Moderator at Large
I have been collecting mechanical watches for some decades now. Back in May 2011 I got burgled in London and the whole watch collection was literally gone in a minute.
To honor the truth I have to say that three watches were left, a Timex on the wrist, a Tangente “Kleinstkredit” and a cal. 26 Union chronograph.
My collection included a lot of chronographs, vintage as well as contemporary, classic as well as sporty. I always loved chronographs for no specific reason. It really has been the look rather than the function which intrigued me. As I already mentioned in some previous reviews vintage chronographs were the most fascinating for me - with their mechanical (read: manual wind) movements made by Valjoux, Lemania, Venus et al.
The “Zeitgeist” they embody and the variety they offer to the collector have been the two main reasons for me to buy and collect them.
After the burglary I had to build up a new collection starting from almost “zero”. The first watches I bought were a Glashütte PanomatikLunar, a Wempe Tonneau XL, a Rolex Submariner, a Chronoswiss Pacific Chronograph, and a Damasko DC 66.
I realized that my fascination for chronographs did not die, in the subsequent time I added some more chronographs to the collection, and the latest edition was the one I am reviewing here – a Formex Element Full Steel, reference 1200.1.8011.322.
The Formex Element Full Steel immediately stroke my eye when visiting the Munichtime 2017 watch exhibition and talking to Head of Marketing, Markus Wälchli, and CEO Raphaël Granito. Love at first sight with an impressive, visually prominent, in no way understated, chunk of steel.
Compared to other competitors in the market Formex undoubtedly is a young brand which will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2019.
By the end of 1999, the first FORMEX watch was launched and opened the door for a new generation of timepieces. Inspired by the engineering and mechanics of high performance racing cars and bikes, it featured the brand’s signature patented case suspension system which led to a more robust and comfortable watch. The brand name is a combination of the two French words “forme extrème”, which translates into “extreme shape”.
In the following decade, FORMEX launched various collections of modern timepieces and became widely recognized among aficionados of extraordinarily designed sports watches. At that time the Formex’ watches were made for the segments "Water – Land – Air", Their segment identifiers were clearly organized: DS for Water, TS for Land, and AS for Air. I remember that I first got to know Formex when visiting Baselworld in 2008.
In 2015 Raphaël Granito took over Formex.
Here’s an excerpt from an interview with Raphaël Granito I found on a German website:
“I was not looking for a watch brand that I wanted to buy. The purchase is due to more fortunate circumstances. At that time, I was still working at my father's company, Dexel. Dexel mainly designs and manufactures cases and sophisticated case systems for various high-end watch brands. I was involved in watch product development when an offer was made by the old owner and founder of Formex, H.P. Grädel, with whom we had worked for many years.
After a thorough analysis, we decided to take the step, even though the climate in the watch industry was anything but optimistic at that time. Formex was bought by us privately and is not legally affiliated with Dexel, but benefits from the vast experience and network that my father's company has spent over 30 years developing and producing high-tech watch cases.”
In October 2016, Formex completely opted out of brick and mortar sales, going down the direct and online only route. Being detached from any retailer and selling exclusively on the Online Shop, Formex is no longer bound to the conventional, exorbitant sales margins applied in the watch industry and is now in direct contact with its customer in all stages of buying and owning a watch.
This model allows a direct contact to the Formex customer. A very special experience I have to say. Customer care is written in capital letters at Formex Swiss Watches. Their direct sale model is accompanied by some thoughtful, interesting and helpful features:
You can use the Formex “Try-On-App” (IOS and Andoid) with your smart phone to see what model might suit you and your wrist best.
Their app breaks through the biggest obstacle of online shopping, namely the inability to try on a product before buying it. Pictures and videos only provide a limited imagination of how a watch will look like on your own wrist.
Formex faced this problem and developed an app that uses augmented reality to project a watch on the wrist to give a feel of real-life size and look of their timepieces. The surprisingly realistic looking 3D model follows the wrist movements and thus can be observed from different angles and distances.
The Formex application was recently voted the 3rd best app in the Best of Swiss Apps 2017. This app is amazing, you really need to try this even if a Formex is not your cup of tea. Trying the app is fun included.
Once decided the order process is made as simple as possible. Just a few clicks and your watch is on its way to your doorstep.
Shortly after your order is processed you will get an order confirmation by email. Took one day when I ordered.
You will also get an email when your watch is ready to be shipped and Formex provides some helpful links
* to track your parcel (UPS)
* to check all order details
* to a user guide video on Youtube
Expect your watch within 2 business days (Europe) respectively 2-3 business days for overseas orders.
After a week you will get another email providing you with information about their warranty, service and care (i.e. cleaning, use in salt water, strap cleaning).
All Formex watches come with a 30-day money back guarantee. If you think it’s not the right fit, you can return your watch free of charge. If you contact Formex before returning your watch, Formex will even have your shipping expenses covered.
The courier dropping of your Formex will not hand you a customs and sales tax bill nor ask you to pay them cash, as Formex have already taken care of that with their shipping partners. The price you see on the Formex Online Shop is exactly the price you pay.
After having owned the watch for a month or so you will get another email to share your Formex experience(s) on Facebook, Instagram or whatever social media you prefer and to subscribe their newsletter.
You can’t ask for more after sales customer care.
This review is about the latest timepiece by Formex, the Formex Element Full Steel which I got medio June 2018.
Formex advertise the Element to be “the most affordable high-end watch in the world.” This might be overegging the pudding slightly but I have to agree that Formex provides an excellent value for money ratio. You get a lot of watch for only €1290 (under $1500).
Here’s what you get for your money in terms of technical specifications:
Stainless steel 316L with Titanium grade 2 container, 46mm in diameter, height 14,5mm, lug width 24mm, L2L 54mm, 10 atm, stainless steel display back (smoked) with laser engraving, weight 160g
White, with milled steel markers and two steel chapter rings, regular brass dial with a satin paint and lacquer finish, markers filled with SuperLuminova, seconds scale on the rehaut
Sword like hands, on top filled with SuperLuminova
Sappire crystal on top and back, ar-coating on both sides
Brown Italian calf leather with embossed croc pattern and brown stitching (black calf leather available as well)
Solid folding clasp with carbon fiber composite frame with fine adjustment function and stainless steel 316L clasp, Formex logo engraved
Standard grade ETA/Valjoux 7750 (13 1/4“) automatic chronograph, 28.800 b/h (= 4 Hz), 25 jewels, 42 hrs power reserve.
And here’s the elaborated version of what you get (by impressions):
Case, crown and pushers (They really do have some expertise at Formex)
The Formex Element is a rugged chronograph with unmistakable masculine features. Because of its industrial look, enhanced by its angular design, I decided to take most of the pics of the Formex Element in abandoned industrial environment. Rust and modern stainless steel designs are a nice match.
The Formex Element is pretty huge at 46mm in diameter and 14,5 mm in height, so this may be a deal breaker for some of you immediately. However, the fit and finish of the 38-parts-case is state of the art. It offers a variety of brushed, mirror-polished and sandblasted finishes. The combination of finishes creates a very completed look to the case and allows the right amount of light to catch those high polished accents.
When the watch is viewed from the side, the typical vertical polishing of the case is also noticeable, the matte look of which makes for an effective contrast to the polished bezel and underlines a highly developed expertise in case design.
Through the two-part stainless steel exterior of the Formex Element you get a look at the container of the chronograph, which is made of lightweight grade 2 titanium (grade 2). The container reduces the weight of the watch despite its XL size to a sustainable weight of 160 grams.
With its patented case suspension system, protecting the watch’s movement from heavy impacts and adding to the comfort on the wrist by adapting to the wearer’s movements, this system has been an integral part of Formex timepieces since the very beginning of the brand.
How does it work? Well, I try to explain: The suspension part of the Formex case has an upper and a base plate which are made from 316L stainless steel. The upper plate is connected to the lugs. The main case (grade 2 Titanium) which houses the movement is connected only to the base plate. The lower plate connects to the upper plate with four small suspension shocks which can be seen in side view pictures.
The polished stainless steel bezel is framed by 4 hexagon-head screws to underline a toolish, industrial look.
The actual lugs are also very short and tapered down which contributes to a comfortable wear despite the overall 54mm lug to lug measurement.
All these details sum up to overall comfortable wearing properties.
The square, wheel chock like, pushers are unique, they are fully polished and moulded to follow the flow of the case.
The corrugated non-screw-down-crown is large to match the case, with thick grip and a hexagonal cut out at the end with a sandblasted inner, mirroring the way the case is finished.
Both, crown and pushers, are easy to operate.
The Formex Elelemt is equipped with a very well fitted flat sapphire crystal. AR-coating is to be found on top and back. Due to the white dial reflections are virtually zero.
Dial and hands
The dial is in touch with Formex’s technical style. It underlines and repeats the technical character of the watch. All the hands, sub dial chapter rings, and hour markers are nicely polished and still pop out against the white lacquered face.
I experienced the watch dial to be aesthetically pleasing as well as being functional and – as you would expect with any chronograph - well thought out.
Compared to the more prominent sub dials at 12 and 6 the permanent seconds hand at 9 fades into the background. You see the hand moving but from some distance the watch looks like a bi-compax one. However this is just a visual trick but not a bad one.
The day/date window got a metallic frame, a carryover of detail matching the hands and the chapter rings of the sub dials at 12 and 6. Talking about appearance, due to the chapter rings the two sub dials at 12 and 6 look to be recessed.
The fact that the rehaut of the dial is fitted with a 60 seconds scale visually increases the size of the dial and thus contributes to the overall bold character of the watch.
The applied markers and hands are filled with SuperLuminova C1 Grade A. It is worthwhile to note that according to RC Tritec SuperLuminova C 1 Grade A lume must glow at least 25% brighter than normal lume, and it has to remain visible for at least 700 minutes (compared to 570 related to "normal" lume).
The large hands warrant good readability, all hands have a good length, the stop seconds hand exactly hits the rehaut.
Formex really did a good job on that dial, it does reflect some serious thoughts and planning in the design process of the Element.
As already noted in the technical specs the Formex Element is fitted with a display back. The smoked sapphire crystal allows the owner to have a look at the ETA 7750, formerly known as Valjoux 7750, a reliable, rugged, tried-and-tested workhorse.
Timekeeping has been satisfactory so far. Tested on my watchmakers Witschi timegrapher I got the following results:
Dial down: +3 sec / amplitude 320°
Dial up: +4 sec / / amplitude 319°
Crown down: -3 sec / amplitude 299°
Crown up: +3 sec / amplitude310°
Crown left: -2 sec / amplitude 322°
I did not observe any break-in time, the average gain is <5 sec/day on the wrist. I am quite satisfied with the performance so far. Adjusting the time – if deemed necessary – is easy to be done, the movement hacks.
Strap and clasp
The first thing which is important to note is that the strap got quick release pins which make changing straps a no-brainer. I’d like to see more manufacturers using those pins/straps.
The Formex Element comes with a carbon fiber butterfly clasp, but this is a bit different compared to almost all other clasps as you can actually do micro adjustments on it, very easily done by the push of a button.
By pressing a small pusher you move the connection point with the hinge up and down in order to give or pull back small increments of wearing size (positions). Done in a very clever and - as far as I know - patented way.
The “how to” is described in the Formex User Guide Formex Swiss Watches ELEMENT on YouTube.
The release of the strap is done by pressing in the two buttons on the buckle.
The “package” consists of four components: Outer card box, inner plastic box with faux red leather inlay and the owner’s handbook (warranty data sheet on last page) and a Formex travel pouch.
The box set of the FORMEX Element fits well with the sporty-modern appearance of the brand.
In terms of price the Formex Element is a mechanical chronograph at entry level, however with regard to all the features the watch is packed with my conclusion is that this extremely well executed Formex watch is worth its money. I tend to say the Formex Element is a bargain.
The case is state of the art and bears comparison with competitors in higher price brackets. There’s nothing the Formex Element has to hide for. On the contrary. Many other chronographs with a nice sounding name resort in a high(er) price bracket but lack the attention to detail Formex is showing, i.e. case suspension system, stainless steel and Titanium grade 2 mix, quick release strap, micro adjustment clasp.
The Formex guys did so much right with the Element chronograph. The watch is many things in one. From a technical view it answers a lot of requirements and could easily become your daily beater. But one is for sure, you have to have the wrist for a chunk of steel like this. If wrist size isn’t an issue you will enjoy the Element.
You can have a beer at your favorite pub around the corner, have a Glenlivet non chill-filtered Single Malt One Cask Whisky at the bar at Munichs Bayerischer Hof, you can wear it when cruising with your Beetle Convertible or driving on a coastal road with your Jag. You can wear it on your yacht as well when kite surfing, parachuting or hang-gliding. It is a sporty all-rounder, of course not made to be worn with business suit or tux.
At this point I would like to repeat that Formex provide an excellent value for money ratio. You will get a lot of watch for only €1290 (under $1500).
Mine will be on my wrist next week when we go mountain climbing in the Dolomites, Val Gardena, Italy. I am almost sure I will miss a rubber strap for it. I'm really curious how the leather band will perform in the mountains.
Thanks for reading.
If there’s any question left please do not hesitate to ask. Comments are welcome.
© pics by Mike Stuffler, Formex Swiss Watches, @mikestuffler on Instagram