s a lot of pride that goes along with building and selling products you believe in so much that you’re able to hire fans and customers to contribute to the growth of the brand. 

2024.05.01_Formex Essence 39 mm Space Gold Automatic COSC_Dial Close Up of Logo.jpg
2023.02.21_Raphael Granito, CEO Formex Watch SA.jpg

Above all else, though, it is about the quality of the product for Formex. In preparation for this collaboration with Formex,  Markus sent me three Formex Essence models on loan: the steel 39mm Essence Mother of Sky, the steel 43mm Essence in blue, and forged carbon 41mm Essence Leggera. With over a month of wrist time, I can tell you that these three watches are exceptionally well made and contain more original innovation than most watches I’ve been able to try. Not most watches in the price point, most watches period. Most notably, the Essence models have a case suspension system, allowing the middle of the case to rise and fall as you move your wrist. This is especially noticeable on the steel models as it helps alleviate the weight and the way it’s distributed, and even more so if you like wearing your watch a little snug, and not dangling on your wrist. The butterfly clasps on the two steel models also have on-the-fly micro adjustments on either side of the clasp in the form of hidden, foldable, half links. The Leggera and the deployant straps also have on-the-fly micro adjustment. You’re able to pull against the clasp to release a few extra millimeters of the strap, and then, when compressing the left button only, on the dual button deployant, you’re able to feed the strap back in. 

2024.03.01_ Reef 39,5mm White_Red Rope.jpg

These engineering innovations go beyond what the sub $2000 price points would dictate, and beyond what many mainstream luxury brands would give you at multiples of the price. In fact, I recently went to my local AD to look at an Omega Constellation with a meteorite dial. This particular model had a butterfly clasp similar to the Formex Essence, and the salesman pointed out that the Omega clasp has micro-adjustment. To which I said, “it damn well better for $10,000.” I then proceeded to take the Formex Essence 39 I was wearing off my wrist, and I showed him the micro-adjustment system. When I told him the price, he was floored. He had never seen a Formex before, and he popped out his phone to take photos and try it on his own wrist. He asked me how it was possible for Formex to do all this for the price, and I told him about the brand and their relationship with their manufacturer, Dexel. (You can read more about Formex’s CEO Raphael Granito and Dexel HERE).

2024.01.19_Formex Essence Leggera 41mm Automatic COSC Mamba Green.jpg

However, Formex doesn’t reserve the innovative ideas only for the people working on the inside, they have made considerable engineering strides due to suggestions from their customers and community. Take, for instance, Formex’s dive watch, the Reef. The first model did not have a removable bezel. “We originally let customers choose their dial and bezel color, but so many customers told us they had a hard time choosing, and many said they wished they were interchangeable, so we did it,” Markus said. They took their customer feedback to their engineering team and asked if it was possible. “Usually, a supplier doesn’t receive the feedback directly from the customer, and because of our relationship with our manufacturer, we are able to take the direct feedback and make meaningful changes.” Whether those meaningful changes are varying watch sizes, usage of different materials, or functionality, Formex has been able to listen and give their customers exactly what they ask for in a timely fashion. 

2023.11.18_Formex Reef 39.5mm Automatic COSC 300M Collection.jpg

As a watch enthusiast myself, it’s important for me to be able to connect with the brands I love. You’re able to make a personal connection with Formex. You may not be able to make it to a major city for a convention, but maybe you’re close to a local watch club or a RedBar chapter. If that’s not an option either, you can always reach out to the brand knowing that you’ll be greeted with kindness, passion, and enthusiasm. And while this may not be an experience unique to Formex, as many independent and microbrands will gladly give you this kind of service (especially, and not limited to the others I mentioned earlier). What Formex gives you is the confidence in knowing that your voice will be heard, that their manufacturing engineers are prepared to innovate, and that Markus and his team will go above and beyond to give you the type of quality experience that’s matched only by the quality of their watches.

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