Laco is one of those brands I’m surprised doesn’t get more attention. One of the original manufacturers of Flieger watches during WWII, along with Stowa, Wempe, IWC and others, they have a long rich history in watch making. We had the luck of meeting a distant relative of one of the founders of the brand, who wrote us this great brand highlight recently, which I recommend you read for a thorough walkthrough of their story. These days, Laco is positioning themselves for a bit of a comeback with an ever growing line of watches, ranging from Flieger remakes to bauhaus styled vintage models, to tough-as-nails modern tactical pieces.
The watch we’re going to look at today is of the latter group, the Laco Atacama. These watches have always interested me, but up until recently, they weren’t too easy to get your hands on stateside. Luckily our friends over at Long Island Watch now sell them on-line, and were kind enough to lend us one for review. One look at this beast of a watch, you probably can already tell it’s something different. It has a truly wild design, with a bold dial/bezel and some very unique features, such as articulating lugs.
The Laco Atacama is their take on a modern tactical tool watch, one that is meant for use on land, at sea, falling from a plane, getting launched into orbit, perhaps drilling your way to the core of the Earth, fighting for water on Mars, etc… (they don’t say any of that). It’s big, crazy, and features a 500m water resistance, sapphire crystal and an ETA 2824-2 movement (which they relabel as the Laco 24). It takes its name from one of the harshest places on Earth, the Atacama desert of Chile, which is the driest desert on the planet. Yet, despite all of this machismo, it has a surprisingly tolerable price tag of $750, though it will soon go up to around $1,000. Both prices are darn good for a German made watch with an ETA inside, and, as we’ll go through, a lot of cool and unique details.
Laco Atacama Review
Case: PVD Steel
Movement: ETA 2824-2 (Laco 24)
Water Res.: 500m
Lug Width: 22 mm
Crown: 7 x 5 mm
Warranty: 2 Years
Price: $750 ($1,000 soon)
To say the case design of the Atacama is striking is an understatement; it’s downright bizarre. Articulating lugs, 12 o’clock crown, PVD coating and a parabolic shape come together for something unique and beastly. It also claims to be WR to 50 atm (500m), which is uncommon on a watch with a display case. Measuring 46mm in diameter across the bezel and 13.5 mm high, it’s also quite large. Lug-to-lug is sort of unmeasurable, as the lugs more freely, seeming more like they are part of the bracelet than the case. That said, they significantly add to the monstrous look and bulk of the watch.
From overhead, the watch looks like it is all dial. The bezel integrates with the dial very well, appearing as one, and the bowl-shaped case tucks underneath so fast, that it seems as though it has no sides. The lugs then seem like plate armor that are screwed on for extra protection. The screw-down crown at 12 is tucked within a gap in the lug, which doubles as a guard. It’s very protective, so much so that the crown is actually very difficult to get a grasp on. This is a watch you’d want to keep in a winder for sure, as having to deal with the crown every few days would become a burden.
Looking at it from the side, the strange geometry becomes more apparent. The bezel is pretty tall, about 4mm, with knurled sides for easy grip. It overhangs the central case a bit, which also aids in gip, coming in at a sharp angle. The central case is then a bowl-shape with straight angled sides, rather than curved, which lead to a short vertical that meets the bezel. Coming off at 12 and 6 are wide blocks that connect to the lugs, which aggressively intersect the angled sides. Lastly, the display case back sticks out another few millimeters, with a sizable window for viewing the ETA 2824-2 within.
The bezel features a 60-click, uni-directional mechanism. It clicks over with a loud chunky sound that is quite satisfying, lining up fairly well, though not perfect. The feel is ok, not great; it’s a bit loose with some back play.
The design of the case is more fascinating than anything else. It’s not beautiful, it’s not elegant, it’s brutalism as a watch, but somehow it makes sense, like it’s a pocket watch conversion. But not a pocket watch, more a dashboard element from inside a tank (do tanks have dashes?) that you can bolt to the articulating lugs and strap on your wrist. A mission timer from machine to the field and perhaps under water.
The dial of the Atacama speaks to military designs, with a clean and bold graphic layout. It’s broken up into three layers, the main surface, the chapter ring and the bezel. The main surface is matte black with a single non-numerical index of lumed rectangles every hour/five minutes and this white lines between. The marker at 12 is a lumed triangle, giving the watch some orientation. At 6 is a white framed date window showing a white on black date. I was glad to see this execution as it works perfectly with the watch, keeping symmetry, especially with the 12 o’clock crown. The only other marking is the “Laco 1925” logo at 12 which is properly proportioned and quite elegant.
The next layer is a tall chapter ring in black with bold white numerals in a very clear font. That’s it, no fuss, no decoration, just clean, easy to read numbers. By setting it a layer higher, they created an interesting dynamic that physically makes the numbers more legible. They feel as though they are coming out at you. This also speaks to various German mil-issue chronographs from the late 70’s and 80’s which had hour numeral chapter rings.
The last layer is the external countdown bezel. It’s all black with white markers and numerals, with the numerals running the opposite of what is expected. The origin is then an orange lumed triangle. To use this type of bezel you simply align the amount of minutes you wish to count down to the minute hand, and, well…wait or do what you need to do. Graphically, the bezel is perhaps the boldest of the elements with a lot more going on and a more stylized font. The one thing, and this is totally anal, that bugs me is that the 5 numeral isn’t “05” which would have balanced with the other numerals.
The hour and minute hands chosen are wide straight-sword hands with full lume covering. The hour is green while the minutes is orange, giving it a bit of a diver/plo-prof look, and making it very easy to tell them apart. The seconds hand is then a white lollipop hand with a lumed circle. The lume on this watch is some of the best I’ve seen in a while, especially from a German brand. The markers on the main dial, the hands and the origin on the bezel all glow piercingly bright, the hour hand most of all, and charge well in ambient light.
Straps and Wearability
The strap side of the articulating lug has a 22mm opening, in which you could put any manner of strap. It comes on a thick matte black rubber that tapers slightly, with expansion ripples by the lug and a perforations down the length, presumably for breathability and wicking away water. It’s extremely long, fitting me on the smallest hole with room to spare. As far as rubber straps go, this seems pretty average. The material isn’t especially soft, the design not too interesting or ergonomic. Aesthetically though, it makes sense. Like the case itself, it’s kind of brutal and rugged. It also makes sense with the look and shape of the articulating lugs.
This is a big watch. 46mm in the round is very wide, though the lack of slab sides and standard lugs make it easier to wear. That said, the all-dial design makes it stand out and perhaps look even bigger. But, this isn’t about discretion nor, oddly, does it look like it’s big for the sake of being big. It’s big for the sake of being super legible and aggressive. This thing is like a piece of armor. The lugs conforming to your wrist and motion to protect you. The moving of the lugs does in fact make it more pleasant to wear, flexing as you change position, even if they are so bulky that make it impossible to fit the watch under a shirt. Which makes sense, because this, like the 55mm fliegers of WWII, is probably meant to go on the outside.
Style wise, this is a hard one to pin down, but clearly it’s not a dress watch (understatement). The look is very mil/tactical and machine like, seeming more like a piece of equipment than an accessory. That said, it is attractive and though very large, the dial is well proportioned and clean. I think it really comes down to taste with this one. Logically, you’d wear it with a wetsuit or something, but realistically you could wear it with casual attire. Despite it being so large and absurd, I have enjoyed wearing it out very much with my standard attire, an oxford, jeans and work boots. But, expect to turn some heads with this one as it really stands out.
The Laco Atacama is a cool and very unique watch that is a lot of fun. It might be so out there that it’s a bit of a novelty, but it’s not without a lot of positive qualities. The biggest for me is simply how different it is. So many watches look or feel the same, especially military influenced ones, that finding some distinct is, well, uncommon. From the case shape to the lugs to the expansive dial, the Atacama just isn’t like anything else.
That said, like many extreme watches, this simply wont appeal to most people, especially those who prefer a smaller watch like myself, but for those who are interested, this watch does deliver. And it does so at a very good value. The current price of $750 is a steal for a unique German made watch with an ETA 2824-2 inside, and the future price of around $1,000 is still very compelling. The steel Tundra version is better priced, and quite attractive too.
Overall the build is very good, my only issue being that the bezel is somewhat looser than I’d like, but it’s still within functional limits. It’s also possibly out weighed by the extremely powerful lume. So, if this watch calls out to you, I think you’ll get a kick out of it. I do wish they had a smaller version, 44mm or 42mm, as that would be more wearable on a daily basis. Also, as much as I appreciate the uniqueness of the articulating lugs, I think the bezel and dial design would work great on a more classic frame as well, or a lug-less cylindrical design.
by Zach Weiss