Review: The Tribus TRI-01

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The ideas of legacy and longevity are thrown around a lot in the watch world. Think of the Swiss brands that measure their histories in centuries, and the long held idea that the finest watches are heirlooms to be passed from one generation to the next. In the insular world of watchmaking, the business of making and selling watches is often a family affair, and although the relatively young landscape of independent and microbrand watches that we focus on here at Worn & Wound is certainly known for its open-to-all ethic, as the scene matures we should probably expect new brands that are co-mingled with the old in a whole bunch of different ways. 

That brings us to Tribus, a new brand that launched last year with ties to one of the few individuals who can legitimately be considered a Founding Father within the community, Christopher Ward. Tribus was established by Christopher Ward’s three sons, and while based in Liverpool, England, also has operations in Switzerland and can produce watches with a legitimate “Swiss Made” wordmark on the dial. While Christopher Ward (the man, and the brand) clearly paved the way for Tribus in a certain sense (they’ve adopted a direct sales model through a well designed website, and have established some key partnerships with entities outside the watch industry from the initial launch), the watches are very much their own thing. 

Blake covered the initial Tribus releases in a post this past fall, and I’ve recently had some time to sample what on paper looked like the clear standout from that pack, the time only TRI-01. As a debut, it’s a rock solid start for Tribus, and even though this is likely the most conservative and simple model of the watches that they’ve already announced, it still has an adventurous streak. I don’t know if you’d liken it to the kids rebelling against a parent, exactly, but this watch, at least in the configuration I was able to try out, has a youthful energy to it. 

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$1652

Review: The Tribus TRI-01

Case
Stainless steel
Movement
Sellita SW261
Dial
Teal
Lume
Yes, on hands and hour markers
Lens
Sapphire
Strap
Leather
Water Resistance
150 meters
Dimensions
41 x 50.5mm
Thickness
13.86mm
Lug Width
20mm
Crown
Screw down
Warranty
Yes
Price
$1652

Dial

The dial is said to be where watches are bought and sold (or, not sold), and TRI-01 has a dial that appears simple at first, but reveals small details over time that make it a lot more interesting than you might initially give it credit for. Tribus offers the TRI-01 in a range of colors, some on the more conservative side, but I was glad to be able to wear the teal version. The dial has a pleasing finish that highlights the teal shade in any lighting condition, and whether it’s Tribus’s intent or not, the dial can’t help but conjure comparisons to the iconic “Tiffany” blue, which is enjoying a moment of renewed interest thanks to the release of the latest crop of Rolex Oyster Perpetuals last year. In truth, this shade of teal is a little lighter and less vibrant than the bright robin’s egg blue of a Tiffany box, but it’s close enough for my brain (full of useless bits of pop culture as it is) to make the connection, and it’s a winning shade in its own right. 

Time telling is straightforward with thin and lume filled hour and minute hands pointing to a combination of Arabic numerals and trapezoidal applied hour markers at the cardinal positions. An open minutes track made up of simple thin hash marks circles the dial, and five minute intervals are counted off in small type at the outermost edge. Contrast has been prioritized, with rings of black outlining the hands and applied markers, with additional black circular markers working as accents. Everything is readable at a quick glance, and the typeface choices have a modern feel to them, making it clear that we’re not looking at a dial that’s been overly inspired by any particular vintage cues (Tribus refers to their designs as “retro-temporary,” but the TRI-01 reads as more contemporary than retro to me).

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My favorite dial detail, and I think the one that will catch the eye of most enthusiasts who arrive at this watch, is the sunken subsidiary seconds register. This, perhaps, is where vintage vibes are meant to be felt, as it evokes the subtle contours that you’d see in old-school enamel dial making. In practice, it’s just very nice visually, and along with the applied markers and effective contrast, give the dial a sense of depth that’s somewhat uncommon for a simple time only watch that doesn’t also happen to be a chunky diver. 

Case

While I certainly wouldn’t describe the TRI-01 as chunky, it definitely has a pleasantly solid heft to it, and with a water resistance rating of 150 meters it’s appropriately thick, but not a burden. The case measures 41mm in diameter and a somewhat surprising 13.86mm in height, including the crystal. The measurement without the crystal is 12.09mm, and that feels more true to how the watch actually feels on the wrist. While this watch isn’t dressy in any way, it can easily be worn in a business casual office setting, and your shirt cuffs shouldn’t even notice it. 

The 41mm case wears somewhat large and has a lot of wrist presence (which I think is at least partially due to the color of the dial), but there’s nothing uncomfortable about this watch on my 7.5 inch wrist. The lugs point sharply downward, so even with a 50.5mm lug to lug distance the watch sits close to the wrist and stays planted. From a pure aesthetic standpoint, my preference is for a watch that’s a millimeter or two (or three) smaller than this one, but I think if you’re conditioned to wearing modern watches the TRI-01 will not pose any problems as a daily wearer. 

The case finishing is another high point of the TRI-01. It has a gunmetal PVD coating with a satin brushed finish across most of its surface. I don’t know that I’d have thought to pair the teal dial color with the dark gray gunmetal coating, but it works. It immediately dresses the watch down and gives it a tool-like vibe, and accentuates the modern design attributes that run through the rest of the piece. The finish also has a high quality feeling to it when you handle the watch, and could almost pass as ceramic. There’s a thin polished bevel running down the length of each case flank which is very subtle but serves to balance the watch’s design somewhat. Certain variants of the TRI-01 are also offered in steel without the gunmetal coating, but after experiencing the coated version I likely wouldn’t consider this watch without the PVD treatment. 

Movement

The TRI-01 is powered by a Sellita SW261 automatic movement that has been chronometer certified. The chronometer certification certainly adds value to Tribus’s package, and feels like a chapter borrowed from the Christopher Ward playbook. The movement is visible through a sapphire caseback on the underside of the watch, which feels completely unnecessary given the caliber’s rather industrial finishing. If a small amount of case height could have been shaved off with a stainless steel caseback, that’s a tradeoff I’d have personally been happy to make. Similarly, and as I’ve pointed out in previous reviews, not all watches need to be highly water resistant. The 150 meter rating here is relatively modest, but again, I wonder what price we’ve paid in case height to get to that number when 50 meters or 100 meters would have been just fine for most. 

Back to the idea of an open caseback for a watch with a movement that isn’t finished to any great degree, this Tribus comes to me at an interesting time, as watch enthusiasts across social media debate the value of Tudor’s new Black Bay Fifty-Eights in precious metals coming with an exhibition back, a feature that is exceedingly rare for a member of the Rolex family, and reveals a movement whose appearance doesn’t exactly launch 1,000 ships. It strikes me that the decision to go sapphire on the rear of each watch was likely made for diametrically opposed reasons. Tudor almost certainly did it to save the cost of additional gold or silver, while Tribus, I suspect, sees it as a value add or an appealing curiosity for a consumer that’s new to mechanical watches. I tend to be more sympathetic to the likes of Tribus exposing their movement for the purposes of indoctrinating new members into the cult of mechanical watches, but I have to be honest: having seen my share of off-the-shelf Sellita,  ETA, and Miyota movements over the years, I’d be much more interested in Tribus doing literally anything to tell their brand’s story via the creative use of a closed caseback than I am in seeing another industrially finished caliber. I recognize this is the view of a certified curmudgeon, but I have to embrace what I am. 

Straps & Wearability 

The Tribus TRI-01 is mounted to a simple leather strap with a tang buckle that is coated to match the case (a nice touch). I liked the black strap and found it comfortable, and even though I am rather addicted to changing straps on my own watches, if the TRI-01 found its way into my own collection, I’d probably be inclined to keep it on the factory strap. It can be hard, in my opinion, to match straps to cases that have these darker coatings, so I’d be somewhat leery of veering away from basic black. The lug width, however, is a friendly 20mm, so those with a more adventurous strap changing spirit than me will have an easy time trying all kinds of combinations. 

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As I mentioned up top, I found the TRI-01 to be quite comfortable during my time with it, and in spite of its heft I don’t think the average person will find that it crosses any wearability lines. The color of the dial (and the case, to a lesser extent) has a great impact on wearability for most, I’d imagine, as the colors are somewhat hard to coordinate, and not as universal in the truest sense of the word as a black or blue dial with a typical brushed/polished steel case. I’m a guy who currently wears a green dialed watch on an almost daily basis, however, and has happily owned sports watches with red dials, watches that are fully blacked out, and even some brown dialed watches without even a slight concern for how these things look with my endless parade of blue, button down Oxfords and jeans. A style icon, I am not. 

To that end, if you’re a watch lover, a bit of unsolicited advice, which I think is appropriate for the TRI-01, and potentially many other watches: If you dig the color of a watch, just go for it, and don’t worry about dressing the part. Wear watches that you think look good on you, of course, but don’t stress about something like a shirt sleeve clashing with a dial color that you genuinely love. Always remember, outside of our weird little community, people just don’t notice your watch, and if a teal watch in a gunmetal case sounds awesome to you but you don’t know what to wear it with, I’d submit that’s a problem you can figure out later, and that in the grand scheme of things, it’s not even a problem. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it has to be that more watches than you ever could have imagined look great with sweats. 

Conclusions 

As an initial effort, I think the TRI-01 deserves high marks. Particularly after Watches & Wonders week, when we’re all focused on large, well established, luxury brands, there’s a palate cleansing quality to a watch like this from a brand on the upswing. I appreciate that Tribus is willing to take risks with color, even on their most conservative model, and look forward to seeing how they continue to refine their designs over time, and what other creative ideas they might have in store. There’s a lot of competition in the $1,000 – $2,000 price range (this example of the TRI-01 carries a list price of $1,652) but Tribus is offering value in their unique design, components made to a very high standard, and a chronometer certified movement. And while the brand is a new venture, it’s impossible to discount the draw of the owners having some real watch industry pedigree, and the initial strategic partnerships that Tribus has initiated (Liverpool FC among them). For someone new to watches, I can imagine this lending some credibility to the brand, and an assurance that they are not a fly-by-night operation.  

In a way, I hope that Tribus, and other brands of similar size and scope, were not paying close attention to Watches & Wonders earlier this month. It would be a shame for the creativity of individual creators to be stifled due to an influence of designs and ideas that are borne out of focus groups and market research. As the sons of Christopher Ward surely know, it can take time and a lot of trial and error to get something exactly right, but an original idea that really works has a value that can’t be easily quantified. Tribus

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Zach is a native of New Hampshire, and he has been interested in watches since the age of 13, when he walked into Macy’s and bought a gaudy, quartz, two-tone Citizen chronograph with his hard earned Bar Mitzvah money. It was lost in a move years ago, but he continues to hunt for a similar piece on eBay. Zach loves a wide variety of watches, but leans toward classic designs and proportions that have stood the test of time. He is currently obsessed with Grand Seiko.
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