The GMT fo Rambo, You, and I
Barely two years ago I didn’t dare dreaming of seeing so many GMTs herald from the micro and independent watch market. I thought we were all doomed to only fantasize of a Rolex GMT Master II, or were forced to find contentment looking at affordable homages. Not that good GMTs from this segment didn’t exist, but they were few and far between. This was arguably upsetting as there are many folks like myself who aspire to own a proper travel watch. And the fact that our name isn’t on some mythical wait list or that we decided to work in the nonprofit sector instead of that of finance shouldn’t preclude us from owning and enjoying a proper GMT. Luckily, things have changed since 2022 when Seiko unveiled the NH34 and Miyota the 9075 calibers as many brands got access to affordable GMT movements.
And although many brands did, not all felt the need to jump on either one of these two bandwagons.
One such brand is Draken when it released the Tugela GMT, a travel-driven timepiece based on their 300m diver platform. It is powered by the premium Sellita SW330-2 caliber that only a few brands dare to use, and that even fewer can offer with a $999 price tag. This is the first Draken watch I get my hands-on—an experience I have been yearning for a couple of years—and I’m glad to be able to write about this beast of a watch today. By all means, the Tugela GMT is not for the faint of hearts, and although my 6.25”/16cm wrist didn’t appear appropriate for it at first, I can say this: the Tugela GMT wears surprisingly well given how it looks and what the spec sheet says. On the one hand, it looks and feels like a high-tech military gadget; on the other hand, it clearly stems from the mind of someone who has a serious passion for watches.
So, without further ado, let’s talk about it.
Since I mentioned that it’s a beast that wears surprisingly well, let’s first talk about its dimensions: 42mm in diameter, 48.5mm lug-to-lug, 14mm thick, and 22mm lug width. While 42mm is typically too large for me, the L2L is what makes the Tugela GMT easy to wear. This is the first sign that the brand’s founder, Michael Blythe, has some experience under his belt in the watch design department. Too often do we see watches that are wide and too long, making them only wearable for people like Rambo—or any bloke who spends more time at the gym than reading books. So, 42 x 48.5mm is arguably good and these dimensions make it possible for the Tugela GMT to house a GMT caliber (which tend to take more vertical space) as well as boasting 300 meters of water resistance. That’s pretty impressive in my book especially for a watch that retails for $999 (excl. taxes.)
Looking at the brand’s catalog, it’s easy to tell that Michael likes to design tool watches. Such timepieces have to be able to fulfill some very specific functions, and to do so well and reliably. First, the entire case and bracelet are sandblasted to reduce the negative impacts of bangs and drops as well as eliminating the potential for scratches. This finish gives the Tugela GMT an extra air of ruggedness, something that was already made apparent by how it looks (more on that later.) The massive screw-down crown and equally impressive knurling is protected by crown guards, and the grippy 48-click bi-directional bezel is completed by loud and precise clicks. Handling the Tugela and playing with all parts that can be unscrewed or moved in either direction reminded me of the precise engineering of German tool watches that cost twice as much.
You perhaps now get the idea that this model is a serious tool watch. The obscene application of X1-C3 lume matches its intended nature and purpose, and Michael went the extra mile luming (not a verb, I know) the Arabic numerals on the date wheel as well as the crown. (The brand’s logo is quite spooky at night.) To make the Tugela fully functional, the inverted triangle at the 12 o’clock on the bezel is lumed as well. The dial—which is both ultra legible and unique looking—can be easily seen thanks to a double domed piece of sapphire crystal complete with inner anti-reflective coating. (It sounds silly to mention the AR coating but you would be surprised by the number of brands that don’t add it.) Lastly, it is powered by the élaboré Sellita SW330-2 GMT caliber that beats at 28,800 BPH (4Hz) and comes with 56 hours of power reserve.
I rarely spend so much time talking about the specs, but here there was much to cover. So thanks y’all for sticking with me.
Alright, let’s talk about design. While it might seem easy (although it’s not) to add the best components to a watch, it can’t be easy to design it in a way so that it looks different—and I would argue unique—while being functional. And I would further argue that making a GMT legible is no small feat. Michael managed to do so by visually separating the two main functions of the watch: telling the time/date and indicating time in a second time zone. The local time function is indicated by large, stubby sword hands that point at applied markers of various shapes—rectangular, X-shaped at the 12, and shell-shaped (as in turtle) at the 3 and 9 positions. The hour and minute hands are easy to read, so is the seconds hand with its diamond-shaped lumed element and orange tip.
Michael went a little wild in painting the frame of the date aperture orange which matches the color of the model name painted on the dial under the pinion.
The GMT function is read thanks to a GMT hand that was endowed with a large arrow-shaped tip, also orange, which confidently points at the 24-hour scale incised on the sandblasted steel insert. I personally like the steel on steel color scheme here and if you don’t, know that the Tugela GMT comes in three additional versions: black dial with black bezel insert, white dial with blue insert, and blue dial with blue insert. (I’m lucky Michael sent the steel on steel version.) Not only are the hands and applied markers of a shape I’m not familiar with, but I appreciate the playful insertion of orange accents on the dial which contrast superbly with the matte, black central element. Furthermore, the X1-C3 lume has a creamy appearance during the day and glows bright green in low-lit conditions, further adding playfulness to the overall design.
The Heart of the Matter
At the heart of the matter here is the fact that Michael created a unique looking GMT that could survive a nuclear explosion whilst looking great on my skinny wrist. I spoke in length about the specs and design of the Tugela GMT Steel, but I have yet to talk about the bracelet. The latter further enhances my palpable excitement writing about this timepiece. It has a 5-link construction with female end-links and screwed solid links, adding to the impression and feel of ultra reliability the watch is already filled to the brim with. The clasp is of the double-pusher and safety latch variety and comes with six holes of micro-adjustments, making it easy to find the perfect fit. Although the links of the bracelet are massive, their construction and the well-proportioned clasp makes the whole package look surprisingly good on my wrist.
So, what does it all mean?
Well, it means that once again I can prove the point I’ve been making for two years on Mainspring: that micro and independent brands can do what old, luxurious, and prestigious brands have not been able to do since the 1960s: making well-priced, robust, and precise tool watches. At the time of writing this article, there are several good options for more elegant GMTs at the same price point, but none (as far as I know) can rival in terms of robustness and specs for $1,000. Again, it doesn’t mean they don’t exist, I’m just not aware of them. And I would argue that this type of watch is generally what one expects to see coming from German brands such as Sinn, Damasco, and Archimede. Not one that heralds from New Zealand. (Actually, Michael is from South Africa but based in NZ.)
I reckon that the Draken Tugela GMT is not for everyone. It pretty much looks like a tank or an object one could use to knock the teeth out of someone causing you trouble in a dark alley. (Hey, while doing the latter you could still tell the time given how much lume there is on this thing!) And, to be quite frank, I didn’t think I would become so smitten with it. I thought a 42mm timepiece with a 14mm thickness would look silly on my wrist, but I was wrong. Michael had the genius idea of keeping the lug-to-lug distance to a reasonable 48.5mm. (The length of a watch, it appears to me, is as important, if not more, as its diameter.) So the Tugela GMT fits well and is darn robust and easy to read. I appreciate the 300 meters of water resistance so that one day I wouldn’t have to think twice about which watch to take with me on my next saturation dive. And, as a tool watch, being legible in any condition is key.
If you like what you saw here, I suggest checking out Draken’s website here. For $999, I would be hard pressed to find a better option with the same specs and high level of originality. $999 for a 300m dive GMT with an élaboré Sellita SW330-2 caliber, come on.
Thanks for reading.