Here at w&w, we do a poor job of hiding our enthusiasm for Nomos Glashuette. They are one of those brands that the mere mention of always gets our hearts pounding. Their watches are perfect little expressions of what accessible luxury ought to be. Unique, finely finished and restrained timepieces with in-house movements at obtainable prices. What more could you ask for?
At Basel World 2013, Nomos unveiled a handful of things, one of which was a new, larger sized Orion. The Orion watches are a staple of the Nomos line up; a classic, modest design with a vintage air that they have offered for many years. Unlike their more often spoken about Tangentes or Tangomats, the Orions have smooth flowing curves that emphasize their incredibly thin profiles, making effortlessly elegant and easy to wear watches. Up until this year, they were available in 35 and 33mm cases, which are quite small by today’s standards. The new Orion 38 added a needed larger size for a more contemporary presence, especially on those with larger wrists.
I’ve had the pleasure of spending some time with the Orion 38 Datum over the last few weeks. The Datum model takes the newly expanded dial and utilizes the additional space for a unique date window with a larger than average typeface. This is the only member in the Orion collection to feature a date, utilizing Nomos’ in-house beta caliber. It’s also the most expensive of the Orion’s coming in at $3,060. While the price tag is high, the value is exceptional for an in-house caliber, and the rest of the watch is also something to behold. It’s certainly one of the most subtle and sophisticated pieces I’ve had the chance to wear.
Nomos Orion 38 Datum Review
Movement: Nomos Beta
Water Res.: 30m
Dimensions: 38 x 47mm
Lug Width: 19 mm
Crown: 5 x 2.5 mm
Warranty: 2 Years
Nomos is one of the few, if not the only, brands with a sense of humor. This is especially surprising given the conservative, restrained aesthetics of the watches and the high level of watch making they exhibit, but perhaps all the more refreshing at the same time. In their description of the Orion, they reveal that case shape reminded them of spaceships and UFOs, prompting them to name the watch after the ship on “Raumpatrouille Orion”, a German TV show. The fluid curves, which start at the domed sapphire crystal, wrap around the thin bowl shaped center case and traverse the domed display case back, which is also sapphire, do it give it an aerodynamic “saucer” shape. Without the lugs, you could easily imagine it cutting through the air, or hovering on the horizon.
Of course the word “Orion” on its own brings to mind celestial bodies and Greek mythology, which add a level a grandeur which doesn’t hurt either, as the design of the case is stunning. Measuring 38 x 47 x 8.45 mm the watch might sound small, but it’s proportionally ideal and wears larger than one expects. From above, it’s nearly all dial, with a thin polished bezel and then long lugs protruding out. The lugs are a very interesting element of the design. Contrasting the case, they are angular, tapering to a thin width where the strap connects. From the side, one can see how they curve down in a controlled and elegant manner, which which the shape of a the wrist.
The most interesting element of their design is that they angle in towards the strap, rather than coming straight off of the case, eventually ending up with a 19mm lug width. This tapering design given them a dramatic geometry which plays off of the curvature of the case, and adds a desirable amount of masculinity to the overall look. Another nice and unexpected touch is that the lugs are drilled through, making strap changing all the more easy.
On the right side of the case is a small, but well proportioned crown measuring 5 x ~2.5mm. The watch is manual, so you will be using this crown often to wind the watch. It’s easy to grasp thanks to the coin edge texture as well as the case shape, which cuts away under the crown. The shape of the crown is subtle and elegant as well, with a cutaway region towards the tip. The flat end then has “Nomos” printed in black on it in very fine, almost invisible, type.
The domed case back is one of the highlights of the watch. It’s one of those details that doesn’t effect the look when on the wrist, it just completes the form. It very much feels like an element a designer would fight for, even if it added cost, that other people wouldn’t get. But rest assured, it makes it a nicer watch. When you look at the watch from the side, the curvature is very slight, but flows from the steel edge of the case back to the sapphire in a way that is simply a pleasure to look at. I’ve found myself holding the watch up to my eyes, slowly twisting it back and forth, watching the light change on the surface many times.
Once you get over the dome, you can then get lost in the in-house Beta movement. We’ll get into the details of that in the movement section below, but naturally it’s a pleasure to view. The steel rim frames it well and features various details about the watch, lightly etched in.
The dial of the Orion 38 Datum is restraint in practice. It has just the right amount of texture, detail and color to be alive and engaging, without having a single superfluous element. There are a few dial options available in the Orion line, from a near black anthracite to a pale pink rosé to a medium rhodium grey. The option we have here is perhaps the standard color way, available in all three sizes. The dial surface is galvanized and white silver-plated.
This creates a unique surface color that ranges from white to silver to champagne depending on the lighting conditions it is in. My favorite state would be the champagne, when it picks up late afternoon light and has a warm that resonates with the gold-plated applied markers, which constitute the primary index. No numerals, just 11 equal, thin applied gold batons, one missing at 6 o’clock. Between the applied markers, set closer to the edge of the dial, are thin black lines for the individual minutes.
The slight off set balance between the applied and printed markers creates an interesting relationship that adds some character to the watch. Also interesting is the small gab between the edge of the applied markers and the case. Perhaps a numeral would fit there or a tritium dot, but this is where Nomos’ very intentional aesthetic comes in. The overall look refers to 60’s era designs, but rather than a recreation, they play with it. The blank space creates a bit of tension that brings it back into the modern era.
Just above 6 is the sub-seconds dial, which you’ll find on every Nomos to-date, ranging all the way to their new Gold collection watches, the Lambda and Lux. Once again, the sub-dial is proportioned perfectly, balancing with the overall size of the dial and the elements around it. The dial itself is debossed, setting it below the main dial surface, and textured with concentric circular graining. This is a standard execution for a sub-dial, but one that works every time. The added texture distinguishes it from its surroundings without calling too much attention. Printed on the textured surface are thin black lines at intervals of 5 seconds, which reflects the layout of the dial at large.
Also at 6 is the date window that distinguishes the “datum” model from the standard Orion 38. If ever you need a reference on how to execute a date window without disrupting the look of a dial, here it is. The window is slightly trapezoidal, widening as it approaches the bottom of the dial. The top and bottom edges are then curved to flow better within a circular dial. The end result is window that integrates naturally with its surroundings, rather than appear as a stark hole in the surface. The date is then presented in a thin, elegant font in dark grey on an off-white surface.
Nomos’ beta caliber comes in two variations, standard and “long-distance”, which simply means a larger typeface. The Orion uses the latter version for a great effect. The date is substantially larger than what one typically finds, making it extremely legible. It also suits the look of the watch better. If you’re going to add a date, why make it seem like an afterthought? On a non-numerical and quite minimal dial, such as the standard Orion has, adding a date is a bit of challenge as well. It adds visual complexity, a focal point towards the outer edge of the watch, and simply numbers there they otherwise don’t exist.
I personally find the date on the Orion 38 Datum to be a great element that adds to the watch, rather than betrays it. It might make it a bit more casual, but with the larger size I believe that speaks to greater versatility. That said, the non-date versions, especially at 35mm, are so clean they border on meditative. On the 38mm model though, I found the non-date version had an awkward amount of space under the sub-seconds, that though a void was more distracting than a date.
Finishing the dial are blue tempered pointed stick hands. These ultra-thin hands have a stern grace that pairs perfectly with the dial below, and speak to the Bauhaus’ influence on the brand. Their widths match the widths if the batons on the dial, creating a very clean alignment as they pass over the dial. The sub-seconds hand follows suit. Blue tempered steel was a great choice for this watch. The near-black blue works with the gold and warm silver dial to create an understated palette.
Movement: Nomos beta
Beating within the Orion 38 Datum is Nomos’ in-house beta caliber. This 23-jewel manual wound movement features hacking seconds, decentralized seconds, date, 42-hour power reserve and a frequency of 21,600 bph. In the range of Nomos’ movements, this is second up from their base movement, the alpha, which is essentially the same thing sans-date (you can read about it more in our review of the Nomos Club). The date mechanism that Nomos created is a patented peripheral date. This means that rather than stacking on top of the movement, the date surrounds it. This allows for them to maintain their remarkably thin watch profiles.
That said, the design does have a quirk. The crown of the watch has only one position, which you use to set the time in standard fashion. The date does not set in the expected manner for a contemporary watch, i.e. pulling the crown out to first position and flipping through to the desired numeral. Instead it has “rapid shifting” which those with vintage watch collections will be familiar with. To set the date, you set the time to 1am, then back to around 8:30, then forward again, etc… Each time the date will progress forward. This is a more time consuming process, especially if you have to go a full month. In practice, jumping forward a few days isn’t too bad, but it is less efficient than other quick set methods.
The movement itself is beautifully finished, featuring rhodium plating, a Glashuette 3/4 plate with Cotes De Geneve, perlage under the balance, sunbursting on the ratchet and crown wheels and blued screws throughout. The edges on the 3/4 plate and balance cock are beveled, adding a glint of light. The movement is also adjusted in 6 positions for increased accuracy.
Straps and Wearability
Nomos watches come standard with Horween Shell Cordovan straps. These understated straps have a beautiful materiality that only Cordovan can provide. If you never had the pleasure of wearing one, they break in differently than other leathers, getting more malleable, but staying strong. The surface has a dull sheen that can be buffed up a bit if you desire. The Orion 38 Datum comes mounted on 19mm black Cordovan that suits it well. The black is stark against the silver, gold and blue tones of the dial, creating a formal look that brings out the geometry of the design.
Nomos sells these straps separately on their site for $90 a go in various colors (including some slightly less expensive suede options) and in three lengths. The watch comes mounted on the medium length, which is longer than you would expect. It fits my 7″ wrist on the smallest hole, so one will need the small size for petite wrists. This is also an amazing source for 19mm straps in general as they are not easy to find. $90 is extremely reasonable for a Horween Shell Cordovan strap, which often top $150. Take note.
When you put the Orion on your wrist, the 38mm case immediately makes so much sense. It’s basically all dial, which is further emphasized by the rounded, flowing curves of the case, so it looks larger, perhaps around 40mm. This makes it wear very well as a versatile watch with formal leanings. The long lugs then make it span the wrist well, adding some more presence, while the incredibly thin profile keeps it flat and lets it slide under a shirt with ease. It’s impossibly light too, so it’s easy to wear all day.
The Orion be worn as a very formal dress watch, the glints of gold adding refinement and a touch of affluence, or as more casual everyday watch, thanks to the larger size and date complication. Sure, it’s much fancier than the sport watches I wear more typically, but I did not feel uncomfortable wearing this with jeans and an untucked, patterned shirt. The 35mm size might have felt more formal and diminutive, thus relegating it more for dress occasions.
The palette of the dial also works with just about everything. The silver is pretty neutral while the gold batons and the slightest hint of warm color. The occasional blue glint from the hands then adds a shock of cool, balancing the gold. It would be a challenge to find something this watch didn’t work with. Blue, grey or black suit? Solids or patterns? Check. Jeans, khakis, wingtips or work boots? Check. Tank top, swim shorts and flip-flops?… ok, that might not work, but otherwise you’re good. Having a second brown Cordovan strap would build on this, creating an overall softer look that might lend itself to daily wear even more.
Well, I liked it. The Orion 38 Datum is simply a blissful watch to wear. It proves that less is more in every way, exuding style and grace while maintaining versatility. The craftsmanship all around is impeccable from the the precision of the dial to the beautifully decorated movement within. Of course, at $3,060 you wouldn’t and shouldn’t expect any less.
Putting the price in focus, it is an expensive watch, no doubt about that. This version is also the most expensive, costing $500 more than the Orion 38-no date and $700 more than the 35mm version with a sapphire case back. So there is a tax to be paid for the addition of the date complication. It also costs more than some of the automatics in the Nomos line. That said, on the 38mm model I think the date brings a lot to the table and is worth paying more for. Of course, putting the price in context of all watches, this is still a very fair amount for a German made in-house caliber. Even Nomos has watches that touch the $20k mark, so that’s worth keeping in mind.
Sometimes I try to think in terms of: if I could only have one watch per style, what would they be? For a dress watch, the Orion, regardless of the size/version, would be it. While the price might be high, it’s not unachievable through saving, selling off other pieces, etc… So, if this watch moves you the way it did me, you might want to start figuring out which watches in your collection you can part with.
by Zach Weiss