Sometimes you just know when you are in the presence of something special. I thought this from the moment I first held the Retras Dive Watch in my hands. Ironically, the Retras exudes a generic 70s vibe that can be seen in any number of dive watches from that era. One might even say it has a vague, “every-diver” appearance. But in many ways that is part of its charm. It is the platonic ideal of a vintage dive watch. It ticks all the boxes and leaves nothing wanting.
In fact, the Retras is anything but generic. It was created in the image of one very particular watch–the Dugena diver which belonged to creator Axel Schijns’ father.
The Dugena passed onto Schijns was in rough shape but drew compliments from coworkers and friends. Herein came the genesis of the Retras—a vintage diver manufactured from modern materials—a watch ready to create its own stories.
In an effort to breathe new life into the vintage design, Schijns disassembled the Dugena and had technical drawings made in order to have the case recreated in Germany. The new design is forged from 316L steel and measures a modest 38.5mm in diameter—large by vintage standards but just big enough to meet modern expectations. It incorporates a bidirectional bezel with an aluminium insert and a glorious Plexiglas dome.
The heart of the Retras is the Swiss-made STP 1-11. This ETA clone is made by the Fossil Group and powers other popular divers, such as the Zodiac line, the BOLDR Odyssey, and the Meraud Bonaire.
The dial is painstakingly colour-matched to the patina of the original Dugena, creating a version of sunburst champagne that can look grey, or faded olive in certain lights. Most indices are applied and coated in Super-LumiNova, while the markers at 6, 9 and 12 are painted. Of particular note is the handsome, framed date window at three.
- German-engineered 316L steel
- 38.5mm in diameter and 47mm lug to lug
- 20mm lug width
- Screwed-down crown
- 10 ATM/100m water resistance
Bezel and Dial
- Bidirectional (according to vintage specs)
- Polished coin edge
- Printed aluminium insert
- Sunburst champagne colour
- Applied indices
- Baton hands
- Movement STP 1-11
- Hours, minutes, sweep second
- Quick set date
- Hacking, self-winding
- 28 800/4Hz
- 26 jewels
- 44 hour power reserve
- Distressed brown ostrich leather strap
- Additional fabric NATO strap (green and black)
The Retras Dive Watch is hand-assembled in the Netherlands in a very limited run of 50. The small batch run, German case construction, and hand assembly come at a cost, of course, but you get what you pay for—a clean, well-designed Dutch-made diver with a Swiss heart. In addition, the Retras comes with a handmade double-stitched leather travel pouch and a two-year warranty.
For me, the only issue is the strap. The fine ostrich leather is supple and comfortable on the wrist; however, the buckle is somewhat insubstantial and does not fit with the quality of finishing on the rest of the watch. Oddly, the brushed buckle on the extra NATO strap is much sturdier and tastefully signed to match the dial. Were it not for the taper on the leather strap, I would simply swap it out. Nonetheless, after wearing it for several days, I must admit that the issue amounts to nothing more than a gripe.
I will, however, take the time here to address what some readers might finger as drawbacks. To begin, modern divers have moved on to unidirectional bezels and sapphire crystals. The Retras has neither. But, then again, it does not bill itself as an ISO diver. A watch cannot be all things to all people. The Retras is clearly designed as a “dress diver.” That being said, the bezel has no slippage, and I would not trade the acrylic box dome for the world. It offers a warmth and strength (if not a scratch resistance) that cannot be achieved in sapphire.
Many also scoff at 100m of water resistance these days. But let’s remember that after 30m oxygen toxicity sets in and only 35 people have ever been known to dive below 240m in SCUBA gear, and a mere 8 have reached 300m. I’m going to assume you are not one of them. One hundred meters is far more than the average watch wearer will ever require—even an active one. The Retras does have a screwed-down crown.
The Retras retails for $1375USD (€1199). That’s not cheap. But it’s less expensive than other vintage-vibe divers in the same category of fit and finish. The Retras has drawn frequent comparison with the Rado Captain Cook in watch forums, and certainly you could add the Oris Divers 65 or the Longines Heritage Diver to its list of competitors–all between $500-750USD more.
I consider all the above-mentioned watches among my favourites. But with the Retras you would be sporting quite a conversation piece on your wrist, and the likelihood that you would ever come across another in the wild is next to nil. In this sense, it has the value of cachet firmly in its corner.
Of course, cachet alone is not enough to come down on the side of the Retras. So what else does the watch have that others don’t? Well, I’m going to go out on a limb here and mention another great vintage-inspired diver: The Tudor Black Bay 58. Aesthetically, there are a number of nods to the BB58 in the Retras design–whether consciously, or not. The case shape, head on, is very similar, though from side, the curved lugs of the Retras are much more pronounced. Both use a near identical aluminium bezel insert (minus the BB58’s red pip), and the slim coin edge of the bezel itself is also very similar. In fact, I feel as though the Retras is a loose fusion of both the BB58 and the Rado Captain Cook Hyperchrome, at least in looks.
So, if you are in the market for a swiss dress diver–but operating on a budget–and your taste tends toward the Black Bay, the Retras might be something you want to consider. At half the price, the Retras offers a subdued elegance that could easily follow you from work through the weekend and back again on Monday. Its crystal will scuff over time; its bezel will scratch; but that’s all part of the story Axel Schijns is hoping you’ll create.
Once you’ve held it, if you didn’t know better, you’d swear to have come across a NOS version of a true vintage diver that had been waiting patiently in someone’s drawer for you to come along and claim it as your own.
For more information on the Retras Dive Watch, check out the company website here.
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