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Hands on review of the Genus GNS 1

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What I appreciate above all in independent watchmaking is its ability to develop the most ambitious projects that explore new ways to display the time. I will not tell you stories: there is nothing more legible and understandable than the two good old hands that rotate on a 12 hours dial. But creative mechanical watchmaking is not only practical. It offers much more than that: it offers a new relationship with the flow of time and it is in this territory that the new brand Genus is committed. Genus was co-founded by Catherine Henry, entrepreneur and responsible for the launch and development of the brand and by Sébastien Billières, watchmaker and instructor, with an impressive CV, who learned and practiced his job in particular in Roger Dubuis or Urwerk. His experience was subsequently consolidated thanks to his subcontracting company, which has worked for many years on the development of complications and mechanisms for the biggest watch brands.

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We all know the story: when a talented watchmaker works for others, he always ends up wanting to make his own ideas concrete. In fact, the display principles staged by Genus sprang up in the spirit of Sébatien Billières 10 years ago. And after 3 years of development and of test, here comes in this summer 2019 the first watch from Genus: the GNS 1.

In fact, if I had to summarize in a few words the GNS 1, I could say that it represents the meeting point between two worlds. On the one hand the world of alternative displays, in some surprising or even confusing aspects. On the other, the world of pure watchmaking tradition expressed through a basic movement featuring a classic architecture and very high level finishes. It is this meeting that makes the GNS 1 exciting. On the front side, it offers us to dive into an extremely technical and contemporary atmosphere, made of wheels, structures, strange moving elements, all magnified by effects of depth and light striking. "movement" side, the GNS 1 is much more peaceful and classic while sharing the same care to detail.

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I experienced many feelings when I discovered the GNS 1 and manipulated it for the first time. First of all, I was surprised by the impact of the light on the display elements because of the use of a sapphire crystal box that can effectively and deeply illuminate the front side of the watch. You will notice that I don't use the "dial" word and for good reason: there is none. This was my second feeling: the time display and the mechanism are one. Then I quickly appreciated the proportions. The case diameter is 43mm, its height of 13.1mm. These are reasonable sizes because whatever the side of the watch, all the available space seems well and truly occupied. Indeed, the handwind movement, has a diameter of 38mm which, beyond its finishes, makes it very pleasant to observe. The obstacle of the too small movement which animates a big complication is avoided and it is excellent news.

And then very quickly, I asked myself the question that should have come first: but how do we read the time?


The GNS 1 combines 3 displays. In theory, only one could be indispensable: the one made of  hours indexes located at the periphery of the watch on a ring which does a constant rotation. This display indicates the hours thanks to the fixed hand at 9 o'clock. However, the position of the ring also gives an indication of the minutes: if for example, the fixed hand is facing the middle of the segment between two indexes, it is because we are close to half hour. This display is truly surprising. In the pictures you will notice that all the numerals are pointing in the right direction. The trick is that as the ring moves, the indexes rotate on themselves four times a quarter of a turn. For me, this orbital display that performs a revolution and supports twelve indexes that turn on themselves reminds the past of Sebastien Billières at Urwerk. I really like this idea which is one of the two fundamental patents developed by Genus.

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If the first display can sometimes be self-sufficient, the precise reading of the minutes requires other indicators. This is the role played by the central zone, dedicated to the tens of minutes and by the rotating counter at 3 o'clock dedicated to the units.

The display of the minutes is therefore sequential: the tens first, then the units. The cornerstone of the watch which creates its main specificity consists of two central orbits which form an eight. The tens of minutes are displayed thanks to the position of the moving element's head (or lead) indicator that looks like a kind of 12-segment caterpillar. This caterpillar therefore moves steadily and the most surprising is that it is able to move freely from one orbit to another one (this is the second patent developed by Genus). The movement of the caterpillar can be understood by turning the crown to accelerate time: it winds, follows the curves of the orbits and draws the contours of the eight. The position of the head thus indicates the tens of minutes in progress and the minutes units can also be guessed according to this position. The precise reading of the units is obtained thanks to a rotating disc at 3 o'clock which places the current minute in front of a fixed hand.

We understand the time display by turning the crown:




The head of the caterpillar gives its name to the brand since it is called itself "the Genus". It can be easily explained: the will of the Genus founders is to reuse this type of display in the future models of the brand. It offers great freedom and can adapt itself to any shape, not only the 8 constituted by the two orbits.

I really liked the aesthetics of the front side of the watch as well as this integration between the displays and the mechanism. The finishes are very beautiful and the reflections of light allow some details to come off. The sensation of depth and the mechanical intertwining give a sense of extreme complexity and reinforce the technical atmosphere. The watch is not intended for lovers of pure aesthetics but the result is extremely attractive and convincing. Readability is in this context correct (especially when based on the display at 9 o'clock) but perfectible. I think that Genus should work to improve the contrast so that the hour index numerals are better distinguishable and the caterpillar's head is also more noticeable. I had trouble differentiating the head of the tail of the latter.

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The goal of defining a new display is in all cases achieved. The GNS 1 has its own identity and a constantly evolving aesthetic because the shape of the caterpillar changes according to its evolution on the orbits.

The show offered by the movement is radically opposed. First of all, I really appreciate the size of this handing caliber, which occupies a lot of space. The other point that seduces me is the large diameter of the balance wheel. In fact, the Genus team has adopted a movement with traditional architecture. The frequency is low (2,5hz), the barrel is imposing and I must admit that I always had a soft spot for this type of caliber. It delivers a lot of power (which is required by the display) and offers a very high stability of behavior. Its power reserve in this context is about fifty hours which is quite acceptable.

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The presentation of the movement is superb. Beyond its lay-out, it proposes very beautiful finishes and decorations made by hand. The pictured watch is a prototype but already offers a very nice overview of the final result. I particularly liked the finish of the bridges as well as their bevellings, the hue of the movement which gives a more contemporary aspect and some very original details. For example, the crown wheel houses a small trilobal tool that is used to disassemble the ratchet. I also like the contrast between the escape wheel bridge and the balance wheel bridge. However, I have a remark. Taking into account  the offered price of the watch (288,500 CHF HT), I would have liked the gear-train with a more aerial design and more inward angles. In any case, the movement works perfectly within the framework of the mission entrusted to it: I wound with pleasure and it delivers the required power and regularity.

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Genus hits the spirits with its first watch. The GNS 1 challenges us first and then appeals by its rigorous construction and its respectful approach to watchmaking traditions as evidenced by the use of noble materials. Gold is thus present everywhere: in the case, the bridges and plates of the movement as well as in the display elements. The watch is logically heavy. But it is worn with great comfort due to short and curved lugs. The diameter is certainly important but since the display occupies the entire space (there is literally no bezel), there is a sense of balance that emerges from the GNS 1. It is also important to consider that the Genus proposal has a strong potential given the caterpillar's ability to evolve in other contexts. Finally, a climate of trust and continuity surrounds the Genus approach: the subcontracting company of Sébastien Billières brings a security that would not have a new brand starting from scratch.

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I was very seduced by this first watch offered by Genus. It is certainly not perfect and points must in my opinion be further worked like the readability and the central bridge shape. But the way the caterpillar moves is really amazing and the presentation of the display very accomplished. Genus is for me a brand to follow given the potential it holds.

Pros:
+ the innovation brought by the caterpillar behaviour
+ the quality of the finishes
+ the optimal use of space on both sides of the watch
+ the respect of the watchmaking traditions

Cons:
- the legibility of the hours indexes and the head of the caterpillar
- I would like to see a more ambitious decoration on the central bridge

Comments:
Thomas_3 July 8th, 2019-14:01
By the time I figured out what time it is I would be VERY late to whatever I am supposed to be on time for.
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Izhik July 8th, 2019-14:05
I like to consider myself as open-minded... but I have to ask...what is that..?
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Emil Wojcik July 8th, 2019-14:11
I'm reminded of Jeff Goldblum's line from Jurassic Park...something about being "so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should"  
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manilx July 8th, 2019-14:26
You'll have to be a genius to read the time on this one.... To each his own 😎
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amanico July 8th, 2019-14:32
The backside is less impressive than the dial side, which is very much my taste. Interesting concept. Thanks for the review, Fx.  
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dedestexhes July 8th, 2019-16:38
Thx for this great review. I’m quite open to new concepts so this is interesting. I don’t think you can read the time on this watch though. But who cares? Dirk
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Spangles - Mr. Tabby July 8th, 2019-17:48
Needs a big step up in finishing plus a dial so we can read the time. The taiji ("yin-yang") layout is awesome, why obfuscate that?
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Spencer Karrington July 8th, 2019-18:42
Thank you so much for writting this review and for all of the lovely photos! I love the watchbut I would not buy it if I had the money thanks again for taking the time to have all of these wonderful photos. I really love your reviews because of all of the photos you take with the detailed description. best of boths world! I am in support for these types of watches because I personally be... 
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Watchonthewrist July 8th, 2019-23:20
Very interesting watch .  Hooe to see it in person one day . Thanks for the post
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Cpt Scarlet July 9th, 2019-01:27
This watch certainly has “wow factor”... From the prospective of the movement, dial and price, but the decoration on the central bridge is very disappointing.
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amanico
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