Xemex Offroad & Avenue
The Virtue of Simplicity
by Justin Time
Many expensive watches have come and gone through my collection but few produced the exhilaration I felt when I first held the IWC Fliegerchronograph in my hand. Something was missing. But earlier this year, purely on impulse, I bought a Xemex Avenue from Richard Paige and instantly fell in love with it! I love this inexpensive watch so much I bought another Xemex last month, the Offroad, and promptly fell in love with it too. Hey B. B. King, the thrill’s back! Sooner or later, I need to figure out what kind of watch I really want, overpriced jewelry or cheap trinket? But for now, I’m happy I’ve found the Xemexes.
In Henry Ford’s grand tradition, you can get a Xemex in any metal you want as long as it’s stainless steel. And so I became the proud owner of a Xemex Avenue and a Xemex Offroad, both in stainless steel, together for half the cost of an IWC Mark XII. At this price, you don’t get a household name, but with Xemex, you get two attractive watches that are instantly recognizable because of a rare quality & simplicity.
The Xemex Avenue is an irresistible combination of straight lines and right angles. This unusual square watch is one of the most elegant dress watches you’ll find in stainless-steel. More conventional at first glance, the Xemex Offroad surprises you with a perfectly cylindrical case and a flat bezel without frills. The Offroad is an unusual sports watch, Spartan and yet instantly recognizable. The dials of the Avenue and Offroad are utterly free of clutter, the disfiguring disease of modern watches. Equipped with very functional hands, these attractive dials are exceptionally easy to read. Both the Avenue and the Offroad use hinged lugs that adjust to the curve of your wrist. These seldom seen lugs help shape the Xemex look that is appealing to many, I’m a big fan, but may give anxiety attacks to some purists. Overall, there is much to like about the Xemex Offroad and the Xemex Avenue. The design is the main attraction here, but instant readability and wearing
QUALITY AND VALUE
The craftsmanship on the Xemex Avenue and Offroad belies their modest price. This is not to say that Xemex watches are exceptionally well-made, they aren’t, but they are better than many watches twice their price. Xemex obviously wants a share of the market that is already crowded with prestigious names, some nearly as old as the mechanical wristwatch itself, a few old names actually came back from the dead, a feat that even the Great Houdini couldn’t manage. Xemex competes by giving exceptional values, but even so, there is no Minerva miracle here. The movements are our old friends the ETA 2892 for the Avenue and the ETA 2824 for the Offroad. Judging by the watch performance, both movements are finished competently, though I saw little decoration through the exhibition backs. But you don’t buy a Xemex for the movement, you buy a Xemex for its for its great design. And in the process, you also get a watch that is of high quality, all at a price that won’t raise your blood pressure.
THE SOUL OF A NEW WATCH
Ruedi Kuelling is the designer, co-owner, and prime-mover of Xemex (see Hans-Peter’s article in the Archives). The catalog that Paris 1925 graciously sent with the watch says that Mr. Kuelling, based in Zurich-Gockhausen, has won many design awards and has permanent exhibits in museums worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The Xemex designs certainly substantiate these impressive credentials. To create a fresh design for an object as common as a watch is by itself quite an accomplishment. But to also endow this new design with functionality and elegance, as Mr. Kuelling has done, is a rare achievement indeed.
The Xemex simplicity runs counter to the current obsession with complicated designs. We are prisoners of the idea that a simple design is easy and thus unworthy. The exact opposite is true. Take the simple XE-M-EX logo. You may have noticed that with the triple bars standing for each letter E, the left half of the logo is a perfect mirror image of the right half. Now for fun, try to replace the pivotal M with another letter. With the possible exception of a T, you’ll destroy not only the pleasant made-up sound but also the perfect symmetry of the word. A simple design is the result of very hard work.
But I’m afraid that few care about the virtue of simplicity. Take any popular watch and chances are it’s full of clutter that gets in the way of legibility. The tendency is to overload a design, gussy it up, to make it look significant. There are so many redundant markers, meaningless scales, and pompous frills that you can hardly tell the time any more. I have this strange feeling that modern watches are designed for a very rich deep-sea diver who wants to know his dive time, his pulse rate, the phase of the moon, and what time it is Tokyo, Teheran, and Timbuktu while he is five hundred feet underwater.
THE XEMEX OFFROAD NO. 1
(Note: The hour markers on my Offroad are all one size with Arabic numbers indicating the hours)
Launched at Basel in 1996, the Xemex Offroad was the more conventional of the two Xemexes I bought, but still chock-full of new ideas straight out of the Bauhaus School of Design. The round case is unconventionally cylindrical (37 mm x 10.5 mm) with a flat sapphire crystal flush-mounted against a bezel that is also flat and featureless. This case looks relatively thin thanks to a deep square groove on the side. All top surfaces of the stainless steel get a fine brush finish with a subtle sheen, in sharp contrast to the deep polish on all the side surfaces. Hinged lugs are attached to the case with two straight bars at 12 and 6 O’clock, completing the unusual look of the Offroad.
The dial is in black enamel with a deep gloss that makes a remarkably good background for the white luminous markers and the Arabic numbers, also in white, indicating the hours. The whole arrangement reminds me more than just a little of the IWC Mark XII. But the complete absence of any curvature and the unusual hands make this dial unmistakably Xemex. The minute hand is an ordinary white stick, but the hour-hand, much shorter, ends in a big, fat arrow head that is so effective you can tell the time from ten feet away! Generously lined with tritium paint, these hands also work well in the dark. The sweep-hand, a sprightly red arrow attached to the center of the dial with a cute circle, adds a touch of color that softens the austere dial. The date shows through a window that is perfectly circular like most everything else on the Offroad. The ubiquitous Cyclops is absent but not missed. Overall, Xemex full commitment to simplicity and functionality makes the Offroad one of the most striking, readable, and comfortable watches I ever had the pleasure of using. Not a bad combination at any price.
THE XEMEX AVENUE NO. 11
(Note: On my Avenue, the logo is gone from the bezel)
Introduced in 1997, the Avenue is the dress model from Xemex. This square watch has a smooth bezel made of four flat steel bars surrounding a rectangular dial, except at the four corners where four rectangular lugs with the same width and thickness as the bezel neatly fit to complete the case. The unity of style is better on the Avenue than on the Offroad. The lugs visually stretch the case to 42 mm, which is great for a large wrist. Of course, the self-adjusting lugs ease the fit. As with the Offroad, the stainless steel is finely brushed on top and polished to a high gloss on the side. This dual finish and the sleek profile of the case (8.5 mm) adds to the Avenue’s elegance.
The design of the dial breathes new life into the oft neglected square watch. The markers are grouped as three parallel lines per side of the dial, an arrangement so natural and so elegant you wonder why it’s not used on more square watches [Paul Schliesser, with his keen eyes, pointed this clever design to me]. The white skeleton hands are the crown jewel of the watch (Sorry. I couldn’t resist). The short, blunt hour-hand and the long, pointy minute-hand cut a razor-sharp outline against the black dial. The red sweep-hand makes a re-appearance on the Avenue with the same positive effect. The whole package is slightly less readable than the Offroad but noticeably more elegant. You have other dial choices as well (Avenue No. 14 and 15) but I like this one best. Two other Xemex models, the double-sided Offroad Traveler No. 5 and the Offroad Compass No. 10 (all quartz!), also intrigue me but I don’t much care for the more complicated models because the clutter runs counter to the Xemex strength. Oh, I almost forgot; you can see the Avenue movement through a porthole that strangely resembles the Royal Oak bezel.
BRACELET OR STRAP?
I agonized about this choice over the phone with Richard Paige, the man has the patience of a Tibetan monk, and I finally bought the Avenue with the bracelet (No. 12) feeling that it matched the style of the case perfectly. I wasn’t disappointed there. The Avenue stainless-steel bracelet is a substantial hunk of metal, as thick as the bezel and as wide as the dial (20 mm). It is very well finished, and comfortable to wear. Each link has the same width and thickness as the lugs and bezel so the bracelet becomes part the watch when viewed from either the top or the side, once again, that Xemex attention to detail. Like the IWC Mark XII or the Blancpain Flyback bracelet, both ends of the Avenue bracelet fold over the deployant clasp and snap into place, leaving visible only a small seam that barely breaks up the bracelet pattern. This bracelet is not as good as the IWC Flieger bracelet, but better than most popular bracelets. You wonder why you can’t get the same quality with the Rolex Jubilee bracelet, the Omega Seamaster bracelet, or the TAG S/EL bracelet.
But you know what, sports fans, the Avenue looks better with the black leather strap. #$%@! The bracelet, as beautiful and as well made as it is, competes with the watch for attention, while the strap lets the handsome watch shine. Made of a tough but supple calf leather with a matte finish, this strap fits the ergonomics of the watch. So even if you’re not strapped for cash, get the strap (Richard took pity on me for the error of my ways and sent me a leather strap free of charge!).
Xemex watches are not perfect, and at the price, you’d hardly expect them to be. So here is a litany of complaints to keep things in perspective. First, out of the box, my Avenue runs +1 second per day, which is great, but change its rest position and the watch varies from -5 to + 5 seconds per day. My Offroad performs a little worse out of the box, about -5 second per day, and is also prone to position error (-7 to + 3 seconds). Is it low-quality balance assembly or poor adjustment at the factory? I’m not sure. While two watches are hardly meaningful statistics, I suspect that this acceptable but ho-hum performance is typical of moderately-priced watches. Second, I felt a large resistance when winding the Offroad (ETA 2824), more than from the Avenue with the familiar ETA 2892. Lacking a reference, I simply opened the Offroad and took a look but saw nothing unusual on the stem gasket, winding gear, or main barrel. The winding felt just as stiff out of the case, so it is either typical of the ETA 2824 or indicative of unit-to-unit variation. Comments from ETA pros are welcome. Third, the markers on the Avenue look great but are off by a second at the four corners, I matched the tip of the sweep hand to the inner tips of the corner markers for precise timing; nothing else made sense. Lengthening the sweep hand and shortening the markers a smidgen should correct this error. Fourth, the Arabic numbers on the Offroad are superfluous and reduce the simplicity of the dial. Fifth, the hinged lugs need more down adjustment for a better fit, especially for a small wrist. Finally, the modest size of the Xemex case is deceptive. If you have a small wrist, you may have to settle for the junior versions of these watches (Avenue No. 13 and Offroad No. 3 &4, in quartz!). This last item is more a warning than a complaint. I think I’ve used up my whining quota for watches under a thousand dollars (Actually, I can whine quite a bit more if I get paid as much as Andy Rooney to whine).
With their traditional market lost long ago to the disposable quartz watches, modern luxury watches must entice us in a different way, perhaps the way that a train set or a new bicycle did in our childhood days. But grown-ups are a tougher crowd to please, especially watch-collecting curmudgeons. So a caveat emptor is in order given my obvious enthusiasm for Xemex.
The biggest reason I love the Xemex Offroad and the Xemex Avenue is the instantly recognizable style. I admire Xemex’s courage to be different while avoiding the temptations of frivolous designs. But let’s face it, when it come to articles of personal attire, and certainly watches, we men are sadly conformists. A room-full of men in business suits resemble nothing so much as a convention of nuns, with the nuns holding a slight edge in creative attires. Many men who would calmly face a firing squad are too timid to wear a watch that deviates from the traditional look or the prevailing fashion. If you are of this persuasion, the Xemex Bauhaus designs are not for you. At the opposite end of the spectrum, those who love the oversized IWC Doppelchronograph and Royal Oak Offshore may also find the Xemexes a bit short on testosterone.
On the other hand, if you think the Royal Oak Offshore is too enormous and the Calatrava too anonymous, or if clutter chokes off your desire for a Breitling or a TAG/Heuer, or if being another Rolex owner among millions does not appeal to you, or if you’re simply on a beer budget, the Xemex Offroad and the Xemex Avenue are terrific choices. They are not as cheap as Viagra but may be just what a tired watch collector needs to re-invigorate his flagging hobby. So, give your favorite watch a well-deserved rest on the watch winder, and get yourself a Xemex, or two. Remember that you are not getting a family heirloom or an expensive piece of jewelry, but a fun toy. Then relax and have a great time with the Xemexes. I did, and still do.
XEMEX OFFROAD NO. 1
XEMEX AVENUE NO. 11