A Finely-Tuned Sportswatch
For the past few years, my grail watch has been the Rolex Explorer 1. I love what it stands for: adventure, exploration, and understated, elegant robustness. Here’s the problem, though: I don’t currently have the means to buy this watch, and even if I did, I wouldn’t do so. I love watches, but I’d rather take the money I would spend on a Rolex and travel abroad or start saving for a down payment on an apartment. The Rolex Explorer 1 must remain the unattainable grail watch for the time being.
How, then, do I get a watch that says adventure, exploration, and understated elegant robustness? By looking at microbrands like Traska and its Summiteer model. The Summiteer has the distinctive 3-6-9 dial of the Explorer 1, but on the other hand, it’s got a set of design features unique to itself: a robust case, accurate movement, and a comfortable fit for the wearer. More importantly, it costs a fraction of the price of a Rolex.
Jon Mack first launched Traska in 2018 with a successful Kickstarter campaign, which gave birth to the brand’s first model, the Freediver. This watch was and still is a sturdy and elegant diving watch that has now gone through three redesigns.
After the success of the Freediver, Traska ran a second equally successful Kickstarter campaign for the Summiteer, their field watch, which is reviewed here. Last year, Traska released a 36mm everyday watch, the Commuter, and a few weeks ago, they released their fourth model, the Venturer, another everyday watch with a second crown and an inner rotating bezel that can track a second time zone.
What sets the Traska brand apart was the ultra-resistant stainless steel coating on the case and bracelet with the Freediver and subsequent models. This took the watch from 200 to 1200 HV on the Vickers hardness scale. (This is not just wishful thinking, it’s for real. I wore the Summiteer while I was water and desk diving, hiking, and moving to a new apartment, and it didn’t get so much as a scratch on either the case or bracelet.)
Offering a watch with a hardened case and bracelet wasn’t common in 2018. Other brands have followed suit since, but Traska still stands out from the crowd by designing its brand to offer well built products at a good price.
The Summiteer comes with a 38.5x46mm case that is 10mm thick and has a lug width of 20mm. The case proportions are perfect for my 6.5-inch (16.5 cm) wrist. The short lugs curve down from the case and wrap around the wrist, while the thick piece of sapphire crystal sits proudly atop the case, generously covered on the underside with layers of anti-reflective coating.
Traska has colored the Summiteer’s dial in a rich, deep midnight blue color, and the buyer also has the option of getting the watch in charcoal black, sage green, and mint green. All the Arabic numerals and batons from the hour markers and minute track are painted with thick layers of BGW9 Super Luminova—reminiscent of Rolex's proprietary Chromalight—which gives the Summiteer some of the best lume of any watch I have strapped on my wrist in the past five years.
The bracelet, which is also made of hardened stainless steel, measures 20mm at the lugs and tapers down to 16mm at the clasp. The latter is activated by two push buttons, letting the wearer admire the milled clasp and its perlage finishing, a rare sight for a watch in the $500 range.
The Summiteer is powered by the high-grade Miyota 9039 movement, a 24-jewel workhouse with 42 hours of power reserve that beats at 4hz (28,800 beats per hour), which helps the watch run well and enables smooth winding. The crown is of the screw-down type, and with the screw-down caseback, the watch has 100 meters of water resistance.
Overall, the Summiteer’s technical specifications make it clear that Traska has put a lot of effort into designing and making this model.
The dial of the Summiteer—and of all Traska watches—is simple, efficient, and approachable. It’s neither overly sporty nor utilitarian. The long, thin hour batons are elegant, the Arabic numerals perfectly proportioned to the case. The Summiteer has a stepped dial with an inner circle sitting lower than its outer portion, giving the watch some flair.
Traska’s website explains that this appearance is “reminiscent of Art Deco designs from the 1930s,” a feature that I really love. It gives the watch a subtly three-dimensional look that you can see most clearly when looking at the watch from the side. Unlike most other field watches, the dial has character, but not too much. It’s balanced, different, and keeps the dial from looking too much like the one the Explorer uses.
Yes, the Summiteer exhibits Rolex Explorer 1016 DNA in its use of the 3-6-9 dial configuration, but, as we're starting to see here, the model still has its own design language. The numerals are proportionally sized relative to the long baton hour markers, the minute hand extends to the edge of the minute track, and the sword hour hand points at the hour markers with confidence. It’s a refreshing take on the Explorer-style dial, which works well here.
Furthermore, the lines of the Summiteer are strong, elegant, and refined. They make the watch versatile, beautiful to look at, and great to wear. The case has the right proportions to fit on wrists of many sizes, and its design is so versatile that I have been able to confidently wear the Summiteer while both diving and attending evening functions.
The Heart of the Matter
So what makes the Summiteer special? It’s all the detailed elements of the design and build that come together nicely, wrapped in hardened steel and topped off by an attractive price tag.
The Summiteer occupies a very particular spot in the Traska lineup: it is the field and adventure watch, as its robust, easily readable, reliable design perfectly demonstrates. The utilization of the 3-6-9 dial design is a direct borrowing from the Rolex style, but it works in the context of adventure and exploration (Incidentally, I see the use of the 3-6-9 design not as a copy of Rolex, but as a dial design of choice for this type of watch.)
What makes the 3-6-9 dial so effective is that it strikes the perfect balance between elegance and utility. Arabic numerals make reading the time easier, and batons make a watch look more elegant. Using Arabic numerals at the 3-6-9 positions makes the dial legible without compromising its versatility. Traska did not stop at just copying and pasting the design language of another watch, but it went on to adapt that design and mold it to create something unique.
Reinterpreting other designs is a good thing, especially when it’s done right. After all, many other brands have used the Explorer dial in their designs. It’s accepted, and it works. What works particularly well with the Summiteer is that Traska completely revised the 3-6-9 concept. The dial works with the case proportions, the bracelet size and taper, the thick boxed sapphire crystal, and the movement. The bright lume perpetuates this symmetry in darker environments.
Going back to the watch’s proportions, the Summiteer sits perfectly between a small dress watch and an oversized sports watch, which further makes it a versatile timepiece. It makes it comfortable to wear and makes the user confident wearing the watch in various environments, because a watch that fits well is one that we forget we are wearing.
I did not mention the finishing beforehand, and for good reason. It’s very well done. The finishing alternates between smoothly brushed surfaces on the case side, the top of the lugs, the top of the bezel, and the bracelet and highly polished chamfers on the case, as well as on the bottom portion of the bezel. This combination of brushed and polished surfaces make the watch versatile because the Summiteer reflects light in different ways at different angles at different times of day. It’s just a superb-looking watch.
If you look at all Traska models, you will find a clear design language. All watches have simple and legible dials, great lume, and hardened cases and bracelets, and they all cost between $550 and $600. What's not to love here?
The sign of a healthy microbrand is that it releases new models on a regular basis. Traska does that. It just recently revamped the three existing models in its lineup, a second sign of a healthy microbrand. It also released a new model, the Venturer, which looks like it has already been through several redesigns and matches the rest of the collection well. That’s a lot of good things happening, and I’m excited to see what’s next.
Sometimes, brands listen too much to feedback and cram too many changes and features into a watch, making the watch somewhat of a mess. Conversely, sometimes brands never listen to feedback and continue to produce watches that miss the mark for their intended market. Traska sits comfortably in the middle.
Traska manages to find the perfect balance, and it is obvious that it spends a tremendous amount of time fine-tuning its creations. Each model has a lot to offer, and I already know that I didn’t cover all the features that make the Summiteer a well-built watch.
Oh, by the way, did I mention that the hands are diamond-cut?
See, I told you. Thanks for reading.