Tsovet was the first brand whose products we reviewed just over 3 years ago (yikes!). A fitting start for w&w, as it was a well styled and affordable piece. 3 years later, we’ve learned an awful lot about watches, brands, and what qualities to look for in an affordable piece. Similarly, Tsovet has continued to grow, gaining popularity and refining their look. It’s fitting now that we get to revisit the brand and take a look at one of their most intriguing and possibly surprising watches to date, the SVT-CN38.
Prior to this design, if you had asked me for a super quick description of Tsovet’s watches, I would have said, big, bold, military styled watches with a nod to Russian and Submarine aesthetics. The SVT-CN38 veers strongly from that description with a distinctly 30’s/40’s, Bauhaus design in a modest 38mm case. There is still something stern and severe, perhaps constructivist, about it, which speaks to the brands origins, but the design is clearly rooted in something more German and casual.
The design, particularly the dial, will call to mind Bauhaus inspired classics like the Stowa Antea KS and the Nomos Tangente and Tangomat. That said, this isn’t an homage, so much as a period piece that speaks to this classic design. Subtle design features throughout give the Tsovet its own personality, one that is a bit more masculine and fitting of the brand. One particularly different feature is actually what is inside. Rather than a manual mechanical movement, Tsovet opted for a 3-hand Ronda 513.3 quartz movement. In turn, the watch has a fairly modest retail price of $200. Our friends over at East Dane lent us one to test, and I have to say, I’m pretty impressed.
TSOVET SVT-CN38 Review
Movement: Ronda 513.3
Lens: Mineral Crystal
Water Res.: 50M
Dimensions: 38 x 43.5 mm
Thickness: 12 mm
Lug Width: 18 mm
Crown: 7 x 3 mm
Warranty: 2 years
It’s so refreshing to see brands turning the corner, offering more modestly sized watches. This isn’t merely for comfort or fitting smaller wrists, it’s an issue of design and aesthetics. Sometimes when designs are forced into large cases, the dials become too spacious, the cases become too flat, straps too wide. A properly proportioned watch, like any other object, looks and feels “right”. It’s a bit hard to put into words, but the ratios of the height to the width, of positive and negative space, create a harmony that is pleasing to the eyes. I think this partially drives the vintage watch resurgence we’re seeing right now, as watches of the mid 20th-century weren’t designed as much for silly fads that were sussed out by way of focus groups, they were designed as singular objects. If the watch was larger, such as an Omega PloProf (which was and still is huge), it was out of purpose.
Rant aside, the Tsovet SVT-CN38 demonstrates smart sizing and good proportioning. Coming in at 38 x 43.5 x 12mm, it’s the right size for a modern take on a Bauhaus style. Small enough to sit well on the wrist, but large enough to feel sturdy. The height includes a domed mineral crystal, which is one of the highlights of the watch. Mimicking the acrylic boxes of vintage watches, this crystal comes up a few millimeters, has a broad, rounded edge, then domes gently across the dial. It adds some nice reflections and a touch of distortion to the dial around the edge. While I would have also been happy to see an actual acrylic crystal here, I do understand that for a brand that’s available so widely at retail, the more scratch resistant mineral crystal is an easier sell.
The design itself is simple and clean, but unlike other Bauhaus-esque designs, this leans a little more towards a masculine design. It takes the simple, slab-sided, cylindrical case, but beefs it up just a little bit in every way. Rather than having thin straight lugs, there are wider, angled lugs with an aggressive geometry. The case is then totally bead blasted, for a dull grey sheen. It’s as though they took the case you’d expect and crossed it with that of a field watch. And it’s a successful combination.
Another detail I particularly like is the wide, flat crown at 3. Measuring 7 x 3mm, it’s large, but sized well for the watch, speaking to the slightly military leanings of the design. On the flat end of the crown is a very subtle line of text reading “Tsovet Timing Gauges”. It’s a cool, technical detail that you cannot see without scrutiny. The one downside of the crown is that it makes me wish there was a movement inside to crank, as it has the right proportions to feel nice between your fingers.
The dial design is where things become clearly Bauhaus, with that clean, iconic look. There are a few color variations on the watch available, but this model has a matte black surface with silver markers. The primary index consists of numbers for the even hours and markers for the odd. Tsovet gives it their signature twist by replacing the 10 with a zero. The typeface chosen is tall and condensed, which is what one expects in a design like this. It’s a great looking typeface too, which some interesting elements. I particularly like that the 2 in the “12” and the solo “2” are actually subtly different from each other.
Around the perimeter of the dial is then an index of small silver lines for the minutes/seconds that get thicker every 5. This adds a bit more at-a-glance legibility to the already very clean design. Otherwise, the dial is fairly sparse, not even including a date, which I applaud them for. There is a Tsovet logo under 12 that is modestly sized and then various text above 6. There is actually a considerable amount of writing here, reading: SVT-CN38, Swiss Movement, 50 meters.
What’s very cool is that rather than printed, it’s all blind debossed, appearing black on black. As such, it’s barely noticeable unless light is hitting it just right. Like the text on the crown, it’s a subtle detail that adds a technical feeling to the design. Since it’s so slight, it really looks like a set of serial numbers that would be on a piece of issued equipment.
Lastly, there are simple matte steel stick hands. Once again, what you’d expect to accompany a Bauhaus watch, they work well and are easy to read. They also play well off of the silver text and matte case, creating a nice flow of dull grays and silvers through out. Other options for this watch are lighter or even colorful, but I really like the stark simplicity of this version.
Straps and Wearability
Tsovet does a better than average job with their leather straps. These aren’t your typical, thickened with foam padding Asian made straps, rather they are solid and supple Italian vegetable tanned leather. The strap on this model is an 18mm, matte black with off-white contrast stitch. It’s a couple of millimeters thick, giving it a nice rigidity, though it’s comfortable immediately. It’s a straight cut design, which is a bit atypical for this style of watch, but once again, builds off of the somewhat more masculine and military leanings of their design.
On the wrist, the watch wears wonderfully. It’s small enough to fit very well, be comfortable for long periods of time and slide under a shirt sleeve. Yet, it’s large enough to have a proper amount of presence and not go under the radar. Having worn other watches of this style before, I think the Tsovet is a bolder option. It’s slightly beefier dimensions make it look less delicate and more rugged, which works surprisingly well. It’s also very versatile as such. You can as easily wear this a t-shirt and jeans, as a button down and khakis. You could even throw it on an olive or grey NATO for a aggressive feel.
While us watch nerds might see a watch like the Tsovet SVT-CN38 and immediately know other watches with similar designs, even from companies that original produced them in the 30’s like Stowa, I have to commend Tsovet on taking this to the public. This is a watch that is available at malls, department stores, watch shops around the country as well as on-line fashion sites, at a price point that is obtainable to many. As such, it’s bringing a somewhat esoteric design to the mainstream, and that’s very cool. I’d much rather see this on the wrist of the 16-year olds that skateboard down my block everyday after school, than some ugly, oversized piece of temporary fashion. This is a watch in good taste, and hopefully good taste is infectious.
For the watch-initiated, this is a cool change of pace from your typical Bauhaus design, and a strong entry-level for the style. By being a bit more robust and having a touch of military influence, there is a casualness that makes it easy to wear daily and compliments many styles. Other, higher end Bauhaus watches tend to be more refined and elegant, but wear more like dress watches.
That said, I would like to see and try a mechanical version of this watch, even if it was 2 or 3 times the price (which would still be decent). They have something very cool going with this design that while familiar is unique. One thing Tsovet touts is the influence of California design and aesthetics in their goods, and perhaps that’s the underlying twist that I find appealing. This is an American Bauhaus watch, it’s a bit less subtle than its European counterparts, but a bit more fun too.
by Zach Weiss