When it comes to high-end watches, there is one thing that the most revered watches always have in common: in-house calibers, or manufacture movements. The art of watch making, for the purists, is in the movement. It represents a set of skills that take decades to culminate and even longer to perfect. Movements are designed to be elegant, complicated, efficient, innovative, brilliant, and host of other exalting words. They are miniature mechanical works of art that hearken to a long and rich history of craft and technology. The dials and cases of a watch reflect the mastery within.
It’s no secret that these watches can cost tremendous amounts of money. From several thousand for a more mass-produced movement, such as an Omega, to tens of thousands for a Jaeger-LeCoultre, to hundreds of thousands for a small-run hand assembled grande complication, such as a Breguet Double Tourbillon. As such, they don’t often grace the pages of worn&wound, except in our “watch lust” category. Most of the watches we discuss are built around third party movements, or ébauches, mostly made by ETA, Selitta, Miyota and Seiko. Brands design their watch with the specs of the movements in mind, the cases and dials are manufactured, and the movement is installed. For affordable mechanical watches, this is really the only option*, and the watches are no less valid for it. I’m going to skip the philosophical rant I could go on here about worn&wound’s passion for these watches, as our reviews do the talking for me, and get to the heart of this article…
*as a counter point, a very valid argument can also be made that watches like the Seiko 5 series and those of Orient also qualify as in-house caliber mechanicals…which is totally true, yet the mass-produced nature of these watches and extremely low price-point tend to separate them from this conversation… this also tends to be a conversation revolving around the European tradition of watch making.
Nomos Glashütte is a brand that you as a reader of worn&wound, as a fan and/or collector of affordable watches, as a watch enthusiast must be aware of. Nomos is a German brand based in Glashütte, which is a small town that houses a handful of Germany’s finest watch brands, and has been one of the centers of German watch making for over 150 years (the other being Pforzheim). From genuinely humble beginnings (for a time, the brand shared a single phone line with a fast food restaurant), Nomos has been built up over 20 years to be one of 3 watch companies in Glashütte to be a genuine manufacture with over 110 employees. It shares this special status with relative behemoths, A. Lange & Sohne and Glashütte Original, both of which exclusively make watches for the luxury market.
What sets Nomos apart from these other brands, and really into a playing field of their own, is that they manage to be a high-end watch manufacture, with unique, subtle and gorgeous watches, that do not cost a frightening amount of money. Their watches range from the $1,450 to $5,760. While this range is considerably higher than what we typically discuss, Nomos is truly an affordable brand for what it is they produce. It’s no small feat financially or technically for a brand to produce its own movements and to do so in a price range comparable to those who do not manufacture, is all the more exceptional.
But enough background, there is a watch to review here (two actually)! As an entry way into Nomos Glashütte the brand and the world of manufacture watches, we thought it would be fitting to talk about their 2 most affordable offerings, the manual wound Club and Club Dunkel (dark). As the sportiest model the brand offers (sportiest by miles) the Club series has been positioned as a watch for the up and coming individual: the just graduated student, the recently hired senior or director of…what-have-you. The watch effortlessly infuses dress and sport, with a design that is refined and restrained, respectable and lacking pretention. It’s a design that is born to be a classic, timeless piece. I am inclined to compare it to the venerable Rolex Explorer 1016, which was and still is a true gentleman’s sport watch. As a watch with an in-house caliber that is priced to be owned, and not coveted, it represents a sort of value that is very rare in the watch market.
The two Clubs we have on hand are priced at $1,450 for the Club and $1,720 for the Club Dunkel. There are a handful of aesthetic differences between the two models, which all comes down to colors, but the price difference comes from the addition of a sapphire case back on the Dunkel. Since an obvious amount of attention has already been given to the movement, we felt that we had to show you this slightly more expensive model and the in-house caliber within, the alpha.
Case: Stainless Steel
Movement: Nomos Alpha
Lume: yes on Dunkel
Strap: Shell Cordovan
Water Res.: 100m
Thickness: 8.17 mm
Lug Width: 18 mm
Crown: 5 x 3 mm screw down
Warranty: 2 years
Beating away at the center of the Nomos Club is the in-house alpha movement. This 17-jewel hand wound movement was the first caliber developed by Nomos, and while perhaps their most simple, is also a staple of the brand. Functionally, the movement features decentralized seconds positioned at 6, hacking seconds and a 43hr power reserve. It has also been adjusted in 6 positions to guarantee accuracy. The alpha is rhodium plated and features various decorative elements, such as a Glashütte ¾ plate with Glashütte ribbing (Geneva Stripes), perlage patterning, Glashütte sunburst on the ratchet and crown wheel and blued screws throughout.
If one opts for the sapphire display backed Dunkel model, the decoration of the movement will not disappoint. The movement itself is visually fairly simple, especially compared to the likes of a chronograph, but the mix of ribbing and sunburst makes every surface catch light differently and very nice to ogle. Operating the alpha is as expected with a simple date free hand wound movement. Pull the crown out one position to set the time, wind it periodically and it will keep very good time. I found the sensation of winding the movement to be particularly smooth having little to no clicking sensation, but rather a consistent amount of resistance. This was especially true on the steel case back model, as the sapphire does allow the clicking sound of the ratchet to be heard. While they felt the same, the sound makes one more aware.
There are a few different versions of the Nomos Club with different movements that effect the overall case size. The alpha powered Club and Club Dunkel have a 36 x 46 x 8.17 mm polished stainless steel case with a very interesting design. For a contemporary watch, 36mm is very small, doubly so when one considers that the design has a definite sporty element to it. Yet, the very long lugs and the overall shape prevent the Club from feeling or looking fragile or underwhelming. Essentially, the design is fairly classic 20th century watch design, with a cylindrical body and tapering lugs protruding out. Unlike most watchcases which feature a three part assembly (bezel, case, caseback), the Club is what Nomos refers to as “bi-partite”. The bezel and case are one piece, allowing for a perfectly smooth transition from the case side to the rounded bezel. The bezel is also fairly fat for a watch this size, which adds some needed meat to the case, making it more robust.
The sapphire crystal on the Club has a very slight dome to it, but more interesting is how it sits on the watch. Rather than the edge of the crystal being flush with the case it sits ever so slightly above, creating a little lip. It’s a subtle but nice detail that adds a bit of vintage appeal to the design, which fits right in. But perhaps the most striking detail is the oversized lugs. Protruding a full centimeter from case, the lugs turn the small diameter watch into something a bit more substantial to wear. The tapering shape also adds an aggressive line to the watch that works with the youthful, sporty demeanor of the line, but not in the sense that it makes it look young. It would be more apt to compare the aesthetic to that of a classic sports car, like a Mercedes Gull-Wing 300 SL: elegant, nimble and fun.