Inside & Out: Nomos Metro Datum Stadtschwarz
How I got this watch: I contacted Nomos Glashutte asking to review a watch and suggested starting with the Metro 38 Datum. I wore the watch for two weeks.
Nomos Glashutte is an enigma - They produce in-house movements yet their watches are reasonably priced, Their watches are distinctive but can blend into any environment with ease.
The Nomos Metro 38 Datum is a perfect example of the unique way that Nomos produces watches. This simple, three-hand watch was released one year after the more complicated Metro Datum Gangreserve. Any other company would have produced the simpler version first, whetting the appetites of their consumers, but Nomos worked backwards by producing a charming watch with a unique power reserve and then removing it for the Metro 38 Datum.
The most curious aspect of the watch is the movement inside, the Caliber DUW 4101. Nomos wisely focuses their efforts and small budget on producing the best mechanical watches they can, rather than a large marketing campaign; in just sixteen years they went from modifying ETA movements to producing in-house movements. 95% of every watch is constructed on-site at Glashutte (Straps, rubies and glass are imported in) and for such a young company to do this is nothing short of astounding, especially considering that they manufacture their own escapements as well.
Consisting of the balance wheel, balance spring, escape wheel and pallet, the escapement regulates the flow of energy from the main spring through the gear train. It must be produced with utmost precision as even a minuscule mistake will cause havoc when regulating the watch and most companies who produce in-house calibers still outsource for escapements because it's so difficult to produce. Nomos is clearly playing the long game and after investing 12 million Euros into R&D they released their own proprietary escapement in 2014, the Swing System.
In keeping with Nomos' discrete nature the Swing System isn't mentioned on the actual movement, no engraving on the base plate in big red letters or a highlighted section in blued steel like in column wheel chronographs. Just three simple letters added to the caliber description, DUW, short for Glashutte Deutsche UhrenWerke which is German for Glashutte German Watchmakers. It's a concise way of saying that with the addition of the Swing system into a Nomos Caliber, it is a true German in-house movement. Nomos are aiming to fit the swing system into every one of their calibers in the future.
The manually wound DUW 4101 inside the Metro Datum continues to speak to Nomos' design philosophy and that of traditional German aesthetics. The 3/4 plate is finished with Glashutte ribbing with highlighted parts of the caliber in Nomos perlage. Compared to A. Lange & Sohne, who are just a short walk down the street, it's a simple embellishment but one that is certainly welcome in a watch of this price. Never has a watch costing less than $3500 felt like such a bargain. The movement was adjusted to the requirements befitting a chronometer certificate and was probably the most accurate watch I've reviewed this year. Some might bemoan the lack of an actual certification but when it performs to the standards, why would Nomos need to add an extra $300 to the price tag to prove something we already know?
Nomos watches are small yet the design of the case and lugs makes the Metro 38 Datum wear much bigger than you think. The perfectly rounded case (barely thicker than a few stacked pennies at 7.75mm) is fitted with wire lugs that stretch out onto your wrist, making feel like there is an extra 2mm on the case. The downward angle of the lugs also means that the flat case back sits very close to you wrist with a very low profile. As an everyday wear, you couldn't go wrong with having a watch this slim poking out from underneath your cuff. The small crown has a circular pattern engraved on it to provide grip and I never had trouble winding or setting this watch.
Most Nomos watches have a unique quality, they look better with a date window than without. This is a rarity as an incorrectly designed date window can ruin a watch that so often feels like an afterthought and it wouldn't surprise me to learn that Nomos actually design the date version first, only then to remove it for the non-date version. The trapezium date window sits right beneath the large subsidiary seconds on the dial and is colored in a similar slate gray to the dial. The aperture never overpowers the dial or is forced to hide away in shame with the typeface being large enough to read with ease. With so many watches doing date windows wrong, it's so refreshing to find one that does it so well.
One aspect of the design I was disappointed by was the hour markers. In the catalog they are bright white and mint pips (12, 3 and 9) but in reality the markers fade together into a muted white which fade into the dial. I had to double check online that I wasn't imagining that they were supposed to be different colors as whatever angle or light I viewed them under, they always looked the same. The white dial version does not have these problems and might also benefit from the black hands contrasting more against the dial though I never had a problem with the visibility of the steel hands but a few friends I showed it too did. Whilst it would nice to see Nomos venture away from their trademark design once in awhile, the pips are timeless and work perfectly with the simple two line "Nomos Glashutte" on the dial. Other brands like to compose sonnets on their dials, Nomos says everything by saying nearly nothing at all.
Whilst the hour markers were a disappointment, I truly loved the dark gray dial. It is much softer on the wrist than a matte black and makes it seem much more light and versatile to different outfits and settings. The black cordovan strap is plain and lacks any noticeable decorative stitching on the edge but this works in favor of an everyday watch that can be worn without worry of seeming overly dressy. I previously wore a cordovan strap on the Tudor Prince Oysterdate and just as I loved it then, I loved it now. It's far tougher than it appears to be and over time will become wonderfully supple and soft. At 19mm, the Metro Datum's lug width might limit your aftermarket strap choices but Nomos has a wide variety on their website (Cordovan, cowhide and velour in a variety of widths and colors) for surprisingly reasonable prices for branded strap.
A quick-release spring is fitted into the strap, allowing you to swap between different ones at a moments notice without any tools required. A small hole is cut into the reverse of the strap with the release protruding from it, pull that back and you're ready to go (Don't worry though, you can't feel these catches whilst wearing the watch). Without a thick inside lug to guide a tool, the quick change system is much appreciated and further increases the versatility of the watch if you have an emergency cache of straps in your bag.
Everyone has their idea of what German design is. I've now spent time with three different German brands (Junghans, Nomos and Stowa) and the Metro Datum is currently the best example of what I believe modern German watchmaking looks like.The Metro Datum has poise and grace, equally at home in the beer hall or at the Opera. It's a lot of fun and for $3480, it's a surprising definition of a value proposition.