Phenomen Axiom: A Touch Of Familiarity Mixed With Awesome
Ever experienced a moment of profound surprise in a place you thought you knew well?
Imagine walking down a street you’ve traversed perhaps 1,000 times when you notice a doorway you’ve always overlooked before, and it turns out to be the best hidden café you’ve ever been to.
And it’s been there for years!
Or perhaps you go to your favorite record store (they still exist) to get an obscure album from your favorite Gypsy Punk band, Gogol Bordello, only to find the entire band chatting with Karl behind the counter. What are the odds!?
The odds must be pretty good because these little moments of surprise happen all the time, and often when you are just minding your own business. The surprise may not even come from what you found but being shocked that there was even anything to find.
These discoveries happen because people get comfortable and don’t expect anything new in the places that they frequent regularly. I must say that this happens to me as well, and sometimes it happens at a place where I should, for professional reasons, always be ready for the unexpected.
I am talking about watch fairs, the hallowed halls of horological heavy hitters and purveyors of perfect pinnacles of timepieces. Even though I have only been covering watches since the middle of 2013, I have been lucky enough to see so much of Baseworld and SIHH that I find myself less surprised with each passing year, instead feeling like I am coming back to a familiar place that hasn’t changed much since I last visited.
The steady progression of an industry sometimes sneaks up on you.
It did just that at Baseworld 2018 when I was walking through the independent Les Ateliers hall during some free time between appointments (it can happen), strolling past small brands for which we had no appointments scheduled. Seeing many of the same faces and brands I had seen before, I was checking in on new models or old models with new treatments when I stopped in my tracks: right next to a brand I had followed for years was someone new, presenting just one model that immediately surprised and excited me.
It was an exciting new watch and a new brand, something that doesn’t come along often. So I did what any self-respecting watch journalist would do: I exclaimed “Ooh that’s cool!” and hustled over to speak with the gentleman manning the very small stand.
While listening to the model and brand concept being described I felt a feeling that had dissipated a little over the years: the pure excitement and surprise of discovering a new watch in all its glory without it being spoiled by half a dozen reviews from colleagues.
Brand . . . new . . . brand
Phenomen is the brainchild of Alexandre Meyer, an engineer-turned-designer who spent nearly a decade working with automotive manufacturer Groupe PSA before launching his own design studio, which eventually led to the formation of Phenomen.
Meyer is joined by experienced watchmaker Sylvain Nourisson, who has worked for Christophe Claret and La Joux-Perret; the latter position saw him supporting the development of Angelus and Arnold & Son. During his time with La Joux-Perret, and later as a technical consultant with the Citizen group, Nourisson played a role in the development of more than 70 models, giving him a solid background for his role as technical and operational director with Phenomen.
As a brand, Phenomen may be a little lacking in a clearly defined path and could very well benefit from a powerful mission statement since the first model is a rather strong debut.
Normally I wouldn’t even comment on an underwhelming brand concept, but these watches are not average; they have loads of potential. The concept for the Axiom centers around a driving watch, but the brand is more broadly focused on interesting mechanics and bold design, something I can definitely get behind.
Unlike some independent brands centered on one watch idea, Phenomen was organized as a brand before the Axiom came into existence, and the company seems poised to continue development of its own ideas thanks to some in-house prototyping capabilities and relationships with quality suppliers.
Leadership experience and capabilities might sound like everything you might need to get something off the ground without pinning all your hopes on one idea. Granted, the brand only has one watch right now. But things are in place to build upon that.
The Phenomen Axiom
Phenomen’s debut is a bold timepiece that might look vaguely familiar if you are a fan of avant-garde watches. The Axiom is built in a form that resembles both a spaceship and a futuristic communication device, depending on the source material.
The style is reminiscent of both MB&F and Urwerk, but to say there aren’t traces of Claret and Angelus would be to ignore Nourisson’s background. Influences from the MB&F HM8 and HMX, the Urwerk UR-210, and even a bit from the C3H5N3O9 Experiment ZR012 (a famous collaboration between Urwerk and MB&F) are obvious.
I could almost guarantee that images of those watches, along with many other sources, were on some sort of mood board during the development of the Axiom. Some collectors may scoff at being inspired by other timepieces, but anyone who has ever actually designed a watch will know that other watches are sometimes huge inspirations for what you might want to make, and that no design is made in a vacuum.
Since I am a fan of all of those watches and the style direction in general, I instantly made an emotional connection with the Axiom because it felt familiar enough that my experience with my favorite watches gave this watch immediate credibility.
After talking with Phenomen and looking Axiom over, it grew into a unique interpretation of the future that makes design sense on its own. The shape is built around a movement concept of multiple layers. The hours, minutes, and balance are arranged in a cascade down a sloped sapphire crystal, creating a mechanical volume that tells a story – but the mechanics being hidden keeps the story a bit of a mystery.
The movement is based on a double barrel main movement with a set of pillars raising the balance and escapement high off the main plate. A set of gears and the retrograde hour and minute hands are located between the balance platform and the main movement.
These hands are also stacked, with the minutes working on the first layer and the hours on the second. This separates the hour and minute displays into visual levels and also separates the driving mechanisms, allowing the inclusion of a quick-set hour mechanism.
These two levels with the balance platform on top make up the entirety of what is visible once the movement is cased up, with the case wrapping closely around the movement architecture.
The slanted slab shape (let’s call it the cockpit) encloses everything above the main plate, while the lower sled shape (let’s call it the fuselage) corrals the main movement. The case architecture is fairly clean without superfluous features, and the dual crowns are directly incorporated into the overall design.
Looking like two thrusters coming from the rear, the dual crowns extend slightly under the cockpit, and each has a unique function. One allows you to wind the movement and set the hour retrograde display. This is particularly useful if you travel a lot and just need to adjust time zones. It also reduces wear on the retrograde minutes mechanism since it bypasses that function to adjust the hours.
The other crown adjusts the minutes, also saving unneeded wear on the mechanism as you won’t need to run through all the minutes repeatedly until the hours are set correctly. While the dual crowns are critical for visual symmetry, they actually are crucial to extending the movement’s service periods and reducing the potential for issues.
When the movement is uncased, it is clear that the finishing on the hidden sections of the movement is kept simple, while the section visible through the rear crystal is definitely more design oriented. The winding mechanism and mainspring barrels are punctuated with what appears to be a valve cover from an engine, giving the PH-010 caliber a strong automotive slant.
A gridded oval pattern spreads across the base plate, adding a ton of texture. Combined with the top-notch finishing in all corners of the visible movement, this movement is nothing to be scoffed at.
That is especially true when you take the 100-hour power reserve and the use of a patented design from Agenhor for the retrograde mechanisms into account.
There are so many little touches like the articulated lugs for the strap attachment and the hand-formed three-dimensional hand tips that follow the angle of the minute and hour indications that demonstrate that this watch is wholly considered, something some independent watches clearly lack.
The Axiom – and Phenomen by extension – is a successful launch if I have ever seen one: since Baselworld 2018, I have read that the brand has enough orders to fill production capacity for two years, so clearly enough collectors and/or retailers agree and are ready to stand behind this watch.
It even gives its predecessors a run for their money with a starting price well below that of Urwerk and MB&F. At just under €70,000, the Axiom is a rather good deal for such a bold timepiece.
While it does remind one of other successful brands and models, the Phenomen Axiom has a ton of room to grow building off a fantastic concept.
The market is there for those who want to explore independents and avant-garde brands, and Phenomen is in a rather good position. I know I have my fingers crossed that it can navigate the tricky waters of new growth and maintain quality and design intent and avoid growing too fast.
If the brand can manage that, then the future looks bright for a company that can make unique watches in a style (and price point) that isn’t nearly saturated. Potential abounds, and the Axiom is an incredible start to a new love affair.
Oh, man, am I in trouble! So let’s break it down!
- Wowza Factor * 9.65 Seriously, just look at that thing!
- Late Night Lust Appeal * 96.5 » 946.342m/s2 Equivalent to the G forces of Axiom the spaceship, this piece can keep just about any WIS up for days!
- M.G.R. * 69.5 The movement is basically a quadruple layer cake of serious mechanics in a fun new form. Hard to beat!
- Added-Functionitis * N/A Not only is it not applicable, but it is not surprising that another great watch is time only. No need for Gotta-HAVE-That cream, at least not yet!
- Ouch Outline * 11.65 Engraving the palm of your hand as you Dremel too deep into a soft part! Always pay attention when you have a sharp burr spinning at 30,000 rpm less than a quarter inch from your hand. Accidents won’t happen every time, but they will probably happen eventually! Still, I would gladly take one for the team if it meant getting this watch on my wrist!
- Mermaid Moment * 59 minutes or less! Retrograde watches don’t need long to make you fall head over heels!
- Awesome Total * 734 Add the number of hours in the power reserve (100) to the number of components in the movement (267), and then multiply by the number of case options (2) and the result is one seriously cool awesome total!
For more information, please visit www.phenomen.fr.
Quick Facts Phenomen Axiom
Case: 47 x 42 x 17.3 mm, titanium
Movement: manual winding Caliber PH-010
Functions: retrograde hours and minutes
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Also published on Medium.