Tutima M2 Pioneer Review

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Tutima is a brand we’ve talked a little about here at worn&wound. We looked at the history of the brand here, and pined over the Grand Classic Chronograph UTC here. We’ve always liked the tool watch aspect of the line. While the brand is remaking itself and offering some more refined models in conjunction with their move back to their historic home of Glashütte in 2011, they haven’t forgotten their military roots.

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The venerable German brand can trace those roots to 1927. During World War II, the brand made something of a name for itself when it was one of a handful of companies making flieger watches for the German Luftwaffe. Post-WW II, Tutima was subsumed into the Eastern Bloc’s watchmaking industry. However, the founder, Ernst Kurtz, had escaped to the west and started over in Saxony. Dieter Delecate, a former associate of Kurtz’s, eventually took over and led Tutima into the modern era, traversing the mine field of the quartz crisis as he did so.

Part of the secret to Tutima’s survival of the quartz inundation was to produce instrument watches which used Swiss movements. To that end, in 1983 Tutima won a contract to supply watches to the German Air Force. To fulfill the contract, the company began work on the NATO, using the legendary Lemania 5100 as the base caliber. The Tutima Military Chronograph, ref. 798, was launched two years later and formed the basis of Tutima’s Military line. Tutima continued to supply this watch to all NATO pilots for nearly 30 years. The commercial version was the Military NATO Chronograph, ref. 760-02. This watch and its variants were the modern era Tutima chronographs that made us such a fan of the brand.

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The Military NATO Chronograph was available in various configurations: with and without rotating bezel, choice of hour or tachymeter markings on the inner bezel, with gold bezel and center bracelet links. One unique version was the Commando, which featured only one sub-dial, the 12-hour totalizer. This watch was initially offered to the public only in non-rotating bezel form. Later, as the Commando II, it became available with the rotating bezel (with either black dial or an interesting orange dial option) briefly in the mid to late 2000s.

The watch had a refined cushion-shaped case, a post-modern nod to the pure pillow shape chronographs from Omega, Heuer, Seiko, and others in the 1970s. The shape held up well for three decades, and frankly still looks great.

Tutima shut down its then-current lines in 2013 (after the Glashütte move) and announced four new lines at Baselworld that year. Production and moving issues being what they are, watches did not start flowing from the new facilities as early as everyone hoped. That’s now changed, and I was able to get my hands on a new M2 chronograph a few weeks ago and put it through its paces.

Tutima M2 Pioneer Review

TUTIMA_M2_FACECase: Titanium
Movement: Tutima 521 (modified Valjoux 7750 automatic)
Dial: Matte Black
Lume: Yes
Crystal: Flat Sapphire with anti-reflective coating on both sides
Bracelet: Titanium with deployant clasp (Kevlar strap included in the kit)
Water Res.: 300M
Dimensions: 46.5 x 45.7mm
Thickness: 16mm
Crown: Screw-down
Thickness: 16mm
Bezel: Bidirectional partial knurled

First Impressions

The first thing you notice is the M2 is big. 46.5 x 45.7mm big. It’s made of titanium, which mitigates the size to a fair degree. Inside beats a modified Valjoux 7750 named the Tutima 521. It’s been made to duplicate the features and usability of the Lemania 5100, which Tutima used for decades in several variations of their NATO chronographs. (In the unlikely event you’re not familiar with the 5100, the overarching feature of that movement was the center chrono minutes totalizing hand, which made reading chrono minutes a breeze.) Indeed, the M2 is an update of the NATOs. Like we said, Tutima hasn’t forgotten its military roots.

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However, there’s been a terrific price jump from the NATOS, which were in the realm of $5000. The M2 tips the cash register at $6,900 w/ Kevlar, $7,500 w/ Kevlar, bracelet and kit. This puts if firmly in the realm of “luxury tool watch,” similar territory to that occupied by the likes of Bremont, IWC, Omega, Bell & Ross, TAG-Heuer, etc. That’s a big shift for Tutima. It aims them at a demographic that’s very different from that of their previous line. Yes, the watch is the product of Glashütte R&D and manufacture, and fit & finish are top notch, but the watch buying public will ultimately decide whether or not it stands up against others in the price range.

But enough of horological economics. How does the watch perform? I wore the M2 – actually the variation called the M2 Pioneer – for a week on a western trout fishing trip a few weeks ago, and here’s what I discovered.

Case

The 46.5mm wide, 45.7mm long, 16mm thick case takes its design cues from the old NATO, cushion shaped and using profile-hugging rectangular chrono push pads. The M2 pushers received an update on the NATO design, now sporting knurled rubber pads. This improves traction if you’re in a wet situation and need to measure elapsed time. Pusher actuation is sure, with a satisfying click, as long as you’re applying pressure toward the crown end of either pusher. These flat pushers give the M2 a unique, symmetric design. In fact, they define the overall look of the watch. No cuff-snagging here. No snagging on anything, for that matter.

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The signed screw-down crown is quite small at 6 x 4mm, given the watch’s overall size. It’s also partially recessed into the case wall, eliminating the need for protruding crown guards. It’s knurled and incorporates a circumferential groove to help with pulling the crown to positions 2 and 3 for setting. I found the crown’s operation a bit stiff, and its small size and recessed position hindered actuation for winding or setting. However, once set, the watch should only need resetting periodically to make up for time lost or gained due to movement variations.

The case on the M2 Pioneer variant also sports a bi-directional rotating bezel with well-defined tactile and audible one-minute clicks. The bezel is slightly recessed into the top of the case, and has eight alternating knurled sectors and indentations, perhaps for your fingers. It’s actually easier to use these finger indentations to spin the bezel. You lose your grip at the corners of the case when using the knurled sectors, due to the fact that the bezel is recessed.

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The sapphire crystal is flat, but it’s treated with anti-reflective coating on both sides. This minimizes glare issues in bright lighting conditions.

The signed screw-in back is solid, befitting a tool watch of this nature. The engraved image of an old biplane is a nice touch, but perhaps less than appropriate for a 21st Century watch? You decide. I like it. Fliegers should celebrate their heritage.

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The screw-down crown and screw-in back give the case assembly water resistance to 300m / 1000 ft. speaking of resistance, an interesting addition to the M2 is the inner case core made of mu-metal. This inner layer works to prevent magnetic fields from reaching the movement, although the actual magnetic resistance is not specified in product literature.

Dial and Hands

The matte black dial offers a high-contrast with white Super-Luminova bar-style hour markers and stick hands. This makes the watch a breeze to read in most lighting conditions. The date display contains white numerals on a black background, understated and unobtrusive, but quite functional/ readable in daylight. Gone is the day function of the Lemania 5100/Valjoux 7750.

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Chrono functions (sub-dial and hands) are indicated in orangey-red. The center minutes totalizer is denoted by the same familiar winged shape as its predecessor in the NATO. However, the wings have been moved closer to the center pivot and the hand is very similar to the chrono seconds hand, making confusion possible. In the NATO, the wing feature was near the tip, making it easy to distinguish between chrono seconds and minutes.

When you look at the M2, your eye immediately goes to the orangey-red colored hour totalizer sub-dial. Additional large white lumed dots draw a significant amount of attention. This design element bares no similarity to the original NATO chronograph, though is perhaps a nod to the stripped down “Commando” version. This feature alone makes the M2 a watch for you special ops junkies.

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The non-illuminated running seconds sub-dial is de-emphasized to the point of an afterthought. This may have been done to keep the display balanced (the 7750 base caliber’s display is notoriously off-balance). Here, even on this large watch, it’s small and difficult to read. It could have been left off. On the other hand, the 24-hour sub-dial is typically sized and unobtrusive.

The bezel is a major contributor to the overall look. It features printed minutes in five-minute increments, and fourteen luminous capsules (one at each hour point, plus three in a triangle, flieger-like pattern at twelve o’clock).

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The stick hands are a Tutima staple. Large, coated with Super-Luminova, and easy to read, not much has changed beyond the chrono minutes hand discussed above. The lume overall is exceptional. The hands and markers take a quick charge and glow brightly for a while. I was most surprised that the long and thin central minute and seconds hands had a decent charge, though the lume was a bit spottier there. At least the chronograph is useable at night. Most exceptional however are the lume capsules on the bezel. They really light up.

Movement

The movement, Tutima’s Caliber 521, is a highly modified Valjoux 7750. It’s been modified to duplicate the look and functions of the Lemania 5100. That is, center chrono minute totalizer in addition to center chrono seconds (the actual modification performed is proprietary to Tutima, and was done in-house in Glashütte.

There are standard chronograph sub-dials at six and nine o’clock, a 12 hour chrono totalizer and running seconds respectively. A 24 hour sub-dial at twelve completes the duplication of the 5100’s unique feature set. It’s worth pointing out that, although the 521 replicates the 5100’s functionality, only time will tell if the new movement is as robust as the 5100, which is what earned numerous military contracts for watches which made use of it.

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As mentioned above, pusher actuation is positive with a satisfying click. For the first few times I zeroed the chronograph, it took two pushes to get the hands to reset all the way to zero. However, once I’d gone through the routine a few times, all chrono hands reliably reset to zero. I can only conclude the initial anomaly was due to the watch I tested being brand new.

The modifications aside, specs on the 521 are typical 7750. – 25 jewels and 28,800vph. The movement will run for 44 hours when fully wound.

Bracelet and Clasp

The literature for the M2 states that you get both a Kevlar strap and titanium bracelet, along with changing tools (strap/bracelet changes are not trivial with the M2), in the kit. For testing, we only received the watch itself, on the titanium bracelet, so we could not evaluate the Kevlar strap or the tools.

However, a bracelet is my preference anyway. The H-link titanium unit performed flawlessly. It’s extremely wide, tapering quickly from nearly 30mm where it joins the case to a constant 22mm for most of its circumference. I’d like to have seen it tapered further, to 20mm, for better aesthetics, as it makes the watch look larger than it really is when on your wrist.

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All edges, inside and out, are well-rounded. This is a minor detail, but a nice feature, which I’m sure cost extra to manufacture. Practically speaking, it means there’s no pinching or wrist hair pulling while wearing the watch.

The signed deployant clasp is a push-button style, and seemed secure enough. I had no trouble with it the entire time I wore the watch.

Wearability

As I mentioned earlier, not that the M2 is a fishing watch, but I wore it for several days of fishing in Montana. The size was effectively countered by the use of lightweight titanium.

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Being as big as it is, I found the watch a bit top-heavy, but not so much that it’s uncomfortable – and I tend to wear my watches loose on bracelets. The wide bracelet adds to the comfort level. And at 46mm-plus, you’re going to need a large wrist for the M2 to look good on you. That said, I liked the look on my wrist, which measures in at 8-½” (photos are on a 7″ wrist, however). It’s a great active lifestyle sport watch, but it’s not going to fit under the cuff of a dress shirt. So unless your office is biz-casual with a sleeves-rolled-up, git-er-done attitude, save the M2 for the weekend.

Conclusion

All in all, the Tutima M2 Pioneer is extremely readable in all light conditions, and frankly is a pleasure on the wrist, if you can pull off the size. This watch also has the same feature which endeared the previous generation to me: a center chrono minutes totalizer. It’s hard to overstate how much more useable this one feature makes a chronograph. Why it hasn’t been adopted by more brands is beyond me. (Sinn also uses the feature in their ref. 140 and EZM 10. Bell & Ross does as well, with their 126 Blackbird and 126 Heritage GMT. )

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I wish the bracelet were narrower – or at least tapered to a narrower dimension at the clasp, but that’s a minor complaint of a personal nature. I’ve got no complaints about the push-button clasp either, although I think a locking clasp would be a better choice on a working tool watch.

Re-imagining a cult classic is always a dangerous thing to do. No matter what a brand does, save a 1:1 replication, they will always change something that was once loved, perhaps for the better, perhaps for the worse. With the M2, Tutima has pretty dramatically reimagined the famed 760, really making a whole new watch. Some of the changes, like the rubberized pushers, are a cool evolution on the concept, others, like the increased size, don’t seem to add to the design. The biggest change though is really the price point. $6,900 – 7,500 is a world apart from the original pricing, especially considering second hand models for the original teeter around $2k. This will likely be a road block for many of the original fans of the watch, making the M2 have to appeal to a new demographic. The questions is, at this price point is a Glashütte-made titanium tool watch what people want? Will they choose this over, say, an IWC?

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10 responses to “Tutima M2 Pioneer Review”

  1. Никита says:

    Too much “tool” for my taste, but I respect how well this piece is executed.

  2. chenpofu says:

    man that is one hockey puck of a watch

  3. Curmudgeon says:

    I have a Tutima, and I’m always amazed by it’s build quality. However, mine is 39mm, so it’s not in the frying pan category. 46mm is crazy! Way way way back in the ’50s and ’60s, they managed to make fantastic chronos in the 36 – 38mm range that were totally user-friendly and functional. Jeeez, I think I’m stuck in the past!

  4. JC says:

    Awesome review & content. Really think that W&W does as thorough a watch review than anybody else out there…(not to mention helpful). Thx… As far as the Tutima M2 chrono goes, that watch looks absolutely bombproof…like it could survive attacks from the nastiest Greek mythical creatures (let alone a few pissed off souvlaki street vendors). But at $8K & 46.5mm it’s curious to think which segment of the market the product & marketing designers were targeting for… Who buys this watch? or better yet… Who is this intended for? Like, for starters why did the marketers decide on $8K? Don’t you think this watch would have been challenging enough at $6K… Anyway, great review…

    • Ed Estlow says:

      JC, thanks for your kind words. And I offer my apologies. I got the pricing wrong in the piece. Correct pricing for all variants of the M2 are as follows:

      M2 Chronograph with 1-12
      numbers, on kevlar strap, $6,500

      M2 Chronograph with 1-12
      numbers, on titanium bracelet, with kevlar strap & kit, $7,100

      M2 Pioneer Chronograph with
      rotating bezel, on kevlar strap, $6,900

      M2 Pioneer Chronograph with
      rotating bezel, on titanium bracelet, with kevlar strap & kit, $7,500

      • JC says:

        $6K… $7K… $8K… it’s still all craziness.

        Rereading your great review got me thinking more about the overall industry and how everyone and their mother are running from that $1-2-3K price point and then trying to give themselves even more of a buffer-zone. In the case of Tutima, kudos for them for hitting the reset button and revamping everything, but looking through that line-up of watches it’s difficult to tell what the company is trying to be let alone who their customer is or even who their competitors are.

  5. CortexUK says:

    46mm watches are for lottery millionaires, premiership footballers, and people who think huge tie knots are stylish.

  6. Ed Estlow says:

    Here’s a wrist shot of the M2 on my wrist during the fishing trip I mentioned in the article. I did not find the 46mm cumbersome (mainly due to the titanium construction) or unsightly. But watch size is a matter of taste.

  7. Matt Alley says:

    Thanks for the good review, Ed. I’ve been wondering for 10 years, with all the surging interest in chronographs, why somebody doesn’t make a chrono that displays like the 5100. For those of us who actually time things — steaks on the grill, cups of tea steeping, minutes to hike along this creek before looking for the hidden trail to the left, minutes of various cardio exercise that has you bouncing all over the place — there has never been a movement to rival the 5100.

    So I was excited when I heard Tutima had fabbed one out of the 7750. Unfortunately, this isn’t going to have me selling my Commando 760-42 any time soon (or ever.)

    The whole purpose of the 5100 is legibility. When once you’ve used one, the idea of trying to time something critical with a tiny 30-minute subdial (one that as often as not seems to be covered by the hour hand right when I need to see precisely where the minute hand is) seems ludicrous.

    So I was stymied by the Tutima’s decision to render the hands of the M2 less legible than the hands of every other 5100 I’ve ever seen or owned — watches made by Sinn, Orfina, Porsche Design, Royal Enfield, and of course, Tutima themselves. I get wanting to “have it all,” by luming up the minute and second counters just like the regular hands. In fact, there was a rare version of the Commando, the 760-52, which was identical in every way except the counter hands were both lumed white, rather than bright orange. This raised two problems for me: 1) a quick glance doesn’t allow you to acquire the two hands you care about when timing nearly as easily as the orange does. You have to “process” what you’re seeing and consciously discard two visually similar white hands to concentrate on the two you want, seconds and minutes. You allude to this problem yourself in the review. And 2), at night it is very rare that I need to time something in total darkness, and frankly, precision timing is out the door because of how difficult it is to read a lumed minute track after a few minutes of darkness. BUT, the presence of 4 similar looking hands faintly glowing on your wrist, when all you want is to see how long it is till you have to get up.. that would be a near daily annoyance. We’ve all had the experience of awaking at some time when the hour and minute hands of our normal watches are on opposite sides of the dial and hard to compare the length of those shadowy hands, such that you stare and stare trying to figure out if it’s 2:25 or 5:10. Try that with four hands vying for your attention.

    I’m glad Tutima has recognized that a few people still really want that large, legible central minutes counter. Here’s hoping they downsize the watch, lose (at least optionally) the distracting rotating bezel and the needless other two subdials, and make this watch about simplicity once again.

    Below are 1) 760-42 Commando; 760-52 Commando showing how much less legible the white hands are, and a Bell & Ross-branded Sinn with 5100 I once had. The purpose is to illustrate just how much better the single subdial, simple one-minute chapter around the perimter, date only and no tachymeter are. The Bell hits on all negative counts: distracting tachy, 1/5 minute subdivisions (seriously???), Day, Date, “Bell & Ross” “by Sinn” markings, 24-hour subdial, continuous seconds subdial. Ugggh!!!