Review: DuFrane Barton Springs 656 Diver

It sucks when your secret spot becomes a global destination, and few cities can claim that as emphatically as Austin, Texas, home to DuFrane Watches. Over the last 30 years, the SXSW Festival has grown from a glorified pub crawl with cool bands into an international technology and media conference dominated by the likes of Google, Yahoo!, and major players in the gaming, technology, and film industries. Generating revenue on par with the Super Bowl, SXSW attracted an estimated 412,000 attendants in 2018. Over the same three decades, Austin’s population has more than doubled and now hovers just below one-million. The popular “Keep Austin Weird” bumper stickers need little explanation.

DuFrane Watches remind us that for the other 342 days of the year that aren’t SXSW, Austin is a uniquely cool American city. DuFrane named their handsome pilot watch after Austin’s airport, Bergstrom, and their new dive watch after the city’s favorite swimming spot, Barton Springs. Anyone who’s experienced the heat of central Texas will understand how significant a spring-fed fresh water source is to this city, and because Barton Springs is part of a larger aquifer that supplies fresh drinking water, it’s arguable that Austin wouldn’t even exist without it.

I applaud DuFrane for changing up the font of their logo to suit the Barton Springs, because the one used on their pilot watch just wouldn’t have worked. I can’t think of another watch brand that does this, and the strategy really pays off because, other than that font, the Barton Springs is a study in shapes so elemental that they lack an identity of their own.


Review: DuFrane Barton Springs 656 Diver

Stainless Steel
Sellita SW200-1
Black Sunburst
C3 Super-LumiNova
Domed Sapphire (Double AR)
Water Resistance
656 Ft
42mm x 47.6mm
Lug Width
Screw Down

The Barton Springs is so stripped down, in fact, that it wouldn’t qualify as a dive watch according to the ISO 6425 standards because the unidirectional bezel lacks the required minute markers. Instead, the bezel sports just a black triangular pip with a lume dot and three simple black lines at the 15-minute positions, leaving the majority of the brushed steel bezel unadorned. On my copy, the pip’s lume dot is off-center, which unfortunately catches the eye in this minimalist context, but otherwise the Barton Springs is flawless.

At 42 millimeters across with a relatively narrow bezel, the dial is big, open, and legible from across the room. Being 12.85 millimeters thick and sporting a mere 47.6-millimeter lug-to-lug span, the Barton Springs is quite reasonably sized for a 42-millimeter diver. I’d call it a medium-large watch.

The lugs start their journey toward the strap-bars from the middle of the case and arc downward to form a compelling mustache shape. The chamfered outer edges of the lugs are the only polished surfaces, and they save the otherwise brushed case from being too plain. From every angle, the Barton Springs’ case appears both classic and unique—quite an accomplishment—and the finish quality is excellent.
The Barton Springs’ dial integrates so thoroughly with the case that the domed, anti-reflective sapphire crystal practically disappears. DuFrane calls the dial color I have on hand “black sunburst,” though to my eye it’s a toned-down dark rhodium with radial brushing. I’d probably have named it “charcoal burst” or something like that, as it’s simply not dark enough to qualify as black.

The hour markers consist of eight huge circles, three long rectangles and one fat triangle, all aglow with super bright green-tinged C3 Super-LumiNova. The hands are equally as elemental, and their lume filling leaps forward day and night as two hefty rectangles. The Barton Springs is beyond legible; it screams the time.

The seconds hand is in orange, which picks up the markings on the chapter ring. I wish the lume-filled circle on the seconds hand counterbalance was out on the tip, or perhaps absent all together, because in the dark your end up watching the wrong end. I feel this way about a few watches, including classic divers like the Seiko SKX007. Perhaps this isn’t a big concern given that you wouldn’t likely track seconds in the dark—nor could you with the Barton Springs, given that the chapter ring lacks lume and the bezel is largely blank—but those glowing counterbalances have always struck me as a little weird.

As far as submersing the Barton Springs goes, its 656 feet of water resistance will withstand far more pressure than the human body, so go ahead and take this thing anywhere and beat the hell out of it. The solid case back does its job with little fanfare, sporting more of that model-specific font as it lists a couple specs and an individual serial number (there will be just 300 of each variant).

I do feel that the two squiggles (waves?) in the center of the case back might have been better as the DuFrane reverse parentheses logo— ) ( —which, admittedly, I’m irrationally drawn to because one of my favorite albums is Sigur Rós’ brilliantly titled ( ) (typically referred to as “the brackets album”). Regardless, DuFrane’s parenthetical logo is cool, and it has even inspired me to ponder its possible meanings, which I’ll spare you, dear reader, in the spirit of ending this digression.

The Barton Springs includes one of the smoothest crown threads I’ve ever turned. One can order the Barton Springs with or without a date aperture, and though the review unit lacks it, getting the crown into the date-setting position couldn’t be easier. I can’t overstate how un-fussy this crown is; working it gives me a gear-nerd’s satisfaction on par with opening and closing the doors on a hand-made Mercedes. The signed crown is mostly polished, thus picking up the chamfered lug surfaces.

Inside is a Sellita SW200-1 automatic movement, a clone of the ETA-2824 that we’re seeing a lot more after the Swatch Group decided to limit distribution of ETA movements. The ‘-1’ designation means that this movement includes slightly beefed-up teeth on the gear train that, Sellita claims, help reduce shock-induced inaccuracies. You’ll find the SW200-1 in all sorts of quality watches.

The Barton Springs ships with a tri-colored mil-strap, its orange, gray and black stripes a sporty compliment to the dark gray dial. The orange of the strap matches the second’s hand perfectly, which is both uncommon and refreshing. Upon purchase, one also gets to choose a silicone rubber strap in either blue, black, or—particularly sharp—black with an orange lining. Spring bars are 22 millimeters across, and the drilled lugs encourage snappy strap changes while minimizing the inevitable scratches that come from poking around for the spring bars. There’s also an option to get a metal mesh or oyster bracelet for a surcharge of $40. 
I really like the packaging of the Barton Springs. This simple small box opens like a drawer to reveal a card-stock envelope containing the paper work. Beneath that is a hard foam insert that holds the watch and a selection of straps. This is elegant, no-fuss packaging that wont take up gobs of space wherever you stash the other parts of your full sets.

The Barton Springs sells for $656, and is available directly from DuFrane. DuFrane Watches

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At age 7 Allen fell in love with a Timex boy's dive watch his parents gave him, and he's taken comfort in wearing a watch ever since. Allen is especially curious about digital technology having inspired a revival of analog technology, long-lasting handmade goods, and classic fashion. He lives in a one-room schoolhouse in The Hudson Valley with his partner and two orange cats.