Usually, when we talk about what sets a certain brand apart it’s an interesting aesthetic design feature, or better than average finishing for the price. Occasionally, but less often, it pertains to something unique with the movement, like an in-house complication or extended power reserve. Well, what sets Damasko apart is something entirely different, the very materials from which they are made and the engineering behind them.
Located in Regensburg, Germany, Damasko has been going about watch making differently since 1994. Rather than just making quality watches, which is more than enough in most cases, they wanted to set all new standards. So, they’ve re-designed and engineered everything, owning dozens of patents for materials and mechanisms. These include the very steel from which the watches are made to their own silicon hairsprings, all of which they make themselves. In 2010 they also became a genuine manufacture with two in house movements, the A 35-1 and the H 35, both of which feature EPS springs and a patented winding system.
Of course, at this point you are probably imagining prohibitively expensive watches, but that’s not the case. Damasko’s all are under $5k, with entry-level models starting at $1,125, making them an exceptional value. The watches themselves have very to matter of fact designs, drawing largely on military and pilot watches, with an emphasis on legibility and use. No giant signs suggesting they are anything but an average watch, which is part of the appeal.
The model we’re going to review, the Damasko DA44, was released within the last couple of years. It’s a very sporty design that features a bezel and many of Damasko’s amazing technologies. For $1,450 it offers more than most watches 3 or 4 times that price. Though not inexpensive, I am certain you’ll be impressed.
Case: Ice-Hardened Steel
Movement: ETA 2836-2
Lens: Sapphire with AR coating
Water Res.: 100M
Dimensions: 40 x 48mm
Thickness: 12.3 mm
Lug Width: 20 mm
Crown: 6 x 4.5 mm
Though understated and matter-of-fact, the case of DA44 is where most of the watch’s magic happens. Measuring 40 x 48 x 12.3mm, the matte ice-hardened, nickel-free steel case has a dull grey luster, similar to titanium. Aside from the interesting coloration, the ice-hardened nickel free steel is a very unique feature to Damasko, who manufacture their own steel… That’s not something most brands do, so let that sink in for a second. In fact, not only do they make it, they developed it and own the patents on it.
At 710 Vickers, the case is about 4 times harder than standard steel, making it highly resistant to scratches and bumps, keeping a “like-new” look for a longer duration. You might be familiar with Sinn’s Tegiment technology, which touts a hardness of 1200 Vickers. The difference between the two technologies (other than the manufacturing is totally different) is that Damasko’s steel is hardened the entire way through, where as Sinn’s is a surface treatment. In both cases you are getting higher than average performance, but it’s worth knowing the difference.
The design of the case is pretty straightforward with a design that speaks to pilot and military watches. From above, it has a cylindrical central area with long thin lugs that elegantly sweep in. The lugs are drilled for easy access to the spring-bars, which is a design feature I wish every watch had. At 3, two simple and effective crown guards protrude out, encasing the long, but well-proportioned crown.
The crown itself has a simple deign with a fluted edge for easy gripping and a Damasko “D” logo on the end. Not surprisingly, Damasko has a patented crown system. Everything, from the exterior of the crown to the threading is made of ice-hardened steel, which should help with wear and tear as well as limit stripping. The tube the crown threads into, also threads into the case, for a more secure fit than a standard pressure fit. The crown is fitted with a Viton gasket (Viton being a highly chemical resistant material that is “superior to every other gasket material”) and passes through 2 Viton o-rings as well as a patented lubrication cell… Yeah, this is the most serious crown out there, and you’d never know it just from the looks. more details here
The DA44 also sports a remarkable bezel, which is one of the other real strong points of the watch. There are several interesting things to talk about here, beginning with the function and feel of the mechanism. Damasko developed their own patent-pending design that features in-house manufactured ceramic ball bearings and a bi-directional 60-click mechanism. Turning the bezel is literally a joy, in fact, I found my self endlessly turning it back and forth during the day. The bezel snaps with authority from one minute to the next, lining up perfectly every time. Simply put, this is the best bezel I’ve felt.
The fun doesn’t stop there though, the bezel, which has large teeth for easy gripping is also made of ice-hardened steel. The insert is ceramic with Damest coating… It’s another proprietary treatment developed by Damasko that layers materials to create an absurdly hard and scratch resistant surface, that also has enough elasticity to not crack. Once again, it just looks like an even matte black surface, belying the amount of technology present.
The case back has a design that is reminiscent to military watches, with a long list of facts deeply engraved into an otherwise plain surface. As you would expect, the case back is also manufactured of ice-hardened steel. The last bit of tech involved in the case is totally hidden from site being an internal iron casing for the movement, which provides anti-magnetic protection up to 80,000 A/m.
The dial of the DA44 is simple and clean, yet surprisingly aggressive. The surface is matte black and features a single non-numerical index in white. The hours are indicated with long fence-post style markers that double up at 3, 6, 9 and 12. The pointed design gives the dial a very intense and almost mean look. They pull the eyes towards the center of the dial, which in turn has a large cross hair, sending the eyes back out. Between each hour marker is a small white line for the individual minutes/seconds.
The double marker at 12 is red instead of white, presumably to call it out and help with orienting the watch at a glance. Unfortunately, the red marker is kind of dull in color. I think this is due to the red being a translucent layer over a layer of lume. The end result is sort of the opposite of what is intended, in that the red marker is less apparent than the white markers. Stylistically it’s cool, adding a bit of color thus breaking up the other wise black and white dial.
As mentioned, there is a white cross hair that runs from 3 to 9 and 12 to 6. There isn’t a lot of text to find on the dial, so the black area would have felt too empty without these lines. Located at 3 are the Damasko logo and windows for the date and day. On very cool detail of this watch, and other Damaskos, is that they modify the date wheels of the ETA 2836’s to have off center dates. Rather than being in line with 3, the day and date, which are white on black, sit just below. This lets them balance out the logo placement better as well as create a unique asymmetrical look that adds to the overall engineered sensibility of the watch.
The bezel insert also acts as a minute index when positioned correctly. The design of the index here is also very straightforward with white lines for every minute and numerals every 5. The 0/60 marker is a split triangle with a red lumed pip.
The DA44 features bold, roman sword style hour and minute hands that work proportionally and aesthetically with the overall dial design. The hands are very legible, being white, edge-to-edge for about 2/3’s their length. The seconds hand is a slender stick that tapers ever so slightly and is bright red and black. Seemingly a design signature of the brand, the shock of color on the seconds hand livens up the watch and gives a focal point. The brightness of the red hand does emphasize the dullness of the red markers, unfortunately.
The dial features lume on the markers as well as hour and minute hands. The lume is functional, charging quickly, but not very bright or long lasting. It’s also spotty on the hands, getting a bit faded towards the edges. I actually am somewhat disappointed in this aspect of the watch. Considering the exceptional engineering and care seen on everything else, I expected lume that would burn my retinas, unfortunately it’s just average at best.
Movement: ETA 2836-2
The ETA 2836-2 movement inside the DA44 is essentially a day/date version of the ETA 2824-2 we see quite often. The movement features 25 jewels, hand winding, hacking seconds, bi-lingual day (German and English), date and a frequency of 28,000 bph. It is unclear what grade 2836-2 is present, though it is described as having a decorated rotor and gilded movement. As previously described, the movement has been modified to have an off center date and has anti-magnetic protection.
Straps and Wearability
The DA44 comes mounted on a 20mm black leather strap that is very well made. I assume it is manufactured by Di-Modell, which is a German strap brand, as it has some of their signature design features, such as cut away spaces for the lugs, creating a sense of a wider strap, and a flap under the buckle to prevent the buckle from touching the wrist. The leather used is incredibly soft and supple, full-grain calf leather with a very nice texture. It’s also double stitched all the way around, once with red thread and again with black. The buckle used has a standard shape, but with a deeply engraved “D” logo and a matte finish to match the watch.
Though color-coded to the watch, very comfortable and wonderfully made, I personally found the red stitching to be a bit of overkill (entirely a personal preference). As such I wore the DA44 on NATO straps more often, which also work perfectly with the military/pilot influences in the design. One great option to really bring out the aggressive elements of the watch is a Crown&Buckle camouflage NATO. The added colors work nicely with the dark steel, and the pass-through design emphasizes the geometry of the case.
The DA44 is perfectly sized to be an everyday sport watch. The 40mm diameter and 12.3mm height make it very comfortable, large enough to have nice presence, yet svelte enough to not be a burden. The aesthetic is definitely bold and aggressive, but, like most German sport watches, is still quite reserved, not calling much attention to itself. It’s sort of like an Audi S4, masculine and understated on the surface, but packs serious performance within.
Though clearly not a dress watch by any means, the DA44 is fairly versatile given the right strap choice: leather for more conservative times, NATOs on the weekend. Wear it with black pants and a grey chambray shirt for something modern, yet work appropriate, or with a t-shirt and shorts when on a long bike ride. Given all of the incredible materials involved in the case, bezel and the 100m water resistance, this is a watch that should be worn when you need something durable.
When you wear a Damasko, you really aren’t wearing a watch. Sure, it tells time, day, date, etc and looks like a watch, but… that is really an illusion. In reality, you are wearing a piece of equipment that single-handedly shows off the incredible efforts of a team of brilliant engineers. This isn’t a watch, it’s an example of what a watch can be with extra effort. After reading this review, you’re probably thinking; why is it that a little brand in Germany is able to do all of these amazing things, while big brands can’t? While the answer is obviously quite complicated, it still is worth asking. Damasko is one of those brands that reminds you that affordable watches can not only be great, they can be standard bearers.
The DA44 is really an exceptional watch and is indicative of what Damasko can do as their entire watch line feature much of the same tech, give or take a detail or two. Sure, I found the lume disappointing, but it’s still functional and doesn’t effect wearing the watch most of the time. What really matters in the case design, engineering and build, from the hardened steel to the bearings of the bezel to the patented crown, it’s just superb. When you pay a decent amount for a watch, you want to know it was worth it. Considering most watches that cost $1,450 have little to no special features, the Damasko is a great value. And, it should retain its value, because it’s nearly scratch proof.
Should the DA44’s aggressive markers and red accents not do it for you, the DA46 is the same watch with a different dial. Both are also available with black Damest coating for $100 more. Then there are also the bezel-free models for considerably less. Needless to say, if the tech has tempted you and the designs speak to your style, they have a model that will suit you. As for us, we’re looking forward to getting our hands on one their DK14 models featuring the in-house A 35 movement, which might just be the ultimate sports watch.
By Zach Weiss
big thanks to Paul Hubbard (watchotaku) for hooking us up with the DA44!