The Retras Dive Watch is a watch of love and passion. It’s a watch born of a desire to recreate a family heirloom. It’s a watch steeped in personal legacy and paternal adoration. The Netherlands-based brand has kicked things off with a watch that is almost a 1-to-1 remake of founder Axel Schijns’ father’s watch: a Dugena diver.
The story goes like this (and you cannot make this stuff up): 5-year old Axel goes for a walk with his father, and along the walk, they find a German watch—the Dugena—just lying there on the ground. His father keeps it, wears it every day to his job in construction. Fast-forward to three years ago and the senior Schijns takes no-longer-5-year-old Axel aside during a visit and says, “I’ve got something for you.” His father hands him the Dugena, a bit worse for wear, but filled with memories. It’s not long before Axel has the wonderful idea of a faithful reproduction, and so here we are.
On the Wrist
Placing the Retras on the wrist, you immediately feel like you’re wearing a vintage watch. Because it is; everything about the watch screams “I’m vintage, mofo!” The somewhat smaller 38.5mm case will sit well on all but the largest wrists, and the 12.2mm height shouldn’t bother any but the slimmest of wrists. A healthy lug curve helps the watch manage most wrist topography.
The watch is easy enough to read: while you may expect the polished silver to blend a bit with the radiant dial, the difference in finishing is enough to create contrast in any light, aided by slivers of lume. The big domed plastic crystal means limited glare but there is some distortion at the edges when viewed at extreme angles.
All in all, the experience is pleasurable, with great fit and legibility, plus classic vintage charm that’s often striven for, but rarely achieved so fully. A good gauge for how much I enjoy a watch I have in for review is how often I glance at it throughout the day without actually registering the time (don’t pretend you haven’t done this). With the Retras dive watch, I often found myself admiring instead of timereading.
I’m all about dial texture and depth, and despite being a remake of a vintage watch—which often lack one or both—the Retras has each, starting with the radiant sunburst dial in a vivid champagne color, identical to its forebear. Similar dials with darker coloring often make you work for that magic light catch where the sunburst really pops. Not so with this golden hue, which seems to always be playing with light in amazing ways.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the watch is the indices. Most watches will go all-or-none with applied markers. But brands used to do some weird stuff and the Dugena on which the Retras is based is no exception. Surrounded by a minute track, the hour markers are all applied except for the cardinal indices, which are printed triangles (save for the excellently framed date window at 3 o’clock).
The applied indices are extremely crisp and feature polished bevels, brushed tops, and strips of lume in the middle. They add depth not only in their dimensionality, but in the way light plays on their facets. While the effect of the printed cardinal indices is a bit odd, in the end I found it another charming nod to the original, and if anything, it actually aids legibility by sharply demarcating the 12-6-9 hours.
I also love the attention given to the date window. I’m a real stickler for a well-done date display, and the Retras nails it. Not only is the frame applied and crisp like the other applied indices, but it doesn’t directly abut the date wheel itself, instead allowing some breathing room and a slim border of the champagne dial within.
Simple baton hands are polished with partial lengths of lume. While I understand that this is how the original was executed, I think the lume fragments are one place where the watch could have been improved over its predecessor. Though all the lume charges quickly and shines brightly, the thinner slivers—on the hands and the applied indices—stand out less than is ideal for low-light reading. Extending the hand portions and broadening all the slivers would have resolved this without betraying the original design.
You may hem and haw at the mention of the bidirectional bezel, but I think it’s quite acceptable here. First, I refer you back to the original design. Second, don’t act like you were ever considering using this in a situation where it’s life or death. Third, even if you were, the force required to turn the friction bezel is such that a simple nudge won’t knock it. Additionally, it’s got a thin beaded grip that allows it to sit low while maintaining utility. Interestingly, the bezel is the one thing where a glaring change has been made: the Retras omitted the minute hashes found on the Dugena’s bezel.
Case and Straps
The case of the Retras dive watch is kept rather simple, as was the original. My favorite part of the case is the most subtle aspect: the polished sides are slightly sloped so that the case almost imperceptibly widens from top to bottom. Its not much, but it’s enough to notice and enjoy, if only on close inspection.
A polished crown at 3 o’clock is perfectly sized and easy to manipulate; it’s unsigned, for better or worse. The rest of the case features a fine-grain circular brushing, and the edges between the sides are clean and crisp, as they should be.
The 20 mm lugs are a favorite style of mine, what I call the sabre (I know that’s not what a sabre’s profile looks like, but I don’t know my swords well enough). On the Retras, they’re very similar to the Longines BigEye lugs, but in this case they drop more precipitously allowing for better contouring. Further, the top of the lugs slope down a bit as they move from the interior to the exterior.
The watch comes with 2 straps: brown ostrich leather and green/black seatbelt NATO-style. Both straps wore well and were of good quality. I’m growing a bit weary of seatbelt NATO-styles, though. They’re exceedingly comfortable but often end up stretching more, which defeats the point of a NATO-style strap– a secure fit. That’s true here, and while I love the color, I didn’t end up wearing the Retras on the green/black that often. I did, however, have a chance to try it with myriad other options, all with what I think was great success (though you can be the judge).
The solid screwdown caseback features a simple arrow motif and a bit of text, but thankfully omits many of the specs most modern brands favor here, like the movement (the 26-jeweled Swiss STP 1-11) and the watch’s water resistance (100m). I love the back for what it isn’t. It’s not a needless exhibition caseback and it doesn’t seek to be an art gallery. A simple motif and a few words. Done and done.
It’s best to regard the Retras diver as a passion project to faithfully recreate a family heirloom. And to remember that only 50 will be produced. And that they scanned the heirloom Dugena piece by piece, and reproduced the case and dial in Germany, added a modern Swiss movement, and assembled and regulated everything at a local watchmaker’s shop in The Netherlands. If you use all that to frame the Retras diver, it will help you gulp down the €1,199 price (if you’re gulping in US dollars, that’s about $1,377).
While it could be (easily) argued that the price is steep, for me it is the only real drawback of this watch. The proportions of the case and the radiant dial make it a pleasure to wear, and while STP has yet to firmly demonstrate themselves as equals in the Swiss movement game, I had no issue with the 1-11. Any issues I’d normally have are all mitigated by the fact that this isn’t meant to be a modern watch; it’s meant to pay homage to a treasure passed from father to son.
Check out more dive watch reviews at The Watch Clicker
Check out the Retras website
|Lug-to-lug Height||48mm||Lug Width||20mm|
|Water Resistance||100 meters||Lume||Super-LumiNova®|