What do you get when you make a dive watch in the mountains? If you’re Draken Watches, you’ll get something a little like the Tugela.
Dive watches have come a long way since 1932 when Omega introduced the Marine, considered by many to be the first dive watch. These days with the advent of dive computers, most divers don’t rely on a watch as a primary means of recording a dive and if they have on at all it’s as a backup. So why are dive watches so popular if hardly anyone is using them for diving? Well that’s simple rhetorical question asker! The attributes that make a watch good for diving – simplicity, legibility and durability – make it brilliant for just about anything else like hiking, kayaking, surfing or camping.
So that all said, is the Tugela a dive watch? Yes of course it is. It’s lumed like a flashlight, has an excellent rotating bezel and is rated for 300m water resistance. If you want to get it wet go for it. It kinda misses the point a bit to fixate on that aspect though. At its core it’s made to be, and is marketed as, an adventure watch, the sort of watch you’d wear to the beach for a surf, or on a trek in the mountains.
Draken Watches is the creation of Michael Blythe, a South African born New Zealander who wanted to “create strong, dependable tool watches that will stand up to some of the toughest environments.” The Tugela – named after a river that originates in the Drakensberg Mountains – is his first offering. I’ve known Michael since he first drafted the concept design for the Tugela and I’ve been impressed at how persistently he’s pursued his vision. As with any project like this, it’s gone through its up’s and downs but the end product is remarkably true to the original concept. I’ve seen many watches go from concept to prototype that have had to compromise details along the way but this is not one of them. The Tugela is live on Kickstarter at time of writing, currently at 95% funded after 10 days.
As a project, I’m impressed at how it’s been constructed. The watch is offered with 3 different bezel colour options with a matching single piece NATO ZULU strap and a light brown leather strap. There are no stretch goals. Now when it comes to Kickstarter, a major trap for creators is offering too many options. It adds costs, complicates manufacture and can delay delivery leading to frustrated backers. The beauty here is the simplicity. The watch and the leather strap are the same for all options. Bezel inserts and NATO straps are additions that are easy to source but change the look of the watch giving a real aesthetic option. I’ve noticed that the simpler the project, the better it seems to run and the happier the backers. Things can go wrong and delays happen, of course, but the likelihood of that drops when the project is this simple.
The watch is powered by the Seiko NH35A automatic mechanical movement, a basic movement that is durable and reliable. This movement has become a lot more popular for crowdfunders this past year as the Miyota 9015 prices continue to rise. The NH35A has a lower beat than the 9015 (21,600 bph vs 28,800 bph) but I didn’t find the difference particularly noticeable on the 30mm dial compared to a 9015 I have with a 36mm dial. (Both watches have a case diameter of 42mm). The NH35A has hand-winding and hacking features and what I think is a big plus, a bi-directional rotor. I find this tends to make the rotor quieter as unidirectional rotors like in the 9015 tend to get a bit noisy when the rotor freewheels. It also means the NH35A winds to full power a lot quicker.
I seem to mention this every review but straps are important to me. I find chunky leather straps uncomfortable and have been leaning towards NATO’s in my daily wear. I was happy with this leather one though and I think that’s down to the buckle. Usually the leather straps I have the most problems with have a chunky buckle that doesn’t lie well with the strap. The Draken buckle is appropriately robust but lies perfectly flat with the strap. Maybe a minor detail but you’d be surprised how many watches miss it.
My first minor gripe with the watch comes in here though. The leather strap has handy quick release spring bars built into the strap but they can’t be removed so if you want to change the strap to the NATO, you’ll need your own spring bars as none are provided. For most collectors that’s not a big deal as most will have a few spares floating around but it could be an unexpected frustration if you don’t have any on hand. Given how it’s a relatively easy thing to include that might happen by the time the campaign ends.
The case, as mentioned above, is 42mm diameter and 48.5mm lug to lug. It’s a comfortable size that wears well. It has a bead blast finish that gives it a satiny texture that isn’t going to show up wear and tear over the years as badly as a polished finish. It’s also forgiving of fingerprints in photographs! Unfortunately the anti reflective sapphire crystal is a lot less forgiving, sorry for the smudges and lint in some of my photos.
Here’s a 360 degree look at the watch on each of the straps for comparison.
One thing that stands out in the case design is the upward taper which is designed to give you an easier grip on the bezel and to give a nod to some South African flora. In practice, given the edge of the bezel is flush with the case, it did help in getting a good grip. The smooth line aesthetic probably wouldn’t have worked so well without it.
Second minor gripe is the caseback. It’s a great design but unfortunately the laser engraving is a little light. I’m told this is planned to be fixed in production though so hopefully the version backers receive will be better. It spends most of its time out of sight on your wrist though so it’s not really a dealbreaker for me.
Like I said before the dial is lumed like a torch, I was very impressed with the brightness. Usually you only see it this good on sandwich dials where they can get a really thick lume layer applied. The date wheel is also lumed which is a nice touch. It can’t be applied as thickly here though as on the dial so it’s not as bright but still passable.
The Draken Watches Tugela has just under 3 weeks to go at time of writing and is 95% funded, it would be very shocking if it didn’t go all the way. If you’re looking for a top quality tool watch to take on your adventures you could do a lot worse than this. Available preorder prices start at $350 NZD (approx $250 USD) plus $45 NZD for shipping. Now on Kickstarter. visit Draken Watches for more details.
All watch photos by MBWW unless otherwise noted