Studying the Formex Field Automatic has triggered a fleeting thought that I’ve been trying to snag. Something about my childhood…. what is it? Oh yes, it’s the steel ball puzzle! I don’t think that’s the official name of the old-timey, pocket-sized children’s game but it sure reminds me of this watch dial. I would have to remove the hands first and insert a few little steel balls with the goal being to maneuver all of the balls onto the recessed hour markers. The banking on the chapter ring would present a challenge but that’s part of the fun. If any of the balls enter the chute that frames the date display, the game is lost. Now that I think about it, the movement would also have to be sacrificed since the case would become a repository for wayward steel balls. I think this would be cool (but, then again, I also eat celery sticks with peanut butter).
All of the above means that I would have to buy two Formex Field Automatics; one to convert and, more importantly, one to wear because it’s that good of a watch. In addition to bending the chapter ring, Formex has bent a few of the “rules” that govern traditional field watch designs. Let’s look a bit closer.
The dial is a thoughtful blend of form and function. The most prominent feature is the typeface used for the Arabic numerals. Formex has created a unique design language that lends a subtle obscurity to numerals 2 through 5 when viewed through a narrow aperture. However, in an expanded field of view, those same numerals take their rightful place on the dial with unmistakable clarity.
Formex calls this dial “sandwich-like” because it is stamped in one piece as opposed to stacking two distinct layers of material. The banking on the outer circumference of the dial enhances the 3-D effect. As a field watch, the overall design is distinctive and attractive but does not in any way detract from the watch’s requirement that it be instantly legible at a glance.
Low light illumination is enhanced by Old Radium Super-LumiNova, which gives a greenish glow when activated. While not the brightest lume available, it is certainly adequate and is generously applied to the numerals and hour indices, as well as all three hands.
This particular watch arrived with a charcoal dial but there are five other appealing colors to choose from. Based on renderings as well as photos, the only color that I question is Sage Green, which, to my eyes, has a faded look that doesn’t offer enough contrast between the syringe hands and dial.
The Case and Movement
The case and signed crown are both made of Titanium Grade 2, which is lightweight and corrosion resistant but not as strong as alloyed Titanium such as Grade 5. Formex applies a hardening treatment to the sandblasted surface that is said to be long lasting and protective against small scratches and fingerprints.
The case is water-resistant to a depth of 150 meters and the underside of the sapphire crystal has an anti-reflective coating. The case back has an attractive honeycomb pattern that showcases the Formex logo.
For this watch, Formex uses a standard Sellita SW200-1 automatic movement. Similar to the ETA 2824, the SW200-1 is in widespread use and has proven to be reliable and accurate.
Okay, what about the straps? They are amazing. Simple in concept but so well executed. The standard, one-piece nylon strap offers infinite adjustability without the irritating bulk and overhang of a NATO strap. It’s fastened by Velcro and can easily be swapped using the tool-free spring bars.
But wait, there’s more. Peel off a few more dollars and do get the leather strap. The strap itself is a simple, two-stitch design but it’s all about the superbly engineered deployant clasp. Made of a lightweight, carbon composite, the clasp offers a unique and patented fine adjustment as well as tool-free quick release. The stainless steel top piece is sandblasted to match the case and locks in with a very satisfying snap.
On The Wrist
As someone who spends a lot of time outdoors, I’ve been delighted by the Formex Field Automatic. I wore this watch for three straight weeks and it was supremely comfortable on either strap. It’s been the perfect companion on several hiking trips and fulfills my personal requirements for a field watch. For me, that means lightweight materials like titanium and carbon, a thin profile for comfort under clothing layers and gloves, and, most importantly, high contrast between the dial, hour markers and hands. In that regard, all of my needs have been met.
Would I change anything about this watch? Probably not, although a manual wind version might be entertaining as it could slim down the case even more. According to Formex, they have been getting requests for a titanium bracelet. That would be a welcome option but it would likely pop the overall price above $1,000. Given the innovation of the carbon clasp, such a bracelet would have to offer something special.
This is a brand to keep an eye on. I was surprised to learn that Formex manufactures the clasp system as well as the dial of the Field Automatic. When you factor in the distinctive composition of the typeface (developed in-house) and the dial layout, a picture emerges of a company that is effective at integrating design and engineering. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.
The Formex Field Automatic is a perfect fit for the TBWS ethos. That is to say, watches should be fun. As I wore it these past few weeks, I caught myself stealing glances at the dial just for the pleasure of it. It’s a good looking watch with a fetching design but, the thing is, this Formex also happens to be a darn good field watch for all of the reasons I stated earlier. I guess I’m not alone in that assessment because the first production run sold out quickly. As I write this, more stock is beginning to appear on the Formex website.
Formex Field Automatic Specs:
41mm Titanium Grade 2 Case
47mm Lug-to-Lug Distance
20mm Lug Width
10.6mm Case Thickness
150m Water Resistance
Flat Sapphire Crystal
Anti-Scratch Treatment on Case
Sellita SW200-1 Automatic Movement
Price: $795. with Nylon Strap, $945. with Leather Strap and Deployant Clasp
Mark retired in 2018 after 37 years in the financial services industry. He “Discovered” watches in 2015 after seeing a photo of a Steinhart OVM1 in a car forum. Ever since then he’s filled two watch boxes (and is trying to decide between buying a third one or thinning the herd). His additional pastimes include hiking, working on cars, exploring and photographing abandoned military bases.