VIDEO: The Norqain Wild One collection ushers in the next era of the brandZach Blass
Editor’s note: When the Norqain Wild One launched at the end of September in Zermatt, we went in-depth on the collection, the new NORTEQ carbon composite material, and spoke with Norqain CEO Ben Küffer and Jean-Claude Biver, an adviser to the board. Below you can find our brand new hands-on video review of the entire collection and our initial written coverage upon its debut (with updated hands-on photography).
When it was first announced that Jean-Claude Biver was joining Norqain as an advisor to the board, many wondered whether the position was merely ceremonial or if he’d make a genuine impact. During my conversation with Norqain CEO Ben Küffer on the matter back in June, he insisted that JCB was not simply lending his name and aura to the brand – he was truly bringing his thoughts, ideas and input. That this would be a true partnership. Now that the shroud over the Wild One has been lifted, and, after having a chance to hold and wear the watch myself, it is clear this is the case. In fact, while a collaborative effort between Ben, the Norqain team, and their manufacturing partners, you can see Jean-Claude’s fingerprints all over the new Norqain Wild One.
Norqain has always strived to present unprecedented value well under CHF 10,000. With this in mind, the fact Norqain that worked and invested in creating an entirely new material is insane. Sure, they could have gone down an easier route, shaping an existing material to their needs. But Ben, Jean-Claude and, Norqain as a whole, are committed to innovate and that led them to undertake such risk. The fruit of their gamble is the all-new material “NORTEQ”, and this proprietary carbon composite material is the star of the show that shapes the new Norqain Wild One collection. The Wild One makes its debut in four configurations. Two of the models will be a part of standard production, the khaki/black and blue/black variants left and centre above.
The grey/burgundy variant (seen to the right of the two standard models) and the Wild One Hakuna Mipaka variant pictured above (created in partnership with Norqain Ambassador Dean Schneider) are the two of three limited-edition models – the grey/burgundy limited to 200 pieces and the Hakuna Mipaka limited to 500 pieces.
A new limited edition followed the initial four models, the Wild One TCS New York City Marathon Limited Edition, to celebrate the brand’s partnership with the New York Road Runners. The black and gray dial notably displays a black and grey map of New York City, emphasizing the lines of the marathon race course on the dial.
The Norqain Wild One is reasonably sized, considering it was fashioned to be the ultimate professional outdoor explorer’s watch, clocking in at 42mm in diameter, a sporty-slender 12.3mm thick, and with a manageable lug-to-lug measurement 0f 49.4mm across the wrist.
While you might expect an ultra-light material to potentially feel cheap on the wrist, the Wild One strikes a nice balance of being lightweight enough for extreme activity while, from a tactile standpoint, still having the tangible presence on the wrist you can feel. While sustainably made, this does not have the insubstantial feel of recycled plastic. It genuinely has a luxurious feel on the wrist, and as you rub your finger on the textured NORTEQ it does not take a watch geek to feel its high level of quality. The case clocks in at 84 grams, 50% lighter than their stainless-steel watches, and yet is ultra-robust and anti-magnetic as well. Through stringent laboratory testing, the case, made of NORTEQ carbon composite, rubber, and titanium parts, has been rated to withstand 5,000 Gs of force – meaning it is more than ready for your next mountain-biking adventure. And, with a screw-down crown securing 200 metres of water-resistance, your next cliff-diving adventure as well.
With 25 parts and 14 toolings (where most cases utilise three), Norqain and their partner BIWI have created a complex carbon composite case with a robustness befitting an explorer’s requirements. The front and back of the case are where you find the newly BIWI-developed NORTEQ parts that serve as a protective cage and are connected and secured with custom-made screws. Held by these screws, between the back and front NORTEQ parts, is a rubber shock absorber that surrounds a titanium container that holds and protects the NN20/1 manufacture calibre within.
When I sat down with Ben and Jean-Claude, I asked them what parts of the watch they can each point to and say: “That’s mine, I fought for that idea or design.” And Ben revealed to me that the Wild One’s custom-made case screws totally stem from Jean-Claude’s insistence. Custom-made screws may seem like a minute detail, but this small aspect demonstrates the level of detailed input that Jean-Claude had on the watch’s development.
“Ah Jean-Claude, those bloody screws,” laughs Ben. “Because they’re now costing an absolute fortune! I don’t know if you noticed, but they follow the shape of the case, so we have all of them really personalised to the case – and you know what that costs. For these four screws, we’re paying what normally the stamped cases costs us. But Jean-Claude was totally right. We had flat screws and that did not follow, or suit, the case. And Jean-Claude said, ‘For a product we say should look like a $10,000 watch, then you should have screws following the case.’ He was right. This, you don’t find in any watch below $10,000.”
The advantages of this new NORTEQ material are not just limited to the technical front. Aesthetically speaking, an advantageous aspect of the proprietary material is that it can be fabricated in a wide variety of colors. This was yet another aspect Jean-Claude applied pressure to make happen. “We spoke to Pascal from BIWI,” Ben explained to me, “And he said to us: ‘It’s impossible’. To which Jean-Claude insisted: ‘Wow, okay, but try to find something.’ Three months later, Pascal was on the track of finding NORTEQ with colours.” When an industry G.O.A.T. like JCB makes a request, it is hard to let him down.
Initially the colours were too dark for their liking, but, after much effort from Pascal and his team at BIWI, eventually shades of colour were achieved that both Ben and Jean-Claude approved of. The rubber shock absorber, as well, serves a purpose beyond its technical facets. It also adds a second opportunity to inject colour, and compliment whatever shades of NORTEQ that Norqain is able to fabricate. This insistence of colour, in my personal opinion, is reflective of JCB’s time with Hublot – a brand widely known for their exploration of colour and materials.
Much attention was also paid to the aesthetic of the dial. It is highly intriguing, with a ton of depth as you look at it in person on the wrist. Patterned dials are by no means new to Norqain, but the Wild One utilises a brand new three-level, laser-cut dial with a new NORQAIN mandala-like pattern.
The diamond-cut applied hour indices all have luminous squared-tips, as do the three central hands. I appreciate the attention to detail when it comes to the hands and inner-bezel. With such an intriguing dial pattern, you want to interrupt the dial as little as possible. This is likely why Norqain opted not to include a date complication, utilised semi-skeletonized central hours and minutes hands, and placed the radial minutes track on a stepped inner bezel beyond the flat surface of the dial.
The colour of the dial varies by configuration, black for the khaki/black, blue for the blue/black, and grey for the grey/burgundy. The Hakuna Mipaka, however, does not utilise the mandala-like pattern. Instead it has a special lion-like texture befitting the limited edition and the cause it strives to raise money for – the wildlife sanctuary and animal rehabilitation centre in South Africa called Hakuna Mipaka.
Each Norqain Wild One is outfitted on a textured and colourful vegan rubber strap. The straps rest perfectly flush against the case, and the little fixed flare they have ensures it wraps around the wrist well. As a smaller-wristed member of the watch community, I appreciate that the strap has plenty of loopholes for the case-matching pin/buckle to close into.
As I mentioned earlier, inside the Norqain Wild One, beneath an exhibition caseback, is their NN20/1 manufacture calibre developed with Kenissi. Its architecture is effectively the same, but not 1:1, as the Kenissi-developed movement found inside the Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight. It offers the same near-weekend proof power reserve of 70 hours, the only notable distinction being the NN20/1 does not utilise a silicon hairspring. It is a rock-solid industrial movement that, while by no means Geneva seal decorated, has a clean no-frills finish that is still nice to look at. Considering the demographic the Wild One was built for, it is far more important that the calibre has a full balance bridge that further aids in shock resistance rather than have a striped bridge. Also, with accuracy paramount, the calibre is chronometer certified to run within +6/-4 seconds per day.
The only thing, perhaps, more exciting than the debuting Wild One collection is the door the collection opens for the future. With such an investment made into the development of the NORTEQ material, this is certainly not a one-off affair. When discussing NORTEQ, the Wild One, and their plans for the new line, Ben and Jean-Claude did not talk in terms of the next few years – they spoke about the next ten. More case sizes and complications are certainly on the horizon, but that is to be expected. But when Jean-Claude explained his aspirations for the Wild One, my jaw nearly hit the floor.
He explained to me: “In 2030, when we have more or less developed a certain numbers of variations of the case and the materials, then time has come to apply this evolution of the colours and the materials to the movement. If you have the same material in the case and in the movement, which is exclusive to Norqain, then you have another evolution and layer of innovation. That’s the future. But that can only be the future because to work on the movement will take another five, six years. And to work on the case will take maybe only one year. So let’s start with the case, but don’t forget to work on the movement.”
I even expressed my desire to, perhaps, see a bracelet made for the Wild One – utilising NORTEQ and rubber – to which Ben replied: “It’s possible. We just have to be super clever in the design. It will be super expensive to make, but we can make it and we will make it.”
While perhaps the title of this article may insinuate the credit of the Wild One’s design is largely Jean-Claude’s, this is not the case. What the Wild One is, however, indicative of is how strong a bond Jean-Claude, Ben, the Norqain team, and their partners all have. It is clear Jean-Claude very much contributed, but it is equally clear that each cog in the development chain collectively strived to rise to the challenge. Firstly, to present something entirely new. Secondly, to do so well below CHF 10,000. Considering this is the first project Jean-Claude and Norqain undertook together, I can’t wait to see what sequels are in store from the duo and the team.
Norqain Wild One pricing and availability:
The Norqain Wild One is available now and will be sold via Norqain and their authorized dealers. Price: Starting at US$5,290
|42mm x 12.3mm x 49.4mm
|NORTEQ carbon composite, rubber, and titanium
|200m (screw-down crown)
|Double AR-coated sapphire crystals
|3-level laser-cut NORQAIN mandala-like patterned dial
|Rubber with case-matching pin/buckle closure
|Automatic Manufacture Chronometer Calibre NN20/1
|Hours, Minutes, Seconds
|Starting at US$5,290