Some brands play in an entirely different sandbox than others. It’s either because of their heritage, their unbeatable price/specifications ratio, or their capacity to innovate. Or sometimes all three blended together. Formex is such a brand. It offers innovative technology and unique designs for comparatively low prices. If any brand would deserve to be described as “destroying the industry,” well Formex would be that brand. (Although I hate stringing these words together.) The Essence 39, which we are taking a look at here, formulates what’s best about the brand: a design infused with unique Formex DNA, incredible specifications for the price, and a cascade of innovations all nicely wrapped in a case that comes with outstanding dimensions.
There are many specifications we need to go over when speaking about the Essence 39. First, its dimensions: 39mm in diameter, 45mm lug-to-lug, and a mere 10mm in thickness. Let’s not forget the lug width that comes at practical 20mm. These dimensions are truly ideal for people who had the unfortunate fate of being born with smaller wrists like myself. But the watch does command a certain visual presence that makes it suitable for larger-wristed humans. For these dimensions you get 100 meters of water resistance and a double-sapphire crystal sandwich construction.
Yes, the crystal on top of the dial is made of scratch-resistance sapphire and so is the one on the case-back. Both come with anti-reflective coating which means that looking at the gorgeous movement within has never been easier. The caliber that beats inside is the COSC-certified Sellita SW200-1 which beats at 28,000 BPH and comes with 41 hours of power reserve. Each movement is regulated and tested by the Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres (COSC) and then tested again by Formex after being cased. I’ve had COSC-movements before and this one runs like a beast.
One key feature that has been highlighted in every single YouTube video or written review about the Essence is its case suspension system. Some have criticized it as being gimmicky, others adore it. I’m part of the latter group. In itself, the case suspension adds unique visual elements to the overall design of the watch in that the four screws that hold it together are an integral part of the design. And the case suspension system does add comfort as the central part of the watch lifts up when twisting the wrist. It’s useful and it looks cool.
Although the hour markers are thin, they are highly legible in darker situations as they have been filled with hips of BGW9. The hands too. I think it’s quite spectacular to have given so much brightness to the Essence 39 given the fact that in certain aspects—as we will see later—the Essence is more dressy than sporty. Lastly, the case and bracelet are made of 316L stainless steel that shows, for the most part, a satin finish and highly polished surfaces on the bezel and case sides, as well as polished bevels on the bracelet.
I feel it’s becoming more and more rare to come across original designs. (So much so that even Swiss giants regularly tap into their archives to fatten their current catalogs.) I often see a handset that was used before, or a case shape that is reminiscent of a model made 30 years prior. And maybe that when you look at the Essence, you will feel that you’ve seen part of its design language used elsewhere. However, and personally, I believe that all of what you see in the Essence is new. Starting with the case suspension system which I touched upon earlier which gives the whole package a sporty flair. Personally, the screws make the Essence look like some sort of futuristic machinery.
The satin brushing that alternates with highly polished surfaces create dynamic light plays that are reinforced by the multi-faceted hour markers and hands. Light reflects from multiple areas, however they never obstruct the process of reading the time. Furthermore, the dial has horizontal CNC-machined lines that give the watch a look of fine wood. Combined with a vertical brushing, the dial itself is a light show. Looking at it straight down, a deep blue color appears. Looking at it from a sharp angle, it becomes almost black.
The case displays flat geometrical surfaces that remind me of vintage King Seikos. These surfaces make the Essence 39 look art-deco in some ways and like avant-garde pieces of aeronautical parts in other ways. I particularly love the slab case sides and flat lugs, and how the watch sits perfectly on the wrist. I also appreciate the fact that Formex made the bracelet flow superbly with the case design, where the beveled edges of the outer links echo the case sides and lug tops. Lastly, about the bracelet, the links are thin (in height) which makes the bracelet comfortable.
(Too often brands make thick bracelets that look and feel more like pieces of jewelry rather than accessories that compliment a timepiece.)
The signed crown with the incised logo is quite small but easy to grip and operate. Its knurling is, in a way, a repeat of the bracelet assembly in which the links, which are of equal dimensions, look almost like a tire thread. All of these elements combined together—the knurling on the crown, the bracelet links, the horizontal lines on the dial, and the screws of the suspension system—create a blend of sophisticated industrialism that is unique to Formex and the Essence collection.
The Hearth of the Matter
Have you heard of the saying that Jaeger LeCoultre is the watchmaker’s watchmaker? What does this mean? It means that JLC creates movements that are so sophisticated that Rolex watchmakers and engineers are left in awe looking at them. It also means that they craft watches that have the most superior finish of the industry, leaving Omega’s artisans gasping for air by looking at their timepieces. I would argue that in the world of independent brands, Formex represents the best that can be achieved in non-luxurious timepieces.
What do I mean?
The Essence 39 (and therefore, its larger sibling too) packs a lot of innovative features that I personally relish every time I strap the watch on. It’s not that the watch has many design tricks up its sleeve—for example hand-finished hands that reveal themselves in certain lighting conditions, or a perlage finish hidden on the underside of the clasp—it’s that the watch was equipped with certain features that make sense and come in handy every day. All of what the watch comes with is useful, nothing is superfluous. So let’s start with the bracelet, one of my favorite parts of the Essence.
As we already know, it’s superbly manufactured and finished. It comes with quick-release spring bars. But I didn’t share all of what the bracelet has to offer earlier for one reason: I wanted to show you how practical it is. For example, both ends of the deployment clasp do not open at the same time. After pushing the two buttons to open it, the right side opens first and then you must gently pull the bracelet away from the left side of the clasp to fully open it. This means the watch won’t accidentally fall on the floor if you poorly execute this maneuver. It’s a safety feature as it were.
Moreover, the bracelet comes with a hidden micro-extension system that adds roughly 5mm of length to the bracelet for those days when our wrists swell. It’s honestly the ideal amount of wiggle room you need in order to keep the watch comfortable throughout the day. And this operation can be done while wearing the watch on the wrist as all you need to do is open the right side of the clasp, again knowing it won’t just fully open and slide off your wrist. I do know Rolex offers a similar system on certain models, however it is built-in a folder-over clasp, not a double deployment one.
Moving away from the bracelet we can focus our attention on the crown. Although I do wish it would be of the screw-down variety (I’m just paranoid this way,) the way it operates is different from the way most crowns I had come across until now function. Normally, the crown travels equal distance between each position, for example to wind the movement (position 0,) set the date (position 1,) and time (position 3.) In the case of the Essence 39, the crown travels twice as long from position two to position three compared to position one to position two. Although I cannot prove why, I assume this helps with water resistance but regardless, it operates beautifully and feels secure.
I could conclude the review with the following four words: I adore the Essence. Although saying that would make me come across as biased—which I totally am, by the way—I genuinely think the Essence offers incredible value for the money. For a retail price of $1,450, you get a COSC-equipped sports watch with an elegant design, modest proportions, and a plethora of engineering advances rarely seen together—if at all—in a timepiece for under $2,000. Although it is not perfect—and this might be egocentric of me to say this—the Essence is the closest any watch has gotten to the ideal timepiece I would have designed for myself. (You know, if I had my own brand.) Lastly I would say that it can easily constitute a one-watch collection. Hot take anyone?