The 21st Century Dress Watch
Once in a while I contemplate the idea of buying a classic dress watch. Something that a gentleman wears with confidence at the office, on the weekends, and even exploring new parts of our tiny world. Something that looks simple in appearance, minimalist in its function. But then I feel that it takes a certain type of person to wear this kind of watch the way they are supposed to be worn. And, to be honest, I didn’t really look into this genre before. I contemplated models from certain Swiss and German brands but none tickled by desire to actually pull the trigger.
One of the reasons I never moved forward with this idea is because classic dress watches tend to be smaller than the sport watches I’m used to wearing. 34, 35, or even 36mm would look ok for a dive or field watch because they have thicker cases and longer lug-to-lug distances. But many dress watches that come with these diameters are short and thin. Well, as the tradition would have it, a watch changed my mind: the Nomos Tangente classic in 35mm. On paper, it’s too small for me. In person, it’s perfect.
So let’s take a deep look at this gem from Germany’s horological cradle—Glashütte—and how it could make a perfect watch for many watch enthusiasts!
Although the Tangente collection—the heart and soul of Nomos—comes in different case diameters (35, 37.5, 38.5, 40.5 and 42) the model we are looking at is the 35mm one. So a case diameter of 35mm, a lug-to-lug distance of 45mm, a thickness of 6.6mm and a lug width of 18mm. No, there isn’t a typo where I indicated the watch’s thickness. It truly is thin and the most remarkable of things is that the movement inside is made in-house. Yes, the hand-wound Alpha caliber is made by Nomos and comes with 43 hours of power reserve and has 17 jewels. This means you only have to wind it once every other day and this is not theoretical: I wore the watch for a few days and truly didn’t need to wind it each morning, unlike other manual-wound calibers I’ve come across in the past.
Perhaps I could stop mentioning the specifications here as in themselves, having an in-house caliber in such a thin case constitutes the highlights of the review. But no, there is more than meets the eye in the case of the Tangente. This watch is also much more robust than it may appear looking at it at first glance. The gorgeous and minimalist dial is covered with a piece of sapphire crystal, galvanized dial (it’s covered with a layer of zinc to prevent oxidation,) blued steel hands, and comes with a decent 30 meters of water resistance. (It’s worth noting that larger Tangente models come with 100 meters of water resistance.) The see-through case-back is also made of sapphire.
Insane for its size, isn’t it?
Being on the dressier side of things, the Tangente comes with an entirely polished case—literally every square millimeter of the watch has been adorned with a high polish—which can also be found on the strap buckle. I honestly didn’t know it was possible to polish the entirety of a watch case in this way, even on the super angular and thin lugs. From a visual standpoint, the Tangente commands a solid wrist presence due to having a polished case and wide dial opening, making it look larger than its case diameter decidedly suggests. I was surprised at first by how robust the watch feels given its dimensions, but then I looked closer at the spec sheet and understood why.
Beyond the specifications, this watch is all about the design and how well executed it is. There’s actually a lot to unpack here, although the Tangente may look very simple. When I first looked at the Tangente in person, I remembered something Steve Jobs said about creating minimalist and modern designs. That it is very difficult to do so and that there is a lot that goes into making something look simple whilst being functional. I always knew that and I’m now a firm believer that it is true. And even more so when we talk about a 35mm watch with an in-house caliber. The Tangente is a modern watch through and through and it shows in the myriad of tiny little details that the watch comes with.
The big star of the show is the dial. The Tangente has Arabic numerals at the even markers and batons at the odd ones. Arranging the dial in this way creates visual and functional balance. What I mean by that is this: having Arabic numerals all around would have made the watch look a tad too much like a field one. Only putting batons would have made it too dressy and less functional. (I personally feel that this particular layout makes reading time easy.) Furthermore, the Arabic numerals and baton-style markers are all printed and of equal length—something that is surprisingly not always the case.
The running seconds sub-register at the 6 o’clock comes with a radial finish and sits slightly lower. The main part of the dial has a very fine sandy texture that is almost impossible to see at normal distance (you know when you are wearing the watch.) However, the presence of this texture further explains why the dial is so legible: it absorbs light. Aiding in legibility are the blued stick hands that are perfectly proportioned: the hour hand reaches to the edge of the hour markers and the minute hands all the way to the minute track. This makes setting accurate time easy and reading time even easier.
I wanted to go back for a quick moment about the sapphire crystal see-through case-back that lets us admire the gorgeous Alpha caliber. I find it impressive that Nomos was able to add a see-through case-back in a 6.6mm thick timepiece. I’m sure it’s not unheard of in the world of horology. However, the Tangente retails for $1,900 with the closed caseback and $2,180 with the see-through caseback; I imagine that a Swiss giant would charge multiple times more for the same engineering prowess.
Another element of the design (and craftsmanship) is the crisp printing on the dial. I do care that a dial displays nice printing however I got used over time to not expect much from many of the brands I review. The Tangente comes with some of the finest printing I’ve ever seen on a dial which shows how much attention to detail went into designing and making this timepiece. The Tangente is one of these rare watches that I actually just enjoy looking at in addition to wearing it. I just get so much pleasure looking at all the little details that come together harmoniously.
The Heart of the Matter
At the risk of sounding subjective, what is at the heart of the matter is that Nomos managed to make thin, Bauhaus-inspired dress watches cool again. Take it with a grain of salt but they made me—a die hard robust sport watches person—change my entire perspective on this genre of watches. I could absolutely see myself add a Tangente to my tiny watch collection one day in the future. What’s more is that the German brand revived this genre of watches and brought it up to the top of the horological mountain. What I mean is that I’ve come across dozens of young, independent, and sometimes cheap brands that make soulless knock-offs of these types of watches.
But Nomos does it best.
And what’s more is that Nomos makes fine watchmaking available to a large part of the watch community. Retailing for roughly $1,600, the Tangente is affordable by many measures: an in-house caliber, perfectly designed dial, outstanding proportions, solid specifications, and great finish. You definitely get a sense that you are wearing a fine piece of horology and there are a few elements that contribute to this feeling. In addition to the crisp printing and finish I mentioned above, the strap and buckle equally contribute to this impression.
The strap has a shiny finish, is supple, and comes with a somewhat discreet crocodile pattern. And more importantly: the buckle jiggle a little bit and in an interesting way, as if it was coming from a vintage timepiece. Everything combined together and you feel that you are holding something special in your hands and you feel good about it because it wouldn’t cost you $10,000. Just a fraction of that, comparatively. Which brings me to my next and final point of interest: the return of quality German watchmaking…
…that is not an instrument watch *a la* Sinn or Damasko.
Whenever you watch a period movie from the 1930s through the 1960s, you see men and women wearing small, time-only watches. Although there were hundreds of brands making these types of watches back then, nowadays we only talk about a select group of brands that made such watches: Jaeger- LeCoultre, Universal Geneve, Omega, Zenith, and Hamilton amongst others. Only rarely do we hear of a German brand when talking about this particular period of watchmaking. And that doesn’t mean German brands were not making dress watches, but we somehow assimilate the country with military pieces. Brands in the likes of Stowa and Laco.
So where do the dressier watches come from? Well, I’m not sure but in 2022 we can buy a Nomos Tangente and that’s great news for the watch community. Although the brand was only founded in 1990, it has become synonymous with refined German watchmaking and now I can understand why. Now I can understand why so many of my die-hard sport watches enthusiast friends swear by Nomos and would encourage me to try one out. While the tradition of German watchmaking has been reborn in Glashütte, Nomos is one of its most significant representatives.
Our taste in watches change all the time, just like our tastes in food, movies, books change all the time. I grew up in a culture where it would be commonplace to hear the expression “I don’t want to die ignorant,” referring to the fact that it’s never too late to learn something new. If I were to die tomorrow, I would do so being a little less ignorant about dress watches, German watchmaking, and affordable luxury. You may or may not fancy the Bauhaus style of watches Nomos offers, but if you were as lucky as me to try a Tangente, you would most likely agree that this type of design owns a particular place in the hearts of many watch enthusiasts.
I invite you to visit the brand’s website to discover the other exceptional collections they have.
Thanks for reading.