Formex Watches: The Ultimate Guide to the Collection

Formex Watches: The Ultimate Guide to the Collection

Formex Watches have been on the market since 2000 but the story of the Swiss independent brand’s success really begins with its revitalization in 2016, which marked a more streamlined approach to the product line and a new focus on direct-to-consumer online retailing. We spoke to Formex CEO Raphael Granito about the company’s origins, its new direction, and what distinguishes each of the models in its current portfolio. 

Formex DS 2100 watch

Formex Watch SA traces its conception to 1999 and its actual foundation to 2000. Based in Biel/Bienne in the Swiss canton of Bern, It was the passion project of Hans-Peter and Ferdinand Grädel, brothers with deep roots in the watchmaking industry and a shared enthusiasm for motorsports, and a group of their friends from the industrial engineering field. The company name “Formex” is a portmanteau of the French phrase “Forme Extrème” (or “extreme shape,”) a philosophy that is most evident in the earliest watch models produced by the brand (example above), which leaned into the high-tech automotive aesthetic of high-performance cars and motorbikes as well as the era’s propensity for large, bulky case sizes. The 46mm cases of the original Formex models, in fact, were designed specifically to put the founders’ signature technical achievement — the innovative, inner-case suspension system for the movement, a shock absorption device inspired by the suspensions in car engines — on full display. The patented system (below), which remains an essential element of Formex watches today, albeit more understated in presentation, suspends and cushions the movement with four tiny springs between the lower and upper case; the construction (see below) is designed to adapt to the motion of the wearer’s arm while simultaneously preventing the crown from digging into the wrist. 

Formex suspension system 

Just a few years after the brand’s founding, the world financial crisis impacted the wristwatch industry, as it did just about every other industry, to a devastating degree starting around 2008. Small independents like Formex, which had barely begun to find its footing in a crowded watch marketplace and at the time still relied on a traditional retail distribution model, were particularly hard hit. “A lot of the distributors and retailers didn’t make it through, so a large chunk of the Formex distribution network either died out or just stopped paying,” recalls current Formex CEO Raphael Granito (below), who joined the company in 2016. “There were not enough investors and not enough capital, so that period between about 2008 and 2016 was a pretty quiet time. One of the founders, Hans-Peter, was muddling through with just one watchmaker. When I came in, I analyzed the situation and knocked on some retailers’ doors. When those doors didn’t open, I decided to go the route of selling to the consumer directly online.”

Formex CEO Raphael Granito

Formex 2.0, as Granito refers to the current incarnation of the company, began with a Kickstarter campaign in 2018 for the watch that set the tone for the collection that followed: the Essence Chronometer. The pre-sale campaign was an unqualified success, with its funding goal reached within the first 30 minutes, and the watch caught the attention of an enthusiastic audience with its clean, streamlined look, meticulous finishing, easy-change bracelet design, and chronometer-certified Swiss-made automatic movement, all for an eye-opening price, initially under $1,000. Granito, whose background is in manufacturing components for high-end watches, spearheaded the concept behind the Essence, which blended the original “high-octane industrial” look of the first Formex models with a hint of elegance and refinement. It retained the hallmark visible screws and high-tech suspension system but elevated the level of finishing while trimming the case dimensions and sobering up the overall aesthetic.

Formex Essence ChronometerThe Essence Chronometer (above) featured a 43mm steel case with brushed surfaces and polished bevels, a dial with a CNC-machined horizontal line pattern (allowing for crisper lines and sharper angles than the traditional pressing process for dial patterns), and an optimized Sellita SW200 automatic movement inside that carried the prestigious COSC certificate for chronometric accuracy. (COSC-certified chronometer watches with mechanical movements, from brands not owned by large groups, are exceedingly rare in Formex’s price range.)


Price: $1,480 - $1,590, Case Size: 39mm, Thickness: 10.6mm, Lug Width: 22mm, Lug-to-Lug: 49mm, Water Resistance: 100m, Crystal: Sapphire, Movement: Automatic Sellita SW200-1


Price: $1,480 - $1,590, Case Size: 39mm, Thickness: 10mm, Lug-to-Lug: 45mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Water Resistance: 100m, Crystal: Sapphire, Movement: Automatic Sellita SW200-1

Formex Essence Automatic Chronometer

Now offered in both the original 43mm case size as well as an even more understated 39mm size, the Essence Automatic Chronometer remains the foundation of the modern Formex collection. As their name suggests, the Essence models are all COSC-certified chronometers and feature all three of the technical elements upon which Formex builds its brand identity: a fine adjustment system for giving the straps and bracelets a perfect fit; the brand’s emblematic, patented case-suspension system; and a quick strap-changing system that requires no tools. The clean, three-handed dials, above in bright sunburst green, are lent an extra layer of interest by their CNC-machined horizontal line pattern and the mirror-polished bevels of the hands and applied hour markers.

Formex Essence Chronometer Blue 

Both the 43mm and 39mm models contain the same automatic, COSC-chronometer-rated Sellita movement inside; its impeccable finishes and signature skeletonized rotor are on display behind a sapphire caseback. Formex has become well known for the array of colorful dials it offers in the Essence collection, no doubt aided in the endeavor by a dial-manufacturing partner owned by Granito’s family: the 43mm watches are available in black, green, white, blue, cool gray and the gray-toned “degradé”; the 39mm models have most of the above as well as special editions with light-blue “Mother of Sky,” rich red “Gamaret,” and even dials made from Malchite and “Space Rock.”


Price: $1,640 - $1,990, Case Size: 43mm, Thickness: 11mm, Lug Width: 22mm, Lug-to-Lug: 46.4mm, Water Resistance: 100m, Crystal: Sapphire, Movement: Automatic Sellita SW200-1


Price: $1,640 - $1,990, Case Size: 41mm, Thickness: 11mm, Lug Width: 22mm, Lug-to-Lug: 46.4mm, Water Resistance: 100m, Crystal: Sapphire, Movement: Automatic Sellita SW200-1

Formex Essence Leggera Forged Carbon Dials

The Italian word “Leggera” means “light,” and the watches in Formex’s Essence Leggera series, introduced in 2023, stand apart from the core Essence models primarily through their use of avant-garde, robust-but-lightweight case materials drawn from the world of high-performance motorsport, like carbon fiber composite and zirconium oxide ceramic. Like their steel-cased brethren, Leggera models are available in two case sizes, in this instance 43mm and 41mm. The other difference between Essence and Essence Leggera is a subtle one, namely the presence of crown guards on the right side of the case, flanking the screw-down crown and creating a more streamlined, ergonomic silhouette. The combination of materials — carbon fiber composite for the caseback and case middle, ceramic for the bezel and crown — makes for a case that is impressively light on the wrist (just 50 grams or 1.75 oz.) while also being smooth and silky to the touch; the ceramic bezel is also uncommonly scratch-resistant. It also ensures the sportier Leggera models achieve a level of luxury commensurate with the original Essence. “Carbon fiber composite isn’t a material you can finish afterward with polishing or brushing; it’s just a matte surface,” Granito explains. “We wanted to add that touch of ceramic to the case with the bezel and crown so we could finish the Leggera to the same level as the steel Essence models. The result is a rather interesting material mix.” The Essence Leggera models, equipped with the same COSC-certified Sellita movement as their steel counterparts, offer their own array of dial treatments chosen to best resonate with the dark-toned cases, including “Electric Blue,” “Arctic White,” “Mamba Green,” and even a dial made of forged carbon (above) for a monochromatic black look. 


Price: $840 - $995, Case Size: 41mm, Case Height: 10.6mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Lug to Lug: 46.6mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 150 meters, Movement: Automatic Sellita SW200-1

Formex Field Automatic group

Granito says that the launch of the Formex Field Automatic in 2022 — the brand’s most entry-level watch and one of its most diverse products in the area of colorways — sprang from both a personal liking for the field watch genre and a mandate to produce a “confidence-building” timepiece that “allows a lot of first-time customers to get in touch with the brand at the sub-$1,000 level.” The Field Automatic models are distinguished by their lightweight-but-robust, barrel shaped cases made of grade 5 titanium, a material almost unheard of at this price point, and by their faux-sandwich dials in an array of industrial-inspired color options, including Ash Gray, Petrol Blue, Ultra Violet, Sage Green and Mahogany Red. 

Formex Field Automatic dial CU

The dials, according to Granito, are among Formex’s most noteworthy recent accomplishments. “We were inspired by the dial layout of the Dirty Dozen watches, that clear, crisp legibility that defines a classic Field Watch,” he says. “We enhanced that high-contrast, very legible layout with a somewhat futuristic numeral font that we created ourselves. We wanted a sandwich-style dial, but because of our criteria to keep the watch’s price under $1,000, we had to come up with ways to achieve that look in a cost-effective way. The dial is not actually a two-layer dial, but one layer with the numerals punched in but not all the way through, and filled with Super-LumiNova. The minute track is curved up, and slightly concave; the syringe-style hands speak to the codes of the field watch genre without going for a full-on vintage look. The dial colors are inspired by old agricultural and military machines; more subdued and less ‘popping’ than the ones on the Essence series.” Also aiding in the cost effectiveness while still contributing aesthetically and technically to the overall package are the full-bead-blasted finish on the grade 2 titanium case, with no polished or hand-finished areas and a scratch-resistant hard coating, and the Sellita movement inside the case, which offers automatic winding and the Formex suspension system but no COSC certification.


Price: $1,830 - $2,065, Case Size: 42mm, Thickness: 11.4mm, Lug-to-Lug: 47mm, Lug Width: 22mm, Water Resistance: 300m, Crystal: Sapphire, Movement: Automatic Sellita SW300-1


Price: $1,860 - $2,280, Case Size: 42mm, Thickness: 11.4mm, Lug-to-Lug: 47mm, Lug Width: 22mm, Water Resistance: 300m, Crystal: Sapphire, Movement: Automatic Sellita SW330-2

Formex Reef Automatic Diver white

The mission statement behind the Reef Automatic Diver, the indie brand’s first divers’ watch collection, was “a tool watch that could be worn at a wedding,” according to Granito. At first glance, all the classical dive watch elements are present: a fairly large steel case (42mm diameter) with a robust, professional-level water resistance rating (300 meters); a unidirectional dive-scale bezel, here with its insert made from extra-hard, scratch-resistant ceramic in a variety of color choices; large, chunky hands and hour markers deep-filled with Super-LumiNova for a bright shine underwater or in the dark. Delving deeper, one finds additional attention to detail that is characteristic of the brand.

Formex Reef Automatic Diver white dial CU

“We didn’t give the dial a chapter ring but wanted to create the illusion of one with the indexes, which taper down in height, almost 1mm in the back all the way down to flush with the dial,” Granito points out. “We opted for a sunray finish on most of the dials, except for the white version [pictured], which has a lacquer polish. We added the beveled date window from the Essence collection and placed it at 6 o’clock, because at Formex we’re big fans of symmetry. We like the fact that it sits there without having to disturb or remove an index at 3 or 4 o’clock. And of course, the rubber straps are equipped with the patented quick-release system, which is the thinnest one out there. Straps and bracelets are not afterthoughts at Formex; it’s always important that the integration is seamless and the comfort and practicality matches the quality of the watch.”

Formex Reef GMT

The Reef Diver comes with a black, white, silver, green, or bronze dial; a configurator on Formex’s website enables the consumer to choose the watch’s bracelet or strap as well as the bezel color. In 2022, Formex added the Reef GMT models (above), which add a dual-time function to the diving capabilities, with a central GMT hand and a 24-hour scale on the interchangeable bezel rather than the traditional 60-minute dive scale. The chronometer-certified movement inside the Reef GMT watches is the automatic Sellita SW330-2, with a 50-plus-hour power reserve and GMT capability. Here again, Formex’s attention to functional detail is evident, specifically on the bezel, redesigned from the 120-click tooth profile of the divers’ version to accommodate the 48 clicks for a precise GMT setting. Reef GMT models are available with black, green, or white dials and a selection of bezel and bracelet/strap options. Finally, while Formex has either discontinued or back-burnered the leader chronograph models from its earlier days, the Motorsport and the Element, when asked about the possibility of launching an entirely new chronograph collection that would reflect the brand’s modern streamlined DNA, Granito answered with four words that are surely music to the ears of the brand’s fans: “We’re starting to doodle.”

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