February 14, 2023
by Matt Reudink
Aside from being the go-to country for pilsner and pretzels, Germany has a well-deserved reputation for building some of the toughest tool watches on the market. While the Germans certainly aren’t alone in building nigh-indestructible watches, the country has produced a disproportionately high share of overbuilt, over-engineered watches featuring wild tech and nearly scratch-proof cases. Best of all, German watches tend to offer high value for your money. Though not as well-known as some of its counterparts, Circula has been a proud part of this watchmaking tradition for nearly a century. The brand’s newest release, the Circula ProTrail embodies much of what fans of German watchmaking have come to adore, including a clean design, a hardened steel case, and plenty of practical details for a watch meant to be worn in the field.
Based in Pforzheim, Germany, Circula remains a family-run company, though the brand has seen its share of changes over the decades. Moving from a watch and jewelry wholesaler (as Huber & Co.) in the 1920s to becoming an independent manufacturer of mechanical watches in the 1950s, Circula’s stronghold has always been its retail presence in Southern Germany. However, in 2018, Cornelius Huber, the founder’s grandson, took the helm, and the small brand has transitioned to a focus on direct sales and a global reach. The brand’s focus is on making high-quality watches at affordable prices — something plenty of brands promise, but Circula truly does deliver.
Given the brand’s long history and the popularity of vintage-styled watches, it would have been easy to take the reissue route. Instead, Circula looked to the archives primarily for inspiration on the type of watch to build, eventually deciding on a field watch (take a look at the photo above from the archives; the inspiration is there in form, but certainly not in style or design). Field watches are a chronically under-appreciated genre. These watches are meant to be robust and legible and typically come with decent water resistance and modest sizing, making them ideal for an everyday watch.
The ProTrail measures in at 40mm in diameter with a 46mm lug-to-lug distance and 12mm height — all measurements that put it squarely in the Goldilocks zone for most wrists. But it’s the material, design, and execution that make the ProTrail unique. The case is stainless steel but goes through a Klosterizing treatment. Performed in Frankfurt, the process involves heating the case in an oven and diffusing carbon into the case itself before cooling. The result is that the outer layer of the steel itself becomes roughly an order of magnitude harder than standard steel. For a field watch — or any sort of tool watch, for that matter — hardening is probably the best, yet most under-utilized feature you can find. While some people enjoy a bit of wabi-sabi on their watch as a permanent record of life’s adventures, I’ll take a hardened case that remains pristine any day.
The case design on the ProTrail is modern and angular, with plenty of interesting details. For instance, the chamfer on the bezel itself is polished—something that’s rarely seen on hardened cases and is an interesting contrast to the deep, gunmetal finish that comes from the Klosterizing process and bead-blasting. Looking at the mid-case, you get sharp lines and angles, with the side of the mid-case featuring a deeply grained pattern. Flip the watch over and you get a closed caseback with a topographic map pattern. It’s a fitting pattern and a nice touch. The screw-down crown is modestly sized but easy to grip and features a luminous insert.
Overall, the case is visually interesting and fits the field watch brief, but, most importantly, it wears well on the wrist. The proportions of the case are well-considered, with the only minor niggle being that the watch could be slightly thinner and lighter. 12mm is perfectly reasonable for a watch with 150mm water resistance, but if I’m going to pick nits, this is the one I’d pick. That said, in addition to the high water resistance, you also get antimagnetic protection up to 80,000 A/m due to a soft iron inner cage, so the sizing makes sense.
Circula offers the ProTrail in three colorways: Sand (reviewed here), black with orange accents, and the Old Radium limited edition with a black PVD case and faux-aged lume. The dial layout on the ProTrail is classic field watch, with a railroad minutes track, Arabic numerals, and hour numerals from 13 to 24 on a step-down inner dial. The handset is heat-blued and filled with Swiss Super-LumiNova BGW9. At first glance, it appears that there’s no lume on the dial. As soon as the lights go out, however, the ProTrail’s secrets are revealed, as the outer ring on the dial is fully luminous, printed with “old radium” lume. Turn the lights back on and you’ll find some of the other details, like blue accents and subtle differences in texture between the inner and outer dials, with the inner dial featuring a radial pattern. The dial color is fitting for a desert-themed field watch and is something we don’t see terribly often. Though it’s called Sand, the color itself is highly saturated, shifting slightly more toward warmer yellow/orange hues than tan/brown. That said, as the pictures show, the color itself is quite variable depending on the lighting conditions.
Inside the Circula ProTrail is an Elaboré-grade Sellita SW200-1. This Swiss-made automatic movement beats at 28.8kbph, has a 41hr power reserve, Incabloc shock protection, and no date function (so no concerns about an annoying “ghost date” position on the crown). It’s hard to go wrong with a Sellita movement at this price point. Plus, Circula adjusts the accuracy to within +5/-7 sec/day.
The Circula ProTrail comes mounted on a nylon sailcloth strap lined with leather and includes a tool-free quick-release system for quick strap changes. Circula also finishes the strap off with a hardened pin buckle — a small but appreciated detail. Aesthetically, the tan strap on the Sand colorways is a nice match, as it gives the watch the full desert field aesthetic. That’s a good thing, since finding the right matching strap to this dial might be a bit of a challenge.
The Circula ProTrail has some impressive specs and a novel design language for a field watch, and once you factor in the price, things get even more intriguing. For €899 Euro (including VAT), you’re getting a modern and novel design with a hardened case made in Germany, quality movement, heat-blued hands, and plenty of practical considerations like water resistance and anti-magnetism. Germany’s long offered great value in watches, but the Circula ProTrail is a particularly impressive package. To learn more about the ProTrail and other Circula watches, please visit the brand’s website.
>Price: €899 Euro including VAT
>Size: 40mm diameter, 46mm lug-to-lug, 12mm thickness, 20mm lug width.
>When reviewer would personally wear it: Camping, hiking, or during any outdoor activity.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Outdoorsy type that tends to beat up watches and wants a high-quality watch that will keep looking good despite the abuse.
>Best characteristic of watch: Interesting case design, hardened case, and attention to detail (e.g., heat-blued hands).
>Worst characteristic of watch: I wouldn’t complain about a bit of a thinner, lighter case on a field watch.