The Eye-Centric and Eccentric Quality Behind Ressence’s Timepieces


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Type 8

As I am walking into Ressence’s booth at some watchmaking trade show, I hear a loud, amused, and frankly unsettling declaration. Benoît Mintiens, the brand’s mastermind, is in the middle of a presentation, all smiles, and let out a roaring “But of course we don’t have a loupe (emphasis on don’t). We’re not watchmakers here!” How odd to hear someone from the watch industry bragging to be an outlier. But then again, this is really the essence of that exciting brand called Ressence. They are not Swiss, but their watches are entirely Swiss-made (except for straps and crystals). They are not part of the watchmaking establishment, although they are a recognized member of the envied independent watchmakers club. Not one member of its staff knows how to craft, assemble, tune or otherwise deal with a movement. They were not born from a watchmaking decision, tradition or inspiration. Nor are they from a marketing concept, that would act upon targeting, strategising and managing some desired brand equity. They have nothing to do with the resurrection of some long-dead, half-forgotten name from the 18th or 19th century, justifying some neo-retro design venture. Despite not checking any one of the usual boxes in the current watchmaking landscape, they still manage to be one of the rare names associated with a genuine vision of what a watch is, what it does, how it reads and how one interacts with it. In other words, we are dealing with a modern watch brand. And to understand how so, one must do a deep dive into the mind of founder, creative director, CEO and sole shareholder Benoît Mintiens.

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Dial close-up of the Resistance x Alain Silberstein Type 1 Rev Grail Watch

Belgium’s Best

Benoit Mintiens is neither Swiss, nor French, although he is a native French speaker. To the trained ear, it is obvious he is Belgian. Not Hercule Poirot-Belgian like in one of the many series depicting the OCD-ridden detective. The real kind, with a rough accent. The redheaded fellow is from Antwerp. As his brand’s logo, he chose his city’s emblem – a hand that has a lot to do with the tactile dimension of his watches’ design. For he is a trained and experienced designer. Isn’t that an unusual trade for a watch brand creator and manager? Before being that, Mintiens penned street furniture, aircraft cabins, train coaches and also oncology radiotherapy equipment. He is an eclectic, pragmatic and opinionated creator. The one thing he had never thought of, at least not until that day when he picked up his pencil and started filling blank pages with ideas, was to make a watch. In fact, no one in his personal circle and family had ever thought of that either. So how did that story begin?

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The caseback of the Type 1 model showcases its Swiss credentials and unusual winding and setting systems

Antwerp is one of the world’s three capitals of the diamond trade. One day, a gem-cutter friend of his asked him to start thinking about designing a watch for him. He roamed the alleys of the now-defunct BaselWorld trade show in search of suppliers. He grew increasingly dissatisfied with what he saw and heard. Back home, he spent a Sunday thinking and sketching. This is the moment when the core idea behind Ressence was born.

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Type 1

“I gave myself a simple brief. It’s a format I’m familiar with so I used it,” says Mintiens. “The watch had to be affordable, meaning I could afford it. It had to be special, meaning it would be noticeable. And not an oddity, because it had to stay close to what one imagines a watch looks like.” That is what the man calls simple: a set of constraints that would seem to anyone, at best, vague, at worst, irrelevant. Especially since said brief also contained two personal elements that appear to be in total contradiction with each other. Elements that come from his personal and family history.

“My mother’s Dutch. She represents my Germanic, orderly side. My father is French-speaking Belgian. He is more Latin, more emphatic. As for me, I’m both of those things and so are my watches: beautiful and warm, technical and cold.” The truth is that structure and affability are intertwined in that man in a way that makes him extremely easy to like and to listen to. The last point in his brief is paramount: function must reign over his watches. Readability will be of the essence.

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Type 3 EE

The Lightbulb

“I was in the middle of mowing my garden, sitting on my lawn tractor. It’s an old thing I had imported from Chicago. Its monotonous purring always sends my into my thoughts. And then I told myself ‘Benoît, you have to do it. You have to create your own brand’.” Said brand’s first act was the 2010 Type 0. A timepiece without hands, without crown, wound and set from its caseback. A rounded timepiece, that looks like it was cut from a sphere. “A Ressence watch is organic. Its face isn’t flat. Flat is not a natural thing. I’ve pushed the notion of face so far that the information goes beyond what we think to be the object’s physical limit.” Most important of all, his first watch does not tell time like any other. It is neither digital nor classically analogue. “It’s a mechanical screen : a dynamic, ergonomic surface that offers a relevant function.”

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Type 1 Slim DX2

Visually speaking, the watch face is not a dial but a series of circles, rotating within one another. The hour hand is the largest disc. It contains a smaller one for the minutes, another for the power reserve and a last one for the day. Thanks to a clever mechanical device, implementing sophisticated spinning and counter-spinning, the large disc rotates and so do all the others with it. At the same time, these sub-dials spin counterclockwise in order to remain upright, with their reading scale still making complete sense. The basic information we use while looking at a dial, the relative position of two long-shaped indicators, is preserved. In a way, it still has hands. “It’s the only thing I decided not to reinvent,” says Mintiens. “Hands are too efficient a mental picture to do away with. The brain is very good at interpreting them.” Case in point, learning to read a Ressence takes a handful of seconds, and then becomes completely natural.

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Type 3 EE

Rebirth Of The Essence

The year is 2010 and at the same time as Ressence’s first release, a few days apart actually, Harry Winston had presented their Opus X (where X stands for 10). It was a mad timepiece, typical of the brand at the time (or at least of the Opus series). This extreme project had been developed by Jean-Francois Mojon, the founder of movement maker Chronode, along the same display principle as Benoît Mintiens. That was just another case of great minds thinking alike…and at the exact same time, an occurrence more frequent than one would think in watchmaking. But Opus X was 10 times as expensive as a Type 0. The latter was much less dramatic, smaller and easier to wear, to read and to manufacture. It is one thing to come up with a great idea but there is a case to be made for those who shroud it in simplicity.

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Type 8

That simplicity is one of several definitions of intelligence. So is being able to think outside the box. One quick look at a Ressence Type 3 may be evidence of yet another. The piece has no case to speak of, or to intrude on your field of vision (except the lugs) if you want a more precise description. It is all display, surface and rims (just look at it). It is shaped like a pebble, rendering the notions of diameter and opening irrelevant. This iteration is the result of a constant development effort, aiming at perfecting the system that operates the rotation-within-rotation display. It is called ROCS, which stands for Ressence Orbital Convex System, and it is constantly being modified, enhanced and perfected. Its simplest version, on the Type 8, requires machining tolerances so small, so demanding, that it took Ressence 10 years to get it done.

Simplicity then, paradoxically, defines the heart of Ressence. That such simplicity is so challenging speaks to the entire watchmaking endeavour. It seems a simple matter to calculate the passing of time, yet it is anything but. Ressence watches remind us of this truth.

This article first appeared on WOW’s Festive 2024 issue.

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