Kennsen Annual Calendar Chronograph
The Kennsen Annual Calendar Chronograph combines two useful complications and encompasses some impressive components, yet it remains keenly priced. Angus Davies wore a press loan over a number of days and discovered a watch rich in virtue and worthy of consideration.
The horological landscape consists of several huge monolithic brands and, scattered in between, small ateliers occupied by the so-called ‘independents’. As a watch journalist, I often succumb to the charms of a new model from one of the mainstream behemoth watch firms and I appreciate the many technological developments they bring to fruition. However, like many of my fellow journalists, I also have a soft spot for independent watch brands.
Invariably an independent brand is born out of a dream. There is an overriding belief that the newly formed firm can create something very different from the mainstream offer. Sadly, some dreamers, having chosen to embark on this journey, subsequently fail. There are a number of reasons why this may happen. The usual suspects include: a lack of funds, excessive complexity precluding serial production, poor quality, uncompetitive pricing or an unwillingness on the part of the company’s founders to work every waking hour.
In addition, just because a watch can be made, does not mean it should be. When viewed through the eyes of a cold, hard business person, they may enquire whether the intended product fulfils a need. Does it address the desires of a niche? Conversely, is it too niche, relevant to virtually no one? Several of the aforementioned points have caught out ill-prepared entrepreneurs in the past.
Thankfully, while some independent brands fail, there are many companies which flourish, going on to enjoy the sweet taste of success. They possess the winning combination of resources, shrewd acumen, a well-developed idea and, perhaps, most pertinently, tenacity. My heart skips a beat when I see a timepiece from Armin Strom, Grönefeld, MB&F, Urban Jurgensen, Urwerk or Voutilainen. The individuals behind all of these brands have taken risks in order to pursue their dreams. The world of watchmaking is much richer for their existence.
A love story
Recently, I met David Lea, co-founder of Kennsen, a Swiss watch brand based in Biel/Bienne. David’s journey was unconventional and his story is charming. He met his wife, Myriam, while both of them were studying for their MBAs in Edinburgh. After completing their studies, David, a New Zealander, moved to Switzerland, Myriam’s country of birth.
Myriam’s family have been active in the watch industry for some time, providing consultancy services to an array of firms. David began teaching himself about watchmaking, reading an array of materials, including patents, engineering texts and old watchmaking school material. Subsequently, David and Myriam established their own consultancy firm, again serving the needs of the watch industry.
Ultimately, David’s desire to establish a watch brand came to the fore and Kennsen was born. His lack of formal training allowed him to look at horology from a different viewpoint and led to him conceiving unique mechanisms.
He has been instrumental in the creation of the Kennsen Annual Calendar Chronograph, designing the dial and case and, subsequently, prototyping the model. Moreover, David designed and patented an annual calendar mechanism which is built into the watch’s Valjoux 7750 base. While I chatted to David about his watch, his sense of pride was palpable. Moreover, he clearly loves making watches bearing the Kennsen name. However, David exhibits an endearing modesty that belies his achievements.
At David’s invitation, I borrowed an example of the Kennsen Annual Calendar Chronograph for a few days and wore it whilst working in Switzerland. I report my thoughts herein.
The Kennsen Annual Calendar Chronograph is available in two dial colours, black or Champagne. My loan watch was presented in the latter hue and looked fabulous. The dial is presented on three levels, features galvanic plating and matte finishing. It is a paragon of tasteful restraint, successfully sidestepping gaudiness or unseemly excess.
A reoccurring trait with this watch is that David has expended many Swiss francs on components, differentiating it from many rival watches in this market segment (see later).
Galvanic rhodium treated lancine hands impart the hours and minutes. They are radius cut and gleam brightly, courtesy of black polishing. A matching central chronograph seconds hand, with counterweight, measures elapsed time. A sunray brushed telemeter scale sits on a higher plane, framing the periphery of the dial. The indexes are applied and match the silver hue of the hands.
A 30-minute chronograph register is positioned at 12 o’clock, while a 12-hour chronograph register resides above 6 o’clock. Both registers sit slightly below the main dial epidermis and incorporate snailed detail. Furthermore, a small seconds display, located at 9 o’clock, sits flush with the rest of the dial, exhibiting a discrete appearance. Equally discrete, but still visible, a useful day/night display is positioned within the 30-minute register.
Consistent with most other watches fitted with a Valjoux 7750, the date is shown via an aperture at 3 o’clock. However, David has ingeniously adapted the movement, equipping it with some sophisticated mechanical wizardry: an annual calendar. The ubiquitous Valjoux 7750 is equipped with two discs, one for the day and a second for the date. David has removed the original calendar plate and mechanics and exchanged it for his Kennsen plate and mechanical system. This modification allows the month to be shown via an aperture near the fulcrum of the dial.
Unlike a regular watch with a date display, an annual calendar has the intelligence to differentiate between those months with 30 days and those with 31 days. For example, as the last few seconds of the 30th April pass, the date wheel knows to jump to the 1st of May. Some annual calendars display the prevailing day and, as in this case, some don’t. Assuming the watch is kept wound, the date will only require manual adjustment on the 1st of March each year.
Despite swapping the existing ETA calendar for Kennsen’s own annual calendar, the height of the movement remains the same as both share the same thickness, 1.3mm – the result of years of R&D. The new calendar plate features a central pipe allowing the hour and minute hands to pass through, while also acting as an axis for a co-axially mounted annual wheel which then drives the coaxial month display using an internal tooth. While sounding byzantine, it is actually a quite logical and direct system compared to other mechanisms. As well as retaining the base movement’s original height, this approach also allows the wearer to adjust all the indications solely with the crown. Put simply, there are no annoying caseband correctors requiring the use of a suitable stylus.
The day/night indicator positioned in the upper subdial (30-minute chronograph register) proclaims the time of day using a two-tone disc, partially shown via an aperture. Certainly, this form of indication proves helpful. With most watches fitted with a date display, the date should not be adjusted during the “night” hours or damage may occur to the movement. The thoughtful inclusion of a day/night indicator should mitigate this risk.
Housed in a 42mm stainless steel case, the Kennsen Annual Calendar Chronograph does not feel unwieldy. Moreover, considering the case houses an ETA Valjoux 7750, not known for its slenderness, together with Kennsen’s annual calendar mechanism, the case height of 13.4mm seems remarkably modest.
David Lea designed the three-part stainless steel case. It is formed of 316L.4435 stainless steel which ‘has a low carbon content and increased nickel and molybdenum levels for improved resistance to damage’. This material should not be confused with the standard and cheaper 316L stainless steel, which is widely used elsewhere in the watch industry.
It is clear that David is not a ‘bean counter’. He rejected the idea of procuring cheaper cases from China, preferring to source supplies from his adopted country. The Swiss cases are made by Victorinox, the legendary firm synonymous with Swiss Army knives and wristwatches. The case of my press loan was beautifully executed and would befit a watch costing substantially more than the CHF 5,100 asking price (RRP as at 15.4.2020).
The case band features a brushed finish, while the remaining surfaces are suffused with a highly polished gleam. The case is polished by hand and endowed with chamfered edges adjacent the case band, again heightening production costs.
Kennsen has added yet another delightful touch to the case, namely, rectangular pushers with hand-brushed sleeves. Few prospective purchasers would expect to see this detail but their inclusion augments ownership delight. The watch has a stated water resistance of 50m.
The Calibre KV775C is comprised of a Top-Grade Valjoux 7750 base with the out-of-the-box chemically blued screws replaced for silver ones; it is hand adjusted and is paired with the brand’s own annual calendar mechanism. The manufacturing and assembly of each watch is outsourced to a specialist firm in the Vallée de Joux.
The Valjoux 7750 is held in high esteem courtesy of its legendary reliability and robustness. Moreover, David Lea has shown that the movement provides a suitable base for his annual calendar mechanism. The ‘Top-Grade’ specification includes Côtes de Genève motif and perlage on the plates. Kennsen has equipped the movement with a personalised rotor, delivered in a matte anthracite finish.
While this chronograph is equipped with an in-house annual calendar, a complication and combination which would ordinarily place it in a much higher price category, I fear that some aspiring owners may be unable to see beyond the Valjoux 7750, thereby expecting the watch to cost less.
As I previously intimated, the Valjoux 7750 is a good movement and has seen service in a plethora of watches produced by a myriad of brands. Unfortunately, the very qualities that made it so popular with watchmakers leads some consumers to undervalue it, which may cause them to overlook the accessible annual calendar complication. However, if prospective purchasers can simply appreciate the Calibre KV775C for what it is, an attractively appointed annual calendar chronograph, they will enjoy much virtue for comparatively little.
The automatic Calibre KV775C has a frequency of 28,800 vph (4Hz) and contains 25 jewels. When the mainspring is fully wound, the movement will run autonomously for 48 hours. The rate of the movement is regulated with ETA’s proprietary ETACHRON system.
I wore the Kennsen Annual Calendar Chronograph for a few days and enjoyed the simulated ownership experience. The Champagne dial is delightful, courtesy of its subtle tone, refined execution and overall legibility. My only criticism is that I sometimes struggled to read the month indication.
Having worn the watch for an extended period, I found it to be incredibly comfortable. There were no annoying post-wear indentations in my skin, no abrasions caused by the crown and, lastly, the downward profile of the lugs enticed the strap to readily envelop my arm.
From the outset, David Lea decided to use Swiss components. While many companies selling watches with five-figure prices or above frequently adopt the same approach, cheaper watches often incorporate some Chinese parts. Kennsen’s ‘real Swiss’ approach is consistent with the firm’s obsession with quality.
David clearly has a propensity to use materials that surpass the quality of components usually found on watches in this price segment. In some firms, those decision makers with an eye for spreadsheets, would have mandated that these components needed to be ‘dumbed-down’.
The quality of the Kennsen Annual Calendar Chronograph is palpable and the value of the watch is clear to see. The reason the brand is able to offer this quality is that all models are sold online via its website, obviating the need to pay retailers a substantial margin. This is certainly a distribution strategy that has worked for some brands and, based on what I have seen, I expect it will prove successful for David.
Returning to my introduction, David has demonstrated that Kennsen can make a competitively priced watch, crafted to a high standard. However, most notably, my discussions revealed David’s burning desire to build a brand based on Swiss technical virtue.
Based on my time with David Lea and the aforementioned watch, I think this brand has all the ingredients necessary for success.
- Model: Kennsen Annual Calendar Chronograph
- Case: 316L.4435 stainless steel; 42mm diameter; height 13.4mm; 5ATM (50metres) water resistance; sapphire crystal to front and caseback.
- Functions: hours; minutes; small seconds; date; month; chronograph; annual calendar; day/night display.
- Movement: Calibre KV775C, self-winding movement; frequency 28,800 vph (4Hz); 25 jewels, power reserve=48 hours
- Strap: Top grade alligator paired with a stainless steel pin buckle
- Price: CHF 5,100 (RRP as at 15.4.2020)