May 23, 2023
by Matt Reudink
We’re in the midst of a post-quartz crisis renaissance in watchmaking, and countless brands have emerged, most with a similar origin story. Passionate watch enthusiasts (often those with links to the watch industry) have an idea for a watch or brand, then put all the pieces in place by finding the right manufacturers and suppliers to bring their vision to life. Sometimes you get a bit of in-house production, sometimes assembly, sometimes neither. Rarely do we see a brand begin its life manufacturing components entirely outside the industry, look at the market, and say, “I think I could make a better version.” Yet, that’s exactly how Damasko came to be, and now, roughly three decades after its founding, Germany’s Damasko is renowned for making some of the toughest, most tech-forward watches on the market. Case in point: the Damasko DC86 Orange Black. Thanks to our friends at Russell Jewellers, Canada’s Damasko authorized dealer, we were able to bring one in for review.
Prior to establishing Damasko, Konrad Damasko, the eponymous brand’s founder, was manufacturing high-precision parts for aerospace and other high-tech industries. Combining a wealth of manufacturing and engineering know-how with a long love of watches, Damasko decided to create a bombproof watch done his own way. Creating a watch that can stand up to just about anything begins with the case. Sure, stainless steel is tough, as is titanium, but both have their limitations and inevitably show wear over time. Damasko decided to solve that problem through an ice-hardening process. Briefly, Damasko starts with a nickel-free martensitic steel alloy, then enriches the steel with nitrogen under high pressure, resulting in a material that’s hardened throughout (not just the surface) and has a hardness rating of 800 Vickers, about four times that of typical stainless steel. This is a material you’ll find in the ball bearings for jet engines, fuel pumps for the Space Shuttle, and surgical instruments. Overkill for a watch case? Probably, but that’s pretty typical for Damasko. In the case of the DC86 Orange Black, Damasko also uses a multi-layer DAMEST black DLC coating, resulting in a surface hardness of 2500 Vickers. In other words, you shouldn’t have many concerns about scratches on either the raw or DLC-coated versions of Damasko’s watches.
The DC86 measures in at 42mm in diameter (43.8mm with bezel), 50.4mm lug-to-lug, and 14.4mm in height (including crystal). It’s a large watch, no getting around it, but if you’re buying a blacked-out chronograph with orange highlights, chances are subtlety isn’t your top priority. Despite its dimensions on paper, the DC86 wears comfortably on my 6.75” wrist and doesn’t feel top-heavy or ungainly, thanks in part to the sloping lugs and case design. Much like Seiko, Damasko watches have a certain magic that allows them to wear more easily than the dimensions may suggest.
Visually, the case on the DC86 is standard fare for a chronograph, but it’s what’s going on beneath the surface that’s truly interesting. Aside from the ice-hardened and DCL-coated case, you also get a fully hardened, triple-sealed crown with permanent lubrication cells, Viton gaskets, and true movement decoupling. The crown action is smooth and secure and it’s a wild piece of micro-engineering. Next up you get a 60-click bi-directional bezel that turns on micro ball bearings. I’ve personally never come across another bezel that feels anything like a Damasko bezel. It’s not the snappy, luxurious clicks you’ll find on a Submariner or the springy detents of a Seiko. You get more of a solid, reassuring thunk into place as you rotate the bezel. It feels like a high-end tool, which, if you think about it, is exactly what Damasko is producing.
With the DC86 and many other bezel-equipped watches in the brand’s lineup, you get the choice between a 5-55 dive bezel or a 1-11 bezel for tracking a second time zone. It’s hard to argue with the practicality of the 1-11 bezel on a chronograph when you already have a timing function.
The aesthetics of the dial and bezel on the DC86 are a classic example of form following function. The markers and registers stand in stark contrast to the matte black dial, with large painted registers and, in this colorway, orange seconds, minutes, and hour hands. The result is that reading both the time and chronograph is instantaneous. Speaking of the chronograph, Damasko utilizes central chronograph seconds and minutes hands, with a 12-hour counter at 6 o’clock. In addition, you’ll find the running seconds at 9 o’clock, a 24-hour indicator at 3 o’clock, and the date tucked away at 4:30. For nighttime visibility, Damasko opted for Super-LumiNova X1 GL C1 on the indices and hour and minutes hands, along with a luminous bezel pip. For those of us with less-than-perfect eyesight, the central minutes hand is fantastic and a vast improvement over trying to read elapsed minutes on a subdial.
If you’re looking for a chronograph with beautifully faceted, applied indices, snailing on the registers, and a luxuriously deep enamel or guilloché dial, then this Teutonic chronograph likely isn’t for you. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a piece of incredible engineering designed to be functional beyond anything else, then it’s hard to be disappointed with Damasko.
Powering the DC86 is Damasko’s C51-6 automatic chronograph movement. Following the brand’ function-first ethos, the C51-6 is clean and industrial, but largely undecorated. You won’t find perlage and côtes de Genêve, just a few blued screws and clean lines. Regardless, the movement is hidden away behind a closed caseback. The movement features 27 jewels, beats at 28.8kbph, and has 50 hours of power reserve. In terms of practicality, the C51-6 is anti-magnetic according to DIN 8309 and shockproof according to DIN 8303. Though based on the ETA/Valjoux 7750, Damasko has modified and re-constructed virtually everything on the movement to the point they now classify the movement as in-house. In other words, we’re not talking about slapping on a decorated rotor and giving a standard movement a new caliber name. This is Damasko doing what they do best — figuring out a way to make the watch just that much more bombproof.
The DC86 Orange Black comes mounted on a Hirsch Robby strap, with a leather upper with sailcloth embossing attached to an orange rubber layer and orange contrast stitching. These are high-quality, comfortable straps that are perfectly at home on land or in the water. That said, when combined with the orange accents on the dial, you do get a lot of orange. Luckily, swapping out straps is easy with the 22mm lug width and the quick-release spring bars. Personally, I’d wear this on a simple black rubber or textile strap. As of now, Damasko’s ice-hardened bracelet is only available for the non-DLC versions of their watches.
With a price of €4,185 Euro (including VAT) / $3,369 USD, the Damasko DC86 Orange Black certainly isn’t inexpensive, but considering what you’re getting — an ice-hardened case with piles of proprietary tech and an in-house chronograph movement made in Germany — the value is hard to argue against. The lack of decoration and aggressive, function-first design ethos certainly isn’t for everyone, but if you appreciate over-engineering and the pursuit of the Platonic ideal of a tool watch, Damasko should certainly be high on your list. To learn more about Damasko watches and the DC86 Orange Black, please visit the brand’s website.
>Model: DC86 Orange Black
>Price: €3,000,00 excluding tax
>Size: 42mm diameter, 14.4mm height, 50.4mm lug-to-lug, 22mm strap width, 100m water resistance.
>When reviewer would personally wear it: This would be a top pick for a camping/adventure watch.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Someone who appreciates over-engineering and is looking for a watch with all the tech in a modern, aggressive package.
>Best characteristic of watch: All the Damasko tech, including the superb bezel. Use of a central chronograph minutes hand.
>Worst characteristic of watch: The strap, while comfortable, takes things a bit far with the black and orange aesthetic.