Ressence has fascinated me since I first came across the brand at Salon QP, all the way back in 2011. The company has clearly progressed an incredible amount since those days, evolving the original concept of its time-telling discs into the Ressence Orbital Convex System (ROCS), and introducing a number of additional innovations, such as the oil filling together with the required magnetic transmission and bellow temperature gauge that were required.
So I was delighted when a friend asked me if I would like to borrow his newly acquired Type 5, to see how I got on with it on a more long term basis. While I have handled nearly every iteration of the models produced by Ressence at various trade shows, collector’s gatherings, and retailers over the years, playing with a watch for perhaps 15 minutes and actually wearing it on your wrist as you go about your normal life are two very different things. After a bit more than five days with it in my company, here are a few observations.
The movement is perhaps the most profound innovation of the brand, so should be the first stop in any discussion of a watch from Ressence. The aforementioned ROCS is mounted atop a customised version of the venerable 2824 movement from ETA, and the ROCS that is used for the Type 5 consists of a staggering 142 parts, including a myriad of jewelled bearings to keep everything running smoothly. Devoid of a crown, all setting and winding is handled by rotating the outer rim of the case back to unlock the mechanism, then rotating the disc in the centre of the case back, using the conveniently labeled instructions and dimples to give better purchase.
Time telling does take a bit of practice but it’s surprising how quickly your brain can adapt. A part of it is probably due to the fact that it feels so different visually to other time-telling devices that your mind re-programs itself rather quickly, although there are some similarities to the regulator-type layout used on some watches. Unlike models with a single 24-hour hand, or oddities like the Franck Muller Crazy Hour, it doesn’t feel familiar initially, so the re-mapping of how you compute time feels like it occurs more naturally, and fortunately there is a useful simulator on their website to understand it better before purchasing.
Another contributing factor to the relative ease of time-telling is possibly the 37.5 ml oil filling the space between the dial and the inside of the crystal, which has the correct refractive index to make it appear as though the time display is projected onto the top of the domed sapphire crystal, while also providing a degree of magnification. This presents the discs with a clarity that is hard to appreciate without holding the Type 5 in your hand, but also means that all of the displays are on the same plane, therefore equidistant from the eyes, and removes any risk of parallax created with a standard handset.
Ergonomically, the Type 5 wears surprisingly well for a watch that is quoted as being 46 mm in diameter. The short lugs with a decent amount of curvature make it feel more compact and comfortable than the sizing would suggest, even on my svelte 150mm wrist. At 15.5 mm thick it feels proportionally correct, a point which is seriously underrated among modern watches that often seem to be too tall for their diameter. The mixture of polished and sand-blasted finish to the titanium case is nicely balanced, and the unidirectional bezel has a pleasing tactility to it.
Yes there are some elements of the watch that have a resemblance to the traditional dive watch, but it is hard to imagine taking the Type 5 on a serious adventure below the waves, although 100 metres of water resistance would ensure it’s okay. What has been preserved are the best parts, such as the vast swathes of super-luminova that have been applied to the dial and bezel to ensure it is highly legible in low light, and the rotating bezel to allow timing of more mundane tasks. In theory, the oil filling allows for outside water pressure to be balanced more effectively, meaning that the casing can be lighter and less heavy duty than more familiar dive watches, but the more profound advantage is the removal of the issue of total internal reflection, a phenomenon where a crystal becomes a mirror when not viewed straight on if underwater with a traditional dive watch.
One curiosity of the optical illusion created by the oil in the domed sapphire crystal, giving the appearance of the dial project onto its surface, was that on a few occasions I found myself a bit too close to hitting the watch on objects. My read on it is that my brain seemed to think that the dial was further away than appeared to be, as that’s how it works on a typical watch, and that as a result my depth perception was compromised; fortunately it only brushed up against softer surfaces rather than an unforgiving lump of metal.
Overall, the experience of wearing the Type 5 over a few days was extremely enjoyable, but there were a few quirks I picked up on. Firstly, the running seconds has a habit of stalling, perhaps due to the hydraulic shock absorber that exists between that particular dial and the mechanism below. As a result there was sometimes the concern that, at a glance, the watch had stopped running, only for the worry to subside when the disc began to move again. The next was the time setting, which was easy to unlock and initiate spinning, but there was a point as you passed 40 minutes past the hour that there was some additional friction, as though something were tightening inside and then releasing all of a sudden. There did not appear to be any lasting damage, and I expect an overhaul might rectify the issue on this particular example.
The nylon strap with velcro closure was nice to wear and suited the watch well, but the balance between the length of the two halves was a bit strange, most likely due to the challenges of a large watch on a small wrist, and could perhaps be resolved by offering it in different lengths, as Richard Mille does. The final point of minor contention is the notice that the watch should be regularly demagnetised. It is easy to understand that this is a side effect of the magnetic transmission used to silo the oil-filled chamber away from the mechanical movement, but for most owners this would necessitate the acquisition of a watch demagnetiser and assessor, such as the ONEOF Accuracy Boutique, so would need to be budgeted for.
At the end of my time with the Type 5, I was left asking myself if it is something I would want to add to my collection, and after a decent amount of consideration I concluded that it would come down to the number of watches that I actually want to own. If I were to have a dozen or more, then I could see the Type 5 entering the fray and seeing use on weekends, and when I felt like wearing a model that was really different in a more casual setting, complementing other more obscure and avant-garde independents. During my current reductive phase of trying to maintain a collection in the single digits, it is more difficult to imagine it finding a permanent place, but I am sorely tempted to have it in my possession for a longer period to make the most of joy sparked by something that is so unusual.