Independent watchmakers may be synonymous with breaking and pushing the boundaries of watchmaking, but even within that group Benoît Mintiens stands out. The founder of the Belgium-based brand Ressence has an approach to watchmaking that is diametrically opposite to that of the centuries-old industry. Designing watches from the outside to the inside, at dials with at hands, going crownless, filling a dial with oil for better readability, and an electronic module for setting the watch are only some of the avant-garde, disruptive ideas Mintiens has executed in his creations in the 11 short years since he established his brand.
But that is what you get when an industrial designer, and not a watchmaker, creates timepieces. Mintiens says that at Ressence—a portmanteau of the words ‘Renaissance of the Essential’—he is designing and creating products that adapt to the user, and not vice versa. To this effect, the brand’s starting point is the deconstruction of the traditional watch in order to express time in the purest way. Their original motto #BeyondHands was updated earlier this year to #AheadofTime, both pointing to a novel approach to horology, as well as design.
At the heart of his creations is the proprietary planetary gear train system, Ressence Orbital Convex System, or ROCS, a unique three-dimensional in-house module for an intuitive reading of time. What this means is that on the dial of the watch, the hours, minutes, and seconds are presented in the same at plane, making it easy on the wearer to read time. Convex discs with hands rotate and orbit each other on an ever-moving dial, while always maintaining the correct angle between hours and minutes. ROCS uses the same reading patterns to indicate the time as traditional dials with hands, albeit with improved reading ergonomics.
This mechanism is the focal point of Mintiens’ work, and from it radiates all else, i.e, a tight repertoire of designs. The brand’s first timepiece was the limited run Zero Series, unveiled at Baselworld 2010, which sold out the next year when its 50 pieces were produced. Powered by the ETA 2824 automatic movement, it featured a traditional crown. Next came the 150-piece Series One in 2012, with tech updates and colour options. But it was in 2013 that Mintiens threw his next punch—the 44mm Grade 5 titanium Type 3, the first-ever oil-filled mechanical watch. To cancel refraction of light, the dial was filled with 35.7ml oil, making the watch legible from every possible angle. A magnetic transmission connected the dry lower half, where the calibre was located, to the oil-filled upper half, where ROCS was. This was a crownless watch—Mintiens re-engineered the sapphire caseback as the means of winding and setting the dial. The watch displayed hours, minutes, seconds, date, and oil temperature.
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