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.
That being said, the long lugs create a substantial gap between the edge of the strap and the case, which is a bit odd. Once can definitely see the skin of their wrist in the gap that is created. While I personally did not find this disturbing, so much as strange, I could see this bothering people. Though, on the positive side, one could definitely fit an 18mm NATO on the watch. At 3 is a no-nonsense push/pull crown measuring 5 x 3mm. Proportionally, the crown is fairly large for the case, but doesn’t betray the design. The Club and Club Dunkel feature different case backs. The Club has a simple stainless back with various information and a Nomos logo. The Club Dunkel has a sapphire display back with a window measuring 25mm for viewing the alpha movement.
The surface of the Club dial has a very interesting white-silver coating that gives it a transient quality. In some light it is white, some light it is cream and yet at times it’s a steely grey. No matter the light, it is a very appealing look. The main hour index is printed in a charcoal grey that is a few shades lighter than black and is broken into numerals for the even hours and large rectangles for the odd. The color works well with the silver dial, being neither too stark nor too mild. The numerals are a nice large sans-serif font with a distinctly mid-century feeling that works to combine the dress and sport elements of the watch. Moving to the outer edge of the dial, there is a small minute index, which is broken up into numerals at intervals of 5 from 05 – 60 and small grey lines for the minutes in between. The numerals are printed in a hot orange, which really jumps out, despite the small font size. This unexpected coloring really makes the dial for me, as that little bit of daring design adds a ton of character.
Above 6 is the small seconds register, which is impressed into the dial and features a concentric circle pattern. The slight elevation change and patterning create a nice textural break up of the otherwise flat dial, and demarcates the seconds register more clearly. The seconds index is composed of simple grey lines of two lengths and is read with a simple black stick hand that contrasts against the silver dial. The hour and minute hands are gloss black swords shapes with a bright red/orange filling. Like the minute index, this surprise shock of color is very welcome and really distinguishes the style of this watch from other dress/casual watches. Unfortunately, the red is not a lume filling, so although it adds legibility during the day, at night you are out of luck. The dial has a pleasantly minimal amount of text, featuring just relatively small and restrained Nomos logo under 12 and a tiny “made in Germany” under 6.
The Club Dunkel has the same index design as the light model, but with significantly different coloring. The dial surface is plated with Ruthenium, a “rare transition metal belonging to the platinum group of the periodic table.” (source) The surface color is a dark grey with warm undertones, it feels like a black dial that has been faded (evenly) overtime. The end result is a dark color that is much softer than black. The hour index is a light creamy green that contrasts well with the dial. The outer minute index also uses orange for the 5-minute intervals, but one that is less fluorescent and more of a rich pumpkin hue. The individual minutes are the same light green as the hour index. The hands on the Dunkel are polished steel with light green filling. Aesthetically, the Dunkel model has more of a vintage military feel than the light model, which is more dress. The Dunkel also has superluminova present on the hour index and on the minute and hour hands that glow a light blue, adding a little more functionality to the watch.
All Nomos watches come mounted on genuine Horween Shell Cordovan straps. Shell Cordovan is a very high end Horse leather that is produced in small quantities and goes for a high premium. The most common place one can find Shell Cordovan in use is in the dress shoe industry by brands like Alden and Allen Edmonds. Not only is Cordovan visually very pleasing, with rich colors and a slight plastic-like sheen, it’s also know for it’s high durability and good ageing characteristics. Cordovan straps usually sell for $150 – $300 when bought separately from a watch, so these do add significant value. That being said, Nomos sells the straps separately as well for $90, making them a great deal for a Cordovan strap.
The 18mm straps on the Clubs are very simple in style and cut. The slightly tapering design is flat, with lightly finished edges and a line of contrast stitching around the border. While almost underwhelming, I think this design suits the Club series, as they too are made of fine materials but lack any ostentatious finishing. The Club (light) model has a dark brown strap with reddish undertones and brown that I believe is the classic “color 8” cordovan. The color goes very well with the silver dial and the occasional bright red/orange moments. The Club Dunkel comes on black strap with brown stitching that too pairs well with the coloring of the Dunkel dial. In both cases, the straps are very comfortable and well crafted. There is one potential issue with these straps, which is that they are surprisingly long. I have to wear it on the smallest hole, and even then there is some amount of play on my wrist. Considering the size and design of the watch, I would consider it a unisex design, yet the strap would definitely not fit a wrist under 7”. The straps can be purchased in different lengths through Nomos’ e-shop, but the stock strap is sized oddly.
It’s very uncommon to come by a contemporary watch with a 36mm diameter, as the trends for the last several years have pushed watches larger and larger. And I have to say, it’s a pleasure to try a smaller watch for a change. It’s very comfortable, fits well under a shirtsleeve and is pleasantly light. The Club wears interestingly as it is small in diameter, but long lug-to-lug. Though it certainly doesn’t look large, the extra material of the lugs and the generally robust case do make the watch wear larger than it appears, as well as have substantial presence. That being said, I have a smaller wrist at 7”, so if you have a large wrist, the Club very likely would feel small (the automatic versions are 40mm, but cost significantly more). Aesthetically, these are superbly styled watches. As I’ve said a few times, they mix sport and dress into a very versatile design that forgoes fussiness and pretention for something more fun and youthful. Both designs feel as at home with jeans, a work shirt and some boots as with a suit and matching Cordovan shoes.
The Nomos Club comes in a small, thin rectangular wooden box with a black stain and the Nomos logo in silver. There is a small clasp on the box you push to open it, and inside, the box is lined with black velvet. The watch is held in place by two small elastic bands on one side of the box and on the other, there is the instruction book. The box is very unassuming and seems more like a jewelry box than a watch box. While on one hand it would be very easy to store the watch in the box at home, as it’s flat and could easily slide in a drawer, it’s not a particularly substantial or protective box. Aesthetically, it suits the subdued nature of the watches and the Nomos brand. Probably the biggest highlight of the packaging is actually the instruction booklet. This small, grey linen bound book is one of the nicest documents I’ve seen come with a watch. It’s thorough, well written and at times amusing.
When we talk about great value on w&w, it’s usually about a watch that costs under $300, but has features of a watch that costs much more. Well, the Nomos Club is also an incredible value, but within a different set of standards. At $1,450 for the base model and $1,720 for the sapphire backed Dunkel model, you are getting a genuine in-house caliber movement, designed, engineered and built in Glashütte Germany. That quality alone is normally reserved for brands that cost many times the price of this watch. Apart from that, you are getting a watch that is unique, designed new from the ground up with a case and dial that you will not find on another watch. It’s superbly made and finished, and not just in terms of a watch this price, but in terms of a watch of any price. The watch comes with a sapphire crystal (to be expected), a Shell Cordovan strap and a beautifully finished and highly regulated alpha movement. And that’s not to mention the impeccable dress/casual styling of the watch that makes it versatile and timeless.
Of course, there are a few things that will make this watch not right for everyone, namely the very small size at 36mm. There is a somewhat peculiar gap between the strap and the case do to the very long lugs that doesn’t effect how the watch works or wears, but is a bit odd looking. The silver dialed model doesn’t have any lume. And the strap it comes on is abnormally long (which is easy to fix).
Do you need an in-house caliber watch in your collection? Well, that’s up to you. There is a certain undeniable appeal to having a watch in which every component was designed and built under on roof (so to speak). It adds to the uniqueness of the piece and the overall preciousness of the object. It also adds to the potential resale and collectability of the watch. Nomos is doing interesting things that are making waves, who is to say 20 years from now that these watches wont be of higher value? Frankly, I find the in-house caliber adds a bit of special charm to an otherwise beautiful watch that I would be interested in regardless of the movement inside.
for additional reading, I recommend this factory tour from 2009 by WUS member safi_cz
by Zach Weiss
review units supplied by Nomos Glashütte