This year in Basel, we got to experience a first… we got to leave Basel. Yep, we broke free for a night, ditched the industry cocktail parties and dinners, and took the train for an hour’s ride south/south-west to Biel, to visit our friends at Horage. For those who are thinking, “well who is Horage?”, I recommend reading my article from several months ago about the brand, and the in-house movement they developed over 7 years here. Also, check out my review of their quirky luxury sport watch, the Autark, and take a peak at our Wind-Up Recap, as they participated in that event as well.
Back to Biel, we met Jonas and Andi from Horage at the train station, and were taken to the headquarters of Armin Strom. Here, Horage does much of the manufacturing, finishing and assembly of their K1 movement. As a small, innovative watch start-up, they have smartly kept their overhead low, and instead of investing the millions upon millions for equipments and space, have instead struck smart partnerships with brands like Armin Strom and Mühle Glashütte, to utilize their equipment, and in turn those brands can use their movements. This allows Horage to focus on continually refining their product, getting it ready for mass production.
The work shop was fascinating for us. When you hear “watch manufacturing facility” you might picture some large, static free clean rooms with dozens of employees in dust masks working in silence. The reality is, it’s much more humble. The manufacturing room was long, but relatively narrow, housing a handful of purposeful looking CNC machines; mills, lathes, wire cutters, etc. Here, they can make the bulk of a movement, from the main plate to the balance wheel. Some parts and processes are done elsewhere, such as the manufacturing of their silicon escapement, and laser etching, but a surprising majority can happen on just a few machines.
On the floor above are the finishing, plating and assembly rooms, as well as Armin Strom’s administrative offices. Here we got to see how Jonas flat sands the movements for their minimal, industrial style of finish, and then assembles them from 156 minuscule parts. Currently, any Horage watch powered by the K1, will have a movement that is assembled by Jonas, and Jonas alone. While their goal is too grow and industrialize the process, bringing the price per movement down, right now it’s still very small scale. It’s rare to get to see a watch manufacture in this startup mode, and frankly it’s very cool to see how it all gets done.
Hands-On with The Array K1
When I first wrote about Horage, they were in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for their project by selling a watch powered by their K1 movement. Now, they are back to Kickstarter with a second version of that watch. Through Kickstarter, their goal is to raise money incrementally to provide for additional machinery/infrastructure for the K1 movement manufacturing. They also are using it as a platform to promote a second part of their business, called Brandcloud, which is a retail/sales solution. Honestly, they describe it way better than I ever could in this surprisingly entertaining video:
The first watch was dubbed the Jonas K1, while the new watch is the Array K1. It shares much of the DNA of the Jonas, but has been refined and restyled. It keeps the concept of being a “dial-less” watch, showing the top of the movement in all its naked industrial glory, as well as the complete big-date disks. The biggest difference on the dial, is the addition of a broad chapter ring. On the ring is an index of applied lume slightly-tapered squares per hour, each with polished fittings, and white lines per minute/second. This adds a dose of needed readability, and the combination of chapter ring around an open dial actually looks very cool. The inner edge of the chapter ring perfectly meets a ridge of the movement, which then leads to the larger of the date disks. It has a nice rhythm to it. Depending on which version chosen, black, grey or white, the chapter ring and date disks will match.
On the last model, they did a lot of printing on the back of the crystal. This time, they only put the date window and logo on the glass, but both look very cool. The date window in particular perfectly frames the big date at 3, making it quite easy to read at a glance. The logo gets a bit lost against the sanded plates of the movement, but when seen, likely at an angle, it’s a nice, subtle detail.
The hour and minute hands are polished straight swords with a partial lumed, partial skeletonized design. Because of the open design, the hour hand is a touch hard to see at a glance, but once found is clear enough. The seconds hand is a thin stick with small lumed square about a third from its end. The seconds hand is in a highlight color, which varies per style; red for black, yellow for grey and blue for white. One of the more remarkable details is the lume on this watch… it’s incredibly bright. Easily as strong as that of a good dive watch.
The case of the Array K1 is pleasantly modest at 39 x 46 x 10.5mm, making it a great day-to-day watch. It’s a fairly simple design with a broad, angled bezel and clean tapering lugs. There is a nice play of finishing through out, with the bezel in a light radial brushing, the lugs then are polished, and the case side has a mix of vertical brushing and polishing. It’s all understated, but comes together to make a more high-end feeling design.
On the wrist, the Array K1 wears nicely, comfortably. It’s a very appropriate size for a modern watch that is just meant to be worn and tell the time. 39 x 10.5mm tall is a good proportion, making it sit flat and slide under a shirt with ease. The design is then a bit more striking, but not outlandish. It’s a bit sporty, but not rugged or aggressive, a bit graphic and bold, but not obnoxious or too modern. If anything, it’s a bit techy or architectural… Seeing the movement from the front, the metal, the screws and plates, makes it feel industrial, because it is. If you like the aesthetics of steel and glass, you’ll likely find the Array appealing, I know I did.
Of course, the dial and case are nice and all, but the story here is really the movement. Inside of the Array K1 is Horage’s in-house K1 movement. The K1 features 25-jewels, a tungsten rotor, hacking, hand winding, silicon escapement (palette, escape wheel and hairspring) coated in mono-crystalline nano diamonds, a frequency of 25,200 bph, or 7 beats per second and a 56-hr power reserve. The completely ETA-free silicon escapement is part of what really makes these movements stand out, the other being modular complications. On the Array, the watch features central seconds and a big date at 3. The movement can be configured, however, to have sub-seconds at 9, power reserve at 6, a regular sized date and any mix therein for 18 variations.
Looking through the case back, the movement is very… well… normal looking. It’s not a bizarre design or one that is aesthetically meant to appear “haute”, rather it was designed to be practical and mass produceable. The raised plates have been decorated with simple, coarse sanding while the rotor has the silhouette of the Matterhorn laser etched on it. The movement, like the watch and the people behind it, is very not-fussy… Something that is refreshing from a Swiss brand.
As mentioned before, the Horage Array K1 is currently available through Kickstarter for a starting price of $1,474, going up to $2,929 for two. They already reached their initial goal of $50,496 (odd number because it’s converting from CHF), but are trying to reach a much loftier reach goal of $150,000, which will unlock the option to add a power reserve to the watch at 6 o’clock. $1,474, is a good price for what it is, which is essentially a bespoke Swiss watch with a hand assembled movement that features a Silicon escapement. Obviously, it’s not inexpensive, but in watch terms it’s a good value. Having spent some time with the watch and the brand, I can say with confidence you’ll enjoy it, it’s made very well and the money is going to support a very cool company with a lot of potential.