Minimalism in design is a constant struggle to create something clean without overstepping into sterility. Too far in one direction, and the piece loses focus. Too far in the other, and it can become indistinct and just plain boring. DuFa (short for Deutsche Uhnrenfabrik) understands this extremely well, and the marque’s newest addition, the Aalto Automatic Power Reserve, is a perfect example. Starting with austere Bauhaus bones, DuFa adds miles of personality and an eclectic array of features to create a unique and intriguing package. In the white-hot competition of the minimalist watch market, however, does the Aalto Power Reserve have what it takes to succeed? Let’s take a closer look.
Hands-On with the DuFa Aalto Automatic Power Reserve 9024
The case of the Aalto Power Reserve lays out DuFa’s thesis statement of minimalism-with-personality excellently. From the top, the shape is deceptively simple, nothing but a narrow polished bezel and straight lugs. A profile view reveals the truth. This is an impressively refined form and one full of nuance. A continuous, bowl-like curve runs form the bezel all the way to the center of the case back, lightening the case visually while nestling into the wrist and allowing the watch to wear thinner than its 13-millimiter dimension would suggest. The abrupt downward curve of the lugs aids the illusion even further and the brushed treatment there provides a welcome visual break halfway down the side of the case.
The simple pillbox crown at three features DuFa’s surprisingly lively shield emblem in razor-sharp engraving. Even the case back is handled handsomely, the four screws adding a touch of functional decoration to the gentle curve surrounding the mineral crystal display window.
The dial, on the other hand, wears its personality a bit more on its sleeve. While the basic shapes may be pure minimalism—all stick hands, coupled with tiny printed numerals and dot minute indicators—the Aalto Power Reserve runs in its own direction with these concepts. Obviously, the color is the biggest departure here. While the main dial itself lies under the radar indoors, in direct sunlight it reveals itself as a rich, deep and satiny blue. The bright yellow accents of the second hand, numerals and power reserve indicator play off the blue perfectly and provide an eye-catching splash and a natural focal point. Speaking of focal points, the Aalto Power Reserve’s unusual dial layout feels quite well-balanced with areas of interest at twelve, three, six and nine. At the top of the dial is the aforementioned power reserve indicator, made elegantly simple here as a colored bar gradually changing from black for empty to yellow for full (or vice versa as the watch winds down). It’s a fantastically uncluttered and visually interesting way to handle a complication that can oftentimes become clunky and unbalanced.
At the other points of the compass are the calendar functions: date at six, day at nine, and most unusually a month indicator at the three o’clock slot. While it’s not a perpetual calendar (more on that later), it’s still nigh-on rare to find a complete calendar complication on a timepiece in this price range, especially one handled this well. It’s an equal parts attractive and functional addition that offers value without sacrificing the minimal aesthetic. The other main piece of visual flair is more difficult to spot at a glance. The dial surface itself curves downward at the edge, and the long minute and seconds hands bend downward at the tips accordingly. This little detail might be subtle, but it plays extremely well with the domed mineral crystal to create some dramatic looks at an angle.
Capping things off at twelve o’clock is an applied DuFa emblem in clean, modernist type. While I could certainly see this particular watch working well as a sterile dial, the DuFa branding is unobtrusive enough not to upset the overall look, and it’s far better than DuFa’s past branding efforts.
DuFa’s own materials only refer to the movement as “Japan Automatic Movement,” and none of the stock Miyota or Seiko culprits match the layout. It is, in fact, a modified Miyota 9100 with modifications to remove the 24-hour sub-register, move the date window to 6 o’clock and convert the day/month/power reserve pointers into discs. Some of these modifications account for the thickness of the watch. The dial has to be quite deep to accommodate all those discs operating beneath the surface.The movement beats at a smooth 28,800 bph, holds 40 hours of reserve power and while not ornately decorated does feature a nicely signed custom rotor.
DuFa sends the Aalto Automatic Power Reserve out into the world on a lined tan leather strap with a simple signed buckle. It’s a good neutral color, and the leather itself is soft and flexible if a bit thin, but as a minimal design this one could work with a wide variety of colors. Blue leather could be an interesting option here, as could a Milanese mesh, but with this color combination’s more casual vibe this would be a perfect summer watch on a complementary nylon band.
Due to that more casual color combination, the Aalto Power Reserve is perhaps a touch less versatile in terms of dressing up than a white dial version would be. It’s a great companion for everything from T-shirt and shorts duty all the way through more casual suiting, but it’d be a stretch to wear this one in a truly formal occasion, especially given its thickness.
Overall, it’s difficult not to be impressed by the DuFa Aalto Automatic Power Reserve. The finish is solid for its price, the overall aesthetic is clean but with ample personality, and the movement work is well done.
The one real place where I find fault, then, is the name. DuFa doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue; in a way, I’d almost have preferred the full name of Deutsche Uhrenfabrik.
That minor concern aside, however, this really is a dynamite option for those looking to dip their toes in the Bauhaus-inspired pool while still wearing something unique and expressive. At $650, it’s in competitive waters, but this piece has the style and quality to lead the pack. DuFa