At an event in the famous Swiss mountain town of Zermatt, inside a venue full of theatrics and pizzazz, the watchmaker Norcaine Proudly introduces its most important collection to date: Wild One. The development of the Wild One collection, its launch and the technological and functional innovations in the products each deserve a separate discussion. There is a lot to unpack about this watch, as well as the story surrounding it. Since aBlogtoWatch is going to be writing about various Wild One watches for a while, my hope is that over time, more casual watch hobbyists will gain a deeper understanding of what NORQAIN and Jean-Claude Biver are trying to do and how it is set. The voice of the future for young but fast growing Swiss brand Norkine.
NORQAIN was launched in 2018 by some of the leading 30-something professionals with experience in the watch industry. aBlogtoWatch was there from the beginning because I really admired what the team brought to the table, their energy, their desire to focus on more accessible prices, and their ability to work with the best watch suppliers and talent in Switzerland. During the pandemic, NORQAIN co-founder Ben Kuffer met the legendary Jean-Claude Biver, who was in semi-retirement. Biver, for several years, had been seeking a mentor. In his words to me in late 2018, he wants to “give back” to the younger generation. At the time, he wasn’t sure how to do it. What he found was that by mentoring a young watch brand with a spirit he could relate to, Biver could maintain significant influence in the industry, but without the full-time commitment. It’s important to remind people that Jean-Claude Biver and his son Pierre Biver are also set to launch a boutique high-end watch brand in early 2023, news they actually broke on an episode of the Superlative podcast. The brand is simply called the eponymous “Biver” and is extremely high-end with very low production numbers (less than 30 pieces per year). So, Mr. Biver’s ability to work with and influence a large luxury watch demographic is, for now, fully integrated with his participation on the NORQAIN board. It’s a fantastic position for NORQAIN and, according to Biver, he chose to do it because he saw more of himself in the young Ben Kuffar.
After two years of development, the first result of NORQAIN and Jean-Claude Biver’s relationship was the launch of a complete concept, not just a few watches. Part of the larger NORQAIN Independence collection (based on case shape), the Wild ONE has a 25-part case with sections that can be made in a variety of colors, possibly other materials, and a dial that can be made to take. Many forms. To me, this is really the evolution of Jean-Claude with Big Bang at Hublot, creating a fun, sporty, modular watch concept that can take many forms with many materials, but all fit into one collection. The idea is that you can industrialize an overall format that can take on different styles and themes to introduce variety and choice to the market, and that still engages with novelty and uniqueness. In this way NORQAIN can use the Wild One as a platform to make new watch models for years to come.
Jean-Claude outdoes itself compared to Hublot by making sure that the Independence Wild One watches are not just aesthetically interesting, but also have a real performance story behind the product (most of them, actually). Of course, the people at Narkine were responsible for most of the legwork, but Mr. Biver guided them, challenged them, pushed them, and made sure the team had his blessing and feedback. From a performance standpoint, NORQAIN Wild One watches are fundamentally similar to mechanical G-Shocks. The case is lightweight and designed to be highly shock-resistant, using impact-absorbing buffer structures. Casio has been doing this with tremendous success for nearly 40 years, but the mechanical watch industry has rarely used shock-absorbing buffers. Mr. How it was on some early Wyler brand watches. Biver pointed out and I know that Bremont included a shock-absorbing movement-holder ring in their large Martin Baker watch collection. NORQAIN surpasses them all with technical achievement and grace as these shock-absorbing elements are not hidden, but part of the case construction.
Three basic ingredients are relevant to understanding the construction of the independence wild one case. The first is titanium – it makes up the inner core of the watch and is where the movement happens. Titanium is an excellent material for this given its strength, weight and ability to create an effective water-tight environment for the watch movement. The Wild One case is water resistant to 200 meters and NORQAIN recommends it for swimming and light diving – so a tough inner cord is important to hold the mechanical movement. The next layer of the case is what interests me the most and has caused a lot of community questions and curiosity – this is the one-piece section of natural rubber.
Not all latex is created equal in formulation or form. This rubber is very stiff and less prone to regular bending and more prone to absorb large impacts and vibration shocks. NORQAIN worked with an exclusive supplier that really went out of their way when it came to the ingredients used in Wild One. Using an advanced form of injection molding, the rubber section is designed in incredible detail, then finished by hand. To my knowledge, the Wild One has the first case made with large rubber sections finished by hand. This is very important because after the rubber section is formed, it should be cleaned with cut and beautiful places. There is no automatic way to do this, and although rubber may not sound like a traditional luxury watch case material, in the NORQAIN Wild One, rubber is as good as gold.
Finally, the Wild One case is sandwiched with sections of new material, a brand called NORTEQ, developed with supplier BIWI SA. A carbon alloy with some notable properties, the NORTEQ is the final piece of the shock-absorbing and lightweight puzzle. It weighs about 6.25 times less than steel and is slightly more elastic, meaning it can absorb shock by deforming together with the rubber parts of the case. NORTEQ is formulated from a handful of ingredients including carbon, sustainable castor bean oil, pigments and a secret formulation developed and manufactured in Switzerland. What impressed me most about the material was its pleasant tactile experience, high-end feel and ability to be offered in a few colors. Carbon and carbon polymer composite watches are available in black. Although not all colors are available, the NORTEQ is only produced in black. For now, NORQAIN has introduced a limited edition version of Wild ONE in Burgundy Red color to show what they can do. The brand hinted at more colors to come. Of course, more color variants are available for the rubber section of the watch, as well as for the dial.
Speaking of the dial, NORQAIN uses a laser cutting technique for each of them, resulting in an interesting three-dimensional structure. The variety of designs that can be laser engraved is almost limitless. You can already see NORQAIN experimenting with this in the NORQAIN Wild One Hakuna Mipaka Limited Edition developed with brand ambassador Dean Schneider. The dial of his watch has a “lion fur” texture, meant to evoke the animals he is known to sport on his popular social media accounts. It will be interesting to see what direction NORQAIN takes creatively when it comes to the dials of future Wild One watches. Hour markers on faces and hands polished to give a true “Jean-Claude Biver” look. This is how the matte-finished sections of the Wild One watch connect the concept to the world of luxury and lifestyle. The Independence Wild One is intended as a sports watch. The dials are beautiful, but if I had the chance to design a Wild One watch, I might experiment with more matte-finished surfaces and give the watch a more instrument-like dial design. Of course, with the modularity of the Wild One concept, it’s all possible.
Inside the Wild One watch is a movement NORQAIN refers to as its “manufactured” caliber NN20/1. This is a version of the Swiss made Kenissi movement used by some other NORQAIN watches. It may now be slightly modified to give a unique look to NORQAIN. Since this is not an indoor movement, some enthusiasts may take issue with the “manufactured” statement. NORQAIN may want to modify it as “special movement”. The automatic movement is visible through a sapphire crystal window on the case back and operates at 4Hz with a power reserve of around 70 hours. The NN20/1 movements are also each COSC chronometer certified, which is a welcome touch.
Along with the shock-resistance and durability features of the Independence Wild One, the team is probably second-most proud of how comfortable it is on the wrist. The case features a new engraved rubber strap that, combined with the overall light weight, makes it feel like you’re just holding a wristwatch while wearing it. That kind of “discretionary wearing” experience is in line with many contemporary notions of what it’s like to wear a high-end sports watch. This goes against the somewhat traditional notion that a good watch is heavy, metal and tank-like.
That’s all I have to say about the NORQAIN Independence Wild One watch collection for now. I’ll come back to this conversation after I’ve done a full review, because this watch is one of the most important models in late 2022. The last thing I have to comment on is the price. These are not budget watches, but they are great value for money, and nothing else on the market offers this kind of case construction or material options. Most of the watches you’ll compare to the Wild One are more expensive. I want to give a shout out to the Swiss FormexIt has its own shock-absorbing carbon case concept in the Essence collection, making it a good option for people who can’t quite afford what NORQAIN offers with the Wild One watch.
Four watches comprise the debut collection, including two limited editions. The non-limited edition Wild One watches include the Wild One Black & Blue, like the reference NNQ3000QBA1A/A001/3W1AR.20BQ (blue rubber strap) and the NNQ3000QBA1A/A001/3W1BR.20BQ, also like the rubber NNQ3000QBK1A/B002/3W1KBR.20BQ (khaki). Green rubber strap) and Wild One Black & Khaki like NNQ3000QBK1A/B002/3W1BR.20BQ (black rubber strap) all priced 4,950 Swiss Francs. The next reference is the NNQ3000QBX1LA/B001/3W1BR1.20BQ Limited Edition of 500 pieces of Wild One Hakuna Mipaka for Dean Schneider, which features real South African sand in the rubber material construction and retails. 5,250 Swiss Francs. The final launch model of the NORQAIN Wild One is the Burgundy & Gray reference NNQ3000QUG1LA/G001/3W1GR.20RQ, a limited edition of 200 pieces at retail price. 5,350 Swiss Francs. Learn more on the NORQAIN Watches website here.