Atelier Wen’s mini-documentary shares the story of China’s sole guilloché master craftsman Atelier Wen’s mini-documentary shares the story of China’s sole guilloché master craftsman

Atelier Wen’s mini-documentary shares the story of China’s sole guilloché master craftsman

Jamie Weiss

It would not be an understatement to say that Atelier Wen is one of the most interesting microbrands on the market right now. Founded in 2018, this Franco-Chinese brand has done much to elevate the perception of Chinese watchmaking (indeed, their most popular model is called the Perception). As they put it, “the feats of Chinese watchmaking and artisanship often go unnoticed in a world preoccupied with European luxury” – an ironic state of affairs when you consider that the vast majority of Swiss watch brands use components made in China in their watches; something the Swiss don’t really like to call attention to…

Above all else, Atelier Wen is known for its gorgeous guilloché dials, which are the product of one man: Cheng Yucai, the sole extant guilloché master craftsman in China and a remarkable man. Over the summer of 2023, Atelier Wen co-founders Robin Tallendier and Wilfried Buiron visited Master Cheng in his home of Xinmi, about 8 hours drive south of Beijing, to produce a short Inside the Atelier film/documentary, which they’ve now released and is very much worth a watch.

“[The film] took much longer than expected to edit, and the final output is somewhat more ambitious than we initially envisioned,” Robin tells Time+Tide. “We wanted the tone of the film to be somewhat akin to Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, taking the audience through a cultural exploration of ‘far’ watch geographies.”

As you’ll see in this film, Master Cheng is utterly unpretentious – impressive, considering the luxurious nature of the watch dials he produces, with his team producing Atelier Wen dials using rose engines of his own design. He explains that the “calmness and peace” of his mountain home and workshop in Xinmi help his creative process.

atelier wen gold guilloche

“The quieter the place, the more it helps me quickly immerse myself in a state of tranquillity as I work at night, and gives me the space to make even more exquisite creations,” the master explains. There are obvious parallels one can draw between the tranquillity of Xinmi and the similarly peaceful, isolated nature of Switzerland’s Vallée de Joux, the birthplace of Swiss horology.

Master Cheng explains in the film that his fastest guillocheur – his brother – is capable of completing one and a half dials a day using one of his rose engines. That should give you some perspective of how labour-intensive guilloché dials are in general, and Atelier Wen’s guilloché dials specifically.

atelier wen blue guilloche

Look, I don’t want to spoil too much of the film, so go watch it for yourself. It’s a rare, intimate look at one of watchmaking’s most prized techniques, and gives you some insight into what makes Atelier Wen such a compelling brand.