The phrase “There’s nothing new under the sun,” is commonly heard when discussing watches at any price point. It’s largely true: there’s only so much you can do with a case and a dial, only so many ways to display the time or fasten a bracelet or a strap to a watch. Every once in a while, though, a brand comes along and does something truly new. That’s what Ressence Watches has done since day one with its modern, simplified watches that thoroughly reconstruct the idea of what can be done in modern watchmaking. As you’ll see, the Ressence Type 3B Black, is anything but conventional.
Ressence is not an old totem of horology. Instead, it’s part of a new wave of brands like Urwerk and HYT, that eschew traditional approaches to almost every facet of watchmaking. Founded in Belgium and driven by a mission to present time in the purest and most legible way possible, the brand came onto the scene in 2011 with its 1003 model. While this debut included the brand’s groundbreaking Ressence Orbital Convex System (ROCS) mechanism, it wasn’t until it’s second release—the Type 3—that the brand put itself on everyone’s radar by filling half the case with oil and removing the crown. After 10 years, the brand has expanded its collection: it backfilled with Types 1 and 2, both offered without oil-filled cases, and built off the Type 3 with the Type 5 diver.
Once you moved past the round 44mm wide, 15mm high titanium case and the rather slim 22mm lugs, this watch is nothing like you’ve ever seen. Two convex sapphire domes form the top and bottom of the case, with a polished grade 5 titanium case band. Before we dive into the exciting dial, the caseback features a titanium section for service access, while the rest of the back acts as the crown. It’s a complicated dance to set the dials to the correct time, involving turning the caseback one way or the other, setting the time to one position or another. Suffice to say you can always go the long way round and advance the time until everything else lines up—but you’ll still be left hoping the day of the week is correct. Fortunately, the watch comes with very clear setting instructions.
Let’s get to the main event: the oil-filled dial. The effect is that the flat plane of the dial seems to be pressed right up against the crystal and that the time is readable from any angle. This has to do with the refractive index: because the index of the oil is near identical to that of the sapphire, the dial looks to be right against the glass. The dial itself is made of titanium and designed with the aim of separating the timetelling elements to simplify reading the time. While it may look disorienting at a glance, the conceit of every Ressence watch is that it is a regulator: the large minute hands on the central disc with the hour hand the next largest surrounded by Arabic numerals and the Ressence logo at 12 o’clock.
The two subdials equal in size are the day of the week (with the seven segments, banded at the weekend) and the oil temperature indicator (with blue and red extremes). The smallest dial is simply a running 360-second running indicator. Why 360 seconds? No reason is given, so look at it as an opportunity to create part of the story. At the periphery, the date is indicated by a rotating ring which lines up with the orange triangle along the fixed minute ring. Everything on the dial is engraved and filled with brilliant Super-LumiNova™ for a stunning low-light experience on the wrist.
There’s a reason the Ressence Type 3 won the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève prize for Horological Revelation when it was released in 2013. Filling a watch with 35.7ml oil seems counterintuitive: while the gears may be able to move, the escapement and balance would not be able to function. To solve the problem, the ROCS 3.5 mechanism and the dial of the Ressence Type 3B are isolated in a separate chamber from the base ETA 2824 mechanism, hermetically sealed by a titanium membrane. That creates another problem, though: in order for the seal to remain intact, the dial side needs to remain completely filled with oil, which has a pesky tendency to expand and contract with changes in ambient temperature. Ingeniously, the ROCS features an intricate bellows system below the dial that keeps the chamber full while allowing the oil’s volume to fluctuate. Hence the temperature gauge to let the wearer know if the ambient temperature is getting to the point where the watch can no longer accommodate the oil’s variance (the watch can function between 23°F and 131°F).
How, though, do you drive a display and its corresponding gears when they aren’t in contact with the base movement? Instead of being directly driven by the 2824’s gear train, the ROCS uses a micromagnetic transmission system to drive the minute disc, which in turn drives the satellite dials. As one might expect, setting the watch also operates through the micromagnetic transmission system; with only the minute disc directly interacting with the base gear train, it can take quite a lot of turning to set the watch if the power winds down.
Beyond the staggering innovations to make such a display system work, it’s all springs and gears and jewels. While all that’s retained of the ETA 2824 base is the gear train and the automatic winding mechanism, the watch still relies on its 36-hour power reserve (slightly reduced due to the additional torque required to drive the ROCS) and 28,800 vph beat rate. The Ressence Type 3B, however, relies on nearly twice the jewelling as the ETA (47 versus 25) and features a whopping 44 separate gears to achieve it’s feat.
Versus the Competition
When considering alternatives to a Ressence, you’ll be on a wild goose chase trying to find anything like it. Better to explore other innovative and interesting display mechanisms. The Harry Winston Opus X features a similar if less elegant rotating display. The Nord Zeitmaschine Freesdial features a roving seconds hand that follows a minute scale split into butterflying halves. The Ulysse Nardin Freak series incorporates the gear train into the minutes hand. MB&F continues to find creative ways to display the time with their Horological Machine series, including things like the HMX Black HMX Black 10th Anniversary. Plus, let’s not count URWerk out, with their ever enchanting satellite displays, as seen in the recent UR-100 SpaceTime Gunmetal.
The Ressence Type 3B Black belongs on the wrist of someone who values innovation and simplicity, but also wants something different than what legacy watch brands offer. This watch is not for those clinging to traditional craftsmanship, but rather those looking for the next frontier of watchmaking.
When you make a substantial investment in most novel timepieces, you may get plenty of complications, but they’re often presented in a predictable way; if the complication is innovative, the proof of that innovation is hidden behind the dial. With the Ressence Type 3B Black, the proof is right there in front of you, every time you look at your wrist.