As of late, there’s seemingly no shortage of micro-brands popping up and touting all kinds of different selling points and value propositions. Ironically enough, two of the characteristics tying these varied players together is the fact that many of their watch components are of Chinese origin… And few of them advertise them as such.
On the other side of the spectrum you have Atelier Wen, a fledgling brand that offers not only absolute transparency into their manufacture and assembly partners, but also a wholehearted embrace of Chinese culture as the inspiration for their debut model, the Porcelain Odyssey.
Today, I’ll be reviewing their blue ceramic dial watch, the Ji:
Aside from our usual tech-spec breakdown, I’ve also recapped the Ji’s most notable design elements and offered my personal take on the watch after a few weeks of regular wear.
Porcelain Odyssey Ji Price & Specs
- Retail Price: $720 (See Atelier Wen’s Website)
- Case Diameter: 39mm
- Case Material: Japanese 316L Stainless Steel
- Strap: Blue Calfskin, Quick-Release Springbars
- Crystal: Scratch-Resistant Sapphire, Domed
- Dial: Blue Porcelain
- Movement: Custom Dandong/Peacock SL-3006
- Automatic, 41-Hour Power Reserve
- Limited Edition of 250 Pieces
A recurring theme I found with the Ji was a noticeable attention to detail by the manufacturer. From the travel pouch and box that the watch is delivered in, to the buckle’s facets, to the step of the bezel, it is quite evident that a lot of thought went into every aspect of the watch.
Next, I’ll elaborate on some of these sophisticated details that make the Ji memorable and Atelier Wen a brand to keep an eye on in the near future.
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The Ji’s Case
The Ji’s 39mm case is constructed of marine-grade 316L stainless steel that has been polished to a mirror finish. The lugs, which are downturned and narrowing at their ends, are the same except for a brushed top surface.
Though simple, the conflicting finishes on the adjacent facets produce a visually appealing contrast. A similar result has been achieved on the bezel which, though mostly smooth, also boasts a small ‘step’ which adds a nice bit of complexity.
The Ji’s crown is neatly decorated with the logo and crafted in a proportion fitting to the case. However, it does not screw-down which limits the depth rating to 50m.
Second only to the deeply intricate dial (which we’ll get to soon enough), the caseback of the Ji is decidedly one of its highlights. It’s marked by a very deep and very detailed engraving of the Kunpeng, a creature of Chinese mythology, that also boasts a frosted finish.
I found the caseback to be especially captivating the more I looked at it. The Kunpeng, which manifests as a bird (Peng) or an aquatic being (Kun), is intended to recall the duality of Yin Yang. The caseback depiction can also appear to be both below the waves or above the surface depending on the orientation of the watch, further reinforcing this point.
With this caseback , Atelier Wen doesn’t only integrate their Chinese origins into the design but also celebrates them. Naturally, and much like the rest of the Ji, they’ve done so rather skillfully and successfully.
The Strap & Buckle
The Ji is shipped on a premium blue calfskin strap with blue stitching and black edges. Also attached is a steel tang buckle.
The strap itself is quite thick and slightly stiff upon delivery. Unfortunately, this makes for a bit of discomfort during the first couple of wears. Nevertheless, the strap does adjust and actually becomes quite comfortable when given some wrist time.
As the case, the buckle also possesses the interplay between high-polish and brushed-finish surfaces. Once more expertly executed, it makes for an attractive buckle that is slightly reminiscent of some Patek Philippe analogs.
On its underside, the brand marquee and logo are engraved, ultimately making for a graceful detail that will likely only ever be admired by its owner.
The Ji’s Movement
The Ji is powered by a custom Peacock SL-3006 automatic movement manufactured in the Dandong Watch Factory. ‘Custom’ is used here since the SL-3006 is a descendant of a standard SL-3000, essentially a Chinese version of a Swiss ETA 2824-2, that has been customized specifically for Atelier Wen.
Among the unique upgrades are higher-grade movement components that result in deviations of no more than +/- 10 seconds per day. The movements are also tested on two separate occassions; first at the manufacturer and then again by the Chinese assembler Fiyta to ensure reliability. This confidence in the movement’s performance and durability is then passed on to buyers as a two-year movement warranty.
The Ji’s Blue Porcelain Dial
While the previous characteristics could themselves make for an alluring timepiece, the most intriguing part of the Ji is unquestionably its deep blue ceramic dial.
Serving as the inspiration for the model name, the color Ji is a “shade of an unobtainable blue that was said to look like that of the sky after a storm” and which was used in only the finest porcelains of centuries past. Atelier Wen sought to recreate this on the face of their watch.
While I can’t speak to the accuracy of the hue, I can definitely say that the Ji is one of the best blue dials I’ve ever come across. Its surface is completely smooth and highly reflective which can make the blue color difficult to appreciate. That is, until you glance at the watch directly and it simply lights up.
Further elevating this regal blue dial are rhodium-plated leaf hands and indices. In conjunction with the Huiwen minute track and the small seconds at 6 o’clock, these elements serve to close the loop on the classic-but-modern motif that was intended.
Porcelain Odyssey Ji – On The Wrist Review
While the Ji’s 39mm case diameter is on the larger side for a dress watch, it actually wears smaller due to the lack of crown guards. Likewise, its downward-angled lugs help the case to ‘mold’ snugly around the wrist.
The dimension that is a bit harder to mask is the Ji’s case height which measures in at 12mm. This fact is not a particular deal-breaker for me as I’m partial to larger timepieces. Nevertheless, to many a watch this tall could never be a formal timepiece.
Adding to this lack of formality is the blue calfskin strap which, being so thick, can seem almost chunky. Perhaps a blue alligator would have imparted a more elegant look, or maybe even the blue salmon strap for sale in AW’s shop. Whichever the case, it’s something to note if searching for a very traditional blue dial watch.
The movement powering the Ji leaves little to be desired as long as expectations are set. With a dress watch, accuracy is not really the goal, neither is precision. At least not at this price point. And with a 40+ hour power reserve, the Ji sits comfortably at the industry standard.
The Ji’s looks are quite unique and charming. However, the details highlighted above are much easier to appreciate in person.
And then there’s the dial.
As a big fan of blue watches, I can say that I’ve come across few blue dials as dynamic as the Ji’s. It can vary wildly in different settings and, if you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself spending way too long taking wrist shots from many different angles.
As a watch that touts a blue ceramic dial, something not often encountered in wristwatches, the Ji is absolutely successful. As a watch whose design is directly inspired by its creator’s Chinese heritage, it also excels. And as a watch that almost singlehandedly looks to change the image of Chinese horology, the Ji once more is effective.
The fact that Atelier Wen can accomplish all of this while maintaining a $720 price point borders on unbelievable; the blue porcelain dials themselves reportedly possess an 80% reject rate.
Yet they’ve done it, which I find speaks volumes about the often under-appreciated watch manufacturing infrastructure in China. Widely attributed with cheap timepieces, Chinese watch manufacturers have been providing movement components to the Swiss for decades. Were this watch to be branded with a Swiss name, the retail price could easily be 10x more.
Fortunately it is not, or at least not yet. Though if the Ji is a sign of anything, it’s that Atelier Wen’s future is bright. Those searching for unique or exotic timepieces with stories to tell should certainly consider the Atelier Wen Ji. And if they’re hoping to fill that niche in their collection without breaking the bank, then they can probably stop looking.
Let me know in the comments what you think about the Ji, or if you agreed with my review. Are there any other top-of-mind blue dial watches that can compete? If you think so, drop them below!
Otherwise, jump into some of our other popular watch pages below:
- The Best Watch Manufacturers In China
- What Is A Watch Tourbillon?
- Reviewing The Rolex Explorer II 16570 “Polar” After 18 Months Of Wear
- Bespoke Unit’s Watch Review Repository
- Different Bezel Scales & How To Use Them
"A striking timepiece at an ideal price created by a new generation of innovators in the watch industry. The Ji is proof that Chinese brands not only deserve a spot on the "big stage" of horology, but that luxury timepieces need not be outrageously expensive to be unique. "Rating: 5.0 ★★★★★